Friday, July 09, 2010

Wingnuts: How the Lunatic Fringe is Hijacking America by John Avlon

Everybody is familiar with the concept of "talking heads" and everybody knows that these days, there are plenty of political pundits taking up time on the airwaves, and on the internet. Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity, Sarah Palin, Glenn Beck, Keith Olbermann... the list goes on and seems endless. But do such people add anything to public discourse?

No, and pretty much everyone knows it. Author John Avlon, writer for the Daily Beast, points out what pretty much everyone knows- not only do all these talkers add absolutely nothing to public discourse, they stop public discourse by spreading hate and anger and never coming up with any kind of concrete solutions to the problems they are so enraged about.

Thanks to Wingnuts on both the left and the right, "public discourse" has fallen to a very narrow band of hate on both sides, with little or no room in the center for people to come together to solve the problems that everyone is screaming about. It has polarized both political parties, but especially on the Republican side, where anyone crossing the aisle to try and work with Democrats is labeled a RINO (Republican In Name Only) and castigated by the rest of the party for what is seen as their perfidy in being able to work with the other party instead of trying to stop dead anything they are trying to do.

And now, the madness has spread to some of the Democrats as well, labeling their own members DINOs (no guesses as to what that means). Members of both parties seem bent on kicking out anyone they see as "unfaithful", and some on the Republican side will actually work against their own party members by refusing to back them or help them out with money from the RNC, even if a member from an opposing party wins the election. Better Pure than in Power, now-popular wisdom seems to say.

But by doing so, they risk alienating the centrists, of whom there are more in this country than extreme left or right-wingers, and the centrists, it seems, are growing disillusioned with both extremes.

More than just the extremes on both sides are profiled in this book, but the extreme fringes of wingnuttery- birthers, truthers, teabaggers, hatriots, and those who propose a secession from the United States. More than just talk about them, Avlon actually interviews many of these people. Despite the teabaggers claiming not to be about race, why, when you look around events they put on, are the participants all or 99% white? He speaks with a preacher who is praying for Barrack Obama to die (along with his entire family, it needs be said), who sees nothing wrong with doing so.

But all is not gloom and doom. At the end of the book, Avlon devotes a chapter for how we as a nation can escape the echo chamber and, if not put an end to the Wingnuttery, how to mostly eliminate it from public discourse, and how to keep it from poisoning the well. Unfortunately, it comes across as small beans after many chapters devoted to showing how nutty, bigoted and hateful some people can be. It was little comfort after reading all those pages of hate and the people who espouse it.

I found this an interesting and informative book. Avlon doesn't just tell talk about the Wingnuts, he lets them speak in their own words, showing rather than telling us the craziness. In a way, that just makes it worse. And while most of this book is devoted to rightwing wingnuttery, the left-wing isn't left out of the equation. But one definitely gets the feeling that the right wing wingnuttery is larger and more firmly entrenched.

Reading this book is something of a recipe for feeling hopeless, because no matter how bad you *thought* it was, you can find something or someone even worse in this book. A lot of this stuff just made me shake my head, but there are reasons to hope. Avlon points out that Independents are outgrowing both parties, and that there are more people who are centrists than there are on either far end of the political spectrum. Seeking to purge the parties of any but the "One, true faithful" will create smaller parties less likely to win elections.

This is an interesting book that would likely be interesting to a great many people. It doesn't matter which side you are on, it's more than likely that at least one sacred ox on your side will be gored, right or left. If you have a hard time with this, or you are suffering from Bush Derangement Syndrome or Obama Derangement Syndrome, you may get upset at some of what is said in the book. But the right *not* to be offended is not a right in America, no matter how some people may feel. Highly recommended.

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