Historically, the right wing in America has favored force and manliness. Extremists like Goldwater and silver-tongued liars like Reagan at least looked solid. George W. Bush was the best jogger we’d ever had as President. Mitt Romney, this election season’s candidate, is a crash test dummy fitted with a strong jaw and impressively realistic hair. (Bonus: interchangeable beliefs.) Yet flying in the face of this preference for the Strong Man is the personality type and cultural style of the contemporary right-wing commentator. The real standard-bearer of Republican discourse in the past decade, he has turned juvenile, impish, and wounded. In short, he is Big Baby.
It’s not news. But in the past six months, the babyishness has taken a new turn for the malevolent with the intensifying Republican war on women. We know that the right can be psychosexually perverse, and these days its depths are most visibly reflected on shiny, blubbery surfaces. Newt Gingrich seemed to be the first Big Baby in 1994, but then his divorces, affairs, and violation of every Congressional ethics rule during his few years as House Speaker temporarily made him seem like an adult. Rush Limbaugh was definitely the second Big Baby and real founder of the line. He seemed sui generis until Glenn Beck proved that whistle-cut, chubby, racist megalomaniacs — Dennis-the-Menace mischievous unless they were suddenly on the verge of self-pitying tears — defined a new right-wing style. Bear in mind that Big Baby is strangely moving in both his euphoria and his mawkishness; it’s hard not to feel the emotional tug beneath his hatefulness. As if Big Baby were America’s collective, clumsy, retributive, asocial child, we can’t help but think: Big Baby may be reading Birther apocalyptic conspiracy tracts, but at least he’s reading.
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