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Friday, November 20, 2009
How Could They Think That? A Brief History of Paranoid Wing-nut America
I was dismayed but not surprised when I heard about the recent poll that found that a slim majority (52 percent) of Republicans think that ACORN stole the 2008 election for Obama. It's appalling that the majority of a major U.S. party could think of such a silly thing. Essentially these people believe that hundreds of thousands of illegal votes were cast in order McCain to have been the actual victor in the electoral college One of the consequences of Bush administrations U.S. Attorneys Dismissal scandal was that when given massive resources, U.S. attorneys could find few actual cases of the practice occurring (this is a suucinct explanation about why American voter fraud is extremely rare).
The American Fringe: From the 1950s to the Present
Back in the 1950's the right's fringe consisted of the John Birch Society, a fringe group that held the view that President Eisenhower was a dupe of the communists. The Birchers never exceeded more than a few hundred thousand because prominent American marginalized them. Generally harmless cranks, the Birchers became the butt of jokes about their distrust of fluoridation and their campaign to impeach Earl Warren.
However, starting in the 1970's, some wealthy members of the American right invested heavily in right-wing organizations, think tanks, and the media, allowing previously fringe ideas to attain some legitimacy. Also, during the 1970s, many fundamentalists--previously apolitical--created a right-wing sectarian movement that aligned with the Republican Party (here's a blog post I wrote about how the sectarian right switched from religious paranoia in the 1980s to political paranoia in the 1990s).
In the 1990's, the paranoid right-wing fringe grew due to a few developments. The first is the rise of right-wing talk radio. Limbaugh and his clones amassed large audiences of listeners in which they spread stories about the Clintons murdering political enemies as well as friends who allegedly knew too much (such as Vince Foster, Ron Brown, and dozens of others).
Since then, political paranoia flourished for several reasons. The left failed to respond to the right in the 1990's--the Clintons and their allies were feckless and inept. The political left didn't understand the importance of media. The mainstream right refused to marginalize their fringe in the 1990s--e.g., William F. Buckley refused to repudiate Pat Robertson's bizarre conspiracy theories, even though they were just as loony as the ones promulgated by the Birchers.
The wing-nut right flourished during the 2000s; however, as the fringe became more dominent in the GOP, moderates began leaving the party. The result is that the birthers, deather, and tenthers became a bigger part of a rump party. Also, in the 2000s, a progressive media infrastructure emerged to marginalize the fringe right for its paranoid conspiracy theories.
This quick history of the paranoid right not only explains why so many Republicans believe is silly things like massive voter fraud, it also explains why so many of the teabagger crowd express the notion that this is no longer their country (watch this priceless video of a "scared" town hall protester "I want my America back"). With the emergence of powerful media outlets such as Media Matters for America, and media personalities such as Jon Stewart, Stephen Colbert, Keith Olbermann, and Rachel Maddow, members of the hard right are now the laughingstocks that the Birchers were in the 1960's.
Addendum: It Doesn't Add Up I don't have time to do a full analysis on what ACORN would have needed to do in order to steal the election. Just eye-balling the 2008 election results shows that it is absurd for anyone to seriously think that ACORN could have stolen the election for Obama. McCain needs a swing of 97 electoral votes to be the winner. Let look at some of the electoral votes that went to Obama in close races: North Carolina, Nebraska 2nd district, Ohio, Florida, Pennsylvania, New Hampshire, and New Mexico--that's 93 electoral votes, not enough to put McCain over the top. Had McCain been the actual winner in these contests, it would have meant that ACORN stuffed over 1,300,000 illegal Obama votes into ballot boxes in those states and in Nebraska's 2nd district.
UPDATE: Cenk Uygur on how the media are also at fault:
This is very similar to when 69% of the country in September, 2003 believed that Saddam Hussein was personally responsible for 9/11. No evidence of that whatsoever, but people believed it. Why?