Friday, October 17, 2008

The Liberal Style in American Paranoia

Paul Campos, a law professor and op-ed writer for the Rocky Mountain News, has written quite a good article that compares Barry Goldwater's 1964 campaign--with its reliance on "paranoia"--with Reagan's victory in 1980 and Mr. McCains presumptively losing campaign now in 2008. Mr. Campos cites Richard Hofstadter's famous (for historians) essay on the "Paranoid Style" to frame his points.

Yes, Mr. Campos is correct: the right in America relies, or has relied, to a large extent on paranoia to garner votes. Mr. Campos is wrong, however, insofar as he implies that the "left" in America (for the sake of convenience, I'll call Democrats and other descendants of New Deal liberals "the left," all the while acknowledging that they are not really "leftists" in most senses of the word) do not also rely on paranoia and are not also susceptible to it. Of course, Mr. Campos's article is about the right, not the left, so in one sense I mustn't criticize him for not doing what he clearly was not trying to do.

Still, let's set a few things to terms. First, I know at least a few Democrats (probably unrepresentative of most Democrats....and yet I don't charge most Republicans to be like the anti-Obama race baiters, either) who claim that in 2004, the Republicans stole the Ohio election somehow. As far as I know, the Republicans did not steal the election in that state--I have no proof one way or the other--but the fact is that my Democratic friends who made this charge would make this charge with or without evidence.

Second, I've heard at least one avid Obama supporter talk about how McCain betrayed his fellow prisoners while captive at Hanoi. I had never heard this before, and did not ask my friend to elaborate. Maybe Mr. McCain colluded with the Viet Minh to return to the US, run for the president, and surrender the country, a la Manzhouguo candidate. Maybe there's even evidence in support of this assertion (or in support of another such assertion). But the point is, some liberals are just as apt to believe such charges with or without evidence.

I'm not sure that Hofstadter really was aiming only at conservatives. Obviously, his discussion of Mr. Goldwater was a jibe at the new conservatism that Mr. Goldwater represented. But Hofstadter was concerned with a style of politics that, presumably, any political party might indulge in.

It is often said that just because you're paranoid, doesn't mean they're not all out to get you. True, but it doesn't mean you're a conservative, either.

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