I am embarrassed to admit it but prior to 2004, I had never been on the Internet. I had no use for computers (to this day, a well trained three-year-old chimpanzee is more adept with computers than I) and I wore my obstinate refusal to buy a computer and join the modern world like a military decoration (“For stubbornness and stupidity above and beyond rationality”).
But circumstances changed and we finally logged on in the spring of 2004. One of the first things I found in my travels on the Internet was a site dedicated to listing all of the “murder victims” of Bill Clinton. What I discovered was that President Clinton was head of a crime syndicate, based in Arkansas, and was deeply involved in smuggling coke as well as contract killing. He was also a commie, having been turned by the KGB when he visited Russia as a young man. His wife Hillary was a domestic terrorist and they had a secret plan to hand the country over to the Reds — presumably the Chinese.
Just how the Chinese were going to govern 300 million ornery, ill-tempered Americans was not mentioned, nor was it explained how this handover was going to happen. One constant with the tinfoil hat crowd is their inability to think through their theories to examine the nuts and bolts of how their conspiracies were carried out. They have all sorts of “evidence” that points to some dark secret, but when you ask “How” or even “Why” you are met with a tantrum about “not believing” or turning your back on the “evidence.”
I had never read historian Richard Hofstadter’s essay from 1964 entitled “The Paranoid Style in American Politics” but I found it with little trouble. His words echo down through the decades, encompassing both right and left, and are especially prescient given what we’ve gone through the last eight years with the paranoid left and are apparently about to go through with the equally cuckoo right:
American politics has often been an arena for angry minds. In recent years we have seen angry minds at work mainly among extreme right-wingers, who have now demonstrated in the Goldwater movement how much political leverage can be got out of the animosities and passions of a small minority. But behind this I believe there is a style of mind that is far from new and that is not necessarily right-wing. I call it the paranoid style simply because no other word adequately evokes the sense of heated exaggeration, suspiciousness, and conspiratorial fantasy that I have in mind. In using the expression “paranoid style” I am not speaking in a clinical sense, but borrowing a clinical term for other purposes. I have neither the competence nor the desire to classify any figures of the past or present as certifiable lunatics.
Now there are two ways you can approach the tinfoil hat crowd on the Internet. You can rail against their paranoia and stupidity or you can laugh at them and view their idiocy as entertainment. I choose the latter most of the time because it’s very hard to keep a straight face when someone who is perfectly “normal” in every other respect earnestly assures me that Bush planned the 9/11 attacks or that the president will never leave office, using the military to stay in power.
But to prove Hofstadter’s point that the paranoid style is not limited to one side of the ideological spectrum, there is a movement being advanced by otherwise normal and rational people on the right to nullify the election last month using as a basis the preposterous notion that President-elect Barack Obama is not eligible for office because he was not born in the United States.