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9/14/2009
THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN PASSION AND PARANOIA

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.

By: Rick Moran at 9:39 am | Permalink | Comments & Trackbacks (17)

9/6/2009
MOVEMENT CONSERVATIVES vs. THE PRAGMATISTS: THE BATTLE IS JOINED

I could have just as easily titled this piece “Ideologues vs. The Realists” or some other descriptive caption for what boils down to a debate now fully underway among conservatives about the best way back to power.

Are the ideologues in the movement correct? Is a lack of “passion” regarding opposition to the left, as well as a less than 100%, strict adherence to their idea of conservative “principles” responsible for the right’s slaughter at the polls in 2006 and 2008?

Or are the pragmatists correct that the demand for “purity” by the ideologues coupled with the prominence of a conspiracy mongering, angry, paranoid base has connected conservatism to an unsavory, and unelectable politics?

At stake, a battle for the soul of conservatism in America and perhaps even the preservation of republican virtues given the left’s ascendancy and their first real opportunity in 40 years to “remake” America in ways that are an anathema to the tenets of modern conservative thought.

In the midst of this fight, a book by Sam Tanenhaus called The Death of Conservatism has been published which has already added fuel to the fire. Tanenhaus’s thesis is that movement conservatism has undermined the Burkean roots of conservative philosophy and that rather than trying to preserve and “conserve” institutions, movement-cons, who he terms “revanchists,” seek to destroy that which has been carefully built up over centuries.

The book is based on a shorter essay Tanenhaus published in The New Republic (no longer available) that I wrote about in depth here. I found that the essay reflected some of my own beliefs about where conservatism had gone off the rails, but was seriously flawed in its analysis of what Tanenhaus believed were “excesses” of the movement.

In reviewing the book, Garry Wills pointed to the classic tension between Burkeans and the movement personified by one of the most intellectually productive relationships in American history; the friendship and mutual admiration society that existed between Whittaker Chambers and William Buckley:

Tanenhaus is a deep student of modern conservatives. He wrote a biography of Whittaker Chambers, a self-professed Beaconsfieldian (Disraeli was the Earl of Beaconsfield), and he has been working for some time on a biography of William F. Buckley Jr. This short book is a kind of bridge between his two great projects, and it fits his revanchist–Burkean paradigm. Chambers and Buckley, though friends, began at opposite ends of the “conservative” spectrum. Buckley, who admired Chambers’s witness against communism, tried with all his lures and charms to recruit him as an editor of National Review when it began in 1955. But Chambers thought Senator Joseph McCarthy, whom the magazine championed, would doom Republicans. Besides, he was loyal to his ally in the Hiss case, Richard Nixon, and to Nixon’s meal ticket Dwight Eisenhower, while the magazine opposed them both as impure compromisers. (In 1956, only one National Review editor, James Burnham, endorsed Eisenhower for reelection.)

But Buckley finally wore Chambers down—in 1957, with great misgivings, Chambers joined the magazine. Murray Kempton wrote that Chambers finally went to work for a boss he could respect—which was not saying too much, since “Chambers’s former employers happened to be Colonel Bykov of the Soviet Secret Police, the late Henry Luce, and John F.X. McGohey, ‘then United States Attorney’ for the Southern District of New York.”[2] Chambers soon had to withdraw from the magazine for health reasons, but he and Buckley stayed in constant communication, Chambers advising, Buckley deferential. Tanenhaus makes the case that Chambers finally converted Buckley from a revanchist to a Burkean. Kempton, who studied both men closely, doubts that Chambers’s advice ever really took: “Buckley worshiped and did not listen: the Chambers of his vision is a saint whose icon stands in a Church where his message is never read.”

So close, yet so far apart. What we should take away from that extraordinary exchange of ideas between two brilliant men is that it was done amicably, with great respect for each other, and the debate was carried out with the recognition that both were working toward a common goal.

I don’t see that being possible today. With the absolute refusal of the ideologues to abandon their purge of who they consider less than ideologically pure conservatives, and with the pragmatists fighting what amounts to a rear guard action to marginalize the crazies who are, if not embraced then certainly tolerated by the revanchists, there is no “common purpose” that could lead to any amicability or respect.

Indeed, the revanchists look with askance upon most attempts to criticize conservatism at all, believing that “intellectual elites” are simply playing into the hands of the enemy by taking fellow conservatives to task for their idiocy, or paranoia. Relatedly, any criticism of conservatism coming from the left is automatically dismissed - usually without even reading it - because that would be allowing your enemy to define you.

As for the former, the idea that honest criticism is rejected outright because we’re at war with the left reveals a sneering anti-intellectualism among the revanchists that flies in the face of conservatism’s most cherished and important virtue; a duty to the truth above and beyond loyalty to ideology.

And while I sympathize and agree to a certain extent about not allowing your political foe to totally define your philosophy, that shouldn’t preclude anyone from exposing themselves to ideas with which you may disagree or close one’s mind to looking at the world from a different angle.

Tanehaus is a man of the left (former editor of the Times Book Review section) but he has also immersed himself in the history and personalities of modern conservatism more than most. He is a sincere critic of the right, a thoughtful man who wants to engage in serious discussions about the issues he raises. And while there is precious little empiricism on which you can hang your hat in his writings, some of his analysis will ring true with students of history who have given some thought to what ails the right today.

