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'An Appendage of the Organism'

I'd be curious to hear from any conservative commentators who don't think Hendrik Hertzberg's diagram of the modern Republican Party is accurate:

The town-meeting shouters may be the organism’s hands and feet, but its heart -- also, Heaven help us, its brain -- is a “conservative” media alliance built around talk radio and cable television, especially Fox News. The protesters do not look to politicians for leadership. They look to niche media figures like Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity, Glenn Beck, Michael Savage, and their scores of clones behind local and national microphones. Because these figures have no responsibilities, they cannot disappoint. Their sneers may be false and hateful -- they all routinely liken the President and the “Democrat Party” to murderous totalitarians -- but they are employed by large, nominally respectable corporations and supported by national advertisers, lending them a considerable measure of institutional prestige. The dominant wing of the Republican Party is increasingly an appendage of the organism -- the tail, you might say, though it seems to wag more often from fear than from happiness. Many Republican officeholders, even some reputed moderates like Senator Chuck Grassley, of Iowa, have obediently echoed the foul nonsense.

Put aside whether this is a good or bad thing. Having watched Grassley echo the euthanasia nonsense and Sen. Johnny Isakson backpedal on living wills and Mitt Romney turn against everything he did and thought in Massachusetts, does anyone think this is inaccurate?

By Ezra Klein  |  September 14, 2009; 11:08 AM ET
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How about so many people in our country (and more every day) do NOT identify with EITHER the dems OR the repubs?
How about the people who are being vocal (FINALLY) are those who are 'moderates' or independents?
Why does the media need to label everyone and everything? How about people who are angry are those LEAST LIKELY to go to town hall meetings, and THAT IS WHY their voices should be listened to more than ever? That those are the people who don't usually make any noises?
So many people think that both sides are such idiots, that they can't identify with either. That neither side has any idea what the american public wants. That neither side can run this country properly. But we have become complacent, while they passed laws to limit ballot access. While they passed laws that allow them to do whatever they like - because we were mistaken, but we thought they had the country in mind when they did anything.
We are well aware how awfully wrong we all were.
But stop labeling EVERYONE as dem or repub - when MOST PEOPLE aren't either. And more people are joining that force every day.

Posted by: atlmom1234 | September 14, 2009 11:36 AM | Report abuse

This isn't obvious?

Posted by: adamiani | September 14, 2009 11:37 AM | Report abuse

I think this is a pretty interesting observation and I am not sure I would disagree with it. The question it raises in me though is: is this a diagram of the Republican Party or just of the far right wing? I think it is clearly a representation of the far right wing. The Republican Party is either marginalizing itself to that far right wing or is in the beginning of a transformation. I think it may be the latter and right now all we are hearing from is the loud shrill far right.

Posted by: scott1959 | September 14, 2009 11:38 AM | Report abuse

there is little left to say about the cruelty and vitriolic distortions of rush limbaugh, sarah palin, sean hannity....and those that are in agreement and intimidated by them.
it is my opinion that this started in the clinton administration.
when hillary clinton said that she was not a little gal who would stay home and bake was really a shocking insult.
i still believe that the day bill clinton looked into the camera and lied, was the moment that pandora's box was opened.
he was the president....whether it was or was not a public matter, it became a public matter, and then it became about telling the truth.
when he sat before the camera and lied unflinchingly, something happened to the discourse in the united states. it changed something in the ethos of the country, that was beyond politics.
it was about personal integrity.
i really believe that at that moment, something happened.
it was alright to insult other women for staying home and baking cookies.
it was alright to lie to people.
it stripped the dignity from the office of the president.
ever since those days, it has become acceptable to dodge personal responsibility, to insult people, to hurt people's feelings, to let children hear your lies.
it doesnt matter what you lie about. it is still a lie.
it is the telling of the lie that becomes important.
the lesson was that in terms of personal accountability, the truth is not that important.
i still remember watching that early in the morning on television.
and ever since that moment, it didnt really matter if you told the truth. it became whatever you could get away with.
and then, with the disgraceful tabloidism of the simpson trial...months and months of sickening journalism that became about entertainment, ratings, ugliness.
and it has continued to deteriorate.
little dignity, accuracy doesnt matter, hatred and lies spinning out of control.
i looked at photos of some of the tea party signs. to me, the "big story" wasnt about the polls, it is about the flabbergasting breakdown of civility, of normality, of social convention.
as witnessed against the president last witnessed in that sickening outburst, at menacing close range, to a nineteen year old girl, at her most euphoric moment, by kanye west.
well, i think it all started that morning, on the television set, with one lie under bright lights....and we have been spiraling dangerously, sickeningly downward ever since.

Posted by: jkaren | September 14, 2009 11:44 AM | Report abuse

scott: but they're not. Why do you think it's the 'far right wing' that is protesting?
Why does it have to be?
Why don't you think it's not normal everyday citizens who just want to be left alone? Who are so tired of govt growing, and not to bring us anything good, but just to waste our money?

Posted by: atlmom1234 | September 14, 2009 11:46 AM | Report abuse

Well, studies have shown that many so-called Independents are really just Democrats or Republicans in disguise, so to speak. They call themselves Independents, but actually vote their underlying preference pretty consistently. Genuine independents are relatively rare, which is one reason why centrism is over-rated as a strategy. So atlmom is simply wrong when she claims that the majority of people are independents. Neither polling nor voting patterns support her claim.
I would also point out that her arguments about government are simply a rerun of right-wing golden oldies, not even slightly disguised. What this suggests is that she is, in fact, living proof of the falsity of her claims about the "majority" of Americans being independent.
As for her claim that the protests are the work of normal citizens - if this is true, does she consider that the combination of Ron Paul junkies, LaRouchies, militia members, neo-Confederates and fringe religious organizations is "normal"? That seems a very strange claim to make. Nor is it credible that events so hyped by Limbaugh, Beck etc are simply the spontaneous expression of the views of "normal citizens", unless by normal you mean "members of a relatively small rightwing demographic". Perhaps standards of normalcy vary - but hers don't seem to correspond to those of the majority of Americans,

Posted by: palarran | September 14, 2009 12:02 PM | Report abuse

"Who are so tired of govt growing, and not to bring us anything good, but just to waste our money?"

