Today, we live in the age of rabid response.
Not rapid response. Rapid response was yesterday. Rapid response was the political tactic of responding quickly to all attacks, no matter how outrageous or unbelievable.
Those who did not respond rapidly, those who told themselves the public would not believe outright lies, failed to win higher office. (Thus Democrats still blame John Kerry for not responding rapidly enough in 2004 to the attacks of the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth.)
Rabid response is different.
The purpose of rabid response is to scorch the earth, to raise the stakes, to go nuclear in the hope that your opponent will be so shell-shocked he can make no response at all. The purpose of rabid response is to grab the public by the throat and not let go.
Have concerns over Barack Obama’s health-care plan? I don’t doubt it. The plan is very long and very complicated and still a work in progress.
But there is one thing we do know about it: It will establish "death panels."
These death panels will determine whether you, your baby, your parents or your grandparents will receive health care or be left to die. In the street. Like a dog.
How will the death panels operate? Who will be on them? Will they validate parking? We do not know. We know only that the death panels will judge each individual’s "level of productivity in society" and render a life or death judgment.
So says Sarah Palin on her Facebook page.
In olden times, Palin might have made this claim at a speech or during a news conference where reporters might have asked questions like, "What proof do you have?" or, "Aren’t you just trying to scare people?"
But Palin does not risk that. She takes no questions. She has done her duty as a rabid responder. She has rung the tocsin, sounded the alarm, lit the signal fire.
Truth? Accuracy? Responsibility?
Not her territory.
Glenn Beck is a rabid responder on race. "This president, I think, he has exposed himself as a guy over and over and over again who has a deep-seated hatred for white people or the white culture," Beck says. "This guy is, I believe, a racist."
Rush Limbaugh is a rabid responder on Nazis and swastikas. He knows a lot about swastikas. He sees them everywhere. He looks at the Obama health-care logo — which incorporates the familiar medical symbol of twin serpents on a staff — and sees it as being "damn close to a Nazi swastika logo." Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi muddied the waters — surprise! — by saying those who oppose Obama’s health-care plan "are carrying swastikas and symbols like that to a town meeting on health care."
But Limbaugh had a rabid response for that: "There are far more similarities between Nancy Pelosi and Adolf Hitler than between these people showing up at town halls to protest a Hitler-like policy that’s being heralded by a Hitler-like logo."
And then, out of left (or right) field, came this: "Ted Kennedy’s dad, by the way, Joe Kennedy, sympathetic to Hitler, sympathetic to the Nazis," Limbaugh said.
But Limbaugh was not done with the Nazis or Hitler. In the world of rabid response, invoking the ultimate symbols of evil to describe one’s political opponents is routine.
It doesn’t matter what you say, as long as it is over the top and beneath contempt.
"Adolf Hitler, like Barack Obama, also ruled by dictate," Limbaugh said. "Hitler said he didn’t need to meet with his Cabinet; he represented the will of the people. He was called the messiah. He said the people spoke through him."
Which means, I guess, if Hitler were alive today, he would be a talk show host.