When Tanenhaus points to the very un-Burkean beliefs of many movement-cons, he is questioning how these revanchists can square their conservatism with the more traditional school of thought represented by Buckley, Hayek, Kirk, Arnold, and others who believed that preserving society’s institutions was the right’s highest calling. A reverence for our past has morphed into a psuedo-reformist mantra that seeks to destroy rather than build upon, tear down instead of conserve. Hence, liberals should not be defeated, they must be annihilated, along with the Great Society, the New Deal, and other “socialist” ideas. Supporting anything less calls into question one’s “true conservative” credentials.

The recent efforts by Jon Henke and Patrick Ruffini to counter these destructive beliefs are instructive. Henke’s call for advertisers and the Republican party to boycott World Net Daily for their enthusiastic coverage and endorsement of the Birther nonsense (among other idiocies) and Ruffini’s defense of Jon, along with a general criticism of the revanchists that is both trenchant and on point:

As a fiscal and social conservative, I happen to think Jon is completely in the right here, both substantively and strategically. Don’t raise the canard that we ought to be attacking Democrats first. Conservatives are entirely within their rights to have public debates over who will publicly represent them, and who will be allowed to affiliate with the conservative movement.

The Birthers are the latest in a long line of paranoid conspiracy believers of the left and right who happen to attach themselves to notions that simply are not true. Descended from the 9/11 Truthers, the LaRouchies, the North American Union buffs, and way back when, the John Birch Society, the Birthers are hardly a new breed in American politics.

Each and every time they have appeared, mainstream conservatives from William F. Buckley to Ronald Reagan have risen to reject these influences — and I expect that will be the case once again here.

But there is another subtext that makes Jon’s appeal more urgent. As a pretty down-the-line conservative, I don’t believe I am alone in noting with disappointment the trivialization, excessive sloganeering, and pettiness that has overtaken the movement of late. In “The Joe the Plumberization of the GOP,” I argued that conservatives have grown too comfortable with wearing scorn as a badge of honor, content to play sarcastic second fiddle to the dominant culture of academia and Hollywood with second-rate knock-off institutions. A side effect of this has been a tendency to accept conspiracy nuts as a slightly cranky edge case within the broad continuum of conservatism, rather than as a threat to the movement itself.

In addition to “the trivialization, excessive sloganeering, and pettiness” exhibited by those in the movement, one might add the curious and debilitating attitude of equating thoughtfulness with “elitism.”

Stacy McCain, who can be brilliant when the mood strikes him, wrote this about Henke’s and Ruffini’s efforts at marginalizing the crazies:

Grassroots conservative activists are, by their very nature, not engaged in the political process as a career. They tend to be older, well-established in non-political occupations and less concerned about the Big Picture questions than in finding immediate, practical ways to oppose the menace of liberalism. The question one hears from the grassroots is not, “Whither conservatism?” but rather, “What can I do?”

The Tea Party movement — which will host a major rally in Washington next weekend — has given the grassroots something to do, so that joining en masse to voice their opposition to the Obama agenda, they are actively engaged in the political process.

However, grassroots activism has consequences. One of the consequences of a ressurgent conservative grassroots is that their concerns, beliefs and attitudes are sometimes not in sync with the concerns, beliefs and attitudes of smart young Republican activists like Patrick Ruffini.

Stacy, who later goes on to say that the Birthers “are diverting attention from more valid critiques of the Obama administration and its liberal policies. So they should be discouraged or ignored…” fails to see the Birthers as a symptom of a larger problem; movement-cons rejecting criticism - even of Birthers - as “elitist” and ascribing dissent from their closed, ideological worldview as the critic having insufficient attachment to conservative principles.

McCain doesn’t engage on quite that level but doesn’t mince words when it comes to taking down those he believes have “elitist” attitudes toward the movement (”rubes”). And while he makes some valid points about “careerism” and its deleterious impact on what passes for “acceptable discourse,” methinks he paints with too broad a brush at times. The Ruffini-Henke critique is hardly born out of a desire to advance or augment those two gentlemen’s standing with other conservatives or the Republican party but rather - and I think this fairly obvious - the practical, and pragmatic calculation that we can’t get there from here. Changes are in order so that the public face of conservatism has a smile, rather than a snarl, and promoting the idea that one can vigorously oppose Obama without descending into the fever swamps of conspiracy and hate.

The road back to political power and intellectual relevance for the right will not be found in the rantings of Birthers, the false accusations of apostasy directed against conservative critics, a dogmatic and ideological approach to defining principles, nor an unrealistic and unattainable political agenda.

Nor should we count on the self destruction of the opposition which, at this point, seems well underway. What we do when we achieve power is as important as how we get there. For that, Jon Henke, Patrick Ruffinini, and others like them should be heard out and their call for a return to reason heeded.

By: Rick Moran at 10:54 am | Permalink | Comments & Trackbacks (5)

8/20/2009
THE ROLE OF RACE IN OPPOSITION TO THE PRESIDENT

This outrageous dishonesty from MSNBC should have produced an outpouring of criticism from responsible media. Instead, the deliberate cropping of a picture of a man carrying a rifle and pistol outside of an Obama town hall just so the anchor and guests could rail against “white racism” in opposing health care reform — even though the uncropped photo shows the gun carrier to be a Black man — got me to thinking about how it would be possible to quantify the level of hatred directed against President Obama because of his race.

