In 1964 (the year I was born, coincidentally), Richard Hofstadter published, in Harper's Magazine, "The Paranoid Style in American Politics." It opened like this:
"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."
If it sounds familiar, that's because it is. But more on that later. Let's keep going into Hofstadter's thesis:"We here in Monroe County have our own unique version of the national teabaggers.""... the modern right wing, as Daniel Bell has put it, feels dispossessed: America has been largely taken away from them and their kind, though they are determined to try to repossess it and to prevent the final destructive act of subversion. The old American virtues have already been eaten away by cosmopolitans and intellectuals; the old competitive capitalism has been gradually undermined by socialistic and communistic schemers; the old national security and independence have been destroyed by treasonous plots, having as their most powerful agents not merely outsiders and foreigners as of old but major statesmen who are at the very centers of American power. Their predecessors had discovered conspiracies; the modern radical right finds conspiracy to be betrayal from on high. "
Of course, the modern "tea party" movement has all that, and more. Our president is alternately a communist or a fascist. Sometimes even both simultaneously, despite the historical incompatibility of the two. Our security is undermined as we send unindicted detainees from their Caribbean safe house (for us, not them) to the homeland for justice at the hands of statesmen cum traitors.
And everywhere is a socialist plot, from health care reform to land use reform.
A comprehensive plan
Yeah, I said it. Land use reform. For we here in Monroe County have our own unique version of the national teabaggers. But instead of carrying pictures of the president as a dictator and demanding he keep the government's hands off of Medicare, they're here exercising the paranoid style of American politics as it relates to land use, not healthcare.
"They're here exercising the paranoid style of American politics as it relates to land use, not healthcare."
But the tactics of the paranoid style are the same, whether national or local. They are the tactics of disinformation, as local opponents of the county's new master land use plan -- a plan designed around the fundamentally conservative position that it's important that we keep the rural, rural and the urban, urban -- exercise relentlessly.
They are the tactics of fear. They are the tactics of lies.
Where at the national level we had rumors of "death panels," locally we have shouts of illegal property taking. At the national level they talked of rationing, locally the meme is an outright ban on "growth." At the national level, they talked of an impossibly large health care bill, over a thousand unreadable pages. At the local level they talk of a similarly inapproachable document, full of arcane figures, numerology and necromancy.
At the national level, they screamed, "You lie!" as the president addressed the nation, seeking to drown the message in sheer decibels. At the local level they pack the meeting halls, monopolizing the podiums and letting not a single supporting voice speak.
At the national level, the faces are familiar. Big pharma, the insurance industry, and their willing water carriers whipped into a frenzy by fear of change, fear of a future though better, different still. At the local level the faces are also familiar, the well-recognized members of the FIRE economy (Finance, Insurance, Real Estate) there to protect their wallets at the community's expense and employing an army of frothing half wits in their service.
"They are the tactics of fear. They are the tactics of lies."
And, at the national level the reality is a future better than the present. The promise of extending the health care franchise to all Americans, while lowering the cost - just as every other first-world nation has somehow managed to accomplish already and without descending into a nightmare totalitarian state.
Likewise the local, where the recognition that place matters and a community that paves over every instance of that which makes it valuable is a community with no future for itself.
Both are met with furious opposition, couched in lies and paranoia yet treated as merely a countervailing set of "opinions" deserved to be heard in the name of civility.
But there is no mandate to be civil to the incivil. To listen to those who will only shout in their relentless protection of a status quo that makes them quite comfortable.
Or so they've been told.
Gregory Travis can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.