How One Becomes 'Crazy' in Washington Culture

Politico points to Jim McDermott and David Bonior as the Left's "crackpots" because they tried to stop the war.

Politico has an article on how certain mainstream Republican leaders are worried that "crackpots" are dominating their party's image (h/t reader jv):

party has an exclusive on whack jobs," says Republican media consultant
Mark McKinnon. "Unfortunately, right now the Democrats generally get
defined by President Obama, and Republicans, who have no clear
leadership, get defined by crackpots - and then they begin to define
the Republican Party in the mind of the general public" . . . .

Orly Taitz, insisting that the commander in chief was born in Kenya.
There's a flock of town hall protesters, waving photos of the president
in a Hitler moustache. Former GOP vice presidential candidate Sarah
Palin warns darkly that Obama is planning "death panels" for senior
citizens. Georgia Rep. Paul Broun equates the president's plans with
"Nazi" policies. Ohio Rep. Jean Schmidt -- last heard calling John
Murtha a "coward" -- tells a birther: "I agree with you, but the courts

And then, in the midst of all the catcalls,
hand-held signs and "I'm not listening" BlackBerrying, Wilson
interrupts Obama's address to a joint session of Congress by shouting,
"You lie!"

While the Republican Party is
absolutely dominated by people who are exactly that, is yelling at
the President really such a bad act? Yes, it's "rude" and indecorous, but as Digby says,
the President is not a King, even if George Bush was routinely treated
as one as people politely wearing critical t-shirts were barred or even removed from various events where His Majesty appeared, including the State of the Union address.

Eugene Robinson today absurdly calls
the GOP's disrespectful behavior at Obama's speech "un-American."
Right-wing contempt for Obama is often petty, deeply emotional and ugly
-- just like right-wing leaders themselves. But the demand that the
President be venerated and treated as royalty is far more "un-American"
than disruptive transgressions of etiquette. Wilson's heckling was
juvenile and dumb, but that's all it was. If only a fraction of the
media dismay devoted to his two-second breach of "decorum" had been
directed to, say, rampant presidential lawbreaking, or the
implementation of a torture regime, or the slaughter of hundreds of
thousands of people in our various wars, we would be much better off.
The American Right is indeed dominated by crazed extremists who often
seem barely in touch with basic reality and who are at war with core
American political values, but Joe Wilson's irreverence is one of the
least significant examples of that, if it's one at all.

As HTML Mencken insightfully noted in what is one of the best blog posts ever written, our political mores demand vehement repudiation of petty acts of incivility (not all, but most) while tolerating and even approving of extremely consequential acts of indecency
as long as they're advocated with superficial civility. Those who use
curse words to oppose torture, wars and lawbreaking are evil and
unSerious (The Angry Left); those who politely and soberly advocate
morally repugnant, indecent policies are respected and Serious. As
long as one adheres to Beltway decorum, one can advocate the most
amoral and even murderous policies without any repercussions
whatsoever; it is only disruptive and impolite behavior that generates
intense upset. Beltway culture hates "incivility" (public use of bad
words) but embraces full-scale substantive indecency (torture,
lawbreaking, unjustified wars, ownership of government by corporations,

All of that leads to the most interesting and revealing aspect of the Politico
article. Needless to say, no establishment media outlet is permitted
to write an article that includes criticisms of "one side" without
emphasizing that the criticisms apply just the same to "the other side"
-- regardless of whether that's actually true. That's what
"balance" means. Thus, Politico publishes an article
discussing the fact that the Right is dominated by crackpots and it is
therefore required to claim that the Left is, too. Here are their
examples to provide the balance needed so as to not upset Matt Drudge
and Rush Limbaugh:

Nor are Democrats strangers
to having their crazy uncles take center stage. During the run-up to
the Iraq war, for example, Reps. Jim McDermott (D-Wash.), Mike Thompson
(D-Calif.) and David Bonior (D-Mich.) famously flew to Baghdad, where
McDermott asserted that he believed the president would "mislead the
American public" to justify the war. The trip made it a cakewalk for
critics to describe the Democratic Party as chock-a-block with
traitorous radicals.

That's one of the most
amazing passages I can recall reading. Even now -- when everyone knows
that the President did exactly that which Rep. McDermott, in 2002, said
he was doing: "misleading the American public to justify the war" --
those who pointed out that truth are deemed "crazy." Here's what that
"crazy traitorous uncle" McDermott actually said, as reported back then by The New York Times:

congressmen who are visiting Iraq this week stirred up anger among some
Republicans when they questioned the reasons President Bush has used to
justify possible military action against Iraq.. . .

of the administration, Mr. McDermott said, ''I believe that sometimes
they give out misinformation.'' Then he added: ''It would not surprise
me if they came up with some information that is not provable, and
they've shifted. First they said it was Al Qaeda, then they said it was
weapons of mass destruction. Now they're going back and saying it's Al
Qaeda again.''

When pressed for evidence about whether
President Bush had lied, Mr. McDermott said, ''I think the president
would mislead the American people.'' But he said he believed that
inspections of Iraq's weapons programs could be worked out.

think they will come up with a regime that will not require coercive
inspections,'' Mr. McDermott said, anticipating meetings on Monday
between Hans Blix, the leader of the United Nations inspection group,
and Iraqi officials.

