Watching the Crazy Tree Bloom

by Peter Suderman 

In the Washington Post, liberal historian Rick Perlstein writes that "the crazy tree blooms in every moment of liberal ascendancy." Jesse Walker responds:

In one way, the article is refreshing: At a time when many liberals have been describing the protests at the health care "town halls" as an unprecedented event, even as a sign of incipient fascism, Perlstein reminds readers that flare-ups like this actually happen fairly frequently in American history. But the article is aggravating, too, and not just because it casually conflates the bona fide kooks with anyone who happens to protest at a tea party or a town hall. Reading the piece you get the impression that the crazy tree grows only on the right, and that the health care battle is a simple case of hysterics attacking enlightened reform.

He goes on to explicate what he calls the "five laws of the crazy tree." I liked Perstein's piece in many ways, but I think the biggest problem lies in his contention that the tree only blooms during moments of liberal ascendancy. I don't want to suggest that the extremes of the right and left are perfectly equivalent -- they're not. But the left isn't entirely immune to outbursts of crazy. And for that matter, as Walker points out, neither is the center.