Missing The Point

In today’s LA Times, the occasionally lucid Tim Rutten, evidently having a bad brain day, writes the following:

If you reengage the American media after a month out of the country, as I’ve done this week, it’s hard not to conclude that hysteria is now the dominant characteristic of our politics and civic conversation.

Uh, since it’s kind of your job, Tim, to watch the media, and you still didn’t notice this kind of big development last month, or the many months that preceded it, you clearly ought to see a doctor.

How else to explain the fact that questions like secession and nullification — issues that were resolved in blood by the Civil War more than a century ago — have come alive again and are routinely tossed around, not just by fringe figures but by Republican officeholders and candidates?

These things have been tossed around FOR A YEAR, you blithering nincompoop who, risibly, calls himself a media critic.  The scandal is that you pretended not to see this disturbing development, and thus legitimized it and fed it.  ”Discovering” it now makes you look (even more) craven and/or dumb than usual.

For example, Zach Wamp, a Tennessee congressman who opposes the recently enacted healthcare reforms and is running for governor, told an interviewer that he hopes “the American people will go to the ballot box in 2010 and 2012 so that states are not forced to consider separation from this government.” Meanwhile, GOP candidates for statewide office in various Midwestern and Southern states are promoting the notion that states ought not to enforce any federal law not approved by at least two-thirds of their state legislators. It’s as if John C. Calhoun suddenly had risen from the grave and had a talk show.

My Gosh, you know who John Calhoun even was?  Thank Heaven for the Google. Of course, Talk Radio and Fox News have, in unison, been calling for such things, and worse, for over a year, but I guess big-time media critics have bigger fish to fry than listening to, well, the media.  Rutten seems to know about as much about what is actually broadcast in America as Dana Perino does about the Cuban Missile Crisis, which ain’t much.

In Nevada, the Republican candidate for the U.S. Senate has discussed abolishing Social Security and darkly mused over whether Washington’s alleged overreaching may require a “2nd Amendment solution.” That means guns, a prospect that could be facilitated in one state after another by an outfit called Appleseed, which holds weekend seminars whose participants are given a mix of Minuteman pseudo-history and instruction on marksmanship.

Right-wing sore losers have been employing this tactic since, well, the Kennedy, King, Kennedy, etc. assassinations, and have also knocked off a half a dozen cops and such in the last year, but Rutten just discovered all this unpleasantness last week.  If I were Katie Couric, I’d ask him, “What newspapers do you read?”

Meanwhile, attempts to repeal sections of the Constitution continue apace. The so-called 10thers, who want to roll back 100 years of federal law and regulation in order to assert rights under the 10th Amendment, are almost unremarkably ubiquitous in the GOP. Candidates across the country pining for “tea party” support have endorsed repeal of the 17th Amendment, which would end popular election of U.S. Senators and return their selection to state legislatures, a step that theoretically would “restore states’ rights.”

The most popular such movement involves abolishing or gutting the 10th Amendment as a way to deny American citizenship to the U.S.-born children of undocumented immigrants. Even the ostensibly moderate Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) has signed on to that one, while Rep. Louie Gohmert (R- Texas) speculates that such children actually are terrorist moles planted here to grow up as U.S. citizens as part of a long-range plot.

Goodness me, Tim, it isn’t possible that y’all are being played, is it?

Nothing quite tops the anti-Muslim hysteria, which has led people to organize opposition to the construction of new mosques in places from Lower Manhattan to Temecula. One candidate for statewide office in Tennessee — somebody should examine their water supply — argues that the 1st Amendment does not cover Muslims.

Nice way to sound elitist and dumb at the same time; it must be something in the Dying Newspapers’ Employee’s Manual:

1) Blame Readers for Believing Our Demented Opinion Page Writers.

2) Tell Readers We Never Believed the BS We Printed For Years.

3)  When Completely Debunked, See #1 and #2.

Some inclined toward therapeutic explanations of history might attribute all this to a kind of collective post-traumatic stress syndrome engendered by the lingering, still-unresolved aftermath of the horrific events of 9/11. Others might point to the dislocating effect of electing an African American president to govern a society in which strong currents of racial anxiety still eddy beneath the surface of everyday life. Perhaps both forces act in unseen concert.

Smart people, however, blame shitty newspapers like yours.

Back in the early 1970s — an era whose tumult we yet may come to regard as benign — social scientists here and in Britain coined the term “moral panic” to describe what can happen when groups of people are seized by an exaggerated fear that other people or communal forces threaten their values or way of life. The scholars described those who promoted the panic’s spread as “moral entrepreneurs” — a term that takes on a deep resonance when you consider the commentators and politicians who have attached themselves, and their interests, to the “tea party” and its attendant movements.

