ACORN has always been a rather mundane nonprofit group that advocates for a living wage, affordable housing and against discrimination in lending practices. During the 2008 election, they launched a voter registration drive; as has happened in many other cases of subcontracted petition-gathering, one or several people hired to collect petitions instead just filled out the forms themselves with fake names and addresses, so they'd get paid for sitting at home, doing canvassing they didn't actually do. ACORN was, in other words, defrauded. They reported the fraud to the authorities, and from that thin gruel an entire genre, the Great Conservative ACORN Conspiracy Theory, was born.
On Fox News and among Republican pundits, "ACORN was defrauded, and reported it" turned without hesitation into "ACORN engaged in vote fraud!" -- though it requires gutting a perfectly good, perfectly reasonable truth and reconstructing it into something patently false, a practice which was at one point considered, you know, a lie, and perhaps even once frowned upon as unethical behavior for either politicians or "news networks" to be involved in. But among their conservative followers, such manipulations of fact become highly believable, even unquestionable foundations of conservative discourse, no matter tenuous or ridiculous. The premise was eagerly accepted: surely, if either George Bush or John McCain were being rejected by the American voting population, it was only because of nefarious plot to subvert the voting rolls.
From those pre-election roots the plot only expanded, and became more and more, well... hysterical. It was not just that ACORN, an until-recently-uncontroversial group of wage and housing advocates, had supposedly sought to rig an election by deviously signing up fictional characters such as Mickey Mouse as registered voters -- conservatives presumably expecting Mickey to show up on election day and vote Democratic, thus actually committing "vote fraud" and impacting the election. No, ACORN could also be tied to the housing crisis, by virtue of advocating for new legislation that said banks could not refuse to lend to an individual based purely on whether the loan in question was for a house in a black neighborhood or a white neighborhood.
This is related to the actual financial crisis only by the tenuous of threads. The actual housing crisis was caused by absurd levels of subprime lending, not a distressing new absence of discrimination -- and those sometimes-abusive subprime lending practices were among the problems that ACORN itself was warning about. And none of it could be blamed for the most costly and devastating aspect of this financial abomination, in which American financial institutions, able to work around post-Depression regulation banning excessively risky behavior with other people's money, among themselves wagered approximately one shitzillion dollars that 3rd-party-held mortgages they knew little to nothing about would never, ever possibly lose value.
Nope -- no dice. It had to be due to reduced discrimination against minorities, and as such, the proximate responsibility of the fiendish ACORN. The new conspiratorial twist was eagerly repeated ad nauseum by every conservative pundit able to hurl themselves in front of a microphone; suddenly, here was a racist angle, based on racist premise, meant to stoke racial fears, but one that could be bent just barely far enough to sound somewhat civilized, so long as nobody was paying attention.
From Cavuto to Krauthammer, Limbaugh to Huckabee to Ingraham to O'Reilly. It required no substance; it required no actual knowledge of what ACORN, as a group, advocated for, or what the law was, or what the companies involved did. The only apparent logic behind it was that modern conservatism requires an assigned bugaboo to bear responsibility for all unpleasant circumstances. If the Bush war plan is failing, it is because liberals are complaining about it. If the economy is collapsing, it in the end is because of those damn minorities. It does not have to make sense, it apparently merely has to stoke the requisite sense of being overrun by enemies.
Frightening it may be, but none of that is good enough for a truly ripping conservative yarn of imminent takeover by minorities, immigrants, liberals, the government, or all of the above.
ACORN could not merely stay a nonprofit organization advocating for certain things: they needed to be elevated in importance into something that would represent a true threat -- a threat you wouldn't get laughed out of the room for being terrified of (well, at least not in conservative circles.)
To that end, ACORN became a supposed secret arm of a secret, oppressive Obama army since nearly the first moment conservatives learned their name. It is a given to conservatives that the nominee-now-president funds and directs the group, along with the omnipresent Liberal Jewish Banker, George Soros, who is the Kevin Bacon of the conservative degrees-of-separation game. And so we arrive at the present day, yet another jump-the-shark moment of a conspiracy that has already logged more flights than the Berlin Airlift.
Operatives from ACORN, you see, are going to disrupt conservative Tea Parties.
For the next 9 days, the left-wing blogosphere and left-wing clueless pundits will hammer away with their unreality-based Tea Party smears.
And on the ground, the tax-subsidized and Soros-subsidized troops are going to try and wreak havoc every way they can. Many readers and fellow bloggers have seen signs that ACORN may send in ringers and saboteurs to usurp the anti-tax, anti-reckless spending, anti-bailout message.
Now, you might ask yourself -- of all the groups that would possibly disrupt a conservative Tea Party (and I am going to great lengths to take these protests seriously for one moment, so shut up please, lest we all break out in another round of laughter), why would an advocacy group for affordable, non-discriminatory housing play the front role for such a devious plan? If one were to invent an enemy, in a world chock full of potential enemies already, why would anyone choose one whose most devious skill was the ability to understand real estate contracts?
As the kids say today: who the hell knows. But as Thers notes in the link above, the proof is in a link to a blog that links to a message board that contained the assertion by a random commenter. If you can't take that as evidence of anti-conservative conspiracy, then truly you are not of the right caliber to unmask anti-conservative conspiracies.
So as we speak, this latest addition to the ongoing Affordable Housing Stormtrooper conspiracy is making the rounds of talk radio, apparently unquestioned, apparently taken as absolute fact merely by virtue of it being an imaginable thing to the person who imagined it. Michelle Malkin gravely warns her readers that her other readers have "seen signs" of ACORN disrupting the events, presumably in their soup; Rush Limbaugh helpfully elevated it from blogs to radio; other radio voices have followed.
