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March 21, 2014 3:10 PM Representative Wingnuts

By Ed Kilgore

Slate’s Dave Weigel had a post this morning mocking HuffPost for drawing inordinate attention to a Republican “fringe candidate” in a heavily Democratic U.S. House district in Illinois named Susanne Atanus, who has a lot of nutty opinions about the connections between autism, bad weather, and same-sex marriage. Fair enough. But Weigel made a rare mistake by suggesting this reflects liberal media bias:

Both parties are going to be cursed with a few idiot candidates this year. It’s the nature of things when most congressional districts are unwinnable—if you can’t entice a real candidate to do a party-building exercise, you may end up with a fringe candidate. In 2012 the declining Tennessee Democratic Party accidentally nominated a conspiracy-minded flooring installer for U.S. Senate. The media did not hustle down to Nashville and Memphis to cover him. No Democrat in another state was asked whether they agreed with this candidate about the NAFTA superhighway or the “Godless new world order.” When voters are so ignorant and disinterested that they nominate kooks, it’s not an opportunity. It’s a disgrace.

Kevin Drum descends on Dave with authority:

Why didn’t the media hustle down to Nashville to interview Mark Clayton? Wikipedia does as good a job as anyone explaining it:
“Tennessee’s Democratic Party disavowed the candidate over his active role in the Public Advocate of the United States, which they described as a “known hate group”. They blamed his victory among a slate of little-known candidates on the fact that his name appeared first on the ballot, and said they would do nothing to help his campaign, urging Democrats to vote for “the write-in candidate of their choice” in November.”
In the case of Clayton, nobody thought he represented the secret id of the Democratic Party. And the local party went out of its way to make sure Clayton was well and truly shunned as a crackpot they wanted nothing to do with.
Has anything similar happened in Illinois? Has the Republican Party denounced Atanus and urged voters to cast their ballots for someone else? No they haven’t. Do reporters believe that Atanus does indeed represent a significant segment of the modern Republican base? Yes they do. Is this fair? Well….yes. It kind of is fair, isn’t it?

As it happens, I haven’t mentioned Atanus despite a twelve-post blogging quota because I don’t think you have to cite a “fringe candidate,” even if she’s a Republican nominee for Congress, in order to establish that extremist views are vastly more common and welcome in the GOP than in the Donkey Party. There are so many GOP elected officials and major candidates for office espousing such views that who needs to run the risk of being accused of inflating a marginal wingnut?

Take the John Birch Society-generated Agenda 21 meme, which is just as delusional as anything Atanus has said. It’s part of the messaging of North Carolina U.S. Senate candidate Greg Brannon, who could well wind up being the nominee in a crucial Senate race this fall. It was the subject of a legislative “briefing” held by the official Republican caucus in my home state of Georgia. It was the subject of enacted legislation in Alabama. And Agenda 21 was attacked in a resolution formally adopted by the Republican National Committee.

Anyone who thinks the two parties are “equivalent” in extremist influence either isn’t paying attention or is moving the goalposts by pretending that whatever Obama and Democrats are doing is some sort of revolutionary Marxist outrage, even if it’s been ho-hum policy for Democrats and even for Republicans for years. Yes, there are left-of-center news outlets that lazily try to establish this by citing random “fringe” figures, but it’s really not necessary.

Ed Kilgore is a contributing writer to the Washington Monthly. He is managing editor for The Democratic Strategist and a senior fellow at the Progressive Policy Institute. Find him on Twitter: @ed_kilgore.

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