Unlike many of my liberal friends, the Good Lord has not vouchsafed me the ability to peer into the souls of my fellow man to discern the truth or purity of his motives. And it is devilishly difficult to make assumptions in this matter based on polling, or other less politically motivated criteria because invariably, people are ashamed (as well they should be) of harboring racist attitudes toward our chief executive. They will lie to pollsters, to their friends, even to themselves, I suppose. It makes gleaning the truth that much more difficult.

Then there is the problem with separating real anger and fear about health care reform from the very real feelings of fear and anger that a black man is president. Can a racist sincerely be against health care reform because of their political or ideological beliefs? Does it matter? What legitimacy, if any, should be granted that individual’s views?

Obama supporters aren’t helping matters by tarring and feathering anyone who looks sideways at the president as a racist. And those who deliberately employ the word as a smear to score political points are as bereft of character and despicably dishonest as any real racist who opposes them. Casually dropping the word “racist” in critiques of Obama opponents is getting quite tiresome, and those who thoughtlessly do so are contributing to the dilution of the word’s impact - an unintended consequence of the word’s overuse.

All of this is lost on many, if not most purveyors of the “Obama opponents are really closet Kluxers” narrative. There appears to be as much mindless caricature of the president’s adversaries as there is of the president himself. But if many on the left are too willing to see the absolute down and dirty worst in their opponents, it is equally true that we on the right are at a loss about how to police our own ranks in order to rid ourselves of those who express outrageous opinions that specifically refer to Obama’s skin color or cultural heritage.

No penalty accrues to those who will correct me in the comments by stating that the president is “only half black” or that he’s looking out for his “home boys” or any one of a dozen other racially charged memes that can be found in the comments on many conservative blogs. Most bloggers try and police their comment sections and remove the most objectionable attitudes.

But deleting the comments doesn’t delete the problem, and aside from talking and writing about it, I am at a loss as to how to separate the scum from those who legitimately, and for reasons of party or ideology, oppose what the president is trying to do.

Sniffing out obvious racism is one thing. Discerning it otherwise is well nigh impossible. In the end, referring to one’s political opponents as being motivated by race hatred is being applied far too broadly, and in too many cases, is done knowing full well that it simply isn’t true. This too, breeds no consequences and is, in fact, cheered on by many liberals who delight in piously wrapping themselves in the mantle of authority on matters relating to who is and who is not a racist. Of course, they’d never let politics intrude in making such weighty decisions now, would they?

While there is no objective way to count racists, we might extrapolate that racist attitudes are held by many of those who, despite all evidence, logic, reason, and facts to the contrary, believe that Barack Obama is not the legitimate president of the United States.

There have been a few polls that have tried to measure the birther phenomenon, none with an eye toward discerning racial attitudes. The Pew Poll measured attitudes toward media coverage of the birther story. While 39% of Republicans say they had not heard enough about the birther issue, I fail to see how it necessarily follows that 39% of the GOP believes Obama is illegitimate for racist reasons - especially since 30% of independents say the same thing. There can’t be that many racists in America. If there were, Obama would never have been elected.

More to the point, this Daily-Kos-Research 2000 poll asks simply if Barack Obama was born in the United States. The fact that 58% of Republicans answered either “no” or “not sure” is more reflective of racist attitudes. And while it is impossible to be specific, I don’t see how one can escape concluding that a potentially large subset of that 58% refuse to acknowledge Obama as president because he is a black man.

How large is found in a regional breakdown of that number. Fully 53% of southerners doubt (23% “no”, 30% “not sure”) Obama’s citizenship. That includes both parties, by the way, although the number of Democrats who do not believe or are not sure Obama is a citizen nationally is only 7%. It is logical, considering the small level of doubt in other regions of the country (upwards of 90% of all respondents in the rest of the country believe Obama is a citizen), it’s a good bet that most of the Democratic doubters are found in the south too.

(How reliable is a poll conducted by one of the most partisan liberal sites on the web? Research 2000 is a respected outfit and those professionals who have examined their methodology find little to complain about.)

Is it reasonable to apply historical attitudes toward race and logic to believe a good portion of those southerners harbor racist attitudes toward the president? I believe the very nature of the birther argument supports that theory.

No, not all birthers are racists. Probably not even a majority. But the level of fear and hatred directed against the president based on absolutely nothing except a wild conspiracy theory would have to point to some other element at work besides the belief that Obama was not born here or is not a “natural born citizen.” Again, reason would dictate that a sizable but unknown segment of these Obama opponents are indeed, motivated by their inability to accept a black man as president.

(To my southern friends, I would say that you cannot deny history - ancient or recent - and say it is a statistical fluke of some kind that so many of your fellow southerners disbelieve the president’s citizenship, while refusing to ascribe such thinking to racial reasons.)

Scattershot charges of racism against most, if not all Obama opponents is therefore demonstrably untrue. But there is also no denying that a significant portion of the southern GOP opposes the president based at least partly on his race.

Where does this leave us as far as my original question? Is there any way to determine what percentage of opposition to the president is based on the fact that he’s African American?

