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Outlook: In America, Crazy Is a Pre-existing Condition

Rick Perlstein
Rick Perlstein

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Rick Perlstein
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Tuesday, August 18, 2009; 11:00 AM

Author Rick Perlstein was online Tuesday, Aug. 18, at 11 a.m. ET to discuss his Outlook article titled "In America, Crazy Is a Pre-existing Condition."

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Perlstein is the author of "Nixonland: The Rise of a President and the Fracturing of America" and "Before the Storm: Barry Goldwater and the Unmaking of the American Consensus."

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Rick Perlstein: Really excited to participate in this. The overwhelming response to my piece, pro and con, came utterly as a surprise to me. And the response has been fascinating, really forcing me to refine my arguments. Keep forcing!

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Washington, D.C.: How do we get the mainstream media to drop its dogged allegiance to "balance" over all, even when "balance" means taking make-believe claims about death panels and euthanizing of old people and the disabled seriously? As you note, this wasn't always so--Walter Cronkite didn't waste time taking baseless, irrational diatribes seriously. How do we get Wolf Blitzer, Andrea Mitchell, Chuck Todd and the rest to understand this?

Rick Perlstein: The point I would make to Blitzer, Andrea Mitchell, and Chuck Todd is that authoritarian takeovers of nations happen, they happen slowly, and it's a process. I would ask them, if they were reporters in Weimar Germany when Nazi street thugs starting using violence as a way to settle political disputes, when would you begin to report--not opine, report--that democracy was under threat? (Because that is the definition of democracy: the ability to settle political questions without violence.) How far down the road to authoritarianism does a nation have to get before you drop the he-said, she-said paradigm?

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Traverse City, Mich.: If one is fairly sane and doesn't believe the U. S. Government wants to eliminate senior citizens by virtue of "death panels," what actions might an individual take? I wonder if any person's actions can even hope to help maintain some kind of equilibrium in news shows or blogs. I admit I miss the Conkite-era news where you could at least mitigate the fringe sentiments on the right and the left by not giving them airtime.

Rick Perlstein: Call your congressman and tell them to vote for healthcare reform. Politicians respond to organized pressure from their constituents. If you're opposed to healthcare reform, of course, call your congressman and tell them that. But don't bring a gun to a political meeting, and don't shout down a politician--whatever your ideology.

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Harrisburg, Pa.: I notice much of our political dialogue appears to mix appeals to our emotions versus appeals to our logic. One side will argue the facts of an issue and the other side will denounce it in rhetorical terms. Thus, shouldn't we try and insist that we, as consumers of information, demand that more debates center around facts and philosophies and less on the emotional rhetorical appeals?

Rick Perlstein: You can't "demand" that people be more logical. Emotion is part of the human animal. What I would have liked to have seen, as an advocate of healthcare reform, is for Obama and the rhetoric to COMBINE rational appeals with emotional ones--like FDR and and Truman and LBJ did so effectively in their own attempts to pass progressive legislation. They roused people in their lizard-brains, too, just for progressive ends. Read a book about the 1948 presidential election--Truman made arguments in a very blunt, emotional style.

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Toronto, Canada: Rick,

You mentioned past examples of right-wing insanity and paranoia in resisting elements of the welfare and liberal state (e.g., the civil rights act would "enslave" whites). Obviously none of these absurd fears came true. How did past liberal leaders like FDR, JFK and LBJ deal with or overcome this resistance? Should Obama and the Democrats just ignore this, implement their reforms and know that the public will warm to the programs once they see them working?

Rick Perlstein: Past liberal leaders had a much better sense of the way conservative ideas were "reactionary"--that is, automatically opposed to change no matter what form the change took. They understood that you pushed past the resistance of reactionaries--you didn't let them cow you. Then, if the program truly is enlightened and well designed--like social security, Medicare, and the 1964 civil rights act--the reactionaries will claim they were for these things all along (they may even campaign to "save" social security and "save" Medicare and "preserve" the "true spirit" of the civil rights act)--and then automatically oppose the next change that comes along. It's a cycle, you have to expect it, and most of all, you can't act shock (like many in the Obama administration seem to feel shocked) when it happens again.

