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Make Believe Worlds And Autoimmune Disorders: Our Politics Are Sick

We have a tendency to elect presidents who seem like the antitheses of their immediate predecessors — randy young Kennedy the un-Eisenhower, earnest truth-telling Carter the un-Nixon, charismatic Reagan the un-Carter, randy young Clinton the un-H.W. Bush, cool and cerebral Obama the un-W.

So Rick Perry fits right into that winning contrapuntal pattern. He’s the very opposite of careful and sober and understated, in his first days as an official candidate suggesting President Obama maybe doesn’t love America (“Go ask him”) and that loose monetary policy is “treasonous.” (“Look, I’m just passionate about the issue,” he explained later about his anti-Federal Reserve outburst, before switching midsentence to first-person plural, “and we stand by what we said.”)

Yet the most troubling thing about Perry (and Michele Bachmann and so many more), what’s new and strange and epidemic in mainstream politics, is the degree to which people inhabit their own Manichaean make-believe worlds. They totally believe their vivid fictions.

Everyone is entitled to his or her own opinion. Perry is even entitled to his opinion that states such as Texas might want to secede, as he threatened at a Tea Party rally two years ago. But he’s not entitled to his own facts. “When we came into the nation in 1845,” he’d earlier told some bloggers visiting his office, “we were a republic. We were a stand-alone nation. And one of the deals was, we can leave anytime we want. So we’re kind of thinking about that again.” That special opt-out provision is entirely fiction, a Texas myth the governor of Texas apparently thinks is real.

Perry also believes in the fiction of intelligent design. Campaigning in New Hampshire, he said that in Texas public schools, “we teach both creationism and evolution” — an assertion that’s a fiction itself; last month the Texas Board of Education unanimously rejected creationist biology textbooks. In Iowa, Perry served up a fresh viral-Internet fiction as his what-the-hell example of federal over-regulation — a new rule forcing farmers to get special drivers’ licenses to drive tractors. In fact, the Obama administration had just taken the very opposite position, ruling that states should maintain “common sense exemptions” for tractor-driving farmers.

Sincere, passionate, hysterical belief that the country is full of (make-believe) anti-American enemies and (fictional) foreign horrors is the besetting national disease. And I’ve diagnosed the systemic problem: the American body politic suffers from autoimmune disorders.

It’s a metaphor, but it’s not a joke. I’ve read a lot about autoimmune diseases — the literal, medical kinds, also disconcertingly on the rise — because several members of my family have them. At some point, our bodies’ own immune systems went nuts, mistaking healthy pieces of our anatomies — a pancreas, a thyroid, a joint — for foreign tissue, dangerous enemies within, and proceeded to attack and try to destroy them. It’s as close to tragedy as biology gets.

Which is pretty much exactly what’s been happening the last decade in our politics. The Truthers decided the U.S. government was behind 9/11. Others decided our black president is definitely foreign-born and Muslim. Tea Party Republicans are convinced his administration is crypto-socialist and/or proto-fascist. The anti-Shariah people are terrified of the nonexistent threat of Islamic law infecting American jurisprudence. It’s now considered reasonable to regard organs and limbs of the federal government — the E.P.A., the education department, the Federal Reserve — as tumors that must be removed. Taxation itself is now considered a parasitic pathogen rather than a crucial part of our social organism.

Many autoimmune diseases of the literal kind, such as Type 1 diabetes and multiple sclerosis, are apparently triggered by stress. For the sociopolitical autoimmune epidemic, there are plenty of plausibly precipitating mega-stresses: the 9/11 attacks and the resulting wars, a decade of stagnant incomes, chronic job insecurity, hyper-connected digitalism, real estate wipeout, teetering financial system, take your pick.

Exposure to chemicals or infections also play a role in triggering autoimmune disorders. My pathogenic scheme’s got that, too: the new streams of iffy infopinion, via talk radio and cable news and the Web, seeping into our political bloodstream 24/7.

