Lunatic Fringe, We All Know You're Out There
Way before Stephen Colbert, Tonight Show host Johnny Carson invented a character named Floyd R. Turbo.Dressed in a red hunting cap and red plaid hunting jacket, Floyd gave fictitious editorials for a fictitious local television station. Carson's Turbo was pro-gun, pro-nuclear power, pro-military, and anti-women's rights, all to a hilarious extreme. Carson played the decidedly non-telegenic Turbo brilliantly, shifting nervously, averting his eyes, not knowing where he was supposed to stand, gesturing at the wrong times, and making lame jokes. Turbo favored a military draft because:
"The Army is educational. The Army teaches you how to do dental work-with the butt of a rifle....how to tell what time it is by making a sundial out of a dead person...how to make beer out of bird droppings and also how to make a rubber girl out of an inner tube."
Turbo favored nuclear power because, according to him, when you catch a trout in a boiling red stream, it is already cooked.
Floyd R. Turbo was considered an embodiment of the "Lunatic Fringe." This was the extreme edge of the right wing, often comprised of older white men, who, out of some misguided sense of super patriotism, embraced policies that were so far out there as to be humorous. In fact, Floyd was predated by General Jack D. Ripper from the 1964 Stanley Kubrick film Dr. Strangelove, who said:
"Do you realize that fluoridation is the most monstrously conceived and dangerous communist plot we have ever had to face? ...
It's incredibly obvious, isn't it? A foreign substance is introduced into our precious bodily fluids without the knowledge of the individual, and certainly without any choice. That's the way your hard core commie works."
A third character, Archie Bunker, introduced us to the racism that underscores the ideas of some Lunatic Fringers. Archie believed that anyone whose skin wasn't white, whose eyes weren't blue and whose religion did not include a crucifix was a lower form of humanity. A conversation between Archie Bunker and a black man went like this: "if God had meant for us to be together he'd a put us together. But look what he done. He put you over in Africa, and put the rest of us in all the white countries."
A funny thing happened to the Lunatic Fringe. They eventually became mainstream. While their history is too lengthy to recount here, many of their ideas became the policies of Barry Goldwater ("extremism in the defense of liberty is no vice"), Ronald Reagan (ketchup is a vegetable, welfare mothers drive Cadillacs, missiles should be sold to Iran while Donald Rumsfeld is sent to Iraq to greet Saddam Hussein), the Project for a New American Century (necons Bill Kristol, Paul Wolfowitz, Richard Perle et al. suggesting that the U.S. march around the world kicking everyone's ass), the Heritage Foundation (supporting use of taxpayer funds for private school vouchers and church-run "faith-based initiatives"), the teaching of creation and "intelligent design" in science classes, and a slew of studies paid for by big corporations finding against science and in favor of those companies.
As members of the Lunatic Fringe made their way into government, academia, business, the media, and the Republican Party, their ideas have become part of the mainstream national discourse. But the next time you hear a Lunatic Fringe idea spouted by mainstream politicians, businessmen and scientists, the next time you hear that there is no such thing as global warming or that the earth is only 6,000 years old, or that the best way to make our schools safer is to give every teacher a gun, the next time a religious broadcaster says that 9/11 was caused by pagans, abortionists, gays, lesbians and feminists, the next time a President tries to spread freedom and democracy abroad at the barrel of a gun while crushing freedom and democracy here at home, just remember, those ideas probably started out in someone's comedy script.