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Paranoia for Breakfast

by DAVID MICHAEL GREEN

A few years ago I fell in with this circle of people – a high proportion of which are certifiably insane – who correspond by email with each other over politics.  I would call it a seriously mixed blessing, except that I’d never go far enough as to use the ‘b’ word to describe the experience.

I can honestly say that when I was originally baited into participating in the group I came with an open mind, and I still have not met a single person on the list.  About half the correspondents are regressives, most of them from right out of central casting on the set of the movie “America Neanderthal”.  They rarely cease to astonish me.  The level of thuggishness, hypocrisy, ignorance, proud ignorance and ad hominem insult from those quarters is staggering.

More on that some other day perhaps, but there’s one additional aspect of that behavior set that floors me.  It’s the capacity to simply make things up out of whole cloth, and then just have it become ‘truth’.  Period.

Here’s an example.  As usual, the dittoheads on the right (and how could any self-respecting person not see that term as a monstrous insult from Master Rush?) regularly trot out, in 5.1 Surround Sound chorus, the latest tropes assigned them by their marionette string-pullers.  For quite some time now, those have included the silly one about how President Obama (who’s not really president, of course, since he was secretly born in Kenya) runs around the world apologizing for America.

Let’s leave aside for now the inferred premise that America has never done anything wrong (for example – just choosing a period at random here – over the previous eight years), and therefore why on earth would we have anything for which to apologize?  I stay reasonably up to speed with the news.  I watched the president travel the world.  I remember some refreshingly quasi-honest rhetoric from him every once in a while, stuff that was hardly news to anyone outside the American Insular-o-Sphere.  But no apologies.

So I asked.  “Could you folks who continually say that the president is apologizing for America all over the world, could you please just quote me a couple of examples?  It’s not that I doubt your veracity or anything [who could imagine regressives being dishonest?], it’s just that this claim of yours is not fitting so well with my understanding of the facts.”

Oh man, you should have seen what gyrations that little toe-dipping into empirical reality produced.  One person said I should “do my own research”, even after I explained to her that I had indeed looked, to no avail, even though I always thought that one making an assertion bore the burden of proof, and even though one would assume it would be easy to present myriad examples, given the plethora of apologies supposedly tossed off by the president, like so many sets of Air Force One souvenir cufflinks.

Mostly there followed an obstinate silence, or personal attacks on anyone, like me, who would dare ask for examples.  But my very favorite response was the proof finally generated by one of the regressives in the group.  That President Obama apologized continually to the world for America was proven by the fact that – wait for it, now:  “He traveled to Europe”.

You probably think I’m kidding you, but this was dead serious, and nothing I could say was capable of pointing out the absurdity of the assertion, not even mentioning that Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush (and every other modern president) “went to Europe”.

To be sure, making fun of dittoheads is like shooting elderly fish in a barrel filled to the brim with Quaalude-laced molasses and left in the fridge for a couple of days.  But something profoundly unprofound is going on here, and I keep encountering it everywhere I go in Regressive World.  These folks start and end any discussion with their paranoid ideas, and cannot be dislodged from them by mere evidence or logic, if they can be dislodged at all.  I’m not sure a bunker buster bomb would do the trick, or even a moderately-sized nuclear device, planted close in.

If a conservative government ran the country into the ditch in every conceivable way, they would still tell you how great it was.  (Oops, that already happened.  Never mind)

If Republicans were shown to be pedophiles and closet queens, they would still support the party for its strong stand on sexual morality  (Oops, that already happened.  Never mind.)

How utterly frightened of some existential threat does one have to be in order to cling to sheer nonsense like the notion that going to Europe is apologizing for America?  Indeed, how frightened must one be to actually seek out having such inanities delivered directly to your door, by flipping on Fox Lies?

This is much deeper than an election or even a partisan tendency across an era.  We are talking here about a population somehow so traumatized that the very rationality which is utterly foundational to the Enlightenment project of democracy has been squashed down to invisibility, never again to inconveniently impede full-bore delusion.  Perhaps ‘twas ever thus – I mean, one can hardly account for endless millennia of religious belief otherwise – but right-wing freaked-out reality-defying delirium has gone so mainstream these last three decades, it’s seems most times like we’ve entered some parallel and not so lovely alternative universe.  Nowadays, it’s paranoia for breakfast, paranoia for lunch, and paranoia for dinner.  Want a little snack before bedtime?  Guess what’s on the menu.

