The Paranoid Style Is Alive and Well in Some Conservative Quarters

One of the most confounding critiques of President Obama from the right has been the expressed belief that the president of the United States has deliberately initiated policies that he knew would injure the economy and the country. In short, Barack Obama wants to destroy America.

Several different motivations are given for this traitorous behavior. Rush Limbaugh thinks it's because Obama wants as much of the population as possible to fall into dependency on government, thus giving Democrats a permanent majority because everyone knows poor people vote Democratic. Others believe it's because the president is a socialist/Communist and in order to remake America, it must first be destroyed.

Darker conspiracies that combine the most paranoid parts of the birther narrative with Cold War revanchist nightmares involving a plot line ripped from the film The Manchurian Candidate (the sublime Frank Sinatra version, not the Denzel Washington turkey) provide a little comic relief to the dourness of the subject matter. Obama as the unholy offspring of Frank Davis or Malcolm X, groomed from birth by the international Communist conspiracy to become leader of the free world, programmed to remake America into a Marxist dictatorship, gives the entire proposition of Obama as Destroyer of America a slightly hysterical tinge.

Thankfully, most on the right don't go quite that far over the cliff in positing the notion that President Obama has deliberately set out to bring America down. Still, there is a desperate paranoia at work among some conservatives if one were to take the notion seriously that this president -- any president -- would purposefully set the nation on a course where America's destruction would be the end result. In order to believe that proposition, you have to also believe that the president is not just an incompetent, indecisive, empty suit in way over his head as chief executive, but that he is the personification of evil.

Conservative film critic, talk show host, and political commentator Michael Medved recently penned an article for the Wall Street Journal that attempted to address this phenomenon and place it in a realistic political context:

None of the attacks on Mr. Obama's intentions offers an even vaguely plausible explanation of how the evil genius, once he has ruined our "strength, influence and standard of living," hopes to get himself re-elected.

The exact same question could have been directed at liberals who believed George W. Bush "lied" about WMD in Iraq in order to plunge the U.S. into a war for oil. Logic would dictate that if Mr. Bush knew beforehand that there were no weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, he either deliberately set out to be a one-term president or, even more bizarrely, wished to lose the war so that his "lie" would never be discovered. As it was, Bush won a second term by the narrowest of margins -- less than 100,000 votes in Ohio -- proving the potency of that particular conspiracy theory with the electorate. Two committees of Congress and an independent commission found no evidence of Bush pre-war lies about WMD (but plenty of mishandling and misjudging of intelligence) which proves how hard it is for the truth to catch up to any conspiracy theory.

Ah, but we have Obama making that very claim about not caring about re-election just recently. In an interview with Diane Sawyer that aired on January 24, President Obama said: "I'd rather be a really good one-term president than a mediocre two-term president."

You would have to be near brain dead to believe that rot. The man has been running for re-election before he sat down in the Oval Office for the first time. When he made that statement three weeks ago, he had already greenlighted his political machine to start the laborious process of fundraising and outreach in battleground states. Unless you believe he really doesn't care about a second term and is doing all of this for show, the only possible explanation is that he is in it to win it and -- his fake humility notwithstanding -- believes what the polls are telling him despite his rotten record: he stands an excellent chance of beating any Republican on the horizon.

The purity of the idea that Obama is deliberately out to destroy the economy and the country gets a little muddied when washed through the logic machine. But there is a slight variation to the argument that almost makes it sound plausible: President Obama is not consciously trying to destroy the country -- he just can't help himself.

In this scenario, the president has good intentions for America but his warped view of the country forces him to enact policies that are disastrous. His is a creative destruction. He wishes to bring down our capitalist system and replace it with the soft socialism that he believes will be much fairer. He seeks to deliberately weaken America because we are too strong and it's not fair to other countries. He wants to bend the Constitution to its breaking point -- or beyond -- because it is too restrictive of government action that would make life fairer for all.