You've got to love Nate Silver and the other folks at fivethirtyeight.com. They keep digging out lumps of clarity whilst every one else is flinging mud and going stark staring ape droppings.
They've cast some historical light on why a small group of fearmongers are beating up a sitting White House & Congress in the Health Care debate. See this great piece by Tom Schaller which links to another great piece by Scott McLemee about the similarities between today's right wing propagandists and the "Agitators" of the 1930s depression.
Recommended reading, and it turns out, this fresh new hell is neither fresh nor new.
This is a short diary which is mainly just to direct folks to a couple of interesting essays (linked in the intro) at Fivethirtyeight.com and insidehighered.com which give us some historical perspective on how propagandists can win an asymetrical fight with a powerful incumbent government.
The similarities between people like Glen Beck and the "Agitators" from 1930s radio and newspapers are striking. Scott McLemee's conclusion is that a big part of effectiveness of these fearmongers is not that they drive any specific agenda but rather that their rhetorial technique has the effect of freeing up and surfacing fears and predudices that were already deeply planted. The key is that the crazys were already crazy inside, they just needed to be set free.
What this means in terms of how we can overcome this very real and present threat to civilisation is tougher nut to crack. But I think we may be able to start from here. The crazy's will be crazy and that's just life. Where we lose electoral contests is when reasonable folks in the centre get infected by crazy ideas that get filtered so that they seem less crazy. It's important that we, the forces of truth and light (I had my irony pill this morning) keep pushing back in ways that make it clear that these ideas are coming from a crazy place.
I'm not at all familiar with the history that McLemee is talking about. I wonder if anyone else out there can enlighten us further about the "Agitators" of that time. In particular I wonder about these questions, did they suceed in undermining any of FDR's agenda, or if not how did FDR and Co overcome them and win the debate?