Yeah, Rutten, rather belatedly, is noticing that real grassroots movements to end pointless wars and get rid of crooked Presidents could maybe turn out to be good, but only much later; nothing to be gained in the here and now from, call it “premature sanity.”  Better yet, he goes on to blithely equate the astroturfed, warmongering, and racist Teabaggers with peace advocates.  Nice work, if you can get it.

In the midst of moral panic, inchoate indignation stands in for reason; accusation and denunciation supplant dialogue and argument; history and facts are rendered malleable, merely adjuncts of the moral entrepreneur’s — or should we say provocateur’s — rhetorical will. As we now also see, a self-interested mass media with an economic stake in the theatricality of raised and angry voices can transmit moral panic like a pathogen.

That’s why my paper dumped Robert Scheer and hired Jonah Goldberg.  We needed the money.

Looking around the United States in the summer of 2010, hysterical moral panic seems an apt description of our fevered political condition.

Better late than never, Tim.


  1. michlib says:

    The LA Times would be better served employing the fabled room full of monkeys as columnists and pasture Mr. Rutten if this is typical of his typing.
    Elections can be dislocating things.I eagerly await for Regenery to crayon a book deal with him.

  2. dirigo says:

    I’m trying to imagine Zach Wamp and Lindsey Graham, both bewhiskered and cast as extras or cameos in Ted Turner’s next Blue-and-the-Gray miniseries.

    Look awayyyy … look awwwaayyyyyy …

  3. nailheadtom says:

    A rare occasion indeed when the bipolar world of up-down, left-right, black-white is invaded by two viewpoints that are perhaps in opposition and simultaneously both erroneous. The fact that good ol’ Honest Abe signed the death warrants of over half a million young American men and visited a wave of destruction on the lives and property of millions of innocents by force of arms certainly doesn’t logically counter the arguments of secession or nullification, unless, of course, you believe that the use of brute force by the state makes right. And the state can use that force with impunity when they’re the only ones with arms. Naturally, the state shouldn’t have to enforce its own laws if it finds it politically inconvenient to do so, see: http://politics.usnews.com/opinion/blogs/battle/2010/07/30/Congress-Passed-an-Arizona-Like-Immigration-Law-in-1996. When you can’t come up with an intelligent response to an unintelligent newspaper piece, why not do a movie review or meatloaf recipe?

    • cocktailhag says:

      And when you can’t come up with an on-topic comment, why not sputter neo-confederate vitriol and Randian horseshit? As I’ve said many times before, we should have let the South go when we had the chance; presumably that would have prevented me being saddled with you as a fellow citizen.

    • dirigo says:

      The Civil War, whether right or wrong in its prosecution, and regardless of the atrocities and states rights offenses, ended about 145 years ago.

      Clearly, you didn’t get the memo.

    • michlib says:

      But might for right holds, unless, of course, you believe in the right of humans to own other humans. And the poor ” millions of innocents ” just happened to profit nicely from that ownership and resultant cheap labor. Jeff Davis- the Rand Paul of his day.

      • nailheadtom says:

        Six percent of the free population of the Confederate states owned slaves, so I guess it makes sense to burn the houses and kill the sons and cattle of the other 94%. Typical “progressive” thinking. It’s better that the state own/control everything with their corporatist buddies as you Hegelian dupes so fervently desire.

        • dirigo says:

          Right. So where does re-litigating the Civil War get us, Tom? I think you’ve got antebellum bats in your belfry.

          Fight the fever, will ya, son ? – ‘cuz none of us here has it.


          • nailheadtom says:

            “How else to explain the fact that questions like secession and nullification — issues that were resolved in blood by the Civil War more than a century ago — have come alive again and are routinely tossed around, not just by fringe figures but by Republican officeholders and candidates?”

        • cocktailhag says:

          Exactly, Tom. Like most wars, it was started by a tiny elite, and fought by everyone else. This isn’t exactly a revelation, except maybe to you.

        • dirigo says:

          And where does this get us?

  4. mikeinportc says:

    Psst, tom. Over here. Don’t tell anybody where you heard it, but you & the Hag ~ agree on the secession thing.

    Here’s to ya, Tom :)

    “Even the ostensibly moderate [?!] Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) has signed on to that one, while Rep. Louie Gohmert (R- Texas) speculates that such children actually are terrorist moles planted here to grow up as U.S. citizens as part of a long-range plot.”

    Such as my grandmother?( Grandma was one of those notorious Swiss anchor babies.) If so, her cell is apparently still sleeping . Haven’t done a thing since ’81.;)

    OT, here’s the site for Bradley Manning’s defense fund, if y’all feel so inclined.

    There’s a link there to an interviews by Scott Horton[the one from Anti-War Radio], on KPFK, LA/Santa Barbara, of Mike Gogulski, of the Bradley Manning Support Network, Daniel Ellsburgh, & Julian Assange. ( Know you’re smitten, CH, so thought you might want a little more.;) )

    Ps : maybe you should pass that^ on to Mr Rutten? :)