As I have written about here many times, I consider myself a left-leaning centrist. I believe open-mindedness, moderation, and pragmatism are the keys to successful governing, and my views on many of the social issues I care about – separation of church and state being probably the biggest one – tend to skew left. In recent years, however, the failures of the current Democratic administration to live up to many of its important promises has caused me to take a serious look at the ideals of conservatism, and truth be told in many instances I like what I see. I’m in favor of individualism, of individual rights over group rights, I believe that citizens should be responsible for themselves, and should solve their own problems rather than expecting something from the government. I believe each citizen of appropriate age should be considered a rational, responsible adult, and treated as such, until there is evidence to the contrary. We should be given the benefit of the doubt by our government. Innocent until proven guilty. So why can’t I vote Republican for a high public office? Well, there are the social issues…
And then there’s this (and, as a bit of supplemental material I happened to find today, this): an article by John Avlon, writing for the Daily Beast, titled “False Flags, Sharia Law, and Gun Grabs: GOP Lawmakers Embrace The Crazy.”
A few days after the Boston bombings, Stella Tremblay went to Glenn Beck’s Facebook page to express her conviction that the terror attack was, in fact, orchestrated by the U.S. government.
“The Boston Marathon was a Black Ops ‘terrorist’ attack,” she wrote. “One suspect killed, the other one will be too before they even have a chance to speak. Drones and now ‘terrorist’ attacks by our own Government. Sad day, but a ‘wake up’ to all of us.”
She then linked to a video at Infowars.com called Proof! Boston Marathon Bombing is Staged Terror Attack.
Tremblay’s post, though, stood out from the wave of post-attack crazy because of her day job: she is a New Hampshire state legislator.
Like too many enthusiastic dupes, the Republican representative was echoing conspiracy entrepreneurs like Beck and InfoWars’ Alex Jones, who blend dark alternate history with a dystopian future, offering the listeners the “secret truth.”
Tremblay is part of a disturbing trend of – conservative state legislators and even congressmen entertaining conspiracy theories that are creepy and unseemly coming from average citizen, but a sign of civic rot when they start getting parroted by elected officials.
Of course, craziness is a bipartisan issue, with Republicans frequently pointing to former Congresswoman Cynthia McKinney as a Democratic example – but the right has been particularly prone to paranoia since Bush Derangement Syndrome on the leftt gave way to an epic case of Obama Derangement Syndrome from the other side.
Derangement on the right has reached a peak as the proliferation and influence of gangrenous conspiracy theories creep into core beliefs and take hold, as Avlon puts it, as “civic rot,” causing the rational brain to have to be (at risk of over-extending the metaphor) amputated.
What is unprecedented is not so much the zaniness of the beliefs, but the fact that the people promoting them are often those in power. Fringe belief used to be called that for a reason; it was relegated to the fringes of society. But now fringe belief has entered the mainstream of political discourse in a disturbing and damaging way, one which those receptive to such belief find destructively compelling. From the same article:
This week in Missouri, state legislators voted to cut funding for the state’s divers license bureau because it had been tasked in 2003 with also overseeing concealed-carry permits. The wife of state Rep. Kenneth Wilson explained – in the words of the Columbia Tribune – that the bureau “was part of a plot to impose United Nations policies in this country. ‘I have been doing some study on U.N. Agenda 21,’ Melissa Wilson… told the committee. ‘With this information going to the federal government, I feel that I will be a target. With Agenda 21, I will be someone who will be put on a watch list.’” She added that Agenda 21 is being pushed through in part because of a mass brainwashing known as the Delphi Technique.
This is shadowy conspiracy theorist stuff, but this theory isn’t just isolated to a few folks in Missouri. Last November, the conservative head of the Georgia state legislature invited his conference to a four-hour briefing on Agenda 21. The invitation read: “How pleasant sounding names are fostering a Socialist plan to change the way we live, eat, learn, and communicate to ‘save the earth.'” The presentation was MC’d by a local Tea Party activist who is also a 9/11 Truther, and a Birther.
Adding to the reality-free high pitch of anxiety was the Texas state attorney general who – during the height of the North Korean escalation earlier this month – declared that the real danger to America wasn’t a communist dictatorship threatening to attacks us with nuclear weapons, but the Obama administration.