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Fairfax Station, Va.: Rick, thank you for the story on Sunday that gives a historic perspective to today's right wing reactionaries. Do you think we might see more of this reaction today because of the inflammatory rhetoric on TV talk shows? Also, what role has the polarization of Congress played in energizing extremists from both sides?

Do you think we are on the verge of a new progressive majority supported by changing demographics, or are we likely to see the political pendulum now change directions after swinging left in the 2007 and 2009 elections?

Rick Perlstein: I suspect we may in fact be on the verge of a new progressive majority based on demographics, and the anger we're hearing from those who oppose it is more akin to their (metaphorical!_ death rattle. But politicians need to understand nothing happens automatically. Even a "progressive majority" can fail to produce progressive change without courageous leadership willing to stand up to the anger of the minority. Unfortunately, a lot of cable news these days has sapped their will to do this--it can create the illusion that the minority is bigger than it actually is (angry minorities, after all, are loud and make for good TV). I think Republicans in Congress have absolutely been energizing their extremists--by, for example, refusing to condemn the idea of bringing guns to political meetings. Democrats have a much more adversarial relationship to their extremists--see, for example, Nancy Pelosi, who's actually being challenged for her congressional seat by a member of Code Pink. They don't see her as an ally.

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Costa Mesa, Calif.: Why do you assume that those with questions have no right to question but, must submit to the information presented by the government must be the truth. Do you know what the truth is? As far as I know, you trust this president without question. I must ask you why?

Rick Perlstein: They have the right. And I don't trust this president, or any president. That's the way our founding fathers intended it--for us to look upon our leaders and their utterances with skepticism.

Conversely, though, we owe respect to their offices, which we violate when we assume every word out of their mouth has to be a lie, without any evidence to evaluate whether it's a lie (like the people at town halls who shout "liar" AUTOMATICALLY at anything their representative says).

This gets into the question of rights verses responsibilities. We have the right to shout at our politician. But we have the responsibility, each of us, to make our political discussion civil. We have the right to jump in church or synagogue on a pogo stick. But we also have a responsibility to honor the rules of civility.

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Waukesha, Wis..: My question: How can a democratic society ever control the far right and its empty rhetoric? It is frightening to contemplate these looneys actually shooting or physically assaulting elected officials. In America it seems that the fringe too frequently determine the history of this wonderful country. If only civility could rein perhaps we could return to intelligent discourse. Thank you.

Rick Perlstein: We can't, and we shouldn't try. In America, we don't try to "control" rhetoric. What politicians should do is acknowledge the existence of extreme rhetoric, but have the courage not to allow themselves to be swayed by it. Some rhetoric will always be scary and stupid; some rhetoric will always be gentile and intelligent. That's life.

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Darnestown, Md.: I am 69 years old and this is the first year in my life that I have joined in public protest. I am deeply worried about a group of people (Congress and Executive Branch wanting to make rules about my personal health care; but, exempting themselves from the rules. Don't even liberals worry that this is an unfair game plan?

Rick Perlstein: I'm always worried that our politicians will act unfairly in ways that advantage themselves, or their elite supporters. In this case, though, I trust the insurance companies much less. I think the progressives working to reform health care are honorable people; I think that often, the elites organizing the opposition to reform are quite dishonorable (for instance, see the former health care exec who's been blowing the whistle on how he had been hired to distort and mislead).

My bottom line is this: in America, no one should have to go broke because they get sick. We're on the road to making this impossible--if we can pass a good bill. But this can't happen if we surrender to corrosive skepticism and assume our elected representatives are only trying to hustle us. And if they are hustling us--hell, we can vote them out of office next time!

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Herndon, Va.: I liked your comment about Obama and Congress needing to combine an emotional appeal with the logical reasons in support of health-care reform. Unfortunately, our public discourse has shifted so far to the right that any progressive idea is forcefully modified before it can even come up for a vote. (As in the current talks of removing the public option.) Any thoughts on this?

