After Rep. Joe Wilson shouted “You lie!” at the president last September, contributions to his campaign spiked. And when Rep. Randy Neugebauer appeared to call Rep. Bart Stupak a “baby killer,” he insisted that he had in fact described the health bill that Stupak backed as “a baby killer,” for which he offered no apology. It’s easy to see why. From Neugebauer’s perspective, he was plainly stating the truth, and the fact that so many were appalled by his statement is proof only of the fact that they are blind to the consequences of their callous disregard for life. You don’t have to agree with Neugebauer to have some sense of where his conviction comes from.
Viewed through this lens, the ferocity of American politics starts to make sense. Those who call for a calmer, more deliberative, less confrontational politics are essentially arguing, as President Obama has memorably and forcefully argued on many occasions, that there are no truly irreconcilable divisions in our politics. Rather, we’re plagued by false dichotomies. Liberals argue that universal health coverage will reduce the number of abortions, which should please pro-life conservatives. The new system of premium subsidies will help preserve private insurance firms, and that should please pro-business conservatives. And so on. But to conservatives these “compromises” look like a slippery slope on the way to a hellish nightmare of an ever-expanding state, ever-rising taxes, and a dark future in which the religiously devout are forced subsidize and endorse all kinds of practices their beliefs lead them to abhor. A little shouting is the least you can do.