“One thing that requires ongoing vigilance is the reality that the state of Texas is coming under a new assault,” A.G. Greg Abbott said, according to the Waco Tribune, “an assault far more dangerous than what the leader of North Korea threatened when he said he was going to add Austin, Texas, as one of the recipients of his nuclear weapons. The threat that we’re getting is the threat from the Obama administration and his political machine.”
This is the leading elected law enforcement official in our second-largest state.
I don’t know whether it makes more sense to assume that this is a tactic on the part of Abbott, or Wilson, or the Tea Party, or the entire GOP, and that they’re having the effect they intended to have, or if they’re spouting these things because they actually believe them. Either way I don’t think it really matters, at least not to me. Both reasons are equally reprehensible. One’s just reprehensible for being sinister and manipulative, while the other is reprehensible for being gullibly dumb (and for leading the blind by intimating to them what they should fear).
I can disagree with President Obama without looking at him as evil. I can think he’s wrong without believing he’s intentionally destroying America. I can believe the man has good intentions without thinking he’s doing a good job. This doesn’t take some sort of great intellectual skill or the schooling of a logician. Why does it seem like no one else can do this? Why does it seem like no one else can differentiate between disapproval and animus? Why have Republicans taken Bush’s “if you’re not with us” maxim and applied it to the current Democratic president? Why do you have to hate Obama for who he is in order to show your disapproval of him politically?
I’m not unique in this, of course. There are plenty of other people who rationally disagree with Obama without thinking he’s out to destroy America. But the Republicans in power seem to believe that they have to despise Obama in order to live up to their obligations to their base, as if being virulently anti-Obama were an important tenet of the basic Republican platform.
We all remember the statistic much maligned by the left that said in September of 2012, as the waxing presidential election trucked toward November, 31 percent of all-important Ohio didn’t know whether Mitt Romney or Barack Obama deserved credit for killing Osama bin Laden, and 15 percent of Republicans there said that Romney did. Dylan Matthews, writing for the Washington Post, explains that this result is due some sort of reactionary left-brain partisan hip-check on the part of the responders – ‘bin Laden being killed is a good thing, and I hate Obama, therefore Romney gets the credit’ – and that it’s likely none of them actually believed Romney had killed bin Laden. They simply chose to answer the question from a place of partisanship rather than facts and reality, which is exactly the problem, and doesn’t make me feel any better.
You should read the whole Avlon article on your own, in its entirety, and to that end I will leave some juicy bits of batshit-crazy partisan conspiracy un-excerpted here, for you to enjoy later on. But before I do, I have to point out that my dear NC legislature was not immune to the stuponic plague that is sweeping the nation’s statehouses:
In North Carolina, conservative state law-makers decided to push forward a clearly unconstitutional bill to allow the state “to declare an official religion, in violation of the Establishment Clause of the U.S. Bill of Rights, and seeks to nullify any federal ruling against Christian prayer by public bodies statewide,” in the words of local station WRAL. When one of the sponsoring law makers, Michele Presnell was asked if she would be comfortable with a Muslim prayer to Allah before a public meeting, according to the Raleigh News and Observer, she replied, “No, I do not condone terrorism.”
For the record, I do not hate Michele Presnell for trying to enact a declaration of an official, state-sanctioned religion, something as reprehensible and un-American to my mind as declaring an official race or skin color for the state. Based on what I know, which is little, I honestly believe she wants what is best for her state, and is doing what she believes to be in her state’s best interest, despite how it may look. Except for extreme cases, I don’t believe anyone in politics is actually out to destroy, or take over the world like a James Bond villan (innocent until proven guilty). I do happen to vehemently disagree with what Michele Presnell is trying to do, with what she believes, and with what she apparently wants for her state. But that does not make her evil.
I believe in the right of these officials to claim these things, to say what they believe . That is our freedom of speech, one of the foundational rights we hold most dear, and its implementation is a positive reflection on the state of our society. But the fact that elected officials can publicly make these kinds of claims and not automatically assume that it is career suicide and will lose them their elected offices, not worry about how the electorate will react to these statements when their terms are up, is a horrible reflection on the state of our politics.