Last week may have been a turning point in one way, almost regardless of who wins the election, but certainly if McCain actually wins. The week brought into the open - in a way that almost no one in the country could ignore - some of the craziness that has taken over among many liberals and Democrats in the past eight to ten years. Not necessarily crazy policies so much as a crazy spirit: a kind of extremist temper, a John-Birch-Society-of-the-left atmosphere.
It's an atmosphere rightly associated with college and university campuses, where a hectoringly intolerant political orthodoxy took over, in many cases, years ago. (See above.)
Most of the mainstream media share it as well - in diluted form certainly, compared to the full nuttiness on campus. The media have been important in promoting it: directly by telling only one side of the story (the leftist narrative, to put it in leftist jargon); and indirectly by covering for the growing craziness - almost never mentioning what's going on at Kos or Democratic Underground or Harper's or even in the ordinary conversation of a growing number of ever-more-wildly-talking ordinary liberals across the country.
The frenzy about Sarah Palin has changed things, maybe permanently. It was (and is) a reflex spasm of hatred, coming from people - obviously including lots and lots of the media - who had never heard of Sarah Palin until McCain announced her. (Just a week ago Friday: it seems longer ago than that, doesn't it?) It almost instantly went far beyond an inquiry into her qualifications and fitness for the vice presidency - about which reasonable people can certainly differ. The unhinged animus (good word; nothing to do with pigs) is too obvious for anyone to miss. And instead of carefully ignoring it or smoothing it over with public-relations cover, as the media usually do with anything ugly on the left, this time the media openly joined in and led the crazy charge.
For once, there seems to be a price to be paid. Suddenly the political race is tied, or Obama is even falling behind. Ballistic left-liberalism hasn't been politely ignored this time. It's as though the country is suddenly asking "Do we really want to be ruled by armies of people with this outlook, whom Obama would bring in, all up and down the federal government?"
If the fallout - dangerous, if not fatal, to their political hopes - helps bring mainstream liberalism back to a less paranoid, less angry and sneering, and generally less crazed way of talking and feeling, it will be a very good thing for the country and for all concerned. Crazy political talk, after all, can start out as just a fashion, a way of talking that nobody necessarily means very seriously. But words, and ways of talking, take on a life of their own: after a while you start believing what you say, and even acting on it.
It's all much more in the open now than it was a week and a half ago. That's a good thing.