Think of this as Volume 15, Number 18 of A-Clue.com, the online newsletter I've written since 1997. Enjoy.
It appears like clockwork, every generation or so. It is a politics that denies reality, creates its own facts, and when reality gets in the way of ideology it rejects reality.
Hippies played that game, until Kent State and the 1972 Nixon landslide caused them to drop out. Fascists played that game, insisting democracy could not survive until it crushed them in World War II. Populists played that game until The Grange became Jim Crow. And of course "The Lost Cause" was all about that game.
So the fact that conservatives are playing that game right now doesn't surprise me. The fact that one in three Republicans are inclined to oppose anyone who accepts the President's birthplace as Hawaii does not surprise me. It's only the fact that the pundit class is shocked, shocked by all this that surprises me. They all flunked history.
It's in the nature of ideology to believe your own hype, to deny the reality of things in order to sustain a vision. The problem with communism, and Islamism, and feudalism, and all the other -isms that plague and have plagued our world down the centuries is that they won't admit of correction, a correction democracy insists upon. Democracy works because reality intrudes and leaders are changed, so lies can't stand.
The etymology of this particular crazy should be clear by now.
What's interesting about all these lies is not that he told them, or even that he believed them, but that an entire political movement believed them, believed them so strongly that they would continue believing lies from his first election to the present day. Bush advisers liked to say that they could create their own reality. For those who followed Bushism, they did.
But where did Bushism come from?
It started with the premise that if you could discredit the other side's leaders, you could render all counter-arguments illegitimate. Destroy their leader and your side wins the day. Don't argue the point, discredit the opponent.
It started with George H.W. Bush.
Bush Sr. made a devil's bargain with his advisers, led by Lee Atwater. The Willie Horton ad, the laughter at Dukakis "in a tank," the nonsense about broccoli, it was all designed around one aim.
To win. To discredit the other side's leaders as bad people, rather than say anything about policy.
Bush Sr. didn't have much of a case to make. He was repeating the case Ronald Reagan had made, but everyone knew he was no Reagan. Reagan was a charismatic leader. Bush Sr. had no charisma. Ronald Reagan was an ideological leader. Bush Sr. had no ideology.
So he made a deal. He would delegitmize dissent from Reagan-era policies by attacking people rather than arguing policy. This is where Roger Ailes and Karl Rove got their starts. They learned from Bush Sr. that they could create an environment in which policies and principles weren't at issue, only legitimacy. And by making the other side illegitimate they could hold power and do with it what they would.
No Democrat could be legitimate under Bushism. Bill Clinton was a moderate southern governor, a Jimmy Carter with backbone. So he had to be made into a caricature. His wife, a trusted advisor, had to become a shrew, he had to become MacBeth. Bushism projected its own intentions upon the Clintons so that they killed Vincent Foster, so that he was screwing everything that moved, so that him and her and their faults became the issue, not the condition of the country.
And in 1994 it worked. Just as it had for Bush Sr. Just as it would for Bush Jr. Victory and power became the drugs that made the crazy profitable. This is what Republican leaders came to believe. More important, this is what their followers came to believe, what they still believe.
The problem with ideology, the problem with the politics of destruction, of course, is that it's something like a drug. Over time you need more and more of it to stay high. Fox News did the same thing to God-fearing Republicans that crack and cocaine and heroin and meth did to a generation of ordinary Americans. It messed with their heads.
Any American ideology is heady stuff. Conservatism is heady stuff. Liberalism was heady stuff. But reality has a way of putting paid to ideologies. It renders them meaningless. Just as the day-to-day exigencies of business kills any corporation, or corporate executive, who starts to buy into their own hype. It doesn't matter what your PR department says. If the numbers don't come in, if you're not performing, either you or the company or both are going down. Amazing how often it's both.
The idea of turning capitalism into an ideology is, in the end, laughable. Adam Smith was, in the context of his time, a liberal, who believed that reality would intrude on any capitalist who didn't tend to the well-being of employees, of buyers, and of society. The "invisible hand" was always leading toward progress.
But you tell that to someone who follows today's Crazy, and they'll call you crazy. It makes their heads explode. It enrages them. And it's their rage that's the key to their condition.
Argue with the crazy and it makes them crazier. Laugh at the crazy and it makes them even crazier. You have to do what we do for anyone who's addicted, ignore them, wait for them to hit bottom and let them begin their own 12-step process.
You ignore them by making your case and beating them.
So move forward into reality. The Trump l'oeil conservatives can console themselves by knowing that someday, when today's kids are old like me, it's very likely that what seems perfectly reasonable today will have become crazy in its turn.