Tom Flanagan is upset that Calgary’s city council has decided to end fluoride treatment of Calgary’s water supply. This is, as Flanagan correctly points out, against all evidence about the safety and benefits of fluoride in the water supply. Of course, as the Big City Liberal observes, Flanagan is reaping a whirlwind that he sowed by scoffing at “evidence” and “scientists” and so on when it came to global warming. Flanagan belongs to that strange and shrinking group of so-called respectable right-wingers. These are those on the right who like to whip up populist sentiment against the by deriding scientists, elites, liberals, ivory tower intellectuals and the government as being aloof and out of touch but still like to be able to hit the brakes some of the time and admit that yes, science or scholarship or what-have-you needs to be taken seriously once in a while. Some problems do actually require evidence-based solutions.
Of course as long as the majority opinion among right-wing media personalities was of this variety, there was a limit to how much frothing know-nothing outrage made it into the mainstream. There might be extreme or radical proposals on the American right but they had to be at least somewhat rationally defensible. I could call on the example here of William Buckley who had the courage to cast the Birchers out of the American conservative movement. I disagree with most of what Buckley stood for, but at least he had some kind of sense of what was the difference between someone who was strong-minded or opinionated and someone who was just plain crazy.
In today’s conservative movement though, it appears that the monkeys have final taken over the zoo and the energized populists will not heed the calls of sensible conservatives to rein in the crazy. They of course now have two heroes in this approach: Sarah Palin and Glenn Beck. Both Palin and Beck have been willing to double-down on the crazy every time they are given the option. They are prepared to entertain the nuttiest fringe stuff from birthers to death panels. Imagine if Palin and Beck somehow got embroiled in this fluoride thing, Palin would be calling on scientists to refudiate fluoride while Beck would draw a weird chart trying to show that big fluoride is connected to Soros, Islam, and the Nazis. If Flanagan is going to use the crazy fringe as a means to political ends, he is going to have to deal with more and more of this kind of thing. This is the tiger he has chosen to ride.