La Stampa: The Liberal Witch Hunt
This essay was originally published in LA STAMPA.
The Media and Team Obama Are Designing Apolcalyptic Scenarios About a Romney White House.
Let’s stipulate that the presidency of Barack Obama has invited a torrent of right-wing venom: suspicions about his citizenship, his Marxist designs on the American economy, his secret Muslim identity. It’s been a sad and sordid spectacle to behold. Yet an honest look at Obama’s re-election campaign should dispel any notion that fear-mongering and crackpot conspiracy theories are the exclusive domain of the political right.
The latest narrative from Team Obama about their Republican rivals is as straightforward as it is pernicious. We are asked to believe that because of their views about marriage, abortion, and human sexuality, conservatives are waging a “war against women” reminiscent of the Salem witch trials, circa 1692. And no matter what Mitt Romney says to the contrary, he represents a kind of Manchurian Candidate—at best a stooge for a sinister agenda of sexual repression and religious extremism.
This fantastical narrative explains the dishonest attempt to link the bizarre remarks of Republican Senate candidate Todd Akin—that “legitimate rape” does not lead to pregnancy—to the Romney campaign. To liberal conspiracy theorists, it does not matter that Romney instantly denounced Akin’s views, or that a cascade of Republican politicians has done the same. It does not matter that the Republican leadership moved swiftly to do the principled thing—to marginalize Akin financially and philosophically from the party.
The same conspiracy fever explains why Obama’s political operatives have launched a hate campaign against organizations such as Chick-fil-A, a fast-food chain whose founder is a conservative Christian who defends traditional marriage. Liberal mayors in Boston, Chicago, and San Francisco have declared their cities off-limits to the franchise, lest its secret and noxious designs against homosexuals find fertile ground.
“There’s no place for discrimination on Boston’s Freedom Trail,” huffed Boston Mayor Tom Menino, “and no place for your company alongside it.”
It is of no importance that Chick-fil-A does not discriminate in its hiring practices, or that it has a reputation for recruiting minority groups into its ranks. It does not occur to these conspiracy theorists that it is they who are guilty of rank discrimination—a brand of bigotry that flatly violates the First Amendment and its protections of freedom of speech and religion.
The conspiracy disease explains why Vice President Joe Biden, speaking to supporters in Virginia, warned African-American voters about Romney’s hidden racist agenda with these words: “He is going to let the big banks once again write their own rules, unchain Wall Street. He is going to put y’all back in chains.” It does not enter Biden’s conspiratorial mind that his condescending, race-baiting bile scandalizes his office and that of the president he represents.
The liberal conspiracy narrative also explains why media elites such as the New York Times are seizing upon “The GOP’s Extremist Platform” to predict that a new dystopia awaits America upon Romney’s election. In addition to the platform’s opposition to abortion and gay marriage, what do the editors at the Times find so horrific, so reprehensible, and so threatening to the norms of a civilized society? Just this: the observation that for thousands of years men and women, through the institution of marriage, have been “entrusted with the rearing of children and the transmission of cultural values.”
The conspiracy zealot, then, is not concerned with history or facts or reason or even the minimal standards of civility. He is devoted to exposing and defeating the forces of evil—as his feverish imagination defines it. What are we to make of this grotesque spasm of fear and loathing?
Journalist Jonathan Kay, after spending three years interviewing conspiracy theorists, sees a cultural crisis in the making. In his book, Among the Truthers, he warns that “a gaping cognitive hole” has been created in America, a breakdown in trust that is being filled by every breed of lunatic group imaginable. “When a critical mass of educated people in a society lose their grip on the real world…it is a signal that the ordinary rules of rational inquiry are now treated as optional.”
It is bad enough when conspiracy cranks attach themselves to the fringes of a political party, liberal or conservative. The problem now is that the forces of fear and irrationalism have invaded the center of the liberal political establishment. They have taken up residence in the White House itself.
American democracy has endured many vices and failings in its history. But it cannot survive the political and cultural triumph of those who have lost their grip on the real world.
Giuseppe Loconte is a professor of history at The King’s College in New York City and the author of The Searchers: A Quest for Faith in the Valley of Doubt.