The gap between the right of the Republican party, which is providing the angriest critics of the reforms, and the left of the Democratic party, which thinks the proposals too timid, is unbridgeable. These groups do not merely disagree. They despise each other. Their differences are only secondarily about policy. They hold each other’s values in contempt.
These snarling extremes are nonetheless somewhat alike. They have an equal and opposite penchant for conspiracy theories. Almost a third of Republicans, according to a recent poll, believe the unsupported story that Mr Obama was not born in the US (in which case he would be disqualified from serving as president). But remember that more than a third of Democrats subscribe to the even more outlandish theory that the Bush administration knew about the attacks of September 2001 in advance.
One of the annoying qualities of national debate over the last several months (which seems to increase as Democrats become more desperate about their flagship legislation) is the attempt to find the very looniest possible elements of the right and portray them as being mainstream. Recent weeks have seen left wing commentators pretending that one of the major GOP issues is President Obama’s birth certificate and dredging up “right wing militias”, and inspired renouned prose stylist Harry Reid to create the ringing phrase “evil mongers” for those who question their legislators in town hall meetings. It’s been a staple of “enlightened” liberal commentary since the election that the Republican party is now a spent force, a bankrupt regional party whose only adherents are a few inbred racists who can’t read well enough to find their way out of the trailer park and join the local Hope & Change brigade.
Reality is, of course, a bit different. The number of set adherents of each party has remained roughly the same — elections in the modern US swing not so much on committed partisans changing their minds but on the profoundly un-ideological (and sometimes just plain un-informed) middle swinging one way or the other based on their worries and affections every fourth November.
In that sense, all this posturing is irrelevant. But I can’t help thinking that it does the general body politic harm when either major party either embraces the nuttier of its own members, or intentionally picks out the very nuttiest of its oppenents fringe members and treats them as if they were representative. Honestly, the 9/11 Truthers, the Trig Truthers, the Birthers, and such (not to mention even fringier elements such as militias and those who actively advocated fighting on the side of Al Qaeda) do not deserve to be paid attention to in sane society. Those who think they are helping their cause right now by trying to bring this parade of horribles into the mainstream in order to pin it to their opposition will hurt not only the country as a whole in the long run, but themselves too.