Rick Perlstein: The answer is courage. I just got back from the Lincoln Museum in Springfield, Illinois. Discourse had shifted very far to the right in the 1850s--people working to expand slavery and make it national called their ideology "popular sovereignty," which sounded sweet and nice, and convinced a lot of Americans that the people who didn't want slavery to expand were the "extremists."

Why didn't it work? Because people were willing to stand up for their progressive ideals, and even put their lives on the line for them. Lincoln faced vituperation as bad or worse than Barack Obama faces.

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Arlington, Va.: While I support gun ownership rights (within the legal framework), I see protesters "exercising their right" to carry a firearm at town hall protests as a form of intimidation. The reason for this is that I doubt (yes, I don't have the facts) that they carry their firearms everywhere (home, work, supermarket, church, etc.). If they don't, then they're doing it to make a point, and that point seems to be the threat of violence.

I'd like to get feedback from you and others, in particular those with differing opinions, on this.

Rick Perlstein: Carrying a gun to a political meeting is an obscenity. Anyone who does it, even if they are within their legal rights, should be ashamed. Our founders fought a revolution (and, yes, took up arms) to build a society where political disputes are not settled through force or intimidation--and that's the only purpose of bringing a weapon to a political discussion: to intimidate.

It is utterly unacceptable, and every politician should have the guts to say so. What worries me is that the people bringing weapons are hoping to have their weapons taken away, forcing a confrontation that will escalate; many of them, after all, quite frankly proclaim them "revolutionaries."

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Boston, Mass.: Why do you suppose are the the Democrats so bad at messaging and pushing back? I mean, the Republicans' way of using the same blunt talking points, repeating the same words over all interviews, is very effective. Are Democrats just really that much like a herd of cats? Or do they just not have someone to test out talking points (for example, pushing back on "death panels" should have only ever have used the term "living wills". Never should have used "end-of-life discussions".)

Rick Perlstein: Somewhere along the line Democrats lost a sense of their natural power base--which is the fact that their ideas are economically beneficial to the vast majority. Acknowledging this fact became "demagoguery." Conservatives convinced them it was "class warfare." They became afraid of their simplest and most powerful message. All the other timidity follows from that.

Don't blame the folks (including Republicans!) who put "end-of-life" provisions in the bill. The enemies of reform were going to find something to distort in the bill no matter what.

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Derry, N.H.: I thoroughly appreciate your article and its historical perspective on right-wing paranoia - both the way history is replaying itself and where it now differs. One critical aspect not covered, however, is what (if anything) can be done to counter such ridiculous and blatant falsehoods in what should be a patriotic dialog rather than a hysterical diatribe. As you noted, merely repeating the falsehoods and even branding them as such merely gives them more airtime and greater credence with some. If you could suggest one way to take on this foolishness, what would it be?

Rick Perlstein: I would address this to politicians: if something your constituent says sounds extreme or crazy to you, your allowed to not take it into account when making your politician decisions. (Too late for that when it comes to end-of-life care; politicians, some of them progressive, have already allowed themselves to be intimidated by that and took it out of the bill.) Even if lots and lots of people are saying things that are crazy, your responsibility as a public servant, if you believe in your heart of hearts that it's crazy, is simply to listen politely, and when it comes time to vote or negotiate, ignore it.

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Austin, Tex.: Rick,

First: THANK YOU!

Second: Will you please venture this one time into the prediction game as to the end result of the current orchestrated wave of rageful paranoia? Where is this leading right now?

Rick Perlstein: I worry about people bringing guns to political meetings because some time soon a law enforcement officer will responsibly attempt to disarm them, and the person disarmed (if they don't shoot first) will be turned into a martyr, exponentially increasing the danger of insurrectionist political activity.

That's the key, I think: whether people keep bringing guns to political meetings (even if they have the legal right to do so). All politicians have a responsibility to denounce this as beyond the pale, immediately.

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Alexandria, Va.: At what point should a congressman or senator (or for that matter POTUS) simply say "You're wrong. You're repeating nonsense. When you can show me proof, we can talk, but right now I'm not going to listen to this."

