Conspiracy Theories

Baffled and Battered MSM Rallies Around…Richard Hofstadter

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Because if anything has changed since 1964, it's for the worse, thanks to all those yucky partisans having access to all that yucky media (also, the black president makes Those People crazy).

L.A. Times editorial board, "America's Maddening Paranoia":

Finger on the national pulse, 39 years after he had one

Though inspired by the healthcare debate, the fear-mongering also reflects what historian Richard Hofstadter called the "paranoid style in American politics," an ancient, exasperating form of discourse consisting of "heated exaggeration, suspiciousness, and conspiratorial fantasy." Although he was writing during the ascendance of Goldwater Republicanism in the early '60s, Hofstadter argued that political paranoia was "not necessarily right-wing." […]

Why has the paranoid mentality become so prevalent and so insidious this summer? Some argue that Obama's exotic background engenders a special animosity. But George W. Bush also was outfitted with a metaphorical Hitler mustache. More likely, the rise in ideological "journalism" on cable TV and the Internet has exaggerated the natural skepticism with which Americans always have viewed their leaders.

The Economist, "Still Crazy After All These Years":

Not an Economist reader

Not long after the assassination of John Kennedy in 1963, the Senate contemplated a bill to tighten federal control over the sale of guns through the post. Three gun-lovers drove 2,500 miles from Arizona to Washington, DC, to protest. One argued that the bill was part of "a further attempt by a subversive power to make us part of one world socialistic government" and that it could "create chaos" and help "our enemies" to seize power. Not much has changed since Richard Hofstadter described this incident in a hugely influential book, "The Paranoid Style in American Politics". Gun-lovers still argue that the slightest curb on their right to bear arms will make America vulnerable to tyranny. And in other areas, too, the paranoid style is alive and frothing.

Scott Wilson, Washington Post White House correspondent, in a WashingtonPost.com chat.

Winnipeg, Canada: Why does your country get so easily distracted by the lunatic fringe? You have a President suggesting some long-needed reforms after winning a solid election victory, and you'd think he'd arrived with the space ship from "Mars Attacks." I can't believe there's another country in the world where the death panel controversy would be taken seriously, let alone the birthers and the 9/11 conspirators.

Scott Wilson: A reading recommendation: "The Paranoid Style in American Politics." Written by Richard Hofstadter and published in 1964, it's a still-timely examination of what you describe. The ease with which information/rumor is spread by the Internet has broadened the phenomenon.

Trudy Rubin, Philadelphia Inquirer, "A Conspiracy Culture, Here?":

Before the Internet, you'd only see this on Bugs Bunny cartoons

Of course, "the paranoid style" is not unknown to American politics, as Richard Hofstadter wrote in his famous 1964 essay. Rather, it is "an old and recurrent phenomenon" linked with discontented and suspicious groups at turbulent periods in our history. […]

In more recent decades one could dismiss American conspiracy theorists as isolated from the mainstream: think small groups operating in Montana or in Deep South enclaves. Or those, including a just-resigned minor White House official, who believed the Bush administration let 9/11 happen as a pretext for war.

In the age of the Internet, however, things have dramatically changed.

Large numbers of Americans now turn to ideological Web sites for their news, or to (mostly conservative) radio talk shows. Unverified opinions, rumors, and emotions are served up in lieu of facts, but are often accepted as gospel. Meantime, the mainstream media, which still lays out facts, including on health care, is vilified by left and right and economically battered.

Bob Reynolds, Al-Jazeera, "Fear, Racism at Town Hall Meetings":

Racism? Sure. Or as Palin would say: "You betcha!" That's part of it.

But racism simply compounds something that runs even deeper. This fear of the "other" is not a new phenomenon.

It didn't start with Obama's rise to the White House.
 
In 1964, the great Columbia University historian Richard Hofstadter unravelled what he called the "paranoid style in American politics".

Panics, conspiracy fears and militant campaigns against outsiders began almost as soon as the republic was founded, Hofstadter writes.

Geoffrey Dunn, San Francisco Chronicle, "Palin and America's Paranoid-Style Politics":

Because if you accuse someone of palling around with this guy, you're a racist!

