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Next Stop on the GOP Crazy Train: 'Newtsville' | The Nation

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Next Stop on the GOP Crazy Train: 'Newtsville'

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It is a symbol of our current political predicament that anytime anyone tells the truth about anything in the contest for the Republican nomination, a new scandal erupts. Newt Gingrich was briefly drummed out of the Republican Party for accurately terming Paul Ryan’s destructive Medicare plan a “radical” step toward “right-wing social engineering.” Jon Huntsman caused virtually the only stir of his all-but-invisible campaign when he admitted to what the Salt Lake Tribune straight-facedly called the “politically dicey belief that climate change is human-caused and needs to be addressed.” And most recently, CBS’s John Dickerson caused a contretemps when a stray e-mail revealed that Michele Bachmann was “not going to get many questions” in the debate the network was sponsoring because “she’s nearly off the charts.”

About the Author

Eric Alterman
Eric Alterman
Eric Alterman is a Distinguished Professor of English, Brooklyn College, City University of New York, and Professor of...

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The architects of our foreign-policy disasters would prefer we simply forget the past.

Being a member of the MSM in good standing, Dickerson was in all likelihood referring to Bachmann’s poll position rather than her approach to reality, and uncharacteristically for this race, they happen to be pretty much perfectly proportional. Bachmann has long been loony, but it has been her poll standing that has determined the treatment she has received from the press.

The respectful response of the media to the batshit-crazy statements one hears from the second-tier Republican candidates—candidates who occasionally rise to the first tier and then just as quickly sink down again, having never been serious contenders in the first place—is doing definite damage to this country. How many credulous Americans may have decided to shun the HPV vaccine for their daughters after hearing Bachmann’s nutty suggestion that it causes mental retardation? What of the insistence of that ignorant idiot Herman Cain that the “objective” purpose of Planned Parenthood’s founding was to “kill black babies before they came into the world. It’s planned genocide.” Now we’ve got a new front-runner, Gingrich, who holds, among other crazy notions, that the Obama administration’s “secular-socialist machine represents as great a threat to America as Nazi Germany or the Soviet Union once did,” when his diseased brain is not focusing on his moronic (and racist) contention that “only if you understand Kenyan, anti-colonial behavior, can you begin to piece together” the inspiration for Obama’s foreign policies.

Gingrich is the man of the hour, as amazing and ridiculous as that may be. Like Cain and Bachmann, he is a better bet for a rubber room somewhere than the Oval Office. But this fact—obvious to anyone who’s paying attention—does not stop various media machers from pretending long enough to fly his ideological freak flag for him for millions of Americans. When, writing in the Washington Post, Pulitzer Prize–winning pundit Kathleen Parker describes “the sudden surge of Gingrich, who, whatever his flaws and despite the weight of his considerable baggage, is no intellectual slouch,” and says he “may be just the ticket”—well, one is left speechless. Pretending that these people might be president, and hence deserve to be treated as if what they say is true, is not merely unjustified—given that the nominee is almost certain to be Romney—but akin to playing accessory to a kind of ongoing intellectually criminal activity.

In their new book, The Anointed: Evangelical Truth in a Secular Age, Randall Stephens and Karl Giberson explain the nature of intellectual insularity of so many in this world, in which “the teachings of dubiously credentialed leaders are favored over the word of secular experts in the arts and sciences.” Considering the example of evolution, they write, “Anointed leaders convince their followers to reject evolution by undermining the credibility of the scientific community. The resulting widespread distrust of the scientific community—often portrayed as atheistic, anti-religious, ideological—undermines the credibility of everything the scientific community says, including its conclusions about climate change, the dangers of fracking, the importance of ecosystems, the need for vaccinating children, and so on.”

The authors describe “what amounts to a ‘parallel culture,’” where people like alleged “historian” David Barton (whose formal education consists of a degree in religious education from Oral Roberts University) and psychologist James Dobson (tennis team captain at what is now Point Loma Nazarene University) proffer phony-baloney history lessons that distort almost everything professional historians know to be true about America’s founders.

Reporters representing reliable media outlets are supposed to defend the discourse from the virus of this ignorance. But for a variety of reasons they no longer do so. Part of the explanation can be found in the foolish willingness of so many reporters to treat Fox News, Drudge and various talk-radio hosts as respectable voices in the debate without regard to their motives or qualifications. A second, no less significant problem is the tendency of even the most sophisticated political reporters to treat the entire process as a contest between rival teams and ignore the substance of their arguments and policies, as if politics were simply a spectator sport with fewer (and perhaps crazier) fans than the Mets or the Red Sox.

Speaking of these Tea Party–inspired “candidates,” reformed right-winger David Frum writes that a “political movement that never took governing seriously was exploited by a succession of political entrepreneurs uninterested in governing—but all too interested in merchandising. Much as viewers tune in to American Idol to laugh at the inept, borderline dysfunctional early auditions, these tea-party champions provide a ghoulish type of news entertainment each time they reveal that they know nothing about public affairs and have never attempted to learn.”

Somebody better tell the MSM…

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