Columnist has his own paranoid style

by Dave Kopel

Rocky Mountain News. October 18, 2008

It's difficult to top the unintentional self-parody of Rocky Mountain News columnist Paul Campos last Wednesday citing Richard Hofstadter's famous essay, "The Paranoid Style in American Politics." The great historian Hofstadter explained that "the paranoid style," including "the sense of heated exaggeration, suspiciousness and conspiratorial fantasy," had at various times been found in both the left wing and the right wing of American politics.

Campos wrote: "McCain-Palin campaign rallies have featured shouts of 'Terrorist!' and 'Kill him!' . . . " Supposedly, "Kill him" was shouted by somebody at a rally in Scranton, Pa., according to a reporter for the Scranton Times-Tribune. The Secret Service investigated, and stated that the allegation was unfounded. The Secret Service report was announced the day that Campos' column was published, but even before the story was debunked, Campos' phrasing made the lone act appear to be commonplace.

Campos asserts that National Review called Obama a "Maoist." Not exactly. An Oct. 8 post by Andy McCarthy on National Review Online's "The Corner" weblog wrote that Barack Obama "fits comfortably with Ayers, who (especially now) is more Maoist than Stalinist." You can be friends with a terrorist without yourself being a terrorist, and likewise you can fit comfortably with a Maoist without being one yourself.

McCarthy did call Obama a "radical." According to Campos, McCarthy "brushes aside any objections that there's no actual evidence for any of his claims." To the contrary, McCarthy pointed to specific evidence, starting with Obama's community-organizing work.

Obama was trained in organizing by the Industrial Areas Foundation, a group founded by Saul Alinsky; Alinsky's book, Rules for Radicals, urged radicals to conceal their radicalism in order to infiltrate established power structures. (Investor's Business Daily, Aug. 14, 2008.) Obama then was hired by an organization The Washington Post described as "a group of his [Alinsky's] disciples." After law school, Obama "continued to teach the Alinsky philosophy." (The Washington Post, March 25, 2007.)

The thread of the National Review Online discussion leads to an earlier post that same day in which McCarthy wrote, "Why would anyone think this guy is a left-wing radical? Just because he sought (and got) an endorsement from the Chicago branch of the Socialist International . . . " (McCarthy was referring the role of the "New Party" in Obama's 1996 state Senate race.)

Further, Obama "fought a law prohibiting infanticide." (Referring to state Sen. Obama's opposition to a bill requiring medical care for babies who survive an abortion.) McCarthy wrote that Obama "praises Bill Ayers' views on . . . the criminal justice system." (As The New York Times had noted on May 11, Obama gave "a rave review" to Ayers's 1997 book criticizing American criminal justice.)

One can argue over whether these facts prove that Obama is a radical. Indeed, the blog posts were part of a debate on National Review Online in which NRO's Ramesh Ponnuru contended that even if Obama were once a radical, he was not one now, for most of his 2008 positions are not radical. To which McCarthy replied that a dedicated radical would hide his true positions in order to gain power. (Disclosure: I write occasionally for NRO, most recently in October 2007.)

It is not paranoid, by the way, to be aware that some presidential aspirants may have more radical intentions than they reveal during a campaign. In 1960, presidential hopeful Lyndon Johnson told Arthur Schlesinger: "Have a revolution all right, but don't say anything about it until you are entrenched in office. That's the way Roosevelt did it."

According to Campos, "a Fox News anchor speculated that Obama and his wife might be engaging in a 'terrorist fist-bump.' " Campos derided anyone who might "believe something like that appears on Fox News by accident."

In previewing a body-language segment, Fox anchor E.D. Hill had said: "A fist bump? A pound? A terrorist fist jab? The gesture everyone seems to interpret differently." (The idiotic "terrorist" theory had been started by a commenter on a Web site, and was getting lots of media attention.) As reported by The New York Times (June 11; "The Caucus" weblog), the anchor apologized four days later in part because she was "facing anger from the Fox News executive suite."

Hofstadter observed that one characteristic of "conspiratorial fantasy" is rejecting "accident or incompetence" as possible explanations for bad things. So a stupid comment from a TV host, which angered her corporate bosses, must be part of a corporate conspiracy.

It takes the paranoid style to so vehemently and inaccurately mischaracterize