Us right-wing nuts sure is scary! That's the message from the Washington Post. To put this in language a conservative would understand, the fourth estate has been alarmed once again by the Burkean proclivities of our nation's citizens. The Post is in a panic about (to use its own descriptive terms) "birthers," "anti-tax tea-partiers," and "town hall hecklers."
If, last Sunday, you spent a profitless hour reading the Washington Post (itself not too profitable), you noticed the loud yapping and desperate nipping at those who disagree with liberal orthodoxy. It was as if top management were a toy schnauzer accidentally mistaken for a duster and traumatized by being run back and forth through the venetian blinds. The wise and prestigious broadsheet institution was so barking mad that it sent three (Three! In these times of hardship for the print media! When reporters are being laid off right and left--well, mostly right--and stories are going uncovered from rapidly warming pole to pole! Three!) journalists to do battle with "The Return of Right-Wing Rage."
That was the subtitle of Rick Perlstein's section B leader. The title was "In America, Crazy Is a Preexisting Condition." Perlstein wrote the book Before the Storm: Barry Goldwater and the Unmaking of the American Consensus so you can intuit (or "grok" as Perlstein might put it, given his prose style) the contents of his article. Yes, Rick, right-wing rage has returned. It was up at my place for the weekend. But it's back, and it's not like right-wing rage ever really went away. It didn't, as you would say, Rick, "move on."
Accompanying the Perlstein screed was a sidebar by Alec MacGillis explaining how "health care reform is not that hard to understand, and those who tell you otherwise most likely have an ulterior motive."
All you town hall hecklers, calm down and go home. Never mind that Alec MacGillis is a rat, something that's evident by the sixth sentence of his piece: "Fixing [health care] could be very simple: a single-payer system." And never mind that his writing is more than uninformative, it is informationally subtractive. Read him and you'll know less than you know now about what the government is going to do to you and your doctor. Read him carefully and you'll know nothing.
But calm down and go home, because the Washington Post said so. This is exactly the joke that used to be told in the Soviet Union. An old guy's wife tells him to go to the butcher shop and get some meat. He goes to the butcher shop and stands in line for hours. Finally the butcher says, "We're out of meat." The old guy blows his top. He yells, "I am a worker! I am a proletarian! I am a veteran of the Great Patriotic War! I have fought for socialism all my life, and now you tell me you're out of meat! What kind of a system is this?! You are fools! You are thieves! . . . " A big man in a trench coat comes up to the old guy and says, "Comrade, Comrade, not so loud. In the old days you know what they would do if you said such things." The big man in the trench coat makes a pistol motion with his hand. He says to the old guy, "Calm down and go home." The old guy shrugs and leaves. He comes back empty-handed, and his wife says, "What's the matter, are they out of meat?" "Worse than that," says the old guy, "they're out of bullets."
So there was Rick Perlstein calling everyone to the right of Nikita Khrushchev a candidate for the state psychiatric ward with Alec MacGillis playing his KGB Bozo sidekick, firing blanks and honking his "End-of-life care eats up a huge slice of spending" airhorn. Then, to add idiocy to insult, the Post sent Robin Givhan to observe the Americans who are taking exception to various expansions of government powers and prerogatives and to make fun of their clothes.
Givhan writes a column called "On Culture," and this is what passes for culture at the Post: "Of the hundreds of thousands of style guides currently for sale on Amazon, not one . . . was prescient enough to outline the appropriate attire for those public occasions when good citizens decided to behave like raving lunatics and turn lawmakers into punching bags." Meeting with Givhan's scorn were "T-shirts, baseball caps, promotional polo shirts and sundresses with bra straps sliding down their arm."
I've never seen Robin Givhan. For all I know she dolls herself up like Jackie O. But I have seen other employees of the Washington Post and--with the exception of the elegant and, I dare say, cultured, Roxanne Roberts--they look as if they got dressed in the unlit confines of a Planet Aid clothing-donation bin.
Perlstein, for all the highness of his dudgeon, doesn't catch the nuts saying anything very nutty. The closest he gets to a lunatic quote is from a "libertarian" wearing a holstered pistol who declares that the "tree of liberty must be refreshed from time to time by the blood of tyrants and patriots." And those are the words of lefty icon Thomas Jefferson. I myself could point out the absurdity of protestors' concerns about government euthanasia committees. Federal bureaucracy has never moved fast enough to get to the ill and elderly before natural causes do. And what's with those "birthers"? Why their obsession with a nonentity like Obama? How about John Adams with his Alien and Sedition Acts choke-hold on the First Amendment? Or Jefferson? He could tell his Monica Lewinsky, "I own you," and he wasn't kidding. Or John Quincy Adams, pulling the original Blagojevich, buying the presidency from Henry Clay? Or that backwoods Bolshevik Andrew Jackson? Or William Henry Harrison, too dumb to come in out of the rain? Not one of these scallywags was born in the United States of America--look it up.
But Perlstein couldn't be bothered. Instead he resorts to lazy fallacies of post hoc ergo propter hoc and argumentum ad verecundiam to try to prove that the Obama administration is a wise and prestigious political institution because nuts are attacking it the way nuts previously attacked other wise and prestigious political institutions, such as Adlai Stevenson. Even with the force of illogic on his side Perlstein cannot make his case. He tells about Stevenson speaking on United Nations Day in 1963. "Then, when Stevenson was walked to his limousine, a grimacing and wild-eyed lady thwacked him with a picket sign. Stevenson was baffled. 'What's the matter, madam?' he asked. 'What can I do for you?' The woman responded with self-righteous fury: 'Well, if you don't know I can't help you.' "
And I can't help the Washington Post. Why is the paper intimidated by dissent that's tame even by Adlai Stevenson standards? Not that the Post has ever been exactly a "profile in courage." (A little joke there about the propensity to endorse anything with a Kennedy stuck to it.) No doubt it's always alarming to the know-it-alls when ordinary people decide they'd like some say in ordinary life, when regular folk tell the know-it-alls to take their fishwrap and go blog themselves. And the Post has been extra jumpy since it got caught trying to pimp Washington's power elite to K Street lobbyists at a pay-to-play bun fight in the publisher's manse. Personally I thought this was great--the first time the newspaper had shown any respect for the free market system since Eleanor Roosevelt was a pup. But terror, like the Post, is not a thing of reason. Dread lurks in wise and prestigious institutions across the land. Rick Perlstein has a phrase that gives poignant expression to this fear and trembling: "America, where the crazy tree blooms in every moment of liberal ascendency."
Oh, it's a crazy tree. And the taller it grows, the crazier it gets. And I roost upon the tip-top branch. Ye of the Washington Post, Don't park your SmartCar under my perch.
P. J. O'Rourke is a contributing editor to THE WEEKLY STANDARD.