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Normalizing nonsense

BY SHAY O'REILLY | MARCH 28, 2011 7:20 AM

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It was a high-school pep rally, aged and squeezed into expensive suits. “The truth is,” U.S. Rep. Michele Bachmann, R-Minn., told the room at the Conservative Principles Conference, “social conservativism is fiscal conservativism!” The audience cheered and bolted to its feet.

Sorry, libertarians: 2012 is not your year.

The March 26 conference, hosted by western Iowa darling Rep. Steve King, was the hot event for passionate right-wingers and eager journalists hopping on the caucus train. With its Manichean speakers and its treatment as a serious, field-defining event by the mainstream media, it was also a ferocious reminder of how far we’ve stretched the window of legitimacy in American politics.

Don’t believe me? Try this: The introduction of radio host Jan Mickelson, who called President Obama’s omission of deity references from the Declaration of Independence “evil,” drew one of the loudest cheers. In the past, among sundry misdeeds, Mickelson has called AIDS God’s retribution against “stupid behavior” like homosexuality (no word on where he falls on the moral spectrum).

Or this: A question about Obama’s birth certificate drew applause from the crowd and a mere hand-wave by King and his fellow “Obamacare Repeal” panelist Betsy McCaughey.

CEO Herman Cain’s appeal to partisan warfare came with a preacher’s cadence; he’d been mobbed all day by a crowd of reporters carrying expensive cameras, asking him if he would run, Mr. Cain, run. Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour had the unfortunate first speech (after King’s opener): His attempts to center the conversation on economic issues were met with criticism by every other speaker. His exit from the room was accompanied by a mass exodus of big-name journalists, seeking his comments on the fledgling race.

And somehow nobody recognized that among all these stirring speeches about taking the country back, King and his goons do not represent the American polity — in some cases, they don’t even have a firm hold on reality.

The facts are these: Obama is an American citizen. There is no radical socialist agenda in the White House; in fact, the Obama presidency has seen a marked increase in the concentration of wealth.

American mosques have led the fight against extremism. Perhaps most tellingly, Americans no longer wholly identify with the social agenda pushed at the Conservative Principles Conference — a majority now support same-sex marriage, according to a poll released this month.

The media has been drawn into this circus of out-of-touch right-wingers, and that’s where the party of denialism grows dangerous.

When King holds his conference to “kick off the caucus season,” journalists from the New York Times, the Chicago Tribune, and the Boston Globe flock to Des Moines and breathlessly report on who received the most cheers, who won the straw poll, and who looked the most presidential.

Reporters are kingmakers in the primaries, endorsing certain candidates by sheer coverage (2012’s Donald Trump over Gary Johnson, 2008’s vernal Obama over three-time Nobel nominee Bill Richardson); when events with enough grandeur to get shutters snapping are controlled by old-power institutions, anyone offering real change is necessarily excluded from the limelight.

Physicists know this as the observer effect: The photon interaction necessary to produce sight automatically alters the situation. The presence of a camera, of a journalist, of a thousand reporters trying to get the scoop on each other, of a waiting audience, serves as justification for the entire conference’s morass of misleading rhetoric.

The national credence given to a political initiation led by one of the most conservative members of Congress, with an advertised speaker who is a virulent homophobe, skews the field automatically.

The media follows the campaign trail with little or no evaluation, preferring to crow over the pageantry. In doing so, its definition of “the campaign trail” shapes the national discourse.

That shape, right now, is one that fits in with the Conservative Principles Convention’s ideal: capitalism rooted in Christianity, with King’s professed disregard for “antisexism and multiculturalism.”

If that sits OK with you, you can cheer — I guess.


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