Beck Capture

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Dave Weigel had an interesting post this morning about the problems a political movement runs into when it lets itself be led by charlatan media personalities:

The Democrats are in worse political shape than they were a year ago because unemployment is at 9.8 percent, the war in Afghanistan has grown less popular, and the bailouts of struggling banks are seen as wastes of money that haven’t worked. Republicans benefit when they talk about this stuff. But Beck and the others don’t let them talk about this stuff. For the past few months, they have moved the discussion onto fantasy terrain, accusing the president of reaching for dictatorial powers and surrounding himself with “radicals” who want to destroy capitalism. […]

And remember, one of the huge political mistakes of 2005 was the Republican decision to do a full-court press on an issue that had come from conservative activists and pundits: the fate of Terri Schiavo.

You can see some of this at work in the very interesting GQR report on “The Very Separate World of Conservative Republicans”. Basically they contrast the worldview of self-identified conservative Republicans with that of Obama-skeptical people who don’t self-identify in this way. To cast the distinction in broad terms, the Obama-skeptics worry that Obama is failing—that his efforts to create jobs aren’t working, that his reforms of the health care system won’t improve access to quality care, etc.—whereas the conservative Republicans worry that he’ll succeed. They believe, à la Beck, that the Obama administration is pursuing a secret agenda aimed at the deliberate destruction of the United States. Focusing on this rather outlandish claim makes it difficult to get in touch with the more banal worries of the marginal voter.

The overarching problem, I think, is that while it may be tactically helpful to have allies in the media who’ll lie about your enemies, it’s a big problem when you start believing too many of the lies. Beck and others on the right have, for example, convinced a lot of people that Cass Sunstein is a dangerous wild-eyed in a way that will make it difficult for the Obama administration to elevate him to any higher positions. Given that Sunstein is, in fact, actually pretty conservative for a Democrat and also a plausible Supreme Court justice this campaign has been, objectively speaking, a victory for the left.