Broadly speaking, I think we can, although it will be to nobody’s satisfaction. Racism as a factor in opposing the president is certainly far less prevalent than Obama supporters would have us believe. And from what I’ve tried to show, it is more prevalent than what many in the Republican party are claiming or wish to believe.

Yes, I’ve made a hash of the issue. What do you expect when the subject is racism in America? Ultimately, those with the courage to examine their own motives in opposing or supporting the president, must come to their own conclusions. But being aware of the issue as it affects our politics, weighing the methods by which we fight for what we believe, and discerning our personal attitudes toward our first Black president, will at least make us conscious of the dynamite with which we play when injecting race into any argument we have with each other.

By: Rick Moran at 10:20 am | Permalink | Comments & Trackbacks (50)

8/6/2009
JUST LIKE THE BIRTHERS ONLY WORSE: LIBERAL CONSPIRACIES ABOUT HEALTH CARE REFORM

You can find some wonderful symmetry between the Birther conspiracists and those on the left who have become so paranoid about opposition to Obama that they have invented a “Grand Unified Conspiracy Theory” on health care reform demonstrations.

Both are rooted in denial of facts, refusal to believe evidence right in front of their eyes, the exaggerated build up of the opposition, manufactured (or misinterpreted) evidence, and the unshakable belief that they are right.

The big difference is, on the Democratic side, the conspiracy nuts include:

The President
The Speaker of the House
The Majority Leader of the Senate
The entire DNC
Every major liberal blog

That’s quite a lineup, huh? On the Birther side, you have few nutty congressmen and a whole bunch of fringe kooks who would deny the sun rising in the east and setting in the west if someone presented evidence to the contrary.

So what is the bogus conspiracy theory being pushed by Democrats and the left?

Let’s let the President of the United States - or, perhaps we should start referring to him as the “Kook in Chief” - explain it:

There’s been a lot of media coverage about organized mobs intimidating lawmakers, disrupting town halls, and silencing real discussion about the need for real health insurance reform.

The truth is, it’s a sham. These “grassroots protests” are being organized and largely paid for by Washington special interests and insurance companies who are desperate to block reform. They’re trying to use lies and fear to break the President and his agenda for change.

“Organized mobs?” “Paid for by Washington special interests and insurance companies?” First of all, referring to fellow countrymen who disagree with you as a “mob” is beneath the dignity of the office - not that Obama has necessarily demonstrated that he cares a whit about that kind of thing in the first place - and bespeaks a paranoid outlook regarding your political opposition.

And I don’t know about you, but I sure would like to know specifically which insurance companies and “special interests” - specific lobbying groups and companies - are organizing and paying for these demonstrations? After all, if you’re going to smear the thousands and thousands of people who are opposed to a public policy initiative like health care reform and show up at these congressional town halls, it should be snap to identify those companies who are paying for these protestors to come out and demonstrate, right?

What are their names, Mr. President? How are they paying people to turn out? Are they paying gas money to the demonstrators so that they can drive the few blocks to where these town halls are taking place? Maybe they’re giving a stipend - sort of like strike pay that unions give to members who walk a picket line? (Now that’s grass roots action for ya!)? Just how is all this organized? How deep does this conspiracy go?

ABC News went to one of these town halls where protestors turned out by the hundreds:

There were no lobbyist-funded buses in the parking lot of Mardela Middle and High School on Tuesday evening, and the hundreds of Eastern Maryland residents who packed the school’s auditorium loudly refuted the notion that their anger over the Democrats’ health care reform plans is “manufactured.”

“I went to school in this school,” a man named Bob told me. “I don’t see anyone in this room that isn’t from Mardela Springs right now.”

“We’ve been quiet too long,” said a woman named Joan.

They came to yell at their congressman, freshman Democratic Rep. Frank Kratovil, and they were surprised to hear that the “Congress in Your Corner” event to which they had been invited — by a robocall from Kratovil himself — was not to be a public airing of grievances, but instead an opportunity for private, one-on-one sessions with the freshman Democrat.

As the crowd grew, and began venting frustration over the fact they would only be meeting with the congressman behind closed doors, Kratovil’s aides suggested he switch to a town hall format

Obviously, ABC wasn’t looking hard enough for signs of the conspiracy. Our corporate media is covering for the insurance companies, I’m sure.

Or - these really are demonstrations organized at the grass roots and while I abhor the behavior of some (and admire Kratovil for standing up and taking his licks), the fact remains that the only sign of some kind of conspiracy involving big business was that, according to Democratic Senator Barbara Boxer, the demonstrators were too well dressed to be “genuine.”

Ed Morrissey:

Senator Barbara Boxer (D-CA) appeared on Hardball last night in support of the Left’s attempt to discredit the people showing up to townhalls in protest of ObamaCare. Boxer says she can tell that they’re fakes, because they’re too well dressed. How does she know that this is a problem? Because well-dressed people apparently told her to get the hell out of Florida in the Bush-Gore recount, too.

If that’s not paranoia, I don’t know what is. Note the forced and bogus connection made between two completely different situations. Birthers do the same thing all the time. And they’re kooks and Boxer is sane?

Then you have liberal blogs and the DNC pushing the theory that a group called Freedom Works is in cahoots with the insurance companies and are directing the demonstrators and orchestrating chaos:

Above-the-fold headlines of the disruptive protests caused the Democratic National Committee (DNC) to accuse Republicans of fueling the anti-Democratic healthcare activists in an attempt to institute “mob rule.”