I'm all for discussion and debate of plans and proposals, but it seems like the right wing has cast these aside and just gone straight to name calling and unfounded accusations.

What can be done to return competing ideas rather than mudslinging to the forum?

Rick Perlstein: Politicians should be more willing to do this. but they shouldn't say they won't "listen"--that simply increases the conspiracist's sense of being under siege. The trick for a skilled and democratic politician is to separate listening--which all politicians have a duty to do in most circumstances--and acting on what they hear, which they do not.

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Washington, D.C.: As you probably know, yesterday Bob Somerby more or less accused you of "blaming the victims" -- the largely blue collar shouters against health care reform -- instead of the establishment media (such as the Post, and especially its Hiatt/Diehl wing) who contribute to their misinformation by refusing to distinguish between truth and lies. (See: The Daily Howler)

Seems to me a mischaracterization of your position, but do you have your own response?

Rick Perlstein: I'm really glad someone asked that. Somerby is guilty of the soft bigotry of low expectations. When someone--anyone--makes a political statement at a political meeting, we all have a responsibility as citizens to judge that statement on equal terms, whether the person is rich or poor, black or white, stupid or smart. In civic engagement, you don't grade on a curve. Somerby errs badly--and insultingly, and patronizingly--in presuming that you shouldn't criticize a speaker because they come from a blue collar background.

Someone says something crazy or stupid in a crucial public debate, I will respect them enough to muster my own arguments to defeat them.

Tell the truth as you see it, without fear or favor. An imperishable principle.

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Herndon, Va.: It seems the questions you're choosing to answer are as one sided as your article.

Rick Perlstein: I'm answering every question, in order, as fast as I can.

You, on the other hand, are paranoid.

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Godwin's Law: Got to smack that one on you, Rick. You simply can't equate town hall protests to the brownshirts running amok in Weimar Germany. For you to do so delegitimizes your case -- the same for the people equating Obama with Hitler. For you to do that is just as much of an obscenity as those you call out for bearing arms in THMs.

Rick Perlstein: Brownshirts weren't brownshirts at first. They were just angry people who felt dispossessed by the course Germany took after World War I. This kind of entropy--angry people exploited by elites--is a pattern in history, and it shouldn't be denied. We all have to draw the line as to what kinds of expression of dispossession are illegitimate. People who believed in democracy in Germany didn't have "Godwin's Law" to throw at each other in 1925, and 1928, and 1930. They just had to figure out for themselves when things were getting out of hand. We share that same responsibility. I intend a historical parallel to the 1920s in Germany--not a claim that my political adversaries "are" Nazis. They aren't. But they are beginning to violate the bonds of civility that hold a healthy democracy together.

Bringing guns to political meetings is where I draw that line.

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Belfrod, N.J.: The difference between now and then, is that today we have media outlets broadcasting 24 hours a day, seven days a week giving both sides of the story. If one side of a story is an obvious, outright lie, then there aren't two sides. There is truth and the lie. Thanks to our modern media, both are presented and we the people get to pick and choose our truths.

What the mainstream media, including the Washington Post, is doing is enabling the misinformed, conspiracy theorists.

In the past, as you say, there were various crackpot theories whenever great change was to take place. But even Hearst knew, that in order to skirt the truth, it had to be at least plausible.

Rick Perlstein: There have always been outright liars in the media. Like I said, I just got back from the Lincoln Museum, where I read journalists writing in the 1860 that Abraham Lincoln, if he became president, would usher in "free love."

What we have to do is call our elites to their professional responsibilities. Sometimes even fair-minded media outlets who don't wish to take a side in controversial issues have the duty to make judgments by ruling certain kinds of rhetoric out of bounds--condemning certain kinds of rhetoric.

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Silver Spring, Md.: Isn't there craziness on both sides? Why do you ignore the left-on-right variety? How do you know right-on-left is the primary type? Surely there is an argument beyond the pileup of anecdotes.

Rick Perlstein: This is a really, really important question, one I've been asked constantly in the last few days.

