Don’t laugh off the conspiracy theories too quickly
I’ll admit, reading about yesterday’s press conference was funny, a press conference where a flock of right wing nutjobs spun one crazy theory after another in an attempt to get someone to say, “Ah yes, that’s it. That’s why Barack Obama is ineligible to be President. We all had a ‘feeling’—totally unrelated to race, of course—but we just needed the smoking gun.” It was a press conference where it was suggested that Obama was born in both Kenya and Indonesia and that his mother is actually alive somewhere. Fears of miscegenation were trotted out. Circus music played in the background. (Kidding!) Even the biggest wackaloons in the right wing media distanced themselves, which might lead one to think that we have nothing to worry about when it comes to the paranoid right this time around.
Well, we’d be wrong. First of all, I’m immediately alarmed by the fact that most of the people in the audience were true believers, and some had access to media. Also, one of the ringleaders is Bob Schultz, who has enough money to buy full page ads to promote his theories. If he sticks to that method, we’ll probably be good. But should he start plugging into the direct mail system, we have a massive problem. And even if it’s not Schultz, it’ll be someone. And even if it’s not this conspiracy theory, it will be another. In the long run, history teaches us that the exact content of the right wing conspiracy theories is largely irrelevant. What matters is their reach.
I firmly believe that conspiracy theories about Vince Foster, Whitewater, the Clintons’ sex pacts, and whatever other nutty shit the hard right believed about Clinton led directly to the impeachment. It took 6 years of rounds of direct mailings and videos (including one distributed by Jerry Falwell) that grew increasingly paranoid and frantic, but it worked. The squawking, the rumor-mongering, and the paranoia led large numbers of people to start believing that with this much smoke, there had to be fire, and eventually the Republicans who were elected in part by the paranoid right decided to go fishing. It didn’t matter that what they eventually came up with had little to no relationship with the original conspiracy theories. It didn’t even matter that the tawdry details of the affair disproved the right wing belief that the Clintons are a couple of scheming, sophisticated Lotharios, instead demonstrating that if anything, Bill Clinton is a bumbler with poor impulse control around seductive women. What mattered was that the swirl of nonsense theories gave license to a lot of—most?—bitter Republicans to really, truly believe that a Democrat in office is there illegitimately, and therefore, any means necessary to get them out is justified. They didn’t successfully kick Clinton out of office, but the momentum of justification for any means necessary did in fact lead directly to Bush stealing the election, with the help of hyperventilating fascist mobs that flew down to Florida to threaten people trying to count votes.
In other words, we should take this shit extremely seriously, especially since race has entered the equation, giving the loons even more reason to feel that Obama just can’t be a legitimate President, and therefore that any means necessary of getting him out should be taken. But this is about more than just seeing Democratic politicians as illegitimate. I think these theories proliferate because the right wing doesn’t believe that people who vote for Democrats are legitimate, either. It’s pretty obvious, in fact, that this is what they believe, between “jokes” about how women shouldn’t have the right to vote and more serious pontificating about how they’d totally win if this group or that didn’t vote. Certainly the rush of people at polls in swing states to “challenge” voters feel justified in using intimidation against certain groups of people. They wouldn’t feel this way if they hadn’t convinced themselves that these people’s right to vote is illegitimate. And of course, the language about how liberals hate America or are un-American is all aimed at establishing this narrative, that we only get to vote because someone screwed up in the past, and they have to rectify that mistake, by any means necessary.