Tag Archives: paranoia

We’re All Becoming Texas

My husband says I’ve been in a bad mood since 2000. I’m entitled.

On Monday, the Republican-led Texas House passed HB 1076 , a bill that would ban state agencies from enforcing any new federal gun laws, including background checks. The self-satisfied know-nothings who voted for this bill are very pleased with themselves.

Talk about embarrassing. Every student who participated in the We the People competition I referenced earlier this week would know better.

I don’t know whether this bit of unconstitutional stupidity is the product of grandstanding or ignorance, but really–how much dumber can state lawmakers get? Granted, Texas is in a league of its own, but there are plenty of other states–largely but not exclusively in the south–where similarly ridiculous measures are being solemnly debated and enacted. (Next-door Louisiana, where several loony laws championed by boy Governor Bobby Jindal have been struck down by the courts is a case in point. And the Indiana General Assembly keeps trying to equal its signal accomplishment–passage of a law in 1897 changing the value of pi.)

Read my lips: nullification runs afoul of the Supremacy Clause. In language even Texas legislators should be able to understand, that means that there is a provision in the U.S. Constitution that says federal laws trump inconsistent state laws. States don’t get to decide which federal laws they’ll obey.

I’m so tired of these posturing morons–and so disappointed in the voters who elected them. Gerrymandering can only explain so much.

America is currently experiencing the “perfect storm”–paranoia and anti-intellectualism have combined to destroy any semblance of rationality.  The adults have left the room; the inmates are running the asylum.

We are left with only self-parody.

And the Black Helicopters Circle Above….

Just shoot me now.

Indiana has all kinds of real problems. Our education system is pretty much a wasteland. Our per-capita income levels are among the nation’s lowest. College graduates continue to leave the state in droves. Job creation is robust only in the imagination of the Indiana Economic Development agency’s PR flacks.

So what weighty issues occupy our genius legislators? How do they propose to solve these problems?

Well, the measure that would mandate the teaching of cursive has been moving through the process. The House Resolution that would place a ban on same-sex marriage and civil unions in the state constitution is once again a hot topic.  Yesterday, the Indiana Senate unanimously passed a bill to make switchblades legal in Indiana. (And no, I am not making that up. The vote was 47-0.)

And also yesterday, a colleague helpfully sent me a link to this example of our legislature’s priorities:

A bill to prohibit implementation of Agenda 21. Provides that an Indiana governmental entity may not adopt or implement: (1) any policy recommendations relating to the United Nations’ 1992 “Agenda 21″ conference on the environment and development that deliberately or inadvertently infringe on or restrict private property rights without due process; or (2) any other international law or ancillary plan of action that contravenes the Constitution of the United States or the Constitution of the State of Indiana. Provides that an Indiana governmental entity may not enter into any agreement with, expend any sum of money received from, or pay any money to, an “Agenda 21 organization”. Provides that any such actions are void.

For those who have somehow failed to encounter the threat that is “Agenda 21,” the reference is to a toothless measure passed back in 1992 by the United Nations, encouraging members of that body to care for the environment and urging members to consider various approaches to sustainable development. It included references to energy-saving strategies like mass transit. (The “21″ stands for “21st Century.) To the crazy fringe, this modest set of non-binding proposals was and is an obvious communist/socialist/fascist plot–and an attack on American sovereignty. (Don’t ask me to explain the logic of this. There is no logic–just paranoia.)

These proposals join previously discussed efforts to make public school children recite the Lord’s Prayer, and to teach creationism in science classrooms. These are the pressing issues with which our elected officials occupy their time, at least when they aren’t searching the skies for those black UN helicopters…..

It’s embarrassing to be a Hoosier during the legislative session.

Our Fictional President

Saturday, I opened my IBJ to read a truly paranoid rant from Greg Morris, the publisher, who has a weekly opinion column. Mr. Morris is clearly one of those Second Amendment folks who views his right to bear arms with religious fervor, and his embrace of “one nation, armed to the teeth” was unsettling enough. But what really set the warning bells off was his full-throated embrace of one of the many conspiracy theories that have persisted since the election of Barack Obama: “they’re coming for our guns!”

