Friday, March 23, 2012

Perpetual Motion

Paul Krugman on GOP paranoia:

As Richard Hofstadter pointed out in his classic 1964 essay “The Paranoid Style in American Politics,” crazy conspiracy theories have been an American tradition ever since clergymen began warning that Thomas Jefferson was an agent of the Bavarian Illuminati. But it’s one thing to have a paranoid fringe playing a marginal role in a nation’s political life; it’s something quite different when that fringe takes over a whole party, to the point where candidates must share, or pretend to share, that fringe’s paranoia to receive the party’s presidential nod.

And it’s not just gas prices, of course. In fact, the conspiracy theories are proliferating so fast it’s hard to keep up. Thus, large numbers of Republicans — and we’re talking about important political figures, not random supporters — firmly believe that global warming is a gigantic hoax perpetrated by a global conspiracy involving thousands of scientists, not one of whom has broken the code of omertà. Meanwhile, others are attributing the recent improvement in economic news to a dastardly plot to withhold stimulus funds, releasing them just before the 2012 election. And let’s not even get into health reform.

Why is this happening? At least part of the answer must lie in the way right-wing media create an alternate reality. For example, did you hear about how the cost of Obamacare just doubled? It didn’t, but millions of Fox-viewers and Rush-listeners believe that it did. Naturally, people who constantly hear about the evil that liberals do are ready and willing to believe that everything bad is the result of a dastardly liberal plot. And these are the people who vote in Republican primaries.

If we could tap the energy that keeps paranoia going, we’d be able to power the world for eternity. It’s a self-perpetuating phenomenon; the more you disprove one whacky theory, the more the True Believers are convinced that they’re right. You’ll never convince a Bircher that there isn’t some vast Communist underground being manipulated by the Rockefellers and the Rothschilds just waiting to unleash the Islamists seething below the Mexican border (it used to be the “yellow horde,” but they’ve updated their freak points), and you’ll never convince a birther that Barack Obama was born in Hawaii.

The reason it’s gone from being the cachet of the urine-soaked homeless guy screaming on the street corner to the mainstream of the GOP and Fox News is because they know it works. They know their audience, too. The simpler the mind, the easier it is to convince them of the complexity. To paraphrase H.L. Mencken, no one ever went broke — or lost an election — by appealing to the greed, fear, and paranoia of the American public.

As Dr. Krugman notes, the hard part will be for the GOP to put the genie back in the bottle. The Republicans sucked up to the Tea Party with their bumper sticker mentality and not-so-subtle racism, and now they own it… or are owned by them.