In many ways, Hofstadter's prescient essay anticipated the entree of Sarah Palin into contemporary American politics, that last month marked the one-year anniversary of her failed candidacy as the Republican vice presidential nominee. During the past year, the former governor of Alaska has tapped into a narrow, albeit tenacious, strain in the national polity that stretches back to the Salem witchcraft trials of 1692. […]

While right-wing radio hosts and cable news commentators like Glenn Beck and Rush Limbaugh give voice to the new millennium's paranoid impulse, Palin not only personifies the style, she has franchised it. […]

Since her emergence on the national political stage, Palin has forged a formidable presence in the American political arena fueled by fear and anger, as when she accused Obama of "pallin' around with terrorists" and not being "a man who sees America like you and I see America." That there is a racist undertone to the paranoid style quite nearly goes without saying.

Some counter-programming: Damon W. Root details how Hofstadter slimed Herbert Spencer, and Jesse Walker pinpointed the return of the militia scare

NEXT: Even Obama Supporters Get the Health-Care Reform Blues

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  1. Good work, guys. Looks like everybody got the new talking points memo.

  2. Wow, it’s almost like they all subscribe to the same listserv or something.

  3. There is no apology to make for my love of freedom and my contempt of all who oppose it.

    If this be “paranoia”, then make the most of it, and fuck you, right out loud.

  4. groupthink is grand, ain’t it?

  5. I was going to mention something similar Joe.

    I know that they’re trying to report the news (ha!) but lately it seems like the left gets a briefing on what to write about in force in the papers. I find it odd. I’m sure the right does or has done the same thing. I just can’t recollect it. Then again, I’ve only seriously been following the circus for about 3 years now.

  6. I seem to recall a number of similar reports in 2004 referring to George Lakoff’s theory of parental displacement to explain why the Great Unwashed voted for Bush instead of whoever the Democrats ran.

  7. Yo, fuck these clowns. The world has moved on from the ’60s, guys, even if you fucking Boomers have not.

  8. The same people who thought trutherism was a acceptable in polite society and thought George Bush invaded Iraq to pad Haliburton’s profits, now complain about the paranoid style of American politics.

    It is fun to riducule these clowns but there is a darker edge to it. What is really going on here is an attempt to totally marginalize any dissent to liberal ideology. It is pure bare knuckle politics. It is going to fail miserably because these people are self-indulgent clowns. But, that is what they are trying to do.

  9. “It is fun to riducule these clowns but there is a darker edge to it. What is really going on here is an attempt to totally marginalize any dissent to liberal ideology.”

    Exactly.

    Then again, it seems you and I are paranoid John.

  10. Wow, it’s almost like they all subscribe to the same JournoListserv or something.

    JournoList

    In February 2007 Klein created a Google Groups forum called “JournoList” for discussing politics and the news media. The forum’s membership is controlled by Klein and has been limited to “several hundred left-leaning bloggers, political reporters, magazine writers, policy wonks and academics.” [16] Posts within JournoList can only be made and read by its members.[17] JournoList has been criticized for its secretive nature, lack of transparency, and media echo chamber implications. Klein defends the forum saying that it “[ensures] that folks feel safe giving off-the-cuff analysis and instant reactions.” JournoList member, and Time magazine columnist, Joe Klein adds that the off-the-record nature of the forum is necessary because “candor is essential and can only be guaranteed by keeping these conversations private.”

    The existence of JournoList was first publicly revealed in a July 27, 2007 blog post by blogger Mickey Kaus.[18] However, the forum did not attract serious attention until March 17, 2009 when an article was published on Politico that detailed the nature of the forum and the extent of its membership. The Politico article set off debate within the Blogosphere over the ethics of participating in JournoList and raised questions about its overall purpose. The first public excerpt of a discussion within JournoList was posted by Mickey Kaus on his blog on March 26, 2009.[19]

    Members of JournoList include: Ezra Klein, Jeffrey Toobin, Eric Alterman, Paul Krugman, Joe Klein, Matthew Yglesias, and Jonathan Chait.

    Memos are so passé.

