The Sweet Spot
In the wake of the assassination attempt and shooting spree in Tucson on Saturday, many Republican lawmakers have been a bit nervous. Are there Limbaugh posters on the shooter's walls at home? An RNC card in his wallet? Could he actually have believed our craven endorsement of the whole "taking back America through Second Amendment remedies from the Godless gay-lovin' liberals who are destroying this country by pretending to be all smart and shit" campaign that we ran last election cycle?
You have to feel for them at a certain level. It must be difficult to acknowledge that one of your central political principles--an irrational fear and hatred of the Federal government--also happens to be one of the primary symptoms of paranoid schizophrenia. We're being told not to rush to judgment because accused shooter Jared Lee Loughner is "insane" and thus without any "politics," when of course the more disturbing possibility here (generally left unspoken) is that he came to embrace a political ideology that comes in various degrees of insanity. Who's out to get me now? Immigrants? Gays? Black people? Liberals? Humanists? Elites? Atheists? True, the details of Loughner's beliefs make no coherent sense in terms of any given political ideology; instead, they simply mirror the general Birchian panic that everything is a threat, everything is slipping away, the Constitution is under relentless assault, personal liberty has never been in greater crisis.
Loughner, because he is most likely insane, actually believes in his paranoid fantasies. The following paranoid delusions, on the other hand, were proudly circulated by conservative pundits and politicians who knew full well they were peddling inflammatory horseshit to the ignorant and uninformed:
Obama stole all the bullets. Can't get no ammunition cuz 'Bama hates guns.
The FEMA trailer parks are actually concentration camps.
Obamacare contains "Death Panels" that will recommend mandatory euthanasia.
Obama's trip to India cost 500 billion dollars a day and required 80% of the U.S. Navy to protect him.
The nation will collapse unless we return to the Gold Standard.
Last year, Georgia Republican State Representative Ed Seltzer argued he was simply being “proactive” in introducing a bill that would make it a misdemeanor to implant “microchips, sensors, transmitters or any other manner of tracking devices into individuals against their will.” Virginia Republican State Rep. Mark L. Cole expressed similar sentiments when introducing his own "anti-brain chip" bill. "I just think you should have the right to control your own body,” he told The Washington Post. "My understanding — I'm not a theologian — but there's a prophecy in the Bible that says you'll have to receive a mark, or you can neither buy nor sell things in end times. Some people think these computer chips might be that mark."
Nope, no link whatsoever between Loughner's mindset and what Richard Hofstadter called "the paranoid style of American politics" way back in 1964.
Capgras Delusion: Delusional disorder in which a paranoid psychotic comes to believe familiar people around him have been replaced by imposters.
Birthers: Those on the right who believe the current President of the United States is illegitimate as he is a Constitutional imposter.
Happily, the media are doing their part to absolve modern conservatism of any possible connection to Jared Lee Loughner's paranoid beliefs by emphasizing, once again, that what might seem at first to embody current right-wing paranoia could, in theory, come from any political perspective. Thus the search by conservative pundits to find exact equivalencies between Loughner and examples of liberal "violence." A guy threw a tomato at Sarah Palin, remember? People said mean things about President Bush and suggested he might not be the brightest bulb in the box, remember? Some EarthFirst nuts torched a Hummer, how about that?
All of these anemic examples are supposed to be equivalent to the most recent Republican candidate for the Vice Presidency placing sniper cross-hairs over vulnerable Democratic districts (including Gabrielle Giffords) and imploring her followers to "reload" rather than retreat. And let's not forget, the right-wing fear-o-sphere spent most of last year defending the right of all Americans to carry guns anywhere at anytime-- bars, schools, churches, anger management seminars--but most especially appearances by the President of the United States (well, Obama that is...good thing no one tried that shit with Bush, cuz that would have called for a serious ass-wuppin').
Palin, of course, defends her penchant for "ballistic" imagery and rhetoric as a "joke" aimed at liberals to ridicule their general discomfort over people shooting things. To put this in terms that a humorless, lily-livered liberal might better understand, Palin's Congressional sniper map is really no different than a group of snarky liberals marking vulnerable conservative districts with the icon of a shaky podium, thereby indulging the elitist fantasy of a common-sense American being embarrassed by his or her inability to articulately defend certain Republican policy positions in a debate. No difference at all.
Why the so-called "lamestream" liberal media devotes so much effort saving right-wingers from the consequences of their own bullshit is a true mystery. It just goes to show that the mythos of "journalistic objectivity" is stronger than even the most heated political debates, so much so that both politicians and pundits have been quick to reaffirm the idea that crazy violence has no political footprint; or if it does, that examples of left and right craziness ultimately balance out in a type of mutual negation (just like a balanced editorial page!). Yes, Loughner may seem to have taken all the anti-Fed rhetoric a little too seriously, and yes, Timothy McVeigh blew up a Federal office building, and sure, there was that survivalist who left a pipebomb at the Atlanta Olympics and also blew up some Planned Parenthood offices, and then there was that Glen Beck fan who wanted to "kill liberals" in San Francisco, not to mention the guy who murdered that doctor in Wichita for performing legal abortions, and even that crazy girl during the '08 campaign who carved a backwards "B" on her cheek and blamed it on militant black Obama supporters...but remember that guy who threw a tomato at Palin?
And thank God for the example of John Hinckley. By taking a shot at Ronald Reagen, Hinckley has provided cover for all manner of right-wing nutballs for 30 years. For those too young to remember the attempt on Reagen's life, flaming-lefty Hinckley hoped to institute a new global order of communism, universal health-care, and free pot by getting into Jodie Foster's panties, a goal he thought might best be achieved by gaining her respect in the act of shooting Reagen.
Perhaps the media punditry's oddest strategy of securing absolution through balanced negation is the pitting of Hitler against Marx. Worried that Loughner will be identified as a paranoid right-winger, several politicians have now attempted to inoculate themselves by pointing out that Loughner had read, not only Mein Kampf, but also The Communist Manifesto-- making his "ideological" pedigree perfectly balanced and thus meaningless. While it is refreshing to see the far right claim Hitler as one of their own, this little rhetorical stunt only demonstrates how dysfunctional contemporary media/political discourse has become (and by "dysfunctional" I do not mean "uncivil," I mean flat-out retarded). Hitler and Marx now stand, in popular punditry at least, as the evil embodiments of the two extremes of the political spectrum, thoroughly equivalent ideologues that somehow balance one another as the worst excesses of left and right.
Given the frequent invocation of this strategy (over the weekend and no doubt in the days ahead), perhaps it is time to review the profiles of these two men of absolute evil.
Hero of right-wing imperialists, racists, eugenicists, and those generally craving "order"
Came to power by demonizing various "Others" said to be destroying nation's "way of life"
Invaded neighboring lands to exploit resources
Instituted program of forced labor and mass genocide
Hoped to institute the "Third Reich," an era of Aryan rule that would dominate the earth for 1000 years
Crucial example of power replicating itself
Hero of far-left socialists, tweedy professors, and Enlightenment intellectuals
Came to 'power' by contending with Hegel
Concerned with social mechanisms of economic exploitation
Brought attention to the plight of small children forced to work in mines and factories
Believed the world's resources might be shared in ways that would benefit all of humanity
Crucial to theorizing how power replicates itself
So really, completely equivalent in their evil and worthy adversaries in pointing out the extremes of ideology on both the left and the right.
And remember, the "sweet spot" of current American politics now apparently resides at the exact middle-point between Hitler and Marx--that completely "neutral" oblivion where nothing is ever really "political," not even the systematic cultivation and cynical exploitation of the paranoid, stupid, and insane.