Monday, February 23, 2004

Transmissions From the Right
I spent way too much time today reading an extraordinary article by David Neiwert, who blogs at Orcinus, in which he examines charges of fascism thrown around by both conservatives and liberals. He says that we’re not a fascist state yet, but we sure have some of the characteristics. Then he goes on to examine, in fascinating fashion, how the extremist rhetoric of the patriot and militia movements of the 90s has been largely assimilated into today’s standard Republican talking points. However, unlike many cultural and political assimilations, in which the mainstream sands the edges off the new viewpoint, patriot and militia rhetoric has been somewhat immune to sanding. It’s maintained much of its potency, and has thus moved the Republicans to the right.

Extremist ideas are transmitted officially and unofficially, says Neiwert. Unofficial channels include organizations like FreeRepublic.com and various other conspiracy advocacy groups. Official channels include elected officials, such as Trent Lott, Helen Chenoweth, Ron Paul, and Bob Barr; advocacy groups such as Gun Owners of America and the Family Research Council; and religious leaders like Pat Robertson and Jerry Falwell.

And then there are the "media transmitters"--Rush Limbaugh, Fox News, Ann Coulter, the Wall Street Journal, etc. A major function of media transmitters, says Neiwert, is to condition the mainstream to extremist ideas. For example, because cable news craves balance, Coulter’s nutball ranting about every liberal of the last 50 years being guilty of treason as it’s defined in the Constitution gets treated as just another viewpoint, as valid as any other, when it’s actually foaming nonsense. This gives it a degree of legitimacy, which makes it more likely to be accepted by both average citizens and other media outlets. It's how the right-wing echo chamber works.

And that’s just the tip of Neiwert’s iceberg. The article is an 87-page PDF, but it’s 87 great pages.

On Best of the Blogs this afternoon: The Restoration That Wouldn't Be.

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