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Enough with the conspiracy theories!

WB-911 [1]

When strong political views turn to paranoia, everyone suffers

Once upon a time, a very smart Professor of European History helped a young undergraduate (me) to understand that the world was seldom well-explained as the byproduct of secret conspiracies and/or dastardly and closeted behavior.

Rather, most public figures are best understood by their public words and actions and most events are best understood as the byproducts of complex social forces rather than as strange or diabolical puppet plays. Oh sure, conspiracies certainly happen all the time, but for the most part, they rarely work (or stay hidden) very well.

A corollary to the professor’s rule was that is generally safer to ascribe things to human incompetence and sloth than to the work of unseen Dr. Evils [2].

Hating on Obama

This brings us to the modern far right’s utterly mystifying paranoia about President Barack Obama. It’s not that the President isn’t flawed; he clearly is. But the drumbeat of over-the-top far right paranoia about a thoroughly moderate, Wall Street-loving, beer-drinking ESPN junkie who’s more than willing to use American military power in much the same way as his predecessor never ceases to amaze.

For years, these people have blasted the President as a “leftist” and a “socialist” even as one of the key domestic policy achievements of his administration – health care reform – bestows boatloads of cash on insurance and drug companies and corporate profits soar to new heights [3]. This is “socialism”?

But, the paranoia can be found closer to home too. Yesterday, we learned that a new member of the UNC-TV Board of Trustees appointed by Senate leader Phil Berger has repeatedly compared President Obama to Hitler [4] and has claimed that he plans to install himself as national dictator [5]. As reported in Slate last month [5], Berger’s man wrote the following:

“Michelle Obama is going to be Barack’s Lurleen Wallace. Remember how George Wallace got around Alabama’s ban on governors serving two terms in a row? He ran his wife for the office. Everyone knew Wallace would actually be pulling the strings, even though they denied it. Michelle Obama will be Obama’s designated “successor,” and any Democrat who seriously opposes her will be destroyed in the media the way everyone who contested Obama’s run for the Democratic nomination in 2008 was destroyed.”

Really? Good lord, the man can’t even control the Democrats in congress and now he’s planning on becoming a dictator? 

The obesity conspiracy?

Now, just yesterday morning, we have this little gem from a Locke Foundation staffer [6]who all but claims that the President and his wife want to dress the nation’s children in little Mao suits. The subject of this particular rant is the President’s recent announcement that this is National Childhood Obesity Awareness Month [7]. The staffer was especially exorcised about the following Trotskyite statement:

“We all share in the responsibility of helping our Nation’s children enjoy longer, healthier lives. Together, we can give them the energy and confidence to learn, excel, and pursue their dreams.”

Got that? Pretty radical stuff, huh? According to the Locker, this statement indicates that the President “advocates a transfer of individual responsibilities to the collective.”

I am not making this up. Here’s another fun zinger from later in the same column:

“From the president on down, the Left believes government makes better decisions than parents. They put their utopian views into practice by imposing rules that defy human nature. In a free society, we must accept that some parents will feed their kids more pizza than chicken, and some families will spend more time on the couch than riding bikes.” 

This is simply crazy talk.

Look, anyone who has been a parent gets, to a degree, where the Locke person is coming from; no one with a brain wants the government telling individuals what to do in their personal lives or how to raise their children (well, except maybe for the NC Family Policy Council [8]). Similarly, no one wants some kind of crude Soviet leveling in which citizens aren’t free to make their own dumb mistakes.

But obviously, there’s also a balance to be pursued when it comes to all of this “survival of the fittest” stuff. In a world in which giant and unfettered multinational corporations are bombarding our kids with poisonous “food” and spending billions to convince them to consume it on a 24/7 basis, there’s nothing “utopian” or “collectivist” about helping families understand the facts and giving them a fighting chance to make better, more-informed choices. Indeed, it is precisely through such means that public structures and systems enhance freedom.

And yes, we certainly need to guard against overzealous public employees who would presume to wrongfully interfere in the parent-child relationship. “Liberal” groups like the ACLU rightfully sue state officials over such acts all the time.

But to claim that America’s already utterly swamped educators and social workers are a part of some grand and evil conspiracy spearheaded by the President is just as absurd as claiming that George W. Bush was in on the September 11 attacks or that Mitt Romney’s presidential candidacy was part of some plot hatched by Brigham Young 150 years ago.

Conspiracy dunces?

Sadly, the far right’s obsession with our first dark-skinned president is far from the only bit of absurd political paranoia percolating in North Carolina these days. One prominent state official, Lt. Gov. Dan Forest, has actually made conspiracy theorizing a central component of his political shtick.

As we reported a few months back [9], Forest believes that Raleigh’s News & Observer newspaper plants hidden message in its headlines that are designed to advance it “agenda.” He has also aligned himself [10] with the troubled souls who are convinced that “Agenda 21” is a monstrous U.N. plot to abolish private property and institute one-world government.

More recently, Forest has joined with the forces attacking the so-called “Common Core” in public education as a similarly nefarious plot – so nefarious, in fact, that Forest felt compelled to inundate the Department of Public Instruction with 222-question inquisition on the subject a few weeks back [11]. Next week, Forest will hold forth on the subject at, ironically enough, a closed, invitation-only meeting sponsored by the Pope-Civitas Institute [12].

This is not to say that there aren’t lots of potential problems with the Common Core. Many thinking people of varying political persuasions agree on this [13]. But, as with the attacks on the anti-obesity campaign and the President himself, the obsessive and paranoid approach transforms what might be a productive discussion into a confrontational crusade.

Going forward

Another lesson of history is that hard times frequently give rise to a spike in haters and conspiracy cranks. Let’s hope that, as the American economy continues to rebound, this most recent spate of political paranoia gradually abates. The sooner advocates of all ideological persuasions stop accusing their opponents of evil and conspiratorial intent and engage on the substance of the issues; the better it will be for everyone.