Checking the 8/30/09 NYT Book Review Section, I noticed that 3 out of the top 5 bestselling hardcovers were from right wing fanatics (or "wingnuts", in the left of the left parlance). #1 was Michelle Malkin's Culture of Corruption, from Regnery, the publisher of all illiberal screeds. As the gentle NYT plot writer for the Non-fiction Best Seller list described its contents: "President Obama and his team as tax cheats, petty crooks, influence peddlers and Wall Street cronies." #3 was Mark B. Levin's Liberty and Tyranny, "[a] conservative manifesto from a talk-show host and the president of Landmark Legal Foundation. Rounding up the top 5 was Dick Morris and Eileen McGann's Catastrophe, which exhorts all to "[s]top President Obama before he transforms America into a socialist state.
This is a fearsome development. Aside from the astonishing fact that there are enough wingnuts to shell out around $27 and possibly even read a hardcover book, the trajectory of political discourse looks distinctly right of the horizon. I'm afraid of the rise of a populist demagogue who truly wishes to take over the reins of power. Right now I'm reading Senator Joe McCarthy by Richard H. Rovere, written in 1959, merely 5 years after McCarthy was brought down and two years after his sodden death. Sodden, not sudden. He was a drunk. But never mistake his ability to influence policy through his fabricated accusations. Everyone in the political arena, including Presidents Truman and Eisenhower, was afraid of him. Luckily (according to Rovere) he didn't seek political power; he merely wanted glory. Once he'd achieve his objective (say, getting a minor clerk in the State Department dismissed because he was noted in the bibliography of a red-tinged person), he'd drop the entire matter.
But what if a populist demagogue actually wanted to seize the reins of power on a national and international scale? A leader doesn't have to be an elected official. Father Coughlin? Rush Limbaugh? As the common man trudges through the Great Recession with nary an unfilled job in sight, people are disgruntled, frustrated, and filled with loathing and hatred. And packing heat. It doesn't matter how imbecilic the accusations against Obama and his administration are: that he's an illegitimate president, a socialist (if he's a socialist, then Lloyd Blankfein, head of Goldman Sachs and flash trading, is a dyed-in-the-wool Communist) and is planning to convene "death panels" to force the disabled, unwanted and elderly into euthanasia. The hysteria of Sarah Palin's original rallies have degenerated into Town Hall hate-a-thons. And Congress says nothing.