While fringe Senate candidates dominate election news, the most extreme demagoguery comes from those running for the House. John Avlon, author of Wingnuts: How the Lunatic Fringe Is Hijacking America, ranks the candidates highest on our Wingnuts Index.
Ah, Congress: where demagogues enter our democracy if they decide not to pursue careers in media or religion.
This week, the Wingnut Index, our attempt to use semi-scientific process to measure extremism and hyper-partisanship, turns sights on the target-rich environment that is the House of Representatives and the folks who are fighting to get there. Last week, we measured the Senate races—the cooling saucer to the hot cup of the House, as the enduring metaphor (before the Tea Party made it ironic) explains. And true to form, the sheer volume of Wingnuttery in House races this year outpaces the considerable craziness in Senate campaigns. To that extent, we’ve set aside 25 slots to rank the biggest Wingnuts running for the House this year.
As with last week, we’ve reached for binary criteria whenever possible in the areas measured, such as whether the candidate subscribes to the conspiracy theories of being a birther or a 9/11 truther, whether they have compared their political opponents to either Nazis or communists, or engaged in either Bush Derangement Syndrome or Obama Derangement Syndrome.
• Shushannah Walshe: Michele Bachmann, the Tea Party’s New Queen • Gail Sheehy: The GOP’s Ruthless Clique We’ve used The Daily Beast’s Election Oracle software to track which candidates have the term “wingnut” attached to them the most in digital grassroots debate. Special-interests driven voting records were taken into account when possible—for example, candidates who received a 100 percent rating from the Family Research Council or a 100 percent rating from what could be considered their opposite interest group on the left, the AFS ratings by the Association of Federal, State, County and Municipal Employees. Another criteria is the number of appearances on Web aggregator Fark.com, which tracks absurd, hypocritical, or unintentionally hilarious statements from candidates on both the right and left.
For the House edition, we’ve also added some new criteria—corruption, and playing the race card (on either side of the equation). As with last week, challengers sit at a slight disadvantage in the scorekeeping due to their lack of a legislative record, though now-infamous Wingnut campaigns such as that conducted by the Nazi re-enactor Rick Iott are included. (In all, five challengers made the cut.)
Likewise, while Democrats make up one-third of the final list, conservatives have the clear representative edge. For example, while there are 17 Republican congressional candidates who are associated with "birther" claims, there is only one "truther" in Congress now that Cynthia McKinney is gone—and that’s Dennis Kucinich. (Ron Paul is supported by many truthers, but doesn’t support claims that 9/11 was an inside job himself.)
Though it will be emotionally unsatisfying for some, we’ve decided to leave party leaders from both parties off the list. First of all, hard-partisanship is in their job description. Second, endless bickering about whether Pelosi or Boehner should go first would add heat but no light.
There is still plenty to debate in this ranking of the worst and weirdest in our politics—all part of our continuing attempt to play offense from the center, defining the terms of the debate, and reminding folks that the fringe is infiltrating mainstream American politics in 2010: the Year of the Wingnut.
Research by Denver Nicks
John Avlon's new book Wingnuts: How the Lunatic Fringe Is Hijacking America is available now by Beast Books both on the Web and in paperback. He is also the author of Independent Nation: How Centrists Can Change American Politics and a CNN contributor. Previously, he served as chief speechwriter for New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani and was a columnist and associate editor for The New York Sun.