Why partisan storm winds blow stronger in one direction

WHY PARTISAN STORM WINDS BLOW STRONGER IN ONE DIRECTION…. There’s something easy, if not lazy, about describing partisan pushback against an incumbent majority as little more than a natural cycle. When Democrats are ascendant, Republicans go berserk; when the GOP is running the show, it’s Dems who are enraged.

Both sides have their share of angry partisans, the argument goes, but this doesn’t tell us anything meaningful about the larger parties and/or ideologies.

I’m fairly confident these assumptions are entirely wrong. There’s something fundamentally different about how the left and right approach partisan rage, at least in the modern era, and there’s value in understanding why.

I remember Kevin Drum had an item about a year ago, describing the “surge” in conservative nuttiness in the Obama era. At the time, he chalked it up to two main problems: (1) “conservative nutballs” are larger in number than the liberal fringe; and (2) the “conservative lunatic brigade appeared so goddamn fast.”

Kevin reconsidered the question this week, and came up with an even-better list.

(1) Conservatives go nuts faster. It took a couple of years for anti-Bush sentiment to really get up to speed. Both Clinton and Obama got the full treatment within weeks of taking office. (2) Conservatives go nuts in greater numbers. Two-thirds of Republicans think Obama is a socialist and upwards of half aren’t sure he was born in America. Nobody ever bothered polling Democrats on whether they thought Bush was a fascist or a raging alcoholic, but I think it’s safe to say the numbers would have been way, way less than half.

(3) Conservatives go nuts at higher levels. There are lots of big-time conservatives — members of Congress, radio and TV talkers, think tankers — who are every bit as hard edged as the most hard edged tea partier. But how many big-time Democrats thought Bush had stolen Ohio? Or that banks should have been nationalized following the financial collapse? (4) Conservatives go nuts in the media. During the Clinton era, it was talk radio and Drudge and the Wall Street Journal editorial page. These days it’s Fox News (and talk radio and Drudge and the Wall Street Journal editorial page). Liberals just don’t have anything even close. Our nutballs are mostly relegated to C-list blogs and a few low-wattage radio stations. Keith Olbermann is about as outrageous as liberals get in the big-time media, and he’s a shrinking violet compared to guys like Rush Limbaugh and Glenn Beck.

I think numbers 3 and 4 are the most compelling, in large part because I think the fundamental problem with right-wing hysteria is that it’s so darn mainstream. In Democratic circles, 9/11 Truthers, Code Pink, Diebold folks, and the like can’t get any establishment attention at all. Members of Congress won’t return their phone calls or even be seen in public with them. On the right, however, there’s practically nothing a right-wing extremist can say or do to be exiled from polite company.

There’s a clear and impermeable line between the progressive mainstream and the left fringe. The line between the Republican Party/conservative movement and the far-right fringe barely exists. Whereas Dems kept the fringe at arm’s length, Republicans embrace the fringe with both arms. Both sides have nutjobs; only one side thinks their nutjobs are sane.

That said, Kevin added that there’s “something different about left-wing and right-wing craziness that goes beyond just the ideological differences,” and I know what he means. His list is very strong — I can’t think of anything he missed — but there seems to be more going on here.

So, I thought I’d open it up to some discussion. What are we missing?