Consider the right-wing media machine.  Clearly, these folks have gotten very good at dishing it up for the hoi polloi cruising along in their pick-ups.  But I wonder if some of them don’t actually have a heaping helping themselves every day of what they’re serving to the bots.  Two recent articles from the toxically regressive National Review make the point nearly as immaculately as does the “Go to Europe, Insult America” bumpersticker.

Editor Rich Lowry starts the fun with a piece called “The Bush Blame Game”.  I was especially interested in this because of my observation that the Obama administration hardly ever blames the Bush administration for current problems.  Just for a point of reference here, for ten years I watched Tony Blair during Prime Minister’s Question Time, and I was struck by how often – and how long into his own government’s tenure – he kept referring back to the eighteen miserable years of Thatcherism.  I’ve noticed that Obama pretty much never does the same, even with Udickuitous Cheney running around practically begging for a good whack, or six, upside the haid.  And I think it’s a strategic mistake of large proportion for Obama to adopt his perennial nice guy posture on this question.  For one thing, it perpetuates massive untruths, but for another, it allows a nearly extinguished cancer the opportunity to rally for a comeback.  As if we need that.  It’s like letting the planet’s last remaining sample of Smallpox out of the deep freezer every once in a while – just so it can stretch its legs a bit.

Anyhow, I was curious to see if maybe I was being unfair and had missed something.  Was Obama really out there slinging it, and I just missed it somehow?  I knew for sure that I could count on Mr. Lowry to set the record straight.  If you read his piece, however, you’ll find lots of not-so-funny attempts at humorously skewering the president, but nary a single example of the administration doing what it is accused of doing in the article’s thesis.  You’ll find verbiage like, “At this rate, when Obama writes his post-presidential memoir, it will be titled:  An Audacious Presidency, or How I Saved America from That Bastard Bush” (hah-hah, eh? – it gets worse), but the only quotation of a president dissing his predecessor comes from… John Adams!  Unless, of course, you count Obama, describing the economy he inherited as “somebody else’s mess”, as some outrageous – and outrageously dishonest – slam on the Bush administration.  That’s what constitutes “Obama’s perpetual campaign … to scorn and berate” Bush, according to Lowry?  That’s the best he’s got?  That meets his test for describing Obama as “graceless, whiny, and tin-eared”?  Wow.

Lowry goes on in his article to disagree with Obama’s positions on a variety of issues, and sing the praises of Bush – for example, because the latter gave us the Iraq surge – never mind that is was of course simply a partial bail-out from the disaster he himself had created.  That’s fine, even if Lowry’s politics are about as thoughtful and welcome as… well, a third Bush term.  He’s certainly entitled to his policy preferences.  However, when you write an article assailing a president for the incessant and grossly unfair blaming of another president, you’re kinda expected to give an example.  Maybe even two.  Heck, I’ll go even further.  If you do this whilst tossing around highly inflammatory language – such as claiming with respect to Obama’s public rendering of Bush that, “no calumny is too much to heap on him, and no defense is ever offered” – then you really ought to produce four or five doozies to illustrate your incendiary claim, shouldn’t you?  Lowry – along with the research staff he presumably presides over as editor of a major publication – provides a whopping zero.  Not a single one.  Instead, he tells us that Obama “impugns his immediate predecessor with classless regularity”.  Hmm.  Very strange.  Apparently Obama’s highly regular epithets are so classless they can’t even be printed in a family magazine.  That’s the only reason I can think of for Lowry to leave them out.  Maybe, for example, Obama didn’t just refer to the “mess” he inherited, but called it a “darned mess” instead.  Disgusting.  I wouldn’t publish such filth if I was Lowry either.