Mr. Morris was unable to point to a single fact supporting this fantasy. It was the usual “everyone knows” and “someone said” rant–the Obama administration is “just waiting for the second term” and then they’ll confiscate your weapons!

I was shocked to see this garbage in the staid IBJ, a publication focused on the business community, and one of the few media outlets that still fact-checks and reports.But it reminded me of an observation someone made about the Republican primary–that the GOP candidates are running against a fictional President.

The criticisms of Obama from the left–and there have been plenty of them–tend to fault him for specific policy decisions. He has failed to dismantle Bush’s security apparatus; his administration defended the killing of an American citizen working with the terrorists, without a trial or other due process. Agree or not with those criticisms (and I do), they are specific and tangible.

The criticisms from the Right, however, rarely focus on something the President actually did. Other than the hated “Obamacare” (which very few people who want it repealed seem to understand) and pious hand-wringing over the national debt (inconveniently created by George W. Bush), most of the accusations seem to be the products of fevered imaginations: Obama is a “socialist” who wants to make the U.S. into Europe; Obama hates white people; Obama is a Kenyan Muslim fascist; Obama wants to confiscate our guns….

I read “The Audacity of Hope” during the 2008 campaign. I agreed with almost everything in it–because the positions outlined were very much the same positions I held (and continue to hold) when I ran for Congress in 1980 as a moderate Republican. If there is one mistake today’s Left and Right hold in common, its the belief that Obama ran as some sort of raging liberal. He didn’t, he wasn’t, and he isn’t.

The absolute hysteria on the Right can’t be explained by Obama’s actual policies. Unlike the situation with George W. Bush, who didn’t arouse intense animosity until he’d actually done things, the irrational hatred of Obama began the day he was elected.

We seem to have two Presidents, the actual man we elected, and a fictional “boogeyman.” And while race doesn’t explain all of that, it explains a hell of a lot.

The Monster Under the Bed

Parents of small children are familiar with the phenomenon. A few minutes after turning the lights out, a fearful cry comes from the bedroom: there’s a monster under my bed! That is typically followed by a parental “sweep” of the under-bed real estate and assurances that the room is safe for “night-night.”

But what do you do when the terrified child is—physically, at least—an adult?

As American politics has descended into farcical territory, the role played by fear has become increasingly obvious.

To some extent, of course, all of us are disoriented by the pace of social and economic change. But for some subset of our citizens, complexity and ambiguity are the monsters under the bed. As one of my sons observed a few weeks back, when we were scratching our heads over an especially egregious bit of political buffoonery, very scared people desperately crave certainty in a world that has none. They need a bipolar, black and white world in which good and evil, God and the Devil are clearly labeled and easily identified. The enemy is not so much the “Other” (immigrants, gays, African-Americans) as it is the relativism that their acceptance represents.

Which brings me to the folks currently insisting that public transportation and environmental protection are part of a United Nations “agenda” (not to be confused with the “gay agenda”) to destroy American liberty.

According to a story in today’s New York Times, activists with ties to the Tea Party are rallying against local and state efforts to control sprawl and conserve energy. As the Times article put it “They brand government action for things like expanding public transportation routes and preserving open space as part of a United Nations-led conspiracy to deny property rights and herd citizens toward cities. They are showing up at planning meetings to denounce bike lanes on public streets and smart meters on home appliances — efforts they equate to a big-government blueprint against individual rights.”

The designated Monster-Under-the-Bed in this case is a non-binding 1992 UN resolution encouraging resource conservation. Fox News and various activists have identified that resolution (unfortunate titled “Agenda 21”) as an effort to encourage urban living and density in order to strip away property rights. To denizens of this paranoid universe, public transit, bike lanes and smart meters–devices being installed by utility companies to collect information on energy use—are all part of this nefarious plan.