Here's a difference. Some people think "Code Pink" is crazy. Let's grant that for the sake of argument. Well, Democratic politicians don't like Code Pink. They don't encourage Code Pink. In fact, Code Pink feels so alienated from the Democratic Party that one of their leaders is running against Nancy Pelosi.

It is the opposite in the Republican Party today: now people who fairly can be considered leaders (like Rush Limbaugh, and the congressman yesterday who refused to condemn bringing guns to political meetings) have made themselves the frank allies of extremists. And the mainstream media has abetted this in a way they would never do with left wing extremists. When is the last time you saw a member of the Animal Liberation Front on CNN?

It was the same way in the late 1960s with the violent New Left and the Democratic Party. There was NO congressman or senator who supported them. None. Ever.

Some people have been distorting my argument by pointing out that some people who were violent leftists in the 1960s and 1970s were friendly with politicians long, long, long after they re-entered the mainstream. I can't stand Bill Ayers because I think he lies about his past (he claims all he cared about was ending the Vietnam War when actually the Weathermen were quite explicitly that they were working to foment a violent overthrow of the American government--read their manifestos). But he was a legitimate and law-abiding and non-violent member of the Chicago progressive community by the time Barack Obama met him. It was quite possible--as Obama claims is the case-- not to know about his past.

There's a trope in right-wing culture going back to the Cold War that if someone once was a revolutionary, they must still be a revolutionary, only they're hiding it--for the purposes of furthering the revolution. This silly paranoia has to stop. People are allowed to change (though I wish Ayers would be more forthright about his past and apologize, which he smarmily avoids doing).

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Boston Mass.: Re "Don't blame the folks (including Republicans!) who put "end-of-life" provisions in the bill. The enemies of reform were going to find something to distort in the bill no matter what." I agree. What I meant was that, as soon as it started being attacked, someone in charge of Democratic messaging should have sent out a memo that said "when defending this excellent provision, use the term 'living will' not 'end of life discussion' because the latter is less clear, less well-known, and much scarier sounding." Imagine if everyone debating a Republican just stubbornly refused to say more than "Are you against living wills? Or just against paying doctors to help you understand all the options when making one?"

Rick Perlstein: No, I'm for living wills, and for that provision. My mother in law worked in a hospice. Maybe Deems could have done better playing catch-up, but what I really wish they would have done is come out with a strong set of messages out of the box that would have put the enemies of reform on the defensive right away. As they say, "in politics, if you're explaining, your losing."

A long, long time ago the commercials should have been on the air saying, "In America, nobody should go broke just because they got sick."

Force the enemies of reform to explain why they disagree.

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Annapolis, Md.: Dear Rick: You're one of the more reasonable, objective voices on this whole matter. Why don't you either: a). Run for public office yourself; or b). Join a TV talk show so that you have a forum in which to talk internationally about how the crazies have really gone over the edge?

Rick Perlstein: I'd love to do a TV talk show; call my agent!

I don't think I'm suited for political office, though, because I'm not a compromiser, and politicians have the duty to compromise. I'm more comfortable as a critic.

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Arlington, Va.: "It seems the questions you're choosing to answer are as one sided as your article."

The Post is feeding you only the softies.

Rick Perlstein: Well, if that's what you think, you should apologize for insulting my motives.

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Denver, Colo.: I tend to believe that there are extremist outliers of every political persuasion. However, in the recent coverage of the "return of right-wing rage" I'm struck by the strength of the anger shown by protesters, but also by the role of established and recognized leaders of the Republican Party or the conservative movement, such as Palin and Gingrich, in perpetuating falsehoods and actively stirring up that kind of rage.

My question is whether history shows similar rage and a similar stoking by party leaders on the left? I saw a lot of anti-war activism when Bush invaded Iraq and Afghanistan, but nothing that seemed to me comparable to the outright lies and distortion and the types of personal attacks and distortions by party leaders. Is this just the result of my bias as a liberal-leaning individual, or do you find in your research that this is something that really is magnified on one side?

Also, is the intensity of the rage related to the seemingly increasing attacks by Republican Party leaders on each other - ie, McCain and Palin, Bush and Cheney? In other words, do you think they stem from the same fear in the face of losing power, or are feeding each other in some other way? Thanks!

