Vast rightwing conspiracy theorists have taken over political discourse, and the results are absolutely disturbing. Rather than focusing on substantive matters, policymakers and analysts have expended precious time debunking the latest round of projectile vomiting over some imagined attempt by Obama/Pelosi/Democrats/Liberals/Communists/Socialists/Nazis to end life as "we" know it.
During the earliest part of Obama's presidency, Republicans lacked a coherent voice. They have found this voice, however, by organizing around rightwing conspiracy theories. Consequently, they have created some unity and garnered attention from the public. But they have accomplished these goals by embracing some of the most outlandish and deceitful "theories."
Here are just a few shameful items promoted by vast rightwing conspiracy theorists.
1. Obama is not a "natural-born citizen." The "birthers" are the only group of conspiracy theorists who can compete with the "truthers" (Bush knew about 9/11 before it occurred) in terms of utter creepiness. The birthers inexplicably and stubbornly believe that Obama is not a natural born citizen of the United States and that he does not meet the constitutional requirements for President of the United States.
The birthers' belief is immune to facts but highly accommodating of blatant lies and inaccuracies. For example, birthers recently experienced a collective orgasm after they received "smoking-gun evidence" that Obama was born in Kenya -- rather than the United States. There was a terrible problem with the evidence, however: It was a web-doctored Australian birth certificate created and sent to birthers by a conniving liberal blogger. Despite numerous letdowns and no proof, the birthers continue to spread their conspiracy theory and to search for new believers. They have also managed to garner support and sympathy from Republican politicians.
2. Obama = Socialist. During the presidential campaign, the McCain team floated the notion that Obama is a socialist. Rightwingers jumped on board, perhaps because nothing else was helping to improve McCain's campaign numbers. Since the election, this conspiracy theory has reemerged with great force.
Unfortunately, the socialism conspiracy theorists are just as bankrupt as the birthers. First, the group fails to offer a coherent definition of socialism. As with many economic theories, including capitalism, socialists embrace varying policy positions. Typically, however, socialism involves the advocacy of government and worker ownership of the means of production and centralized planning of output. Rather than proving that Obama is a socialist, current White House policies place Obama strongly within the capitalism camp.
Karl Marx would probably roll his eyes in his grave if he knew that socialism involved dumping a trillion dollars into the United States banking system in order to save global capitalism. In addition, if the banking or automobile bailout makes Obama a socialist, then Bush is a socialist as well because he proposed and lobbied for the passage of TARP and interpreted it as covering auto manufacturers.
Furthermore, if the creation of a public health plan to cover a specific slice of the population that lacks insurance qualifies Obama as a socialist, then he is simply carrying out the socialist policies of his predecessors. Medicare, Medicaid, the Veterans Administration and SCHIP are all public health plans for specific slices of the population. Moreover, because states co-administer Medicare, Medicaid, and SCHIP, then all 50 states are socialist economies as well. Also, because the GOP has been promising seniors that it will protect Medicare and the VA, then the GOP apparently supports socialism as well.
3. Death Panels. This idea has received a lot of respect from conservatives. The Bloggacuda Sarah Palin initiated this troubling discourse by attacking a provision in the House legislation that authorizes governmental reimbursement of end of life counseling for certain classes of people who hold public-sponsored health plans. The provision, however, only authorizes coverage; it does not mandate the counseling.
Medical groups -- including the American Medical Association -- endorse this type of counseling. Medical providers actually lobbied for the provision. Equating "coverage" of counseling with "mandatory" counseling is irrational and deceptive. Insurance policies list coverage of many procedures. Applying the logic of the death panel theorists, an insurance policy that covered abortion services would actually mandate abortion. But if the same policy covered childbirth services too, it would mandate childbirth and abortion for the same pregnancy! Perverse logic inevitably leads to perverse outcomes.
4. Government Is Taking Over Medicare. Conservatives have exploited Obama's proposed cuts in Medicare costs to scare some seniors into believing that the Democrats want to cut Medicare itself. This argument often gets collapsed into a general assertion that Obama wants to take over Medicare and make decisions on behalf of doctors and patients.
Ironically, this is one conspiracy theory that has some truth to it. The government does have its hands on Medicare. But there is a good explanation: Medicare is a government-run health plan! Despite spewing against the perils of "socialized medicine," Republicans have tried to portray themselves as the guardians of Medicare beneficiaries. These individuals, however, are covered by a public health plan -- which Republicans describe as socialism.
The Medicare conspiracy theories have led to some perverse results. For example, some angry conservative seniors have criticized "public plans," while benefiting from Medicare (the nation's largest public plan). Recently, a senior was violently injured (finger bitten off) while protesting healthcare reform. Although conservatives promoted the story as an example of the evils of socialized medicine/Obamacare, the injured man went to a hospital and received treatment. Ironically, the injured man was insured by Medicare, even though he came out to protest the creation of a public plan.
Furthermore, a recent poll shows that 62% of Republicans believe that the government should "stay out of Medicare," which is factually impossible. Facts and logic, however, are irrelevant to vast rightwing conspiracy theorists. To be fair, however, nutty leftwing conspiracy theorists do not prioritize facts either.
This blog used to publish far more essays defending Republicans and criticizing liberals. But now that the Republicans have decided to embrace the partially successful -- yet intellectually bankrupt -- strategy of promoting rightwing conspiracy theories, I have had very little to offer in defense of Republicans. I suspect that if the public continues to shine light on these conspiracy theories and the media decides to tackle matters other than political strife, then the strategy will backfire. So long as these deceitful and factless theories define contemporary conservative discourse, serious analysts will not take conservatives seriously.