But Republican National Committee (RNC) Chairman Michael Steele denied on Wednesday that the GOP somehow coordinated the protests.

“To sit back and say this is some sort of Republican cabal is some baloney,” Steele said on a conference call with reporters. “And you can substitute [baloney] with something else if you want.”

And Steele argued the protesters have raised questions that the Obama administration deems beneath it to answer.

“This administration has the arrogance to look down their nose” at the protesters, Steele said.

The authenticity of the town hall protests, and whether or not they represent real dissatisfaction with Democrats’ healthcare reform proposals, has become a key element of the early August battle.

The White House questioned the authenticity of the rabble-rousers earlier this week.

“I hope people will take a jaundiced eye to what is clearly the AstroTurf nature of so-called grassroots lobbying,” White House press secretary Robert Gibbs said.

Gibbs and the DNC have taken aim at groups like FreedomWorks, the activist group founded by former House Majority Leader Dick Armey (R-Texas), for allegedly facilitating the protests at the behest of corporate interests.

FreedomWorks spokesman Max Pappas said in an interview with CBS that his group simply provides talking points to town hall attendees to engage in “civil” dialogues with lawmakers.

Those talking points from Freedom Works are one of about a thousand such efforts on the web. American Thinker had a series of 7 posts on “What to ask your Congressman” at these town halls while Hot Air just published their own suggestions.

If all these sites are getting paid to publish suggested talking points by evil insurance companies, maybe I should get in on the act. Who do I contact to spread the lies?

Of course, the revelations by Mary Katherine Ham yesterday about the “smoking gun” memo that Think Progress and TPM Muckraker were touting as “proof” of a conspiracy to disrupt town hall meetings, made most of the left look loonier than Orly Taitz:

When the “manufactured” outrage the Left is trying to demonize lines up so inconveniently with public polling, it’s sometimes necessary to create evidence for the “manufactured” storyline.

Enter Think Progress, which unearthed this shocking, secret memo from the leader of a small grassroots conservative organization in Connecticut, which allegedly instructs members on “infiltrating town halls and harassing Democratic members of Congress.”

Right Principles PAC was formed by Bob MacGuffie and four friends in 2008, and has taken in a whopping $5,017 and disbursed $1,777, according to its FEC filing.

“We’re just trying to shake this state up and make a difference up here,” MacGuffie told me during a telephone interview. He’s surprised at his elevation to national rabble-rouser by the Left.

Right Principles has a Facebook group with 23 members and a Twitter account with five followers. MacGuffie describes himself as an “opponent of leftist thinking in America,” and told me he’s “never pulled a lever” for a Republican or Democrat on a federal level. Yet this Connecticut libertarian’s influence over a national, orchestrated Republican health-care push-back is strong, indeed, if you listen to liberal pundits and the Democratic National Committee, who have crafted a nefarious web out of refutable evidence.

Think Progress highlighted his memo’s directives to “‘Yell,’ ‘Stand Up And Shout Out,’ ‘Rattle Him’,” calling it a “right-wing harassment strategy against Dems.” The blog falsely connected MacGuffie to the national conservative group FreedomWorks through the most tenuous of threads. The Think Progress link that purports to establish MacGuffie as a FreedomWorks “volunteer” leads to his one blog posting on a Tea Party website (on the free social networking site, ning.com). Think Progress calls Tea Party Patriots a “FreedomWorks website.”

The problem is it’s not a FreedomWorks site, according to FreedomWorks spokesman Adam Brandon. FreedomWorks is a “coalition partner” of TeaPartyPatriots.org, but does not fund the site in any way.

“There is no formal structural connection,” Brandon told me. “Never has been. Never will be. We’re just fellow travelers in the movement.”

My pet cat Aramas has more influence with tea party protestors than these bushers. And yet, they are the source of the tactics used by opponents of health care reform?

Exaggerating evidence of conspiracy is right out of the Birther handbook. And yet they’re the screwballs and liberal bloggers are members of a “reality based community?” Maybe on the planet Mongol, not here.

From the president on down, Democrats and liberals have become unhinged about opposition to Obama’s agenda. Somehow, it just seems more evil if big business, right wing fanatics, shady Republican operatives, and robot-like conservatives are all involved in this conspiracy to defeat the health care reform monstrosity that no one in Congress has read yet because it hasn’t been written. And citizens are supposed to require lobbyists and political pros to get ginned up about that?

When 71% of the American people believe that Obama is adding to the deficit unnecessarily, do liberals believe that a few thousands of those souls won’t take it upon themselves - with a little encouragement from tea party groups who have been organizing for more than 6 months - to show up and register their unhappiness?

Completely rational, and reasonable explanations for this outpouring of anger and activism are rejected by the left in favor of the elitist idea that ordinary citizens cannot think for themselves and must be told by lobbyists and corporate flaks to go out and demonstrate. And to carry this elitist lunacy even farther, it is intimated that these same ordinary citizens are actually paid for their efforts.

Birthers and lefty conspiracists - peas of a pod, birds of a feather, and partners in kooky lunacy.

