Today, I want to write about madness. It’s a pandemic human condition, you know. Throughout human history, there is a tide which periodically washes away sanity and reason, to be replaced for a time by the most irrational assumptions and superstitions, and so far as I can tell there has never been a society yet which has been immune to the unbalancing of order, and even its best ideals are thrown down in manic frenzies, sometimes of the masses, but at other occasions at the whim of a few elites, or even one madman who gains control of the works. Ancient civilzations developed cities and laws and commerce, but also fell into cult behavior, which included human sacrifice and wars for no better reason than the command of a demagogue. Crusades and Jihads were called up on little more than the command of certain Popes and Caliphs, which did no better than to kill hundreds of thousands of men at a stroke, along with the wholesale devastation of cities and farmland. Even in the last century, nations fell prey to similar personality cults, from Chairman Mao and “Uncle Joe” Stalin to “Der Fuhrer” and various “Maximum Leaders” and the like.
But I do not want to give the sense that this madness only appears in warfare, or that it is solely present in the arrogance of political leaders. No, this madness appears everywhere to some extent. We certainly saw it when Dan Rather tried to influence a Presidential election which documents he knew to be forged. We certainly saw it when a foreign-born billionaire tried to buy votes in that same election. We certainly saw it when religious groups demanded the “right” to sway the direction of national policy. We certainly saw it when leading Congressmen and Senators chose to damage U.S. troop morale and advocate the goals of terrorist groups, by opposing the war effort and national security for political gain. We certainly saw it when the most outrageous lies and falsest accusations became the common currency of certain talk shows and websites. Which brings me to the Daily Kos, arguably the least rational of the major blogs.
What makes the Kos significant, is its influence with leading Democrats. Kos does not speak for the Democratic Party of the United States, but it does carry interviews with some high-profile Democrats, and it does get the attention of every leading candidate in the Democratic Party. Given Kos’ incendiary and perjorative posture, this behavior increases the virulence of the Leftist rhetoric, and suppresses the voice of reasonable Democrats and moderate liberals; one is compelled to recall the response to Senator Joe Lieberman’s support for the war effort in Iraq. Lieberman did not support the Bush Administration’s policies, nor did he say anything to damage Democrats’ political positions – he simply chose to support the troops and to note that Iraq needed to be stabilized. For this he was hounded by Kos and similar thugsites, and lost the Democratic nomination for re-election in his Senate campaign. When Lieberman won anyway as an Independent, Democrats simply pretended they had not tried to drive him out of the party, while Kos held its breath while waiting to see if Lieberman would prove sufficiently radical. Since then, Kos has addressed Lieberman in angry and petulant tones, as if Lieberman were the one who owed an apology.
What’s interesting to me, is that the Kos crowd marched along to its present angry position from a much calmer and rational one. While the Kosites may have been more inclined to unreasoned assumptions then other people, they still chose to move towards greater hate. In the same way, political candidates have moved towards friction and deliberate discourtesy to opponents and the other party. It’s not enough to say you can do a better job, now you have to punch in some scare tactics, suggest that the other guy would be hopelessly inept or else a criminal, that very bad things would happen if they were elected. And this spirit of aggression gets fed by a growing segment of the population, an almost mindless echo chamber of hatred and groupthink. We’ve seen it before, of course, but it’s always trouble when it pops up again. Politics is rancorous enough, without giving in to the worst among us.