I have been spared the full experience of the recent debates among the Republican presidential candidates. Which is to say, I've heard merely snippets and excerpts, read commentaries rather than the transcripts. That's enough. The real star of these debates, as others have observed, is apparently not any one of the candidates; rather, it is the audiences. Whether cheering for capital punishment or booing a gay soldier, the crowd has upstaged the candidates. (Where is Canetti when we need him?)
Reflecting on the other candidates rounding on Rick Perry for his exceedingly few humane actions, Richard Cohen asks: "My God, what has happened to American conservatism?" Was it always this crazy? That depends on one's definitions. There has long been an uncompromising strain of American conservatism but it usually managed to clothe itself in at least a few shreds of rationality (McCarthyism and the John Birch Society excepted). That's rapidly vanishing, if it isn't already gone.
The recent passing from the scene of Mark Hatfield and Charles Percy is a reminder that there used to be Republican senators who could be called moderates -- even, on certain issues, liberals. That's definitely gone. The Republican party of 2011, at least as manifested in its primary contest, appears to be a version of collective insanity. John Holbo's theory that conservatives are really "operational" liberals in that they don't accept the implications of their slogans appears to be an analytical philosopher's attempt to convince himself that crazy is not crazy and, as such, is both less than persuasive and not very consoling. But holding to such a fiction may be required if one wants to get through this U.S. campaign season in one mental piece, or in something that at least approximates that condition. Good luck.