By: Rick Moran at 8:38 am | Permalink | Comments & Trackbacks (31)

8/3/2009
BIRTHERS vs. TRUTHERS: WAR OF THE LOONS
CATEGORY: Birthers, Politics

It is a titanic battle of the witless, a struggle to determine which paranoid, idiotic, nonsensical, and just plain loony tunes conspiracy nutcases take the booby prize for being the biggest threat to rationality and common sense in our politics.

In truth, I wouldn’t want to live off the difference. The fact is, a sizable segment of both the left and right have allowed their hatred for a president to so cloud their judgment and befuddle their minds that they have descended into a pit of irrational idiocy, and are drowning in their own bilious delusions.

There is no need to look very far for explanations. Driven by the internet, which is tailor made for attracting and gathering like minded twits into communities of conspiracy nuts who feed off each other’s flights of ever more spectacular illogical fancies, the Truther-Birther nexus can be found in how our information society has so splintered and fractured our national polity, that offshoots like these are inevitable.

Previous to the widespread use of the internet to get the bulk of one’s news about what’s happening in the world, information was a linear proposition; a straight line could be drawn directly from a small number of newspapers, magazines, and TV stations to the consumer of news. Alternative publications and viewpoints were out there but one had to expend an effort to find them.

While this may have led to a conformity that put enormous power into the hands of a few, unelected editors and publishers, it also prevented the nutcases from getting their hands on the means to widely disseminate their deranged theories and attract the dullards, the less educated, and those who lacked the critical thinking skills to differentiate between logic and logical fallacies.

Today - as was true in the past with Bush and a lesser extent (only because the internet was in its infancy) Clinton, hatred and fear are the driving force behind these irrational notions. Is it ideological or something deeper? Do blogs and talk radio contribute to the fact of their existence or do those media simply fan the flames of an already out of control conflaguration of stupidity?

I don’t like pat answers to those questions as both left and right pretend to have figured out what’s wrong with the other side. “It’s racism and Glenn Beck” screams the left! “It’s Bush hatred” screams the right. While I have no doubt all of that plays a role in what apparently drives perfectly normal (otherwise) people to believe demonstrably stupid things, I believe that at bottom, it has more to do with the times in which we live rather than any specific reason you can point to in order to explain the aberrant thinking.

Some Americans are afraid. They are afraid of crime, of their neighbors, of neighborhoods that are changing to reflect a more diverse society, of a world where globalization is making the future uncertain, and they are afraid of change. Most of us deal with these fears rationally. We buy good locks for our doors. We don’t walk alone at night. We accept the growing diversity of American society as part of our growth as a nation. We put the prospect of losing our job someday out of our minds.

For some, President Obama’s election represents all of those fears rolled up into one big bundle of trouble. He is their fears made flesh and his radical notions of change have some trying desperately to find a way to stop him. Couple that with the relative powerlessness that conservatives feel at this moment in history and the Birther Movement seems inevitable.

For the Truthers, September 11 knocked us off our comfortable moorings that we were a safe port in a sea of violence while the enormity of the attacks carried out by a handful of crazy terrorists didn’t quite balance out the books. Here you have this enormous world-historical event and it was perpetrated by people to which we have little more than feelings of utter contempt. “Towel heads” or “Ragheads” who blew themselves up, believing crazy stuff about going right to heaven for killing us could not possibly have carried off such an enormous attack.

For Democrats - 35% of whom believed in 2007 that George Bush had advance knowledge of the attacks - it was an acceptable way to express their bigotry against Arabs and hatred of Bush by rejecting the notion that he - or any other president ever elected - would have acted swiftly if foreknowledge of such a devastating attack would have presented itself. (Note: Please don’t bring up Roosevelt’s supposed foreknowledge of Pearl Harbor - nonsense that has been royally debunked by a wide variety of historians.)

To acknowledge that President Bush would have tried and prevent the attack rather than allow it to happen (or, in the extreme Truther-created world, actively plan and assist it), would be granting the object of their deranged hatred the benefit of good intentions - an impossibility if you actually believe that Bush was the second coming of Hitler.

Both Birthers and Truthers are trapped by their own fears, unable to break free and see the light of reason because they are in a comfort zone of having contact with like minded conspiracy floggers any time they wish. Alternative explanations - even when that information is compelling enough to satisfy the vast majority - are ignored because the Birther-Truther believes they are privy to the “real facts” and any challenge to their orthodoxy is a result of plots by the enemy (government, the press).

Should it surprise us that so many Republicans believe that Obama wasn’t born here or that so many Democrats believe Bush was evil enough to allow terrorists to attack us despite knowing in advance? Not when believing these theories allows one to see themselves as possessing knowledge that no one else is given the ability to understand. Interpreting the “facts” correctly - being able to connect the dots, no matter how scattered and fanciful they might be - is a way for the conspiracists to feel superior to the rest of us.

And they cloak this air of superiority in what they convince themselves is stellar research and hidden facts, with only those possessing superior insight able to discern the truth.