  11. Then again, it seems you and I are paranoid John.

    You’re also fascists. And racist, to boot.

  12. Sweet’n’Low, how do you suppose Klein acquired the technical know-how to create such a list when he’s too fucking stupid to figure out how to use Netflix?

  13. Wha? Klein has a political science BA from UCLA, I’ll have you know! Who needs more education that that to write for the New York Times?

  14. Members of JournoList include: Ezra Klein, Jeffrey Toobin, Eric Alterman, Paul Krugman, Joe Klein, Matthew Yglesias, and Jonathan Chait.

    Hey, I thought the reason gang was in good with Yglesias. He could be our inside guy, tell us all the dark secrets of the Journalist Underground.

  15. Many decades ago, people came to America to get away from government, but government found them anyway, so they continued to move away from it. Government would continue to find them and now there are not many places – if any – left to go, so it should not be surprising that the offspring or the people with the same spirit of these people may resort to challenging the government or governments that insisted on finding them, taxing them, conscripting them, abusing them, or otherwise oppressing them.

  16. someone certainly has the parrot style down

  17. I imagine JournoList is exactly like Fight Club, except instead of punching and kicking they just jack-off in the one another’s mouth.

  18. Quick, read the last post before they wake up, pad over to their computer in their Adrienne Rich footie-pajamas and delete it.

  19. In many ways, Hofstadter’s prescient essay anticipated the entree of Sarah Palin into contemporary American politics,

    She was the main course?

  20. The first rule of JournoList is: you do not talk about JournoList.

    The second rule of JournoList is: you DO NOT talk about JournoList.

    The third rule of JournoList is: you have to give Ezra a head start, because it takes him a while to reach his full three inches.

    etc.

  21. Sweet’n’Low, how do you suppose Klein acquired the technical know-how to create such a list when he’s too fucking stupid to figure out how to use Netflix?

    Duh. The Illuminati helped him. Or is that paranoid of me?

  22. “Quick, read the last post before they wake up, pad over to their computer in their Adrienne Rich footie-pajamas and delete it.”

    The one by “argon”?

  23. Kyle,

    Yep. That isn’t going to last.

  24. SF, it wasn’t as demeaning as I had expected. You have set the bar at a certain level.

  25. Two things:

    First, Joe Klein’s statement that Journolist requires confidentiality in order for posts there to be candid constitutes an admission that the work he does that is posted outside of Journolist is not candid.

    Basically, Joe Klein in setting up that listserv and creating the ground rules for it is admitting that he lies to us, or conceals information from us, in his column and at his blog.

    Second, I really have to object to this in particular:

    blockquote>Palin has forged a formidable presence in the American political arena fueled by fear and anger, as when she accused Obama of “pallin’ around with terrorists”…

    I don’t like Palin, but how is this an example of the paranoid style in politics?

    William Ayers was, in fact, a terrorist.

    And although I think many people deliberately and wildly overestimated the relationship between Ayers and Obama, it is beyond dispute that they had a cordial and friendly acquaintance.

    Palin’s characterization of their relationship isn’t charitable, and it’s somewhat crudely phrased, but it’s unassailably true. You can’t be engaged in the paranoid style of politics if your statements are accurate. Period.

  26. Sorry, tag trouble

    Two things:

    First, Joe Klein’s statement that Journolist requires confidentiality in order for posts there to be candid constitutes an admission that the work he does that is posted outside of Journolist is not candid.

    Basically, Joe Klein in setting up that listserv and creating the ground rules for it is admitting that he lies to us, or conceals information from us, in his column and at his blog.

    Second, I really have to object to this in particular:

    Palin has forged a formidable presence in the American political arena fueled by fear and anger, as when she accused Obama of “pallin’ around with terrorists”…
    I don’t like Palin, but how is this an example of the paranoid style in politics?

    William Ayers was, in fact, a terrorist.

    And although I think many people deliberately and wildly overestimated the relationship between Ayers and Obama, it is beyond dispute that they had a cordial and friendly acquaintance.

    Palin’s characterization of their relationship isn’t charitable, and it’s somewhat crudely phrased, but it’s unassailably true. You can’t be engaged in the paranoid style of politics if your statements are accurate. Period.

