I went on Countdown last night to chat with Lawrence O'Donnell -- who was filling in for Keith Olbermann -- about Bill Clinton's remarks the other day about the never-ending bloodlust of the "vast right-wing conspiracy".
O'Donnell was critical of Clinton for suggesting that the power of the conspiracy was less today than what he faced -- and regarding that aspect of Clinton's remarks, I agree with him. The reality, as I explained in the segment, is that the spread and reach of the really virulent wingnuttery that plagued Clinton -- the black-helicopter conspiracy theories like Mena, or the Vince Foster suicide, or the Clinton Body Count -- was largely relegated, until later in his tenure, to the fringes of the militia movement.
Obama, by contrast, is not even through his first year as president and he's already being plagued by Birthers and Tenthers and Teabaggers and Death Panels (along with, of course, the obligatory "He's Going To Grab Our Guns" conspiracies).
And it's true, moreover, the Clinton is right that the country has changed demographically since he was president, which means they do not possess the actual political power they held during much of his tenure. But they've made up for the lack of power with a much deeper reach into the mainstream. I dunno about you, but it sure looks to me like the Teabaggers are the new Patriots -- and there's a hell of a lot more of them.
Perhaps more to the point, they've already demonstrated -- by at least temporarily derailing the debate over health-care reform with wingnutty distractions like the "death panels" and the gun-brandishing nutcases showing up at health-care town hall forums -- that they continue to have an outsize influence on the national discourse. Especially because of Fox News and the rest of the mainstream media's willingness to be bullied by them -- led, as always, by the wise media poobahs of the Beltway Village.
That is -- and you can file this under the L'esprit de l'escalier Dept., since I meant to say it in this segment -- what they lack in power they've more than made up for by continuing to pull the media reins and shape the national discourse. They're able to move the media needles still -- which is, of course, the problem. The Village gives movement conservatives far more respect than they deserve, especially at this juncture, with the movement fully in the hands of nutty populist demagogues.
Glenn Beck is as popular as he is because everyone in the "mainstream" is too busy running fawning puff pieces to point out his actual extremism. No one has the guts to explain that these people are driving the Republicans over a cliff into political oblivion.
In The Eliminationists, I do talk a lot about how vicious the campaign against Clinton got to be -- and how many bridges and alliances were built between the far right and mainstream conservatives during those years as a result, particularly in the way right-wing talkers started picking up and transmitting memes from the far right.
Finally, I should add that, while I disagree with Clinton on this point, I generally agreed with the overall thrust of his recent comments, particularly his warning that the "conspiracy" (as it were) remains a potent force, capable of undermining Obama's presidency in unexpected ways. One can't help but suspect that Obama has been naive on this front -- how many times does he have to reach out to Republicans and come back with a chewed-up hand to get it? -- and I suspect Clinton intended to point out the cold reality. To which I can only add: Hear! Hear!