Who profits most from provocative idiocy?

Neal Boortz (via Glenn Reynolds) recently examined the question of "why people think conservatives are idiots":

Tell me .. how do you counter the "conservatives are ignorant" argument, and how do you manage to recruit more people to the cause of lower taxes, less government and more individual responsibility when you have people running around loose calling themselves conservatives, getting elected to office as conservatives, and running websites as conservatives all the while telling us that the earth does not spin on its axis and does not revolve around the Sun .. and that everything in the known universe revolves around the Earth?

If true conservatives really want to expand their philosophy and mount a sustained movement that just might save individualism, freedom and economic liberty --- they had better jettison these zealot nut-cases .... and FAST.

This all sure makes me glad to be a Libertarian.

To the "zealot nut-case" category I'd propose adding Michael Savage. Back in 2003, I speculated that the man might be an agent provocateur. (Later post here.) I think I'm a little more familiar with the phenomenon than most people, because I have known a number of genuine agents provocateur over the many years I spent in Berkeley. However, such people almost never admit what they are, and it is very difficult to prove such speculations. A simple opportunist might look and act like an agent provocateur, and while it might be said that all agents provocateur are by their nature opportunists, by no means are all opportunists agents provocateur.

But zealot nut-case?

If the following transcript of Savage's recent remarks is correct, that would be almost a kind thing to say about him:

SAVAGE: It's becoming increasingly clear to me that God wants radical Islam on this planet at this time -- that it's not actually the scourge you think it is. What it is -- it's a counterpoint to the Romanization of the United States of America and the West. The collapse -- the spiritual collapse of the West, the death of the West in that regard, is being countered by the birth of fanatic religion, which is fundamentally a fanatic love of God, when you think about it.


SAVAGE: And God, who is the center of this monotheistic religion, has said, "Oh, you don't worship me anymore? Oh, you don't like me anymore? Oh, I don't exist anymore? Really? All right, I'm going to show you boys in Hollywood and you girls in New York City that I do exist. But since you're very hard-headed, stiff-necked people, and you don't really believe that I exist because you've gotten away with everything you've done all your life without any repercussions, I'm going to show you I exist in a way that you can't believe." Down came the World Trade Center towers. That was God speaking.

First of all, ours is a Greco-Roman as well as a Judeo-Christian civilization. Islam is neither. Considering the classical underpinnings of the American founding, Savage's complaint about the "Romanization" of the U.S., coupled with his attribution to God of radical Islam's Pearl Harbor, puts him squarely in the camp of the terrorists.

Again, it does not prove the man is an agent provocateur, but his words are no more those of a patriotic American than these words of Noam Chomsky:

I read in the Times this morning an interview with Jeanette Rankin, who was the one member of Congress to vote against the declaration of war on December 8, 1941, to the accompaniment of a chorus of boos and hisses. Looking back, though, we can see that the Japanese had very real grievances, and that the United States had quite a significant share of responsibility in those grievances back in 1941.
Of course, Chomsky is on the "left" (along with Ward Churchill, and the rest of their ilk), while Savage is on the "right."

It is of course unfair to tar all liberals with the same brush as people like Ward Churchill. Similarly, it is unfair to link all conservatives to Michael Savage. Speaking for myself, I can state with confidence that if what Savage says defines conservatism, then I most definitely am not one. But I'm a little more label-resistant than most people, and my worry is not so much that he's doing his own cause a disservice, but whether he's even part of that cause. I'm more libertarian than conservative, but I think I can fairly state that conservatism does not mean sympathizing with radical Islam, or attributing to God the worst attack on the United States since World War II.

By claiming to be a conservative when he is not, Savage is behaving as a classic agent provocateur.

That he has many fans who call themselves conservatives is more worrisome to me than whether he calls himself a conservative.

I'm not sure whether I should consider Savage's fans to be conservatives or not. (Certainly if he pronounced himself a "libertarian," that would not mean he or his fans were libertarians.) But again, I think the extent to which people who call themselves conservatives agree with Savage begs the question of why some (not all) people think conservatives are idiots.

