The craziness factor

Craziness is not new in American politics.  I remember the Joe McCarthy era, when otherwise sane people believed that President Truman was knowingly harboring Communists within his administration and patriots such as Dean Acheson and General George C. Marshall were secret Soviet agents.  The John Birch Society, which out-McCarthy-ed McCarthy, said President Eisenhower was a secret Soviet agent.  In their heyday, the Birchers represented a significant minority of American voters at that time.

I remember the Clinton administration, when otherwise sane people believed that President Clinton was a Soviet sleeper agent recruited on a trip to Moscow when he was a college student, that he murdered Vince Foster, that he was in cahoots with a drug cartel operating out of Mena, Arkansas, that his wife decorated the White House Christmas tree with obscene and blasphemous ornaments – it seemed as if nothing was too trivial or too far-fetched to throw at him.

Church sign in Kansas

Where President Obama is concerned, craziness is at high tide.

Some examples:  Is Obama a Communist, Fascist or Socialist? He is all three at the same time. President Obama is a MuslimWhy is a crescent on the U.S. Missile Defense logo? Obama may be (it’s hard to say) the love child of Malcolm X. It’s not the birth certificate, it’s the DNA.   Obama thinks like a Kenyan anti-colonialist.

Now, it’s true that crazy people can be found on all parts of the political map.  I know otherwise reasonable people who take seriously the idea that the 9/11 attacks were masterminded by President Bush or Vice President Cheney, which is just as crazy as any of the idea I’ve linked to here.  But although my political bias may affect my perception, I think the current right-wing craziness is something special.

The problem with the crazy people is that if you take the time to make the argument that, no, Obama is not really a Communist, fascist, socialist, secret Muslim jihadist or radical Christian black liberationist, you find you don’t have the time to talk about what Obama has actually done and said, including his very real failures.

Billboard in Iowa

Kevin Drum wrote:

… There are bizarro ideas on both sides of the fence. No argument there. And yet, there are differences. Here’s my list:

(1) Conservatives go nuts faster. It took a couple of years for anti-Bush sentiment to really get up to speed. Both Clinton and Obama got the full treatment within weeks of taking office.

(2) Conservatives go nuts in greater numbers. Two-thirds of Republicans think Obama is a socialist and upwards of half aren’t sure he was born in America. Nobody ever bothered polling Democrats on whether they thought Bush was a fascist or a raging alcoholic, but I think it’s safe to say the numbers would have been way, way less than half.

(3) Conservatives go nuts at higher levels. There are lots of big-time conservatives — members of Congress, radio and TV talkers, think tankers — who are every bit as hard edged as the most hard edged tea partier. But how many big-time Democrats thought Bush had stolen Ohio? Or that banks should have been nationalized following the financial collapse?

(4) Conservatives go nuts in the media. During the Clinton era, it was talk radio and Drudge and the Wall Street Journal editorial page. These days it’s Fox News (and talk radio and Drudge and the Wall Street Journal editorial page). Liberals just don’t have anything even close. Our nutballs are mostly relegated to C-list blogs and a few low-wattage radio stations. Keith Olbermann is about as outrageous as liberals get in the big-time media, and he’s a shrinking violet compared to guys like Rush Limbaugh and Glenn Beck.

Click on Mother Jones for the full article.

I think Drum is right, but he shouldn’t conflate extreme ideas with crazy ideas.  “Extremists” are sometimes right.  The difference between the sane and the crazy is not your relative position on an imaginary political spectrum, but whether you are willing to submit to the test of evidence.

For example, I thought President Bush’s invasion of Iraq was a terrible mistake, and I said so at the time in intemperate language. For many years this was considered an extreme position.  I would at any time have been willing to admit I was wrong if (1) secret nuclear weapons or germ warfare facilities had been discovered, (2) Saddam Hussein had proved to be plotting with Osama bin Laden or (3) the U.S. occupation had turned Iraq into a peaceful and prosperous country.

I have written harsh things about President Obama, but if (1) the escalation in Afghanistan brings the Taliban to the bargaining table and a peace agreement is reached that is acceptable to all, (2) the stimulus program succeeds in jump-starting the economy and substantially reducing unemployment, (3) the health reform program brings affordable quality health care to the vast majority of Americans and (4) the financial reform program prevents another financial bubble and collapse, I will happily admit I was wrong on these points.

Dinesh D'Souza

On the other hand, I can’t see what possible evidence might induce Dinesh D’Souza to change his mind about President Obama being shaped as a secret “Kenyan anti-colonialist” by his longing for his absent father.   I mention D’Souza because whatever you may say about others I have linked to, he is definitely not a fringe figure.  He has written a book, The Roots of Obama’s Rage, whose argument is summarized in an article in Forbes magazine and a Washington Post op-ed article.

D’Souza’s thesis about Obama being a “Kenyan anti-colonialist” is based largely on Obama’s autobiography, Dreams From My Father, and the writings of his father.  Kenyan anti-colonialism is distinguished from the Fourth of July kind by a hostility to large corporations and Western countries exercising global military power.

As The American Conservative’s Daniel Larison asked, what is the evidence that Obama is anti-corporation or anti-military?  He rescued the Wall Street banks as well as General Motors and Chrysler from bankruptcy.  Wouldn’t a hater of corporations have stood aside and happily watched them collapse?  He has escalated the war in Afghanistan, ordered drone strikes in Pakistan and Yemen, and asserted a right to assassinate American citizens in the name of anti-terrorism.  What has he done or refused to do that distinguishes him from George W. Bush?

The problem with having to make this kind of argument is that it tempts you to take the eye off the ball.  You get so involved in refuting assertions that President Obama is anti-corporate and anti-military, and forget to wonder whether he in fact is too pro-corporate and pro-military.

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