(image by David Basanta, used under a CC license)
Little Green Footballs, the American site which tracks (amongst other things) what seems like the increasingly more moonbat trajectory of the American right’s thinking, has posted results of a poll of Republicans voters on everything from Obama’s motives to the inclusion of Creationism in schools. The results are… well, you can see for yourself. But should we be surprised? Is there anything new here? Or is this just the latest manifestation of a narrative which has been growing and replicating this last sixty years or so, only now brought to a head by the presence of an African-American in the West Wing?
Questions and answers
The Daily Kos Republican Poll was conducted by Research 2000 from January 20 through January 31, 2010. A total of 2,003 self identified Republicans were interviewed nationally by telephone:
QUESTION: Should Barack Obama be impeached, or not?
NOT SURE: 29%
QUESTION: Do you believe Barack Obama was born in the United States, or not?
NOT SURE: 22%
QUESTION: Do you think Barack Obama is a socialist?
NOT SURE: 16%
QUESTION: Do you believe Barack Obama wants the terrorists to win?
NOT SURE: 33%
QUESTION: Do you believe Sarah Palin is more qualified to be President than Barack Obama?
NOT SURE: 33%
QUESTION: Do you believe Barack Obama is a racist who hates White people?
NOT SURE: 33%
QUESTION: Should public school students be taught that the book of Genesis in the Bible explains how God created the world?
NOT SURE: 8%
QUESTION: Do you believe that the only way for an individual to go to heaven is though Jesus Christ, or can one make it to heaven through another faith?
NOT SURE: 18%
So what are we to make of all this? The smug European liberal in me wants to simply say that this is the latest in a long line of pieces of evidence that the American ‘right’ (a troublesome term in and of itself) is slowly sliding towards outright madness. But is it?
Last week President Obama faced the Republican party during a live Q&A at a retreat for senior GOP party members. Many things were discussed (in an enjoyably informal way) but the moment that really struck home for me was the instant when Obama squared up to questions about his healthcare reform plan. At one point the President stated that were we to accept the GOP’s charecterisation of his plans ‘you’d think this was some Bolshevik plot.’
Obama’s choice of phrases was interesting. I can’t help but wonder if he knew exactly what ghostly spectre he was raising with his choice of words – a subtle nod of the head towards the fundamental and underlying world view, the narrative, which fuels some of the rage directed at him – a passionately held belief that big government is evil, that big government is going to rob you, deprive you of your freedom and lie to you. And that this ‘plot’ to take your freedom is the result of a massive, international hydra-headed conspiracy.
“Conspiracist thinking” is that which historian Richard J. Hofstadter (writing in 1964) called the ‘The Paranoid Style in American Politics‘. With its relentless use of the classic get-outs of referring to ‘they’ and ‘them’, it’s a narrative where nothing is accidental, nothing is a coincidence and there is always a secret, hidden agenda: that only the conspiracy theorist has the intellectual skills to uncover and save you from. If you’ll only listen for long enough.
Amusingly, one of the most succinct summaries of this narrative comes from the man at the centre of many of the alleged conspiracies himself:
‘In distilled form the explanations of both the right and the left have become mirror images of each other. They are stories of conspiracy, of America being hijacked by an evil cabal. Like all good conspiracy theories, both tales contain just enough truth to satisfy those predisposed to believe in them, without admitting any contradictions that might shake up those assumptions’ – Barack Obama, The Audacity of Hope
The characterisation, depiction and portrayal of Obama and the Democrats’ plans by the Republicans, the Tea Party (through their most prominent mouthpieces in the form of Glenn Beck, Sarah Palin, Rush Limbaugh at latterly Alex Jones) are not a new emerging front of the ‘culture wars’, but rather seem the latest manifestations of a long-standing and well-established pattern of thought amongst a very large part of the American population.
There are many points at which this pattern could be said to have started (and feel free to post your own examples in the comments below) but a good starting point might be the emergence of the original ‘bolshevik plot’ which Obama seemed to allude to- the Protocols of the Elders of Zion.
A known literary forgery, which purports to be the secret manifesto of the Jews to take over the world, the Protocols were heavily pushed in the US by Henry Ford in the 1920s and took a powerful hold in folk memory. A hold they continue to have, now through ther power of the web, despite the mass of evidence showing they are a forgery.
‘Just as the Knights Templar and the Bavarian Illuminati are still blamed for all manner of malfeasances, long after their movements have ceased to matter in any meaningful way, dead websites, long debunked rumour and garbled quotations abide on the net forever. – Arthur Goldwag, Voodoo Histories
Is there something in the cultural DNA of some people that inherently pushes them towards seeing everything as a conspiracy? Is this recent explosion of anti-BigGov, ‘don’t tread on me’ activity a new departure in US politics? Or is it simply the end-product of a century’s worth of conspiracist thinking, now shoved mainstream because of 9/11?
Or, looking specifically at how the Birther narrative fits into all this, is this new wave of conspiracist thinking a mere bi-product of the fact that a certain large number of people simply can’t handle the fact that there’s an African-American in the White House?
Or am I just an unthinking liberal who can’t see that the world’s being run by the Illuminati?
What do you think?
The Tea Party: ‘The People Who Hate People Party’
Blather, Rinse, Repeat: An Ethnography of Conspiracy Theory
The Haiti Conspiracy Theories