They wouldn’t be called opportunists if they weren’t exploiting a real opportunity. Rick Perlstein via TPM:
So the birthers, the anti-tax tea-partiers, the town hall hecklers — these are “either” the genuine grass roots or evil conspirators staging scenes for YouTube? The quiver on the lips of the man pushing the wheelchair, the crazed risk of carrying a pistol around a president — too heartfelt to be an act. The lockstep strangeness of the mad lies on the protesters’ signs — too uniform to be spontaneous. They are both. If you don’t understand that any moment of genuine political change always produces both, you can’t understand America, where the crazy tree blooms in every moment of liberal ascendancy, and where elites exploit the crazy for their own narrow interests.
Reading through the comments (about 200 or so) you can find examples of both hysterical scattershot copy-paste tirades (not funny) as well as reasoned posts by conservatives who are genuinely disappointed because their own criticisms of left-identified hysteria have not been sufficiently validated by the press. One such poster cites Farrakhan’s loony numerological riff at the Million Man March in 1995 as an example of the “pass” the media gives to allies of the Democratic party. (The GOP’s totemic animal is an elephant, after all.)
Perlstein’s argument is canny enough to anticipate this line of rebuttal. The need to find equivalence is what keeps the public debate focused on the sideshow. It’s emotionally satisfying to vent but besides the point. Keeping track of slights and insults is for clans and families. Modern states have to keep track of justice, fairness and the common wealth. When politicians and journalists indulge emotions over reason, they do the public a disservice.
Because emotions are far easier to convey via video than ideas, our medium of choice favors drama over debate. We get the format we prefer but not necessarily the news we deserve.
Having strong feelings on a subject, doesn’t necessarily entail a good grasp of same. If the angry protesters cited by Perlstein were bringing up deficiencies in the proposed legislation (shortcuts, compromises, cooked numbers) it would be wrong to mistake their fervor for madness. But when a Medicare recipient charges that the government can’t be trusted to administer health care, or when a voter argues that, categorically, government can do no good, those aren’t arguments. Those are contradictions. And the only way to hold on to contradictory beliefs is to reject reason.