A reader writes:
I don't know whether the generational conclusion of your reader is ironclad (I was born in 1950, but I'm not immune to reason), but it's true that in the 1980s, along with a great many people I moved to the right precisely in reaction to the hideously narcissistic leftism of the boomer generation, my idiotic peers. I was reasonably at home on the right for nearly 2 decades--while it meant constantly having to overlook banalities or make excuses for the excesses of the Christian Right, it was still the case that all the exciting talk was there, and the privilege of being heard as a woman without being squeezed into the soul-killing assumptions of hard-core feminism meant a lot to me.
However, the rise of the populist right began to worry me seriously by the mid and late 90s. The attacks on Clinton were so viciously over the top and so ugly that, although no Clinton defender, I felt a growing unease; the unreason of the anti-science right infuriated me (creationism is a particular hot button for me, it has never seemed to me that a serious Christian should have any difficulty accepting real science). In 2004, I almost stayed home from the polls because of Bush's social conservatism, so smug and intolerant, not to mention a missed opportunity (he could have had a Nixon-to-China moment on the subject of gay marriage, but instead embraced the predictable smug, small, conventional, cruel, adam-and-steve bigotry).
Still, I'm a slow learner, and it wasn't until Limbaugh's announcement of Operation Chaos during last year's primaries (plus considerable prodding from my four children, all fierce Obama supporters) that I finally realized I'd had it. I turned off the radio, vowed never to listen to Rush again (and nor have I), and became a fairly dedicated Obamacon.
Once my soul was freed of the daily imperative of making excuses for the angry excesses of the right and pretending to myself that I wasn't being sickened by so much of what I was hearing, I became aware of a peculiar thing--it was very much like giving up drinking or cigarettes, giving up my daily dive into the right had somehow begun the process of healing my very brain chemistry. I was thinking without rage, suspicion and paranoia--and it was only in giving these things up that I realized the extent to which they had became my peculiarly toxic daily bread.
I've come to believe that the endless mantras of hate, the repetitions of key phrases, the ritualistic paranoia, the angry, frought refusal even to hear other words (so pitifully depicted in your reader's comments) are druglike--I know shamefully little about science, but I would be willing to bet that if you could test a Limbaugh fan in full spleen you would find real and significant alterations in the brain chemistry.
I am actually frightened by what I see going on now. This level of rage and unreason is measurably worse than its corollary on the left over the eight years of the Bush presidency. There is a call to violence going on out there, whether conscious or not, and it cannot end well.
Anyhow, keep up the good work. You're a 'leading indicator,' which is an immensely lonely thing to be in politics, but over the next ten years I suspect a great many people will quietly give up their last stubborn defense of the indefensible right and join you. At least, in my optimistic moments this is what I prefer to think.