When the less conspiratorial among us hear these stories, our natural inclination is to shrug and laugh, but these protests are having an effect. The Times reports that they were successful in shutting down Maine’s efforts to reduce congestion on Route 1, and deep-sixing Florida’s high-speed rail plan, among others.

There are, of course, genuine issues raised by the movement of more Americans to cities. Urban dwellers are by necessity confronted with trade-offs that rarely confront more rural folks.  We need to make accommodations for the needs of our neighbors, and we need to make policies that serve whole communities—policies that will inevitably irritate some and satisfy others. Those realities do constrain us. I live in a historic district, for example, where I have to obtain approval to paint my house a different color. Does that limit my property rights? Sure.

There is not only nothing wrong with discussing and debating the trade-offs that come with living in modern industrialized societies, it is a conversation that is absolutely critical. But like all such debates, it needs to be conducted by adults and informed by reason and evidence.

The world is scary enough without inventing monsters to fear.







Persistent Paranoia

Our daughter called me the other day, horrified. She’d somehow gotten on the mailing list of one of the crazy organizations that seem to thrive in our country–a group called “Freedom Watch,” headed by one “Larry Klayman, Attorney.” The letter was, as she said, vile; among other things in its overheated diatribe, it accused President Obama and Secretary of State Clinton–”the mullah-in-chief” and the “corrupt communist”–of treason.

Most sane citizens, whether they agree with this administration’s policies or not, find such paranoid rantings incomprehensible. But there have always been fringe groups of mentally unhinged folks who project their own frustrations onto the Presidency. FDR was accused of having foreknowledge of Pearl Harbor and allowing it to happen as part of a plot to lead America into war. The notorious hater Father Coughlin accused him of being in league with “the Jews and communists.”

As one historian has noted, this paranoia came from both ends of the political spectrum:  “The Communist leader Earl Browder said that FDR was “carrying out more thoroughly and brutally than even Hoover the capitalist attack against the masses,” and the domestic fascist William Dudley Pelley called the President the “lowest form of human worm – according to Gentile standards.” One critic accused him of “blathering platitudes like a parson on vacation.” and another wrote to him savagely, “If you were a good honest man, Jesus Christ would not have crippled you.” It was in a formal address to the Chicago Bar Association, not in a harangue to an extremist rally, that a United States Senator from Minnesota did not hesitate to liken Roosevelt to the beast of the Apocalypse,” “who set his slimy mark on everything.””

Harry Truman was accused of employing a top Nazi from the Hitler regime as a covert advisor–not to mention his purported role in directing the cover-up of the crash of a UFO in Roswell, N.M.  The John Birch Society insisted it had proof that Dwight Eisenhower was a member of the communist party. George H.W. Bush was accused of being a member of a “Trilateral Commission” that was widely believed to be intent upon one-world government and an assault on American sovereignty.

In the rant from Freedom Watch, such paranoia is on flamboyant parade–complete with accusations of  “death panels,” “planting Marxists throughout government” and “canceling the National Day of Prayer in favor of Ramadan” among others. Klayman says that Obama “manipulated a deep economic depression” in order to fool Americans into voting for him. And he assures readers that he is working with Tea Party members of Congress–Michelle Bachmann, Allen West and Steve King are named–to submit articles of Impeachment against the President he calls a “treasonous tyrant.”

A quick Google check for “Larry Klayman”  brought up a legal decision disciplining him for violation of the canons of ethics, and a report that the status of his law license in Pennsylvania was “on suspension,” as well as information about an earlier organization called “Judicial Watch” and assorted charges and countercharges between him and other fringe characters.

What do we make of this strand of unhinged hysteria in our body politic?

On the one hand, as even a superficial stroll down history lane attests, America has always had a generous portion of “the crazy.” On the other hand, it only takes a few of these demented souls to disrupt public meetings, intimidate lawmakers, mislead well-meaning but uniformed folks, or even trigger assassination attempts.

In a free country, even the most delusional citizens have the right to spew their venom. But it might be a good idea to put more resources into mental health services.