Category Archive 'Paranoid Style in Politics'

26 Oct 2010

The Paranoid Style in Liberal Politics

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As the democrat party’s November Appointment in Samarra draws near, the left has been furiously discussing how voter dissatisfaction and the Tea Party Movement is all the nefarious culmination of a diabolical plot presided over by scheming capitalists who artificially created the whole thing with their funding.

Andrew Ferguson, in this month’s Commentary, has a good deal of fun applying Richard Hofstadter’s paranoia meme to liberalism’s latest efforts at self gratification.

Over the past 30 years, Charles and David Koch, owners of a Kansas-based family business called Koch Industries, have given hundreds of millions of dollars to organizations that advance their political views. Those views can be described as unevenly conservative and generally libertarian (pro-gay marriage, anti-ObamaCare). The donations are readily observable in foundation tax records posted on the Internet, as all such transactions are, and the brothers themselves have made many public appearances on behalf of the think tanks and magazines they fund, given speeches and media interviews, issued statements of support, sat on boards—even, in David’s case, made a hopeless and expensive run for the vice presidency on the Libertarian Party ticket in 1980.

Oddly, it took a while for the Inspector Clouseaus of the American left to smell a rat. And in fairness, it should be said that hiding in plain sight can often be the most sinister form of disguise for billionaires like the Kochs, the tricky bastards. About a year ago, the alarming rise of the Tea Parties inspired researchers at a website called ThinkProgress to start Googling. Among their discoveries, breathlessly reported, was the news that one of the Kochs’ foundations had funded Americans for Prosperity, a group instrumental in the Tea Party movement.

ThinkProgress presented its story as a scoop the mainstream press was afraid to touch. There the Kochs stood at last, exposed to broad daylight in the public square, where they’d been all along. ThinkProgress dubbed them “The Billionaires Behind the Hate.” We may never know what tipped off the sleuths to the Kochs’ political activities, but David Koch in particular must be kicking himself: I knew I shouldn’t have given that speech to 2,000 people in that hotel ballroom at the Americans for Prosperity convention! And the interviews I gave to New York magazine, and the Times—what a fool I was! …

One mark of the paranoid style in American politics, Richard Hofstadter wrote in his famous essay, is its concern with “factuality,” a piling up of random details to create a coherence that reality itself can’t provide. Journalism of a certain sort becomes a convenient instrument of the paranoid partisan. “The paranoid’s interpretation of history,” Hofstadter wrote, “is distinctly personal: decisive events are not taken as part of the stream of history, but as the consequences of someone’s will,” an “amoral superman” who “manufactures the mechanism of history, or tries to deflect the normal course of history in an evil way.”

With the Kochs, the American left gets two amoral supermen in one. Mayer’s article, and the larger campaign it’s a part of, is meant not only to alarm its audience but to soothe it as well. Any Democrat unnerved by the rise of the Tea Party movement will find it comforting to learn that it’s a giant confidence trick. The belief requires both a deep cynicism about one’s fellow citizens and a touching credulity about the ease with which they can be manipulated. All those angry, badly dressed people shouting into megaphones on TV: they’re not evil, they’re just stupid.


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