Jay Nordlinger gives his readers roughly the same treatment (or perhaps the same rough treatment) in his “O’s (Latest) Insult”, also published in The National Review.  Nordlinger is furious that Obama recently said to some of his supporters, “Democrats are an opinionated bunch.  You know, the other side, they just kinda sometimes do what they’re told.  Democrats, y’all thinkin’ for yourselves.”

Wow!  Can you believe it?!?!  Have you ever seen something quite so egregious in your life?  Next thing you know, Obama will be calling conservatives something really sickening, like maybe “dittoheads” perhaps!!

As with the Lowry piece, I kept cruising along, waiting to see the great crimes of the president laid out in all their horrid glory.  Instead, we lucky readers are treated to a lengthy recounting of some unfinished business from the author’s college days (never a good sign) and some random quote attributed to the Washington Post – which, last I heard, was still a newspaper, not Michelle Obama’s husband.  That’s it.  All of which nevertheless prompts our friendly correspondent to end his piece thusly:  “I have 30 more things to say, of course [translation: “Six paragraphs in and two days past deadline and I’m completely out of filler for this crappy piece already”], but here’s one more:  Do you recall President Bush insulting Democrats, as Obama has insulted us, explicitly?  Sometimes our post-partisan president can be a rather nasty piece of work.”

Golly, I don’t know!  I’d have to think about that.  Maybe Bush wasn’t so explicit about verbally trashing Democrats (except, of course by cutely calling it the “Democrat Party” rather than the Democratic Party), but I’m still a bit riled up about him stealing the election from “Sore Loserman” Al Gore, doing it again against John “Flip-Flop” Kerry, and scheduling the Iraq war vote in late October 2002, in order to turn it into a smear against that other party in the election just two weeks later.  Call me crazy, but I think those are bigger insults to Democrats – and to democracy – than is Obama noting that those Republics “just kinda sometimes” have strong party discipline.  Which, of course, also happens to be just kinda completely… true.

Ah truth.  Pesky, annoying, truth.  That’s it!  That’s what’s missing from these unfortunate right-wing rendezvous with reality.  A little truth.  You know, like where traveling to Europe just means you saw Buckingham Palace and ate some snails floating in garlic, not that you apologized for America.  Like where being guilty of continually blaming your predecessor for the sixteen crises crippling the country might require that you are actually continually blaming your predecessor.  (Or, heck, even that you are doing it once.  And never mind that your predecessor was himself as fat a target for righteous blame as ever existed.)  Like where being guilty of thoroughly insulting the other party actually requires a thorough insult, and one that also doesn’t happen to be an accurate statement of fact.  That kind of truth.

I mean, seriously.  Even if we forget the astonishing Freedom Fries arrogance of these cognitive cripples, is this as clear a case of paranoia as one could possibly conjure up, or what?

The great irony, of course, is that they’ve got themselves all whipped up about Barack Obama, of all people.  If there was ever a guy in the White House who was more innocuous, less offensive, and more happy-faced than Pleasant Obama, I can’t imagine it.  If regressives today are this freaked out by the Kumbaya Kid, what would they do if they had a pugnacious liberal like Harry Truman or Lyndon Johnson to deal with?

I, for one, would sure like to find out.  And not only for the spectacle it would surely be.

Let’s face it, nobody wears psychopathologies on their sleeves more proudly than the regressive right.  And nobody’s politics are more completely driven by their sense of wounded social status than these very same clowns.

They’ve been freaked out for decades, a epoch of epic paranoia occasionally interspersed with the ecstasy of witnessing a Reagan or a Bush beat up on one group of brown people or another in their name.

But now they’re so far gone they’ve taken to simply making up perceived insults out of whole cloth, and clinging to them with a ferocity usually reserved for parachutes at about 300 feet.

Unreal.  (Literally.)  Next thing you know they’ll be saying that the president is a secret Muslim trying to convert the country to Islam!

Oh, wait.  Never mind …

DAVID MICHAEL GREEN is a professor of political science at Hofstra University in New York.  He is delighted to receive readers’ reactions to his articles (dmg@regressiveantidote.net), but regrets that time constraints do not always allow him to respond.  More of his work can be found at his website, www.regressiveantidote.net.

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