The Horror! The Horror! The paranoid style of the American left

The second part of the heading above is an allusion to a famous article, "The Paranoid Style in American Politics", by Richard Hofstadter, published in Harper's Magazine in November 1964. Hofstadter argues that both the Left and the Right can be paranoid but the examples he gives of paranoia on the Right are a little unfortunate in view of subsequent events. He said that a suspicion of covert Communist influences at the highest level of American government was paranoid. With the collapse of the Soviet Union, however, it was revealed that the FDR/Truman government was in fact riddled with Soviet agents. Excerpt:

The fascists are coming! Or rather, they're already here, installed in the White House, planning like mad to subvert the Constitution and extend their reign in perpetuity, having first suppressed and eviscerated all opposition and put all of their critics in jail. Thus goes the rant of America's increasingly unhinged left. If only, sigh many Bush partisans, wondering when this administration will get out of the fetal position and show some fighting spirit. To them, as to most reasonable observers, the White House shows the chronic fatigue of a two-term presidency reaching its final year. Nonetheless, paranoia about what Bush and Co. are up to preys on the minds of many progressives, who have progressed, in this case at least, beyond reason.

It Can Happen Here, says Joe Conason, in his book of the same name, and in fact it already has started: George W. Bush and his coterie are the very picture of the pious and scheming homegrown fascisti that Sinclair Lewis described in his 1935 novel It Can't Happen Here. Similarities abound. In Lewis's novel, "Buzz Windrip" (Bush), an illiterate dweeb with sleazy charm and low animal cunning, backed by Lee Sarason (Karl Rove), a smooth and duplicitous political mastermind, becomes president, cooks up a fake war to extend his own power, cows Congress, corrupts the courts, bankrupts the country, and all but destroys the free press. The core of his power is a sinister nexus of theocrats joined at the hip to corporate interests, and you can tell how evil they are by their proclaimed love of country, and their incessant talk about God. In their endeavors, they are backed by the Hearst newspaper empire (Fox News), the only one left after all other outlets have been shut down.

Fox News looms large in the liberal panic about creeping fascism--an immense smoke machine pumping poison gas into the atmosphere 24/7, against which there is neither escape nor defense. This theory of the pervasive malevolent power of Fox rests on a quip by anchor Brit Hume that the network played a decisive role in the 2002 midterms, which Conason seems to take seriously, and the scholarly output of two obscure professors arguing that Fox swung the presidential elections of 2000 and 2004 as well. "Citing what they call 'The Fox Effect,'" Conason informs us, "professors Stefano Della Vigna of the University of California at Berkeley and Ethan Kaplan of the University of Stockholm found that the network convinced 2 to 8 percent of its non-Republican viewing audience to 'shift its voting behavior toward the Republican party.'" If they say so. But there is no corresponding mention of the NBC-ABC-CBS-Time-Newsweek-New York Times "effect," and what its impact on voters might be.

At the same time that Conason is looking back to a fictional past in America, Naomi Wolf--last heard from in 2000 advising Al Gore to dress in earth tones--is looking back to a real past in Europe, and seeing troubling parallels. In 4,600 overwrought words, she explained to the readers of the Guardian that there are ten steps to "Fascist America" and Bush is taking them all. He has whipped up a menace (the war on terror); created "a prison system outside the rule of law" (Guantanamo, to which public dissidents, including "clergy and journalists" will be sent "soon enough"); developed "a thug caste .... groups of scary young men out to terrorize citizens" (young Republican staffers who supposedly "menaced poll workers" during the 2000 recount in Florida); set up an "internal surveillance system" (NSA scanning for phone calls to and from terrorists). An airtight case, this, and leading to just one conclusion: "Beneath our very noses, George Bush and his administration are using time-tested tactics to close down an open society. It is time for us to be willing to think the unthinkable.... that it can happen here."

Well, this explains many things. It explains why poor Cindy Sheehan is now sitting in prison; why Bush critics like CIA retiree Valerie Plame have been ostracized by the corporate media and are wasting away in anonymity; why no critic of Bush can get a hearing, why no book complaining about him can ever get published, and why our multiplexes are filled with one pro-Bush propaganda movie after another, glorifying the Iraq war and rallying the nation behind its leader.

Meanwhile, back on planet Earth, Cindy Sheehan is running for Congress; Valerie Plame is rich and famous; the young Republican "thugs" made all of one appearance seven years ago--chanting "Let us in!" when Miami-Dade County vote counters planned to move to a small inner room with no observers present; and press censorship is now so far-reaching that you can't even expose a legal, effective, and top-secret plan to trace terrorists without getting a Pulitzer Prize. " .....

Over and over, they do what they claim their opponents are doing, want to do, or have done: make vast leaps of faith on almost no evidence, get carried away on large waves of emotion, build towering edifices on small collections of factoids, omit, deny, or denounce all contrary evidence, build fantastical schemes which they project on the enemy, put two and two together and get 384. People are entitled to say what they want, but it takes something other than reason to look at raging debates and discern in them fascistic oppression, to look at large Republican losses (wholly in line with a sixth-year election) and see massive fraud on the part of the losers, to look at today's South and see John Calhoun's, to draft both the Bushes (and the entire Republican party) into the Confederate Army, 150 years after the fact. Facts on the ground have no effect on their fantasies, which exist in a realm of their own.

Let's give the last words to Mark Crispin Miller [Himself a well-known paranoid of the Left so he speaks from experience], as he told the blog Buzzflash in February 2006. [See also here]:

"That sort of warped perception comes from extreme paranoid projectivity: the tendency to rail at others for traits or longings that one hates and fears inside oneself..... We're dealing with a movement that is anti-rational. It's faith-based ..... it's a movement that believes what it believes, and it believes what it believes is right. ... It believes what it wants to believe. If it hears contrary evidence, it comes up with evidence of its own. .... This is not a movement that the rational can ever shame into surrendering by merely demonstrating its illogic to its followers. ... Paranoia .. is based on fear, and therefore on a kind of 'logic' that's impervious to evidence and quite incapable of learning from experience. ... Paranoia is an atavism, deep within us all."

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