Richard Hofstadter:

A final characteristic of the paranoid style is related to the quality of its pedantry. One of the impressive things about paranoid literature is the contrast between its fantasied conclusions and the almost touching concern with factuality it invariably shows. It produces heroic strivings for evidence to prove that the unbelievable is the only thing that can be believed. Of course, there are highbrow, lowbrow, and middlebrow paranoids, as there are likely to be in any political tendency. But respectable paranoid literature not only starts from certain moral commitments that can indeed be justified but also carefully and all but obsessively accumulates “evidence.” The difference between this “evidence” and that commonly employed by others is that it seems less a means of entering into normal political controversy than a means of warding off the profane intrusion of the secular political world. The paranoid seems to have little expectation of actually convincing a hostile world, but he can accumulate evidence in order to protect his cherished convictions from it.

As I have written before, this becomes a self-reinforcing feed back loop where the denizens of these conspiracy cultures try and outdo each other in positing ever more fantastic theories about what “really happened,” leaving reason and rationality even further behind.

Birthers who either fake or are taken in by a fake birth certificate of Obama’s
want to believe so badly, that the obvious becomes obscure. Truthers who want to believe in a government plot for 9/11 (or that Bush knew of the attacks), take similar “evidence” as gospel despite scientific findings that contradict it or the bulk of testimony that debunks it. The binds that tie these pathetic people together is their simple inability to accept the facts as the rest of us know them to be. This says more about humanity than it does either conservative or liberal ideology.

Talk radio on the right has pretty much rejected the Birther’s arguments. But they are not guiltless. Their out of control, exaggerated, hyperbolic criticisms of Obama have created a climate where one can believe anything bad about the president. The atmosphere of fear that they are deliberately ginning up to get ratings and audience is contributing in no small way to the Birther phenomenon.

Perhaps some strong statements against the Birther movement by Limbaugh, Hannity, and a few of the bigger names in the business might bring that 28% number down, just as strongly worded criticisms of by the Democratic leadership against Truthers would help dispel at least some of the paranoia on the left about Bush.

But as long as Democratic congressmen give credence to theTruthers while Republican congressmen refuse to categorically come out and say that Obama was born here and is an American citizen, the Birther-Truther problem will be with us to bedevil our politics.

By: Rick Moran at 11:21 am | Permalink | Comments & Trackbacks (29)

7/22/2009
IT’S PAST TIME TO INOCULATE CONSERVATISM AGAINST THE BIRTHERS

It is sometimes easy when you live in the virtual world of the internet to look at people like the Birthers or Truthers and dismiss them out of hand as a small minority of lunatics who are best left alone to wallow in their paranoid kookiness.

Such might be good advice for dealing with those who believe we never landed on the moon, or who think that we have dead aliens on ice at Area 51. But, as I warned my fellow conservatives in this post about the Founding Freeper’s call for “revolution” and removal of all elected representatives from the president on down, we ignore some of these groups, including the Birthers, at the peril of having conservatism severely damaged by having their ideas associated with the mainstream right.

Yes, there numbers may be small relative to the whole. But they are actively committed to spreading their lunacy far and wide and are gaining converts and cash as I write this.

The question then becomes do we try and isolate, chastise, and ultimately drive out the paranoid purveyors of utterly fantastical notions of Obama’s origins while they are still a small enough group that a concerted effort could succeed? Or do we wait and see how big they get before acting, thus risking a backlash against the right from the voter?

To prevent many diseases from harming our health, we inoculate ourselves so that an illness will not develop. I propose something similar in dealing with the Birthers. For my part, anyone who leaves a comment on this site, on any post, that advances any birther “theory” will be banned from accessing my writings.

Some might think this a bad idea in that I will forgo “debate” or perhaps not allow a Birther to be convinced otherwise. That’s nonsense. My experience with Birthers has been that they don’t want to hear any contrary evidence, that they have closed their mind so completely to the truth that arguing with a brick wall would be easy by comparison.

Besides, for most Birthers, it’s not about discovering the truth. It is about delegitimizing the president. For months they demanded to see the president’s birth certificate. When the state of Hawaii released a “Certificate of Live Birth,” we heard from the Birthers that it wasn’t good enough, or it was a fake. “All we want is to see the president’s birth certificate,” they innocently ask. And they take the president’s reluctance to do so - indeed, his fight in the courts to prevent the release of it - as “evidence” that there is something amiss.

I don’t blame Obama for fighting it. It is an insult to the presidency, to begin with. And the fact that no other president or presidential candidate in history has been asked to “prove” they are citizens is a personal insult to Obama.

I have little doubt that racism plays a role in this for some, but for most, it is a continuation of a streak of radical paranoia that has afflicted a subset of modern conservatism in the post-World War II era. The anti-Masons, the bugaboos associated with the Tri-Lateral Commission, the Council on Foreign Relations, Breton Woods, the Jews, the Catholics — it is a long, inglorious list of people and organizations around which has grown paranoid conspiracies of the most outrageous sort.

I’ve quoted Hofstadter’s “The Paranoid Style in American Politics” several times on this site. The opening paragraph of that essay applies to our current situation:

American politics has often been an arena for angry minds. In recent years we have seen angry minds at work mainly among extreme right-wingers, who have now demonstrated in the Goldwater movement how much political leverage can be got out of the animosities and passions of a small minority. But behind this I believe there is a style of mind that is far from new and that is not necessarily right-wing. I call it the paranoid style simply because no other word adequately evokes the sense of heated exaggeration, suspiciousness, and conspiratorial fantasy that I have in mind.

