Apocalyptic Rhetoric

Speaking of Crazy, WaMo editor in chief Paul Glastris answered a New York Times query how he would define “crazy” presidential candidates. Here’s part of what he had to say:

The first [question] is to ask whether an otherwise sane and capable candidate might make crazy, reckless decisions once on the job. Richard Nixon’s own staff worried about him in this regard, especially when he drank. Ted Cruz put himself in this category when he bucked his own party’s leadership and forced a government shutdown over Obamacare in 2013.

The second is to question the extent to which a candidate plays to what the blogosphere calls “The Crazy”: the tendency of some voters to believe, or to want to believe, or at least to want to be told, things that are plainly false and politically toxic. Donald Trump’s questioning of the legitimacy of Barack Obama’s birth certificate in 2011 and his more recent (and untrue) statements about Mexican immigrants and crime are especially stark examples.

But this behavior is not limited to outsiders and mavericks. House Speaker John Boehner refused to repudiate birtherism in 2011 and said only that he takes Obama “at his word” that he’s a Christian. Indeed, on issue after issue, plenty of “sane” candidates and elected officials routinely feed The Crazy with over-the-top rhetoric about how Obamacare is like slavery, Obama is a psychopath, the Iran nuclear deal is worse than Munich, and we’re at a tipping point where government dependency wipes out America’s capacity for self-government. All that apocalyptic rhetoric encourages an apocalyptic politics in which it becomes acceptable to believe that desperate measures must be taken. It’s not crazy to worry about that.

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.