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Friday, September 23, 2011

GOP Supporters' Lynch Mob Mentality

Last night's Republican presidential debate was almost a rerun, in that the candidates repeated many of the lies they told last time around and in that the media's largely ignoring those lies. As always, the talking heads are all atwitter about who won, who lost, who got the best dig, who had the best applause line, etc. Who told the truth is unimportant, apparently.

And there was even the seemingly requisite offensive crowd reaction. Previous debates have featured applause at the death penalty's failure to prevent crimes in Texas (you don't set records for handing out punishments that actually work) and cheering on the death of the uninsured. And now there's this:

That's right, Stephen Hill, a gay soldier currently serving in Iraq got booed. Even some conservatives are getting a little queasy about the debate crowds, although in strictly typical paranoid terms.


Ann Althouse:

There's no real way to control the audience, other than to strictly limit who gets in, which will look repressive and cowardly. And who knows who is booing or applauding in this way that's harmful to the Republican cause? It could just as well be somebody who hates the GOP, trying to generate bad press and distract attention from what the candidates actually say.

The booing in that clip above comes from one very loud guy. Maybe he could be identified. I'd like to know whether he's on the Republican side or he's a dirty trickster. Am I being repressive to suggest that audience members at the next debate ought to pay attention in the future and look when somebody boos or applauds in this way that is useful to Republican opponents?

I don't think so. I think it's similar to going to a protest and photographing people with offensive signs. Let's say someone who hates the Tea Party is thinking of going to a Tea Party rally and holding up a blatantly racist sign in the hope of stoking the belief that the Tea Party is a bunch of racists. If this prankster realizes he will be photographed (or confronted by the people he's hoping to hurt), he probably won't do it.

Of course, that last paragraph makes absolutely no sense at all -- who would try to embarrass the Tea Party by not being photographed with a racist sign? -- but the broader point is that conservatives who manage to think beyond their own reactionary and defensive nature see trouble brewing down the road. Even the candidates see it. Talking Points Memo reports that in the post-debate spin-room, the candidates and GOP flacks realized their audience problem right away. According to their report, "The common response was variations on the word "unfortunate.'"

Outside the spin-room, the response was less muted. "You boo a soldier serving our country in Iraq -- you suck," tweeted Chris Barron, head of the conservative gay group GOProud. "Shame on the traitors who booed that soldier."

I'd ask Barron what the hell he expects from the homophobe party, but that's another post for another day. Suffice it to say that Barron is a mouse rooting for the cat and it's hard to feel extremely sorry for him, right though he may be in this case.

Anyone who thinks this is going to go away is deluding themselves. It's not, it's going to get worse. It's going to get McCain/Palin rally lynch mob worse. The Republican Party's spent literally years whipping up this hatred and fear and desperation. Now they seem surprised to learn they can't turn it on and off like a faucet.

And the bigger worry should be that if this begins to become problematic, it's only going to get worse. If the eventual GOP candidate begins to go down under the weight of their more insane supporters, those same supporters will react by becoming even more insane and offensive. Remember, it's the conservative way: if something isn't working, do more of it. Some will become worse in reaction to the bad press ("Ha! We've got the liberals freaked out now!"), some will put on their victim badges and see grand conspiracies, and some are just Republicans because they're dicks. The point is, when the candidate gets in trouble, the supporters are going to become more lunatic, more offensive, more hysterical.

I think three consecutive debates denotes a trend. An ugly trend. And I don't think Republicans are going to find this trend extremely helpful in the long run.


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