I have been taken to task in the past for railing against those whose rants against President Obama have crossed the line of reason and entered the dangerous world of paranoia. I include in this category the Birthers, of course, as well as those who believe Obama wishes to set up some kind of dictatorship, and those who believe our freedoms have been “destroyed” or are in the process of destruction.
As for that last charge, I don’t think it accurate to say that Obama wants to destroy freedom in America, but there is little doubt his policies “infringe” upon personal liberty. That’s the point of his “common good” agenda; that sometimes, individual rights must be subsumed for the good of all. The fact that the Supreme Court occasionally agrees with that idea is troubling but not indicative of any bent to eliminate constitutional protections for speech, religion, or assembly. The idea that the courts, or the opposition, would simply stand aside and allow our individual liberties to be “destroyed” is therefore, paranoid thinking.
There is a line between passionate, reasoned opposition to Obama and the kind of paranoid thinking that drives Birthers and others to oppose the president. The terms are not mutually exclusive but one kind of thinking is productive and effective while the other is poisonous and unbalanced. Equating the president with Nazis may be emotionally satisfying but is so far beyond the pale of rationality that it pegs anyone who uses such a cockamamie analogy as ignorant and not seriously engaged in debate. Ignorant because it is painfully obvious that anyone who refers to any American politician, right or left, as a Nazi” hasn’t a clue what Hitler and his thugs believed; and not serious about debate because the epithet is used to stifle discussion rather than encourage it.
Similar attempts to paint the president as a “Communist” are equally paranoid and stupid. (Using the term “socialist” may seem more accurate but there too, it appears that there is a deliberate attempt to exaggerate the effect of the president’s policies and incorrectly define the term.)
I saw a lot of passionate opposition to the president’s policies at the tea party at the Capitol on Saturday. Most of it was spot on and based on patriotic notions of the constitution as well as a fierce desire to protect our liberties from the “common good” brigade of liberals who seek to promote policies that infringe upon our personal freedoms.
Were these protestors, who eschewed labeling Obama as dictator, or a Communist, or illegitimate because of his birth, any less passionate in their opposition than the paranoids who hold those beliefs?
I think it is demonstrable that they were not. The fire that burns in their bellies against the president’s policies is no less bright, nor does their failure to join the kooks in their conspiracy theories mean that their commitment to the cause is any less total than those whose passion has allowed their thinking to spill over into the realm of the silly. To infer otherwise is not logical, nor is it very helpful.
“Passion” for a cause, by definition, engages the emotions and motivates one to act outside of themselves for a higher purpose. Those who believe that the president is wrongheaded, that his policies will lead to economic disaster, who can’t abide Obama’s prevarications, and see the enormous debt being piled on our children and grandchildren as preposterously unfair - without claiming the president wants to put his opponents in concentration camps - are channeling their opposition down a healthy, democratic path.
Not so much the paranoids. Despite evincing similar passion, all they are doing is giving the opposition the wherewithal to define all opponents to the president as crazies:
Amid a rebirth of conservative activism that could help Republicans win elections next year, some party insiders now fear that extreme rhetoric and conspiracy theories coming from the angry reaches of the conservative base are undermining the GOP’s broader credibility and casting it as the party of the paranoid.
Such insiders point to theories running rampant on the Internet, such as the idea that Barack Obama was born in Kenya and is thus ineligible to be president, or that he is a communist, or that his allies want to set up Nazi-like detention camps for political opponents. Those theories, the insiders say, have stoked the GOP base and have created a “purist” climate in which a figure such as Rep. Joe Wilson (R-S.C.) is lionized for his “You lie!” outburst last week when Obama addressed Congress.
They are “wild accusations and the paranoid delusions coming from the fever swamps,” said David Frum, a conservative author and speechwriter for President George W. Bush who is among the more vocal critics of the party base and of the conservative talk show hosts helping to fan the unrest.
“Like all conservatives, I am concerned about this administration’s accumulation of economic power,” Frum said. “Still, you have to be aware that there’s a line where legitimate concerns begin to collapse into paranoid fantasy.”
There was plenty of that on display at the 9/12 protest in Washington but a fair assessment of the tone and substance coming from the hundreds of thousands who were there would relegate the crazies and paranoids to a small, but significant minority. I would guess that up to a quarter of the protestors could be identified with those fringe elements. This is worrying but not as fatal as Obama supporters would have you believe. In some respects, the real problem is not so much their numbers, but their influence on mainstream politicians:
Insiders’ criticisms have been dismissed by some conservative leaders, who argue that the party needs an energized base — even if it’s extreme — to gain in future elections. Some analysts think that conservatives’ summer revolt against Obama’s healthcare agenda helped erode public approval of Democratic leadership enough that the GOP could pick up as many as 30 House seats next year.
Leaders in both the establishment and the base think that the tension could define the upcoming battle over the party’s 2012 presidential nominee.
“There’s a war going on, a pretty big one,” said Dan Riehl, a Virginia conservative whose popular blog, Riehl World View, has criticized those challenging the base. “Many of us distrust the elite Republican establishment.”
Michael Goldfarb, a spokesman for John McCain’s GOP presidential candidacy last year, likened the conservative fringe to liberal activists during the Bush years. The antiwar group Code Pink drew headlines, for example, when a protester with fake blood on her hands accosted then-Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice — but Democrats still won elections later.
A little refresher course in recent history; in 2004, Democrats played with their own kooks, catering to many of their conspiracy theories, lionizing fringe players like Cindy Sheehan and Michael Moore, while trying to tap the “enthusiasm” of the netroots - as bonkers as any conservative crazies we have today.
That worked out well for them, didn’t it?
The point isn’t necessarily to purge the paranoids, but to marginalize them and deny them influence in the party. I know that Dan Rheil is not a paranoid and that his anger - justified at times - directed against GOP and conservative “elites” has both practical and ideological elements. But I think Dan would draw the line at some of the more paranoid beliefs held by those in the base and recognize the damage it does to reasonable, and wholly legitimate arguments against Obama and his agenda.
Passion does not equal paranoia. Those on the left who insist on equating “anger” with psychosis do so knowing full well that the passions aroused by President Obama’s policies take many forms and are not all outside the realm of legitimate debate. It is simply convenient for them to lump all opposition to the president as crazy, or “racist.” And it plays well among their own base as well.
Accepting those who are passionate in their opposition to Obama without having arguments meander into the fever swamps of conspiracy and fear would lead to the more rational elements in the opposition to come to the fore while de-emphasizing the kooks. That can only lead to more effective resistance to the president’s plans to “remake” America in an image none of us - kooks or rationalists - want to see become reality.