Of course it doesn't work when you've got people trying to sabotage it.

Posted by: adamiani | September 14, 2009 12:10 PM | Report abuse

Well, it's certainly no resemblance to my father's Republican party thats for sure...

jkaren - way to blame it all on Bill Clinton. Though I share your disappointment and I was very angry when it turned out he did, in fact, lie to us about Monica Lewinsky. But seriously...that was bigger than Richard Nixon?!?

As for the tea partiers. If there were 60K people it seemed like they were there for 60K reasons...many of which were contradictory to one another and often didn't make a whole lot of sense. This is the "new" Republican party - contradictory nonsense.


Posted by: luko | September 14, 2009 12:17 PM | Report abuse


i dont put all of the blame on bill clinton....i think his actions set this shift into motion...
and you mentioned richard nixon.

it was almost impossible to watch richard nixon without sensing his inner darkness and unrest, even from his youngest years in political life.
he couldnt use charisma, flippancy and charm to cover up his lying and inner demons, and by the end of his life, watergate had exacted a deep price on him.
a heavy price of shame and humiliation followed him to the grave, and i believe that patricia nixon paid a heavy price in suffering, as well.
his misdeeds made him an outcast, not a celebrity.
that, to me, is the difference.
he suffered for his infamy. there was no whistling past the graveyard in those later years.
i dont believe that by the end of his life, nixon "got away" with very much.
unlike many politicians and public figures today, he paid a heavy price for his actions.
that is just my opinion.

Posted by: jkaren | September 14, 2009 1:02 PM | Report abuse

I believe there is a conspiracy headed by Glenn Beck to lead elderly people, southern hicks, militias, jesus-freaks and conservative nerds to a violent revolution which will overthrow the government and replace it with theocratic government with Sarah Palin as Queen.

I designate Klein as one of the founders of this conspiracy movement and they will be called the Beckers.

Posted by: mdfarmer | September 14, 2009 1:03 PM | Report abuse

jkaren, this stuff predates Clinton (not just his administration -- his life, even). These are essentially the same people who listened to Father Coughlin in the '30s, joined the John Birch Society in the '50s, formed "citizens' councils" in the '60s, and so on. The main difference now is that they were mostly marginalized even by their political allies, on the national scene at least, until recent years. Now they are the tail that is wagging the Republican Party.

Posted by: Janine1 | September 14, 2009 1:11 PM | Report abuse

i have been alive for some of this....even was in california when the john birch society was very active.
but there was never this much mainstream, vitriolic press as there is now. the hatred and irrationality has always been present, but now it is everpresent, it boosts ratings.
and now, people who break rules become celebrated, and even figures of curiosity and glamour.....there are no sanctions.
it really seems that nothing is unacceptable anymore. we are desensitized to lying and unacceptable cruelties.
what can possibly shock us any longer?
the nuttier it gets, the better.
these people continue to write books, stay in higher office, appear on talk shows, hold press conferences, make money.
no accountability, no consequences.

the ubiquitousness of the media in our lives has given an emboldening, twenty-four hour pulpit, pouring kerosene on the fires....and with corporate backing, it all gets pushed further and further.
personally, i think it is different.

Posted by: jkaren | September 14, 2009 1:33 PM | Report abuse

also janine1....

one would hope that since the days of father coughlin, the era of mccarthyism, watergate, assassinations, cross burnings on lawns, as a country, with more education, more people going to college, more access to books, telecommunications and history ....that we might actually be progressing , instead of moving backwards.
that would be the hope.
but it is not looking that way.

Posted by: jkaren | September 14, 2009 1:41 PM | Report abuse

Actually, jkaren, I don't think I disagree with you on any of that. I just disagreed with pinning it on the Clintons. My formative political years were under Reagan and Bush I, and I could catalog a fair amount of ugliness from that period as well. But I think you're onto something with your point about the change in media.

Posted by: Janine1 | September 14, 2009 1:49 PM | Report abuse

Hertzberg's commentary seems like the typical "my opponents are not just stupid but evil as well" political typology that both sides engage in from time to time as red meat for the base. It's not intended as serious political analysis; it's a polemic.

Posted by: tomtildrum | September 14, 2009 2:56 PM | Report abuse

I agree with jkaren on the fact of living in a more degraded age, but I don't have a clue where to pin the start of it.

I only remember that line in the movie "Hud" - it wasn't in the book - where the old man says something like: who we have as heroes is who we are.

So I know it sounds naive and simplistic to keep going on about Obama and his meta message and his longer term value to the nation beyond the daily grind of sound bites. I know that, but I still believe he's a hero, and that we've been so long without a decent exemplar that we've forgotten what it feels like to have one.

And that remembering is part of our own awkward process of becoming decent again.

Posted by: rosshunter | September 14, 2009 8:20 PM | Report abuse


we are blessed to have this president.
i also believe that he is a hero.

Posted by: jkaren | September 15, 2009 10:10 AM | Report abuse

The fact that you don't know is truly sad. That means you don't care enough to even try to find out because truly it isn't that hard to do. It's called research.

Posted by: omeeomii | September 15, 2009 2:55 PM | Report abuse

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