Everyone should always read Rick Perlstein but especially today:
Before the “black helicopters” of the 1990s, there were right-wingers claiming access to secret documents from the 1920s proving that the entire concept of a “civil rights movement” had been hatched in the Soviet Union; when the landmark 1964 Civil Rights Act was introduced, one frequently read in the South that it would “enslave” whites. And back before there were Bolsheviks to blame, paranoids didn’t lack for subversives — anti-Catholic conspiracy theorists even had their own powerful political party in the 1840s and ’50s.[…..]
Liberals are right to be vigilant about manufactured outrage, and particularly about how the mainstream media can too easily become that outrage’s entry into the political debate. For the tactic represented by those fake Nixon letters was a long-term success. Conservatives have become adept at playing the media for suckers, getting inside the heads of editors and reporters, haunting them with the thought that maybe they are out-of-touch cosmopolitans and that their duty as tribunes of the people’s voices means they should treat Obama’s creation of “death panels” as just another justiciable political claim. If 1963 were 2009, the woman who assaulted Adlai Stevenson would be getting time on cable news to explain herself. That, not the paranoia itself, makes our present moment uniquely disturbing.
I don’t know why the right-wing crazy is so strong in the United States. Maybe it’s because we haven’t gone through the cleansing fire of out-and-out fascism, maybe it’s because ethnic diversity produces paranoia in a certain segment of the population (even as it produces tolerance in much of the rest).
Perlstein’s analysis of why the media has allowed itself to become a tool of the right-wing crazy — it’s largely because they’re afraid of being labeled liberal, cosmopolitan elites. But I think careerism is at work here too. Murdoch media gigs and affirmative action for wingnuts on editorial pages incentivize craven sucking up to the lunatic fringe.