Hofstadter misread the Goldwater movement entirely, but so did most liberals at the time who failed to appreciate what energies had been released as a result of the Arizona senator’s candidacy. To ascribe Goldwater’s success to the paranoids was an extreme oversimplification but typical of the blindness demonstrated by the left to what was happening to conservatism below the surface. (I wonder what Hofstadter would have made of the unhinged, paranoid and radical nature of opposition to Bush by many lefty bloggers over the previous 8 years?)

The point is that Hofstadter’s description of the Birthers (and others who believe everything from Obama being a communist to his desire to “destroy” America) is spot on. “Heated exaggeration, suspiciousness, and conspiratorial fantasy” are the hallmarks of the Birthers, and even if Obama were to release his birth certificate, they would find it a fake or demand something equally idiotic as “proof” of his citizenship.

You cannot debate them without legitimizing their arguments. They are not rational so logic and reason have no effect on their thinking. Like the 9/11 Truthers who are a cross cultural, equal opportunity fraternity of both left and right nutcases, they must be denounced in as strong language that we can muster. They must be belittled, humiliated, laughed at, raged against, and verbally hammered unmercifully until they are beaten back into the shadows and dark places from which their fantasies emerged.

And now, Rush Limbaugh has joined the Birthers in asking to see the president’s “long form” birth certificate. The “news” site World News Daily - one of the biggest boosters of the Birther movement - reports on Limbaugh’s conversion:

On his show today, Limbaugh told listeners, “As you know, I’m in the midst of another harassing audit from New York State and New York City for the last three years. We’re up to 16 different ways I have to prove to New York City and state tax authorities where I have been every day – not just work week – but every day, for the past three years.”

He continued, “Barack Obama has yet to have to prove that he’s a citizen. All he has to do is show a birth certificate. He has yet to have to prove he’s a citizen. I have to show them 14 different ways where the h— I am every day of the year for three years.”

Do my fellow righties still think this is just a fringe group of paranoids? Whenever I criticize Limbaugh on this site, I get an army of conservatives telling me he is the heart and soul of the conservative movement. If so, what does that say to the rest of us who utterly reject the Birther nonsense? Are we out of step with the mainstream? Or has Limbaugh proved once again that he is a clown, an oaf, and a shallow panderer to the fears and anger of his listeners?

Mark Ambinder offers this in his post, “Should the GOP Take the Birther Threat Seriously?”

That’s the thesis of the First Readers of NBC News, after viewing this astonishing clip from a town hall meeting that Rep. Mike Castle held in Delaware for his constituents. What’s most notable, to me, at least, is not how scared Castle looked or how passionately the woman argued for Barack Obama’s foreign birth. It was the reaction of the audience, a good portion of which erupted into cheers and youbetchas.

[...]

To the extent that one can conclusively prove such things in our postmodern age, this claim has been extremely thoroughly debunked. The birther movement may be premised on a fictional belief, but it is savvy: birthers now wear the term “birther” as badge of honor, as if they were a persecuted minority — which, come to think of it, is one mechanism for solidarity in the face of evidence to the contrary.

[...]

This is, at once, a fringe movement and something greater. It’s fringe because no important Republicans believe it, and most are offended by it. It’s greater because some fairly prominent local lawmakers are beginning to sign birther petitions.

At least nine members of Congress have cosponsored a birther bill that would require prospective presidents to affirm their U.S. citizenship. What we don’t know is how widespread the belief is among Republicans — and even if the belief is confined to a narrow minority, whether the belief will spread as Republicans begin to pay closer attention to electoral politics in 2010 and 2012.

Now that Rush has picked up the Birther standard, expect other Pop-Cons like Hannity, Beck, Coulter, and more to start pushing it. If they do, they are playing with fire. Pandering to paranoids has the historically nasty habit of having their delusions stick to you like glue. Charles Lindbergh found that out to his detriment when he embraced the “America First Committee” before World War II. When the war broke out, he was ignored by Roosevelt and his fame took a permanent hit.

I am open to any and all ideas on how to marginalize these kooks before conservatism itself becomes a victim of the Birthers unbalanced lunacy. We can no longer turn the other way when confronted with Birther blather. Since they won’t listen to reason , shame and humiliation would seem to me to be the best way to closet them with the other nutcases of American politics.

UPDATE

I was right to compare Birtherism with a disease. It seems to be spreading.

First Limbaugh, now Liz Cheney who refused to denounce the Birthers on Larry King:

After King showed video of the crazy birther who disrupted a meeting with poor GOP Rep. Mike Castle, demanding he acknowledge Obama was born in Kenya (that’s one birther claim); and after Carville denounced them as a “poor, pathetic” fringe group, King gave Cheney a chance to distance herself from them. But Cheney demurred, telling King the Birther movement exists because “People are uncomfortable with a president who is reluctant to defend the nation overseas.”

The rarely shocked Carville seemed briefly speechless, and even King, not known to be the most combative interviewer, tried a second time to get an honest reaction from Cheney — which I read as expecting her to separate herself from the crazies. But Cheney repeated her talking point about Obama inadequately defending the nation overseas. Unbelievable. Carville called her on it, accurately: “She refuses to say, ‘This is ludicrous,’ because she actually wants to encourage these people to believe this.”

Absolutely nuts.

By: Rick Moran at 9:53 am | Permalink | Comments & Trackbacks (59)