For the record, I don't think conservatives are idiots (far from it), and I'm going to try not to think of Michael Savage or his fans as conservatives.

(I'm hoping this is an exercise in fairness and not denial.)

UPDATE: Pat at Screw Loose Change (a member of the 101st Fighting Keyboardists who generally attacks "mostly far-left kooks like Rosie O'Donnell and others") is thinking along similar lines, with a good post.

AND MORE: Wow. Saying conservatives crave "hate and rage,"Markos Moulitsas Zuniga is endorsing Savage's GOP presidential candidacy bid. I don't know how I manage to miss such gems.

MORE: It's probably also worth pointing out that Savage previously called for killing 100 million Muslims, and opposed aid to the Tsunami victims because he thought some of them lived in "hotbeds of radical Islam."

He probably thinks his fans are sufficiently idiotic that they've forgotten all about his previous statements.

MORE: John W. Lillpop (who calls Bush "America's worst enemy") explains why he endorses Savage for president:

Savage is the conservative's conservative--a man who would make Ronald Reagan and Barry Goldwater beam with pride.

Those of us who live in the San Francisco Bay Area have had the extraordinary good fortune of listening to Savage preach the truth for about fourteen years. His radio career started as a weekend host on a San Francisco radio station better known for it's loony liberalism than common sense conservatism.

Savage's show turned out to be a beacon of hope in the hopeless fog of liberal extremism in the Bay Area.

I completely disagree. I can think of few people who have done more to discredit conservatism in the Bay Area. I think that Savage has discouraged many Bay Area liberals (who might have otherwise had second thoughts, particularly after 9/11) from drifting towards conservatism.

Again, I can't prove it, but I suspect that's one of the reasons he was put -- and is kept -- on the air.

posted by Eric on 03.31.07 at 12:06 PM


That's the fundamental problem with intellectual movements, isn't it? No quality control.

Also, I couldn't help but laugh at the idea of a "Romanization" of the West. There are so many ways that could be wrong (depending on how he meant it), I can't pick just one.

Paul   ·  March 31, 2007 1:39 PM

I'd suggest caution in your not finding Greco-Roman influences in Islam. Clearly, much of the source material was directly borrowed from interpretations (faulty, I would say) of various Christian heresies largely based on Gnostic and Neo-Platonistic analyses of contemporary Christian orthodoxy. Much that was not borrowed was used as the basis of Islam's critique of Christianity.

And where are you drawing the line to determine the purity of Greco-Roman thought? It surely can't be post-Alexander and the Zoroastrian influences he brought back from Asia?

John Burgess   ·  March 31, 2007 4:04 PM

I think the short version (speaking as a conservative with many left-wing friends) is that the real nutjobs on the right are people who lack broad-based public vindication. Sure, the Savages and Coulters and Falwells of this world *claim* to have large followings: they may even sell lots of books and so on. But you rarely if ever hear their kind of lunacy from important public figures--elected officials and the like.

Meanwhile, on the left, it's routine to refer to conservatives as racists, fascists, warmongers, authoritarians, mental defectives, and the like, not only from left-wing authors and intellos, but from members of Congress, past and future Presidential candidates and indeed Presidents, and major public figures associated with the Democratic party (I'm specifically thinking of George Soros and Michael Moore here). The difference is that these insults have become so routine that no one even notices any more.

David Hecht   ·  March 31, 2007 6:22 PM

I hardly think Conservatives are idiots. In fact the Dem party base is comprised of the ethnic group with the lowest SAT and GPA scores in America. Facts hurt,

Dennis   ·  March 31, 2007 7:09 PM

Ever seen the "alphie" troll that frequens ProteinWisdom and Jules Crittenden's site? He claims to be a "true conservative", yet all his arguments are out of the MoveOn/Kos/Greenwald play list. I wouldn't be surprised if he got the idea from Savage.

Robert Crawford   ·  April 3, 2007 9:26 AM

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