MSM’s Stockholm Syndrome

In a follow-up to my last post on a poll indicating that nearly a half of self-identified Republicans think it may soon be time to take up the shootin’ irons and overthrow the United States government, I will venture a guess that this subject will not get a great deal of attention in the MSM. It’s just some small-sample poll, some will say, if they even notice it. People will say all sorts of crazy things to pollsters, others will intone before switching to meditations on Barack Obama’s poor leadership skills. It’s just a sign of polarization, still others will tell themselves. That this data point arises after several years of revolutionary rhetoric on the Right, not only from Second Amendment Absolutists, but from the entire “constitutional conservative” movement, with its ideas of a fixed, divinely-ordained set of public policies that no Congress, no Court, no President, and no election, should be able to modify, will largely escape notice as well.

We’re getting to the point where the media habit of “false equivalency” is inadequate to describe or explain the wilful blindness of so much of the paid political commentariat to the historically unusual (if not unique) extremism of the contemporary Right. So I’m happy to recommend an essay by my TDS colleague James Vega, who suggests many journalists are suffering from a version of the “Stockholm Syndrome” whereby they have become so traumatized by conservative extremism that they will lift heaven and earth to deny its existence and assign responsibility for polarization elsewhere (e.g., to Obama’s “leadership failure”).

Whether you buy the psychological theory or not, it sure explains a lot, particularly the acceptance as routine of phenomena ranging from the Permanent Filibuster, to the regular description of venerable center-left policy prescriptions as totalitarian, to the quite literal hostage-taking now central to budget negotiations, and to polls showing large numbers of rank-and-file Republicans considering armed revolution as a legitimate form of political action.

Ed Kilgore

Ed Kilgore, a Monthly contributing editor, is a columnist for the Daily Intelligencer, New York magazine’s politics blog, and the managing editor for the Democratic Strategist.