What idiot would believe these things? That there was a veritable Housing Gestapo, a secret league of Obama Non-Profit Shock Troops? On what planet does any of this make sense -- what addle-brain would buy it?
The uncomfortable truth is that a great many people would, and indeed do, with every iteration. The credibility of the message lies, inescapably, with the credibility of the messengers, and for modern conservatives there is no apparent way to lose credibility. (Kristol and Krauthammer would be a prime examples, here, of pundits whose proclamations have been proven buffoonery so many times as to have reached comic levels, and yet who maintain authority as if each passing blunder never existed.)
The mindset by which grand Fox News conspiracy theories become fodder for humble church social groups seems pervasive. If you are on television, radio, a newspaper, magazine or blog, you are credible. If you assert that someone on television, radio, a newspaper, magazine or blog said something, you yourself become credible by proxy, which is handy for embellishing the tale. And if you simply come up with an idea that tickles the right presuppositions in your audience -- that's it. You're in. If you want to write a book supposing that, to use one recent example, interest in organic food is a sign of incipient fascism, you can do it. And you can be taken seriously, at least in the dwindling group of true believers seeking something -- any premise, no matter how mockable -- to believe.
The obvious flaw of the format is that the "credible pundits" themselves are eager to pluck absurd theories from the darkest corners of conspiracy, so each "theory" becomes self-referential loop, taken as fact because, after all, that person over there believes it too.
My only explanation for the ridiculous things that normally stable, job-holding, apparently mentally competent people are prone to believe, despite all logic, is that they are more enamored with the collective story such fictions tell than interested in whether or not any given story is true. The story of the moment is conservative persecution, by virtue of (gasp!) losing two elections in a row: whether or not conservative policies had anything to do with it is a far more unpleasant contemplation than simply waving your arms and declaring that terrifying, shadowy enemies are behind every setback and loss. With every setback, however, the enemies must become larger, more organized, more interconnected, and more devious.
It's either that or admitting that conservatism is unpopular, and that's not going to happen.
The bigger and more fundamental problem lies in the conservative decision, in both conservative media and among party officials, to coddle those bogeymen instead of seeking to inform or even argue. Watch nearly any hour of Fox News punditry, and you will take away as prime message not that Fox News pundits disagree with the president, but that the president is dangerous, by virtue of his actions. It is not enough to claim that policy positions of the new administration may shift -- no, the very foundations of the republic must be ready to crumble, and on every issue. From taxes to budgets, military spending to guns to religion, every issue the supposed jumping-off point for armageddon, the imminent destruction of the nation.
Before Obama, of course, the assertions were made that it was the enemies of the administration that were threatening the fabric of America. It's not enough to declare that you are against gay marriage: such relationships must represent an imminent danger to straight marriages. It's not enough to not believe in evolution yourself: the mere mention of it is turning children against God. Spongebob is gay. Liberals want the terrorists to succeed.
ACORN fills a vital role in this conservative sphere of constant, imminent destruction -- but not as real danger. Instead it is a catch-all bogeyman, an avatar representing an unseen and generic enemy. The reason it is "ACORN" that is going to surreptitiously disrupt conservative Tea Bag festivities is because "ACORN" is the only nefarious bogeyman most conservatives know. Nobody would seriously believe Muslims, homosexuals, or space aliens will interfere with the protests -- or maybe they would, considering the audience -- but it is a given that some group must stand in opposition, and ACORN is simply a convenient, predetermined name for that group. It could be any name, because the name is unimportant, only the narrative of all-powerful, omnipresent enemy. Before ACORN, it was the ACLU. Before the ACLU, it was McCarthy's invisible Communists.
As we have noted in the wake of the recent shooting, it is a dangerous game. Preying on fears as prime political philosophy runs the obvious risk of convincing your audience that those fears indeed exist. Repeating those fears day after day, night after night, declaring imminent danger around each corner, is likely to convince at least some members of your audience that those dangers are indeed imminent. And they will do what the party expects of them: they will act on those fears. Some by voting, yes, but others may choose other means. People told that their guns are in danger will buy more guns. People told that their President is acting against their own nation might, eventually, believe it. The more extraordinary the perceived threat, the more justified some individuals will feel in taking extreme action. The more extreme the supposed danger, the more likely it is that casual network watchers will internalize at least some small part of it, believing something that, had it come from any less credible-looking source, they would immediately have laughed off.
In the end, it is enforced, carefully stoked paranoia, and it is made powerful precisely by months of repetition. It is the Big Lie, the easy lie. At some point conservatives decided, based on demographics and perhaps the existing general bigotries of their most hardcore supporters, that their ideas could no longer stand even minor scrutiny unless they were couched in terms of urgent disaster. It may have gone too far even for them: it is not clear, at this point, whether or not their supporters would believe any more measured messages.
Several recent times, now, we have had murderers who spouted talking points taken from Fox News. A church massacre was asserted, by the killer, to be an attempt to defend the nation against the liberal ways of that church. A cop killer lived with the certain belief that Obama was about to take his guns, stoked by Fox and NRA assertions that Obama was indeed about to take his guns.
The party is locked in internal conflict over whether or not to soften their tone, or retreat to their base, but it is not a decision the party leaders can make. The most famous of their pundit-philosophers, whether they be Beck, O'Reilly, Hannity, Krauthammer, Kristol, Limbaugh, or any of the countless others, have staked their ground and careers on stoking conservative fears daily, and on wrapping every issue in a framework of impending national doom, even if facts have to be fabricated wholesale in order to do it.
Will it lead to more violence? How could it not, if the central premise is that the very nation is in danger, and any true patriot out there should do something about it?
Comments are closed on this story.