In USA Today, Glenn Instapundit Reynolds argues that Obama has mainstreamed conspiracy theorizing:
Spend a little while on Twitter or in Internet comment sections and you'll see a significant number of people who think that the NSA may have been relaying intelligence about the Mitt Romney campaign to Obama operatives, or that Chief Justice John Roberts' sudden about-face in the Obamacare case might have been driven by some sort of NSA-facilitated blackmail.
A year ago, these kinds of comments would have been dismissable as paranoid conspiracy theory. But now, while I still don't think they're true, they're no longer obviously crazy. And that's Obama's legacy: a gov
ernment that makes paranoid conspiracy theories seem possibly sane.
The problem with government is that to be trusted, you have to be trustworthy. And the problem with the Obama administration is that, to a greater extent than any since Nixon's, it is not. Do not be surprised if the result is that people mistrust those in authority, and order their lives accordingly. Such an outcome is bad for America, but bad governance has its consequences.
I'm partway there in agreement: The Obama years have been marked by the sort of blatantly insincere encomia to transparency, fairness, and post-partisanship that are almost immediately revealed as false. The list includes everything from the IRS and NSA revelations Reynolds focuses on in his column to the adminstration's assertions that lobbyists wouldn't run policy, that you could keep your health plan if you liked it, that the stimulus would create jobs and jumpstart economic growth, and more. The reality is that Obama's time in office has been marked by failure, with the very notable exception of his winning a second term. Even Obamacare, the one thing he could point to as "transformative," is nothing to brag on these days (it matters, too, that it was passed without any Republican votes; regardless of the reasons, any law of that scope that can't even fake a nod to bipartisan support is almost certain to cause massive anxiety).
Yet I think Instapundit's analysis goes a bit too far a bit too fast. Obama was the subject of highly fraught conspiracy theorizing before he even won the Democratic nomination in 2008. The whole secret Muslim from Kenya birther shtick proceeded not from anything particular he did or proposed—it clearly was thrust upon him by a mix of racist theorizing and inchoate anxiety about the direction of the country. And, even more important, Obama comes after eight years of conspiracy mongering about George W. Bush—that he stole elections in 2000 and 2004 (remember all the "not my president!" stuff), that Dick Cheney and Haliburton was calling all the shots, or Big Oil, that Iraq was a personal mission to avenge assassination attempts on his life, that he planned the 9/11 attacks, and more.
Which is one way of saying that conspiracizing is as common a feature of the American landscape as, say, Mount Rushmore. It's man-made, for sure, but it never seems to go away. And it gets worse when the economy sucks and flagrant falsehoods and deceptions by government come to light (weapons of mass destruction, secret kill lists, you can keep your plan, etc.). And let us be clear: Obama's economic policies have helped keep the economy in the doldrums. Stimulus spending doesn't work and layering on massive amounts of uncertainty in the form of Obamacare (and Dodd-Frank) is no way to boost the economy.
Reynolds is surely right that "bad governance has its consequences." Between the Bush years and the way the Obama years have played out so far, it's going to take a long time for the nation's politicos to dig themselves out of the crisis of confidence they've inspired. That means the rest of us pay, both in lost time and resources, as power-brokers get their act together. And as I've noted elsewhere, one of the most disturbing outcomes is that bad government may counterintuitively create a demand for more regulation.
For a great discussion of how conspiracy theory has long been at the very center of American political and social life, read Jesse Walker's The United States of Paranoia.