On March 4, the Supreme Court is slated to hear arguments in the latest legal attack on the Affordable Care Act in a case dubbed King v. Burwell. The plaintiffs are advancing an argument against federal subsidies for health insurance that is almost comical in its bad faith, but even if the justices eventually decide not to sign off on pretzel logic, the fact that King got this far in the first place should cause us all to worry. This case represents the final dissolution of the once-formidable wall between serious conservatives and the mouth-breathers who worry that fluoride is a mind control agent created by communists.
Just reading the so-called arguments of King should be enough to demonstrate that the wingnut wing of the Republican party is running the show these days. But Stephanie Mencimer of Mother Jones went a step further and actually sought out the four plaintiffs that the Competitive Enterprise Institute shook out of the trees to claim that they are somehow harmed by the government making health care subsidies available to those in need. What Mencimer found was a veritable rogue’s gallery of rightwing nuttery. The plaintiffs were largely unable to explain their own case against the ACA. Instead, they are all motivated by the inchoate rage of the reactionary crank, a burning hatred of the president that has little to do with his health care law and more to do with fury at having to share a country with hated liberals.
Don’t get me wrong. The cranks and wild-eyed lunatics of the right have always been with us, as anyone combing through old John Birch Society materials can tell you. But there has usually been an attempt by mainstream conservatives to put some distance between themselves and the nutters, from William F. Buckley denouncing the Birchers in 1962 to the 2012 election, when charlatans like Newt Gingrich and Rick Santorum were squeezed out in the Republican primary in favor of Mitt Romney, who is reasonably sane.
The distinction between a mainstream conservative and an outright wingnut has been crumbling in recent years, however. Take the issue of climate change, for instance. To believe that climate change is not a real problem is necessarily to be a conspiracy theorist, because how else can you explain rejecting global scientific consensus without believing that it’s being arranged by a secret cabal trying to impose a hoax on the world? And yet the entire Republican Party is in the thrall of this Alex Jones-level conspiracy theory, as evidenced by the fact that they appointed Sen. James Inhofe, who credits Barbra Streisand with organizing this global conspiracy of climate scientists, to the head of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee.
And the less said, the better, about Obama being put in a situation where he had to actually release his birth certificate to satisfy the expanding conspiracy theories around his citizenship.
This ACA lawsuit is just further capitulation to the Benghazi-birther-militia crowd. That a rightwing think tank would exploit a handful of Tea Party bottom-feeders in a feeble run at Obama’s signature legislation isn’t, perhaps, all that remarkable. Exploiting the obsessions and fantasies of rightwing cranks to make money and marshal political support has the standard operating procedure of conservative leadership for decades now. But that the Supreme Court is elevating this kind of talk radio madness to the highest court in the land takes this to another level. The looney arm of the conservative movement used to be the embarrassing booty call that Republicans refused to eat lunch with, but now they’re standing up and pledging their troth to them in front of the judge. It appears no argument is bad enough to be discarded or person silly enough to be ignored, as long as Republicans see some use in them for attacking President Obama and the Democrats.
Amanda Marcotte is a freelance journalist who writes frequently about liberal politics, the religious right and reproductive health care. She’s a prolific Twitter villain who can be followed @amandamarcotte.