31 July 2009

Not actually madness

Brad DeLong has been referring to the US Republican Party as being composed of insane people rather frequently lately, on the grounds that they are taking the Birthers, the people arguing that Barack Obama was born outside the US, seriously.

This is to miss the point, I think. The Republicans have been arguing for the fundamental illegitimacy of every Democratic president since Jimmy Carter. This has a whole lot of contributing reasons—a sincere disbelief in the legitimacy of government, in preference for a purely corporate form of organization; a desire to privilege religious conviction over the civil law; xenophobic Manichean world views—but only really one cause. That cause is to reach after a reason why social changes supported by a majority of Americans aren't acceptable. (Never mind that social forms are a function of the ability of a society to communicate, which controls how it can organize itself. The post-1950 expansion in communications ability, even ignoring all its consequences for economic productivity, is pretty much guaranteed to produce new social forms. The general public acceptance of these is a second-order effect to the raw ability to have different social forms.)

This minority-refuses-to-accept-the-results-of-a-vote view is exactly the same as the one that lead to the US Civil War. Only this time there's no single rallying issue that the progressive—if not being violently anti-change makes you progressive; it's more like change-can-be-OK than progressive—side is focused on or willing to get vehement about, never mind go to war over, and there's no significant progressive media presence. And what is repeated enough times becomes true to the people who hear it.

So, sure, there's a wild disdain for facts going on here, but it's not crazy. It's feeding into the same "the result of the vote is illegitimate if we don't like it" pattern that's been going on for forty-odd years now.

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