  27. “You can’t be engaged in the paranoid style of politics if your statements are accurate. Period.”

    Exactly. Palin is just doing to Dems what Dems do to Republicans; coming up with a catchy hyperbolic argument. The same thing is true of “death pannels”. Are the panels planned to be “Death Pannels”? No. But could they become such in the hands of an out of control bureaucracy? Yes and they have become that in the UK. The phrase, while unfair, was not totally untrue and tapped into a fear people have.

    Dems loved the old Carville line “its the economy stupid!”. Did GHW Bush actually not care about the economy? Hell no. Was he stupid? Of course not. But it tapped into a perception that he was out of touch. It was good politcial rethoric just like “Death Pannels” or another Dem classic “Hoovervilles”.

  28. It’s interesting political maneuvering, at least. It’s much like what the Republicans tried, and failed, to do where they attacked Hillary and ignored Obama in 06-07 in an attempt to get the Democrats to rally behind her. As I recall, the logic was that they felt that they stood a better chance against her (probably true).

    By framing this as an “us against Palin” thing, they seem to be hoping that Republicans will rally behind Palin, who is probably the Democrat’s best hope for holding some ground in 2010. She is something akin to a living, breathing straw (wo)man for them.

  29. Republicans did the exact same thing. If you pay attention at all it is pretty obvious. One week Iraq was about stopping the WMD,then it was “islamofascism” the next it was about spreading democracy, then “get them before they get us”. All coordinated down to the news cycle….many times the neocons and politically powerful democrats are gettign hte same memos. This month alone you can see David Frum /the Economist and CFR articles talking about conpsiracy nuts against the Federal Reserve.

  30. Yes and they have become that in the UK.

    Indeed they have. See “Pop Boner”‘s post about a premature baby left to die in the UK because he had the bad luck to be born two days before the guidelines authorized treatment.

  31. Huagh @ 9:25am –

    I seem to recall a number of similar reports in 2004 referring to George Lakoff’s theory of parental displacement to explain why the Great Unwashed voted for Bush instead of whoever the Democrats ran.

    And there I was thinking that the 2004 choice was between a douche and a turd and the American people quite rightly thinking that a turd that you know is not good, but nowhere as bad as an absolutly giant and nasty douche bag.

  32. Wow these fetuses in the media are stupid.

    Sure Palin displayed the lunatic fringe…on the Left. She goes after a cop who tasered a child and they call for her head all the while constantly screaming about misplacing hairs on terrorist detainees’ heads.

    Not to mention all the nonsense and twisted interest in her children.

    Where were all these media fetuses when it was ‘Bushitlerneocondevilchimp’ for 8 years??

    Considering Obama’s deficit is 4x as bad as Bush’s and growing, I have no problem treating him 4x worse than Bush. It hasn’t even approached half as bad at this point. Just wait til these fetuses really scream when the vice gets tighter.

  33. Ideological web sites on average, are less dishonest than 60 Minutes or Dateline NBC .

  34. JB wrote: “Considering Obama’s deficit is 4x as bad as Bush’s and growing,”

    Bush added over 5 trillion dollars in 8 years. During a “boom”. Obama hasn’t added 20 trillion dollars to the deficit in nine months.

    Thanks for playing.

  35. Jon H | September 9, 2009, 8:32pm | #
    JB wrote: “Considering Obama’s deficit is 4x as bad as Bush’s and growing,”

    Bush added over 5 trillion dollars in 8 years. During a “boom”. Obama hasn’t added 20 trillion dollars to the deficit in nine months.

    Thanks for playing.

    If that is the best defense you have for one member of the trifecta racing to be the most proliferate spenders in human history, your ass is going to stay sore for the next four years from the whoopins coming your way.

    ‘Debt’, and ‘deficit’ learn the difference, and while you are at it, learn why the context of the later increasing at a yet unaccounted accelerated pace is more destabilizing than the former where the bonds are currently being serviced.

    BTW, ‘Thanks for playing’, what kind of effeminate shit head nonsense is that? Do you like to be thought of as a giant, pulsating vulva? No. Well, stop using it.

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