OFF THE GRID

The Nutters Are Coming to Get You

Aug 13, 09 | 8:24 AM   byMichael Wolff
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They’ve always been here. But the nutters are surfacing in a way and to a degree that is finally catching the agape attention of non-nutters. It is not only the ferocity of their anger that is surprising, but the focus of it: this birth certificate stuff, the death panel business, the tea bags, and the apparently heartfelt belief that the end of America is upon us.

It’s super nuts.

Still, we are in a realm which, I believe, is more puzzling to most people than frightening. What is this about? Is it possible the nutters are really this outraged about this stuff? That guy at the town hall meeting in Pennsylvania, in his face-off with Arlen Specter about the sanctity of the American constitution, rather seemed, in his paroxysm of raw emotion, to be defending the life of his child.

My friend Larry Kirshbaum, the literary agent, calls this “symbolic rage.” The inchoate attaches to the most assertive claim of deviance from, or seeming offense against, virtue and righteousness. The notion of bureaucratic panels with the power of life and death is obviously meant to provoke feelings of helplessness and panic more than to describe the decision-making process of a new health care system. The birther stuff is all about conspiracy and aliens.

This might also be called demographic rage. It isn’t shared across the social and economic spectrum. It’s limited to…well, the stupids. But these are stupids grasping for some words—hence, the new lexicon of wacky grievances—to describe their unhappiness.

This is why it seems more bizarre than frightening. The nutters—even as they have coalesced into something more like a movement than isolated mental health cases—seem desperate and alone and lost, on the verge not so much of violence, but of tears.

What’s more, they are cherry-picked for their desperation. It’s an Internet thing in which the people most likely to subscribe to symbols of rage and to engage in dramatic public outbursts are easy to reach through the websites they obsessively frequent.

No doubt, too, it’s an Obama thing that is producing this atavistic rage, a defense of some lost ideal and identity.

Still, in the end, the nutters will undoubtedly be good for the Obama programs, even their inexplicable bête noire, health care—after all, who’d want to be on their side?

These people are not so much a mob as they are gargoyles. Or train wrecks.

More of Newser founder Michael Wolff's articles and commentary can be found at VanityFair.com, where he writes a regular column. He can be emailed at michael@newser.com.
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