[T]he Communists have installed in the presidency a man who, for whatever reasons, appears intentionally to be carrying forward Communist aims... With regard to [this man], it is difficult to avoid raising the question of deliberate treason.Surprisingly, this is not from a book written by Michael Savage, or any of the current basket of nuts, about Barack Obama. No, it is from a cult classic of crazy conservatism:The Politician, published in 1963, is about Eisenhower. (EISENHOWER! The man who beat the Nazis! A traitor?!) It was written and published by Robert Welch, the founder of the John Birch Society.
The JBS is the great-grandfather of all of the modern conservative nuts. They were so powerful, had so many members, but had such insane leadership, that the man who feared communist conspiracy everywhere eventually fell to a conspiracy at the hands of his own conservative brethren. Bill Buckley, Barry Goldwater, and a few others all met in Palm Beach and agreed to attempt to "excommunicate" Robert Welch. (I almost wouldn't believe it either, but Buckley has actually admitted it!) At that meeting they defined the Bircher Fallacy:
The fallacy [...] is the assumption that you can infer subjective intention from objective consequence: we lost China to the Communists, therefore the President of the United States and the Secretary of State wished China to go to the Communists.By now you're asking, "What the hell is this article about?" Yes, yes, I'm getting there! Keep with me. And keep that quote in mind!
Here's the thing, Conservatives were this crazy in the 1960's. (Even before the hippies!) They are this crazy today. And they were this crazy all through the intervening years. Liberals seem to forget how much we hated them, and they seem to forget how much they hated us. (Didn't Newt recently say that he missed Clinton? Really, I'm asking, I was unsuccessful in finding the link for it.) But, liberals seem to suffer from this overmuch (and not the least because Reagan was far more extreme than Clinton. This is why I love Rick Perlstein:
It is a quirk of American culture that each generation of nonconservatives sees the right-wingers of its own generation as the scary ones, then chooses to remember the right-wingers of the last generation as sort of cuddly. In 1964, observers horrified by Barry Goldwater pined for the sensible Robert Taft, the conservative leader of the 1950s. When Reagan was president, liberals spoke fondly of sweet old Goldwater.So, here's my question, and the main question I'm asking in this article: Why are they still so crazy? Is there just something about the conservative mindset that predisposes itself towards insanity? Let's not get ahead of ourselves just yet. (Obviously, we shouldn't forget, there are a few sane conservatives. The crazy ones just tend to be a bit, well, louder.)
(I'll try to answer it after the break!)
Let's step back for just a second and ask a question: what exactly is conservatism? It's a kind of ideology. (Duh.) It is a political ideology. It is defined, not in a vacuum of ideas, but explicitly against the ideology of the left wing of the American political class. (I think I'm going to make my next post about this.) The Right Wing views itself as being at war with the Democrats and the Liberals in the country. They view the Democrats as posing an actual, existential threat to their way of life (and perhaps their actual lives).
Turn on any Republican on the radio or on the TV for a few minutes, and you'll see that this is true. They actually think that we're out to get them! They fear the dictator, Barack Obama. This is not just some nonsense on the part of the commentators.
It's reasonable to be afraid of change. It's even somewhat understandable to think that there are sinister causes behind the change. There is an especially human quality, we look for patterns in almost everything. When the world changes, there isn't always an explanation for that change. (Sideline: I'll not delve into this, but there are usually explanations, they are just very complex and have to do with broad social forces that are not always totally organized, and can only really be explained with Chaos Theory, and not conspiracy. Okay, end sideline.) But, our hunt for patterns, our hunt for proximal causes leads us to see unifying causes when there aren't any.
The Islamists in the Middle East do not have some kind of secret communal conference where they determine how they want to proceed in the take down of Western Society. It's the Bircher Fallacy. Merely because things do not go our way, it does not then mean that there was a subjective intention that caused that. The president does not have infinite power, no one does. No one person controls the economy. No secret cabal does either. It is merely the coming together of tons and tons of disparate forces and people that causes all of these outcomes. And neither Goldman Sachs, nor the Federal Reserve, nor JP Morgan, nor anyone is responsible for everything that happens in their banks or in the economy. These things seem so reasonable, and that's because they are. Conspiracies do happen, but they do not always happen.
However, when things are going against you. When the world looks like it is changing in ways that you do not like. And, when people -- like the president -- have made decisions that you cannot understand the subjective rationale for. Then, you can very easily come to the conclusion that there are secret rationales for their decision. You can come to the conclusion that there is a conspiracy.
In response to one of my facebook posts recently, a conservative friend responded, "If you're an Obama voter you have some or all of these problems: unintelligence, ignorance or a common mental disorder." He does not even try to, perhaps merely cannot, connect with the other half of America. There is no empathy. Not just in his comment, but in general. Ideologues, hyper-partisans, whatever you want to call them: they cannot understand the motivations of the other party. They cannot put themselves in their shoes. They have no empathy for the other party! That's why they appear crazy to us! Of course, they don't just appear crazy, by any objective standard they are crazy!
This is not sociopathy. This is merely the struggle that defines our human condition. The struggle between friend and enemy, between the same and the other, between good and evil, whatever you want to call it. When you are locked in mortal combat with an enemy, you do not feel empathy for him! You only think of his evil.
In understanding what makes conservatives crazy, you must understand that it is not merely that they are gullible or that they are dumb. They are genuinely afraid, they are afraid so very much of the time. It is not that war is invented for them, they already percieve the war. They already believe themselves to be soldiers in the war. All they need is for someone to connect all the dots for them. To tell them who they are fighting against, who is causing the scary changes in the world. They're just asking for the cause.
But the world doesn't really work like that. Cause and effect are not so simple as that in a complex world. It is a quirk of the human mind, a necessity of evolution, I think, that we feel compelled to look for causes and connect the dots. We feel compelled to find out what moved the bushes at the edge of our vision. That is why we are so suseptable to conspiracy theories! That is why we are all, liberals included, not always the best at understanding the world. And sometimes we are Ann Coulter. She's not the worst, though. It could be worse! She could be Robert Welch.
How do we solve this? How do we convince the crazies otherwise? Ugh. Who knows! I'll try to solve that next time. Maybe. Hopefully we'll figure it out eventually. Or, as my conservative friend argues would be best, we'll split into two separate countries, and the country of the Randian elitists will survive and the country of sane people will fail, just like Greece! (I don't really pretend to understand him.)