I would suggest that if you want to put into perspective the red-faced, spittle-flecked spasms of paranoid rage we are witnessing on the part of birthers, deathers, townhallers and other fringe-wingers, you might take a look at Rick Perlstein’s marvelously titled article, “In America, Crazy Is a Preexisting Condition.”  Perlstein looks back at episodes in the last century when a similar frenzy surfaced:

The tree of crazy is an ever-present aspect of America’s flora. Only now, it’s being watered by misguided he-said-she-said reporting and taking over the forest

As one who remembers when the right-wing saw a communist under every bed, this stroll down memory lane made for entertaining reading, but as I read, I flashed on Claire McCaskill’s recent town-hall in Hillsboro where she, quite masterfully, entertained the full range of crazy.  What was remarkable to me was not just her skill, which we expect from competent politicians, but her willingness to dignify absurdity, to gravely nod and pretend that fantastic hyperbole constitutes legitimate political dialogue, and afterwards breathlessly proclaim a victory for the democratic process.

If we end up with a watered down and perhaps even pernicious health-care reform bill, replete with giveaways for the medical industries and co-ops masquerading as a public option, we must be sure to remember the role played not just by the media that Perlstein singles out, but by  politicians like McCaskill who were so eager to appear even-handed that they ended up granting credibility to crazy.

The cost of legitimizing paranoia and misinformation?  One example: the stalwarts on the finance committee plan now to remove end-of-life counseling from their version of health-care reform.  A desirable option that just a few months ago even Republicans supported may be lost to us because our leaders won’t stand up to fools incapable of distinguishing between end-of-life  counseling and euthanasia.

As for McCaskill, in her eagerness to be seen as above partisan concerns, she has indicated that if the reform ball rolls toward co-ops, she might be willing to roll right along with it. This legislator, who continually touts her fiscal acumen, has signaled her willingness to support a compromise that seems very likely to undercut the ability of reform to bring down health care costs. But she will be able to claim that she is independent and non-partisan when she courts low-information voters (so-called independents) in the hinterlands. Perlstein sums it all up:

Good thing our leaders weren’t so cowardly in 1964, or we would never have passed a civil rights bill — because of complaints over the provisions in it that would enslave whites.