Of course, metaphors are just … metaphors. Maybe in 2031 we’ll look back and smile and shake our heads and see the pathology of this haywire age as more psychological than physiological, a temporary national nervous breakdown, like the late 1960s. But what if our current, self-destructive political dysfunction really is exactly like an autoimmune disorder? They are generally permanent, chronic conditions. Only some are debilitating, and most are treatable, but they are all incurable.


By: Kurt Anderson, Op-Ed Columnist, The New York Times, August 19, 2011

August 20, 2011 Posted by | 911, Birthers, Conservatives, Constitution, Democracy, Democrats, Education, Elections, Environment, GOP, Government, Ideologues, Ideology, Journalists, Lawmakers, Media, Politics, President Obama, Press, Regulations, Republicans, Right Wing, States, Taxes, Teaparty, Voters | , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Birthers And Birtherism: An Embarrassment To The Country

This Wednesday morning became one of the most surreal and ridiculous moments
in the history of American politics when the White House decided to release copies of President Barack Obama’s “long form birth certificate,” in an attempt to quiet conspiracy theorists who believe the president was born elsewhere. The president had already released a version certified by the state of Hawaii, but because of the “volume of requests” for the birth certificate, the president asked the state to make an exception andrelease the original document.

It’s tempting to make this simply about reality television personality Donald
Trump, who rocketed to the top of the Republican presidential field by promoting
the slander that the president wasn’t born in the United States. But there are a
number of other factors that created the current situation. Chief among them is
that Trump’s lunacy emboldened conservative media sources to fully embrace
birtherism. According to Media Matters, Fox News has spent over two hours promoting false claims about Obama’s birthplace across 54 segments, and only in ten did Fox News hosts challenge those claims. This isn’t just about Trump. All he did was encourage the communications wing of the conservative movement to go into overdrive in an attempt to make birtherism mainstream.

Aside from being one of the most idiotic moments in American political
history, this marks a level of personal humiliation no previous president has
ever been asked to endure. Other presidents have been the target of crazy
conspiracy theories, sure, but few have been as self-evidently absurd as
birtherism. None has been so clearly rooted in anxieties about the president’s
racial identity, because no previous American president has been black.

This whole situation is an embarrassment to the country. Yesterday Jesse
Jackson described birtherism as racial “code,” but there’s nothing
“coded” about it. It’s just racism. I don’t mean that everyone who has doubts
about the president’s birthplace is racist. Rather, the vast majority have been
deliberately misled by an unscrupulous conservative media and by conservative
elites who have failed or refused to challenge these doubts.

And birtherism is only one of a number of racially charged conspiracy
theories that have bubbled out of the right-wing swamp and have been allowed to
fester by conservative elites. Those who have spent the last two years clinging
to the notion that the president wasn’t born in the United States, who have alleged that the president wasn’t intelligent enough to write
his own autobiography or somehow coasted to magna cum laude at Harvard law, are
carrying on new varieties of an old, dying tradition of American racism. Similar
accusations dogged early black writers like Frederick Douglass and Phyllis
Wheatley, whose brilliance provoked an existential crisis among people incapable
of abandoning myths of black intellectual inferiority.

Whether this farce ends or continues is entirely dependent on those who
nurtured the rumors in the first place. This is an opportunity for conservative
elites, who have finally come around to the possibility that the outsize hatred
of the president they’ve cultivated as an asset for the past two years might
actually hurt them politically, to purge birtherism from mainstream conservative

Sadly, those who fostered doubts about the president’s citizenship are
unlikely to relent in the face of factual proof, because birtherism was never
about the facts. For its most ardent proponents, it was and is about their
inability to accept the legitimacy of a black man in the White House. Nothing
about the decision to release the president’s birth certificate can change that.

By: Adam Sewer, The Washington Post, April 27, 2011

April 27, 2011 Posted by | Bigotry, Birthers, GOP, Media, Politics, President Obama, Press, Racism | , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on Birthers And Birtherism: An Embarrassment To The Country


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