Rick Perlstein: No. Absolutely not. No liberal elected officials offered support to the Weathermen in the 1960s. No liberal elected officials excused violence on the part of anti-Iraq demonstrators. I'd be glad to consider exceptions, but if there are exceptions, they were very, very rare compared to the countenancing of insurrection on the part of contemporary conservative elected officials (and mass media figures like Beck and Limbaugh).

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Falls Church, Va.: "We have the right to shout at our politician. But we have the responsibility, each of us, to make our political discussion civil."

Point us to the article you wrote during the 2002-03 antiwar protests making the same point about liberal criticism of the Bush administration. Otherwise, it's hard not to conclude that you only value civility when it can be used as a political tool to stifle opposition to your particular views.

Rick Perlstein: Sure: this one: Get Mad. Act Out. Re-Elect George Bush. (Village Voice, Aug. 17, 2004)

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Baiting Hollow, N.Y.: Could the trend that you describe be just the swing in culture wars away from a point where things were in the 1960s? Or is this an altogether different and more menacing development?

Rick Perlstein: I think it's a continuum, with uncanny resonances. Look up the 1960s right-wing group "The Minutemen" led by a man named DePugh.

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trope in right-wing culture: If someone is once an extremist, always an extremist, how do you explain G. Gordon Liddy's popularity with Republicans?

Rick Perlstein: The felon Liddy is most famous for literally encouraging his listeners to shoot ATF agents in the head, not the body. It is shameful that the conservative movement allows him to remain a respected figure in their movement.

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Washington, D.C.: " . . . if someone once was a revolutionary, they must still be a revolutionary, only they're hiding it--for the purposes of furthering the revolution."

Isn't it rather the case that if someone was once a revolutionary, they're now probably a neo-con?

Rick Perlstein: :-)

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Las Cruces, N.M.: Your answer re: Bill Ayers is a straw man argument. We are not saying that the left was as bad in the '60's as the birthers are today. We are saying that the fringe left today is as kooky as the fringe right, but you seem unwilling to call them out. Do you believe the CIA is supplying cocaine to inner-cities, for example? Our nuts are defining our party because your left-wing media is focusing on them. There are some nuts on the right, I'm talking about them publicly and stating that they are hurting my party. Where is your commitment to challenge left-wing nuts. You are a hack to your movement, sir!

Rick Perlstein: See the Village Voice article I posted above. I'm glad to call them out.

I especially despise the Animal Liberation Front, who harass scientists.

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New York City: The Secret Service arrested people for merely wearing anti-Bush t-shirts four years ago. Today, they permit Red State scum to carry AK-47s near Obama. Should we be worried the Police State is subtly putting Obama at risk?

Rick Perlstein: I trust the Secret Service to make the right decisions to protect the president.

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Austin, Tex.: Mr. Pearlstein, I believe that you have fallen victim to the subject of your rant. It is obvious to me that you have a serious pre-existing condition -- Crazy as a loon.

Rick Perlstein: What words of mine are you referring to specifically?

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Herndon, Va.: "Conversely, though, we owe respect to their offices, which we violate when we assume every word out of their mouth has to be a lie"

And where were you during the Bush administration calling for respect for the office?

Rick Perlstein: Here, for instance: Against Shoe Bombing (Campaign for America's Future, Dec. 15, 2008)

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Alexandria: This online discussion is an absolute joke. Now you're comparing radical 60's efforts with what's going on in this healthcare debate??????

You, Rick, as well as the others in this discussion have you not noticed that all of you are now in the minority as it relates to this healthcare debate? The presumption that anything you disagree with MUST be a lie is ridiculous. And get off the death panels ok? The provision is out of the senate debate and is no longer a point of discussion.

Rick Perlstein: This is factually incorrect. In the latest poll the public option was favored by over 60 percent.

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Leesburg, Va.: As a moderate independent voter with acquaintances all over the map, I have to say that fundamentally the "crazies" that have gotten way too much media coverage lately are, categorically, not much different from the "crazies" that come out of the woodwork when Conservatives are in power. Do you see any hope for Centrists like me because of the polarization that is evident today? Isn't "moderation" a good thing for a democratic society to value?

