Why Are So Many People in a Blind Rage These Days?

| Tue Oct. 1, 2013 6:10 PM EDT

Paul Waldman, as he so often does, says what I've been thinking:

I wish I could write something optimistic as we begin the government shutdown. I wish I could, but I can't. In fact, this morning I can't help but feel something close to despair....The reason for my despair isn't about this week or this month. It's the fact that this period in our political history—the period of lurching from absurd crisis to absurd crisis, with no possibility of passing a budget let alone legislation to address any serious problems we face, with a cowardly Republican leadership held hostage by a group of insane political terrorists who think it's a tragedy if a poor person gets health insurance and it's a great day when you kick a kid off food stamps, a period where this collection of extremists and fools, these people who think the likes of Michele Bachmann and Steve King are noble and wise leaders—this awful, horrific period in our history, when these are the people who control the country's fate, looks like it will never end.

Roger that. But then he adds this:

In June of last year, Obama expressed the belief that if he was re-elected, "the fever may break, because there's a tradition in the Republican Party of more common sense than that."....But it was never going to happen. That's not only because of their white-hot hatred of him, but also because, generally speaking, the crazier a Republican member of Congress is, the less they have to worry about political consequences from their craziness. The most radical members come from the most conservative districts, where the only question determining who gets elected is which candidate in a Republican primary is the most extreme, hates Barack Obama the most, and can talk with the most contempt about liberals and government and all the "thems" his constituents despise so much.

This is conventional wisdom, of course. The reason the tea party caucus isn't willing to compromise is because there's no pressure on them to compromise. Their constituents are as crazy as they are. They want the safety net slashed, taxes cut, the EPA put out of business, and the Fed eliminated. They believe that Obamacare is the thin edge of the wedge that's driving America into decline and ruin. They believe this so strongly that they're willing to do anything to turn the country around. If that means government shutdowns and financial panic, so be it.

But why? There's always been a faction of right-wing craziness in America. It's part of our DNA. But how did it become so widespread? The usual answer involves the rise of conservative think tanks, conservative talk radio, Fox News, the Christian right, and racial resentment toward a black president. And maybe that's it. Somehow, though, it doesn't feel quite sufficient. But if it's not, then what's going on? What's happened over the past decade or two to spin up so many Americans into a blind rage?

Complaining about tea party congressmen misses the big picture. The problem is the people who voted them into office. What happened to them?

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