''They said they would allow us to go
look anywhere we wanted,'' he said of the Iraqis. ''And until they
don't do that, there is no need to do this coercive stuff where you
bring in helicopters and armed people and storm buildings.''

''Otherwise you're just trying to provoke them into war,'' he added.

insane! Get the butterfly net. The members of Congress who actively
tried to stop this murderous invasion by traveling to Iraq and seeking
to negotiate a deal for weapons inspections are the "crackpots." By
contrast, who are the sane, mainstream, Serious Republicans cited by Politico
who are worried about their party being taken over by extremists? The
people who cheered on the invasion of Iraq based on the need to root
out imaginary WMDs and ties to Al Qaeda (e.g.: PNAC signatory Vin Weber, Iraq War cheerleader John Cornyn, John "Iraq causalties a small price to pay" Boehner).
So everything Jim McDermott said turned out to be true and he's the
crazy-loser-crackpot-radical -- just like that crazy, insane,
traitorous former Marine Scott Ritter, who babbled insanities like this
in the Fall of 2002, while super-sane-and-patriotic. war-justifying, tough-guy experts Jonah Goldberg and Peter Beinart laughed at him on CNN for being so naive and corrupt:

country seems on the verge of making an historic mistake . . . . My
government is making a case for war against Iraq that is built upon
fear and ignorance, as opposed to the reality of truth and fact.

someone who counts himself as a fervent patriot and a good citizen of
the United States of America, I feel I cannot stand by idly, while my
country behaves in such a fashion. . . .

We, the people of
the United States, are told repeatedly that we face a grave and
imminent risk to our national security from a combination of past
irresponsible behavior on the part of Iraq and ongoing efforts by Iraq
to re-acquire chemical, biological and nuclear weapons and long-range
ballistic weapons ... which have been banned since 1991 by a Security
Council resolution.

The truth of the matter is that Iraq is
not a sponsor of the kind of terror perpetrated against the United
States on 11 September, and in fact is active in suppressing the sort
of fundamentalist extremism that characterizes those who attacked the
United States on that horrible day. . . .

The truth of the
matter is that Iraq has not been shown to possess weapons of mass
destruction, either in terms of having retained prohibited capability
from the past, or by seeking to re-acquire such capability today...

must loudly reject any intention of possessing these weapons and then
work within the framework of international law to demonstrate this a

The only way that Iraq can achieve this is with the
unconditional return of UN weapons inspectors, allowing such inspectors
unfettered access to sites inside Iraq in order to complete the
disarmament tasks as set forth in Security Council resolutions...

a crazy extremist loser he is. To recap: everything the Republican
leaders said about Iraq turned out to be false, fictitious, imaginary
-- and their false-pretense war led to the deaths of hundreds of
thousands of innocent human beings. Yet they're the sane,
sober, Serious ones trying to ensure their party isn't dominated by the
right-wing version of crazy traitorous losers like Jim McDermott,
David Bonior and Scott Ritter.

This is perfectly reflective of
the prevailing Beltway mindset. One would be, I'd bet, hard-pressed to
find many establishment journalists who reject the notion that war
opponents like Jim McDermott are crazy, unSerious extremists while the
Right's war proponents are still Serious and credible on national
security. Even after everything that's happened, anything associated with "the Left" is, for that reason alone, discredited and unSerious in the media mind [The Washington Post's Paul Kane finds an excuse to spit scorn
for what he calls "the Far Left" in virtually every online chat he
does; from yesterday: "No one else is gonna be switching parties any
time soon, not after the way liberal Democrats have greeted Arlen
Specter. . . . Why on earth would any Republican want to switch parties
just so they can get attacked by the far left of the Democratic party?"; does anyone know what mean and terrible things "the Far left" did to poor Arlen Specter that scared everyone?].

That's why we continue to fight wars endlessly and will almost certainly continue to do so -- even as Al Qaeda turns into little more than a scary image and myth. The Washington Post now appears to be having a hard time deciding if we should attack Iran or Venezuela
next. Our political culture is embedded with the notion that "war" is
inherently right, good, important and Serious. Those who advocate it
are deemed intrinsically more Serious than those who oppose it, no
matter what the war is or what its justification might be. And our
leading institutions are all designed to benefit from more wars rather
than fewer. Here is what Leslie Gelb -- former enthusiastic Iraq war
supporter and President Emeritus of the Council on Foreign Relations --
wrote in the current issue of Democracy Journal:

Gelb is certainly right -- as I've written before
-- that America's "Foreign Policy Community" is centrally designed and
incentivized to justify and cheer on wars. But it extends far beyond
that. That's the central premise of our political culture generally.
When it comes to credibility, supporting wars trumps everything --
including truth. Nothing illustrates that better than the fact that
Jim McDermott and those like him are considered "crazy" -- still --
while those who supported the disaster of Iraq are highly respected and

UPDATE: As happens so
often on so many topics, Tom Tomorrow's cartoon this week perfectly
illustrates the "craziness" balance discussed here (click image to enlarge):

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