Rick Perlstein: Sometimes moderation isn't a virtue. It wasn't, for example, in the 1850s, when the "moderate" position was that slavery should be allowed to exist and perhaps even possibly to expand.

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Fairfax County, Va.: Dr. Perlstein,

I am a member of the coveted, romanticized "middle." I lean slightly to the right but have voted almost evenly throughout my life. I have to say that your article really riled me. You seem to ignore the fact that when conservatives are in power the left produces its share of shrillness and lunacy. Code Pink, 9/11 conspiracy theorists, etc. Your article, however, presents a world inhabited by intelligent, right-thinking liberals and emotional, stupid, easily duped conservatives. Such condescension is not appreciated and, frankly, does not exactly help to sway me to your side.

Rick Perlstein: Code Pink have nothing to do with the Democratic Party. One of the leaders of Code Pink is running against Nancy Pelosi for her House seat.

I didn't mean my portrayal of liberals always being hyper-rational as a compliment, actually. In fact, it's sometimes a liability. Emotion is a legitimate part of politics, something some liberals sometimes forget.

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Philadelphia, Pa.: It is my observation that "liberals" do not know how to debate the rhetorical attackers on their terms. Not that they are going to sway their attackers, but it might help sway undecideds. When they respond "why do you hate America?", I would love someday to hear a "liberal" shove it back to them with "why do you not trust our system of checks and balances and the voting public that we would never allow for death panels. Why do you not trust America?" I would have loved to hear Arlen Specter respond to the man yelling at him that someday he is facing God, "yes, and when I face God, I want Him to know I tried to help those who needed health care get health care." Why do we seldom see such a response from "liberals"?

Rick Perlstein: Amen. I think the answer to your question is a lack of courage and leadership and clarity on the part of some liberal elected officials.

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Marquette, Mich.: Do you think that the embrace of right-wing extremists by the Republican party will further their party's demise? I am surprised by many of the tactics (especially the shouting matches) and am convinced that most folks see this as undemocratic - ie if you want to further the debate, by all means speak up, but to deny other citizens the same right is just plain un-American.

Rick Perlstein: It could, if the Democrats play it right strategically. Americans in the center hate disorder, so if Democrats can be rhetorically successful in framing the Republicans as being responsible for disorder they can be successful (just like Republicans were successful in the 1960s and after framing the Democrats as responsible for disorder). LBJ did this effectively against Goldwater in 1964. But this doesn't happen automatically. You have to be willing to call out the other side--and calling out the other side is not Obama's style. So this opportunity may end up being squandered.

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Batesville, Va.: You speak about "manufactured outrage", yet you encourage disdain for those who are less educated, more ignorant than your cohort.

They can't all be rent-a-moms. Some may be genuinely worried because they can't see the shape of their health care down the road.

Rick Perlstein: Did you read the piece? I make the same point you do.

My question is, where were the conservatives shouting at Bush for fear they couldn't see the shape of the Iraq War down the road?

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Alexandria, Va.: Careful Rick you're chatting with a pollster. Is there one single "official" poll that you're referring to that makes my statement factually incorrect??

According to Rasmussen 54% would prefer nothing over the current plan. And since the public option looks like it's about an inch from getting tossed your rebuttal isn't even relevant here. And according to Obama himself the public option is but a sliver of the healthcare reform. So again what the heck are you talking about?

Rick Perlstein: Ooh! Tough one! Great time to say my time is up and I have to run! Which I do!

I do seem to be working with old polling: Obama Boost: New Poll Shows 76% Support For Choice Of Public Plan (Huffington Post, June 17, 2009)

My bad. I think the supporters of reform have run a poor campaign strategically, and that's why the numbers have shifted.

And I'll leave you with profound thanks for all the people who've taken the time to read and engage with my work, whether you agree with it or disagree. Friend me on Facebook!

I'll also leave you with this thought: in America, no one should have to go broke because they get sick.

Why do you disagree?

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