A small example of the extent to which our political rhetoric has become completely unhinged: when my parents were flying to Virginia for my younger brother's wedding last week, they ended up chatting with one of the flight attendants, a woman in her '50s. Somehow it came up that her own son and his wife were reluctant to have children, which in itself is nothing unusual, but their reason blew my folks' minds: it was because they didn't want their kids to grow up in a "communist" country.
My parents didn't quite know what to say in response -- Mom almost asked her to which communist country they were planning to move (are there really any left, with China in a full-on market frenzy and Mao no doubt shedding tears in heaven?), but basic politeness took over and they gently moved the conversation on. The scary thing was that the flight attendant seemed completely serious about the entire matter, as though the Obama era were the beginning of our inevitable slide into a world of commissars and work camps ...
Of course, screams of "Communist!" are nothing new in recent American political dialogue (I remember one of my school classmates calling Walter Mondale a Red in 1984, and Joe McCarthy was alive and well during the 2008 election), but it's astonishing how much they resonate 20 years after the fall of the Berlin Wall and the obvious triumph of capitalist economics. I don't blame the folks who are personally afraid -- like the Townhallers, they mostly seem sincere in their beliefs -- but I do blame the people who are misleading them. To Limbaugh et al, politics is a zero-sum game with winners and losers and little in between, with the inevitable conclusion that winning is the only thing that matters.
The result? We elect a relatively moderate guy (center-Left at most), whose own politics seem timid to many progressive activists, but the Right hypes up the rhetoric to try to defeat even the relatively mild policy changes he wants (pardon me, but a health care "public option" that will affect about 3% of the population ain't exactly going to destroy our market economy). In the process, the Beckification of our politics -- the normalization of what are completely irrational ideas -- scares the hell out of a lot of people.
Once you've swallowed Rush and Glenn's hook, line and proverbial sinker, the possibility of compromise goes out the window -- how could you make a deal with a Democratic party that's aligned with fundamental Evil? These are dangerous demons to wake up, particularly when your main motivation seems to be to raise your ratings. ... Once again, reasonable people on both sides are going to have one hell of a mess to clean up when this is over.