High-Ranking Crazy

Astute readers may have noticed that over the past year or so, I've made an effort not to be too knee-jerk about my partisanship. Not that I've changed my beliefs about any substantive issues lately, but I've tried to be as thoughtful as I can about people on the other side, whether it's conservative writers or conservative politicians. I don't always succeed (the occasional insult still filters through now and then), but I'm doing my best. And I understand that writing about how the other side is evil can be satisfying. It's also popular; I've written or co-written four books, and the most partisan one sold the most, even though it's not a book I'd have much appetite to write again.

That being said, there are times when it isn't enough to say that conservatives are wrong about a particular matter. Being truthful requires saying that many of them are, in fact, nuts. Not all of them, but many of them. And there are both qualitative and quantitative differences in the nuttiness. One of the main differences is that holding absolutely insane ideas severely limits one's career prospects within the Democratic party. You might be able to find a politician here or there who holds some views people might consider extreme, but ask yourself: can you think of any prominent Democratic politicians who are complete whack jobs? Who believe things that no sane person could believe? I really can't think of any. Cynthia McKinney was a little out there, but she spent four years as a backbench member of Congress in the 90s, then disappeared. Anyone else come to mind?

On the other hand, one of the consequences of the Tea Party revolution within the GOP is it required in most places that you be very, very, very conservative to win a primary to anything, but it's also possible to be crazy, so long as you've met the requisite tests of conservatism. So for instance:

The man in charge of running Arizona’s elections has gone to the birthers. Secretary of State Ken Bennett now says he’s not convinced Barack Obama was really born in the United States and so he is threatening to keep the president off the ballot in November...

Bennett said he was following the lead of the state’s eccentric Sheriff Joe Arpaio, a fellow Republican who ordered an investigation into the president’s birth certificate last year and concluded the document released by the White House is a forgery. Bennett said he is now trying to get verification from state officials in Hawaii that the certificate is authentic.

You may not have heard of Bennett before, but he's the second-highest-ranking official in Arizona. If Governor Jan Brewer left office tomorrow, he'd become the governor (that's how Brewer, who is also not exactly the most reasonable person, got her job; she was Secretary of State when then-governor Janet Napolitano joined the Obama administration). And he's going to be running for governor in 2014.

So let me ask my conservative friends: Can you honestly say there are any high-ranking Democrats who go in for stuff like this? I can't think of any. In places where Democrats dominate, some people who get elected are more competent or skilled at governing than others, but the voters aren't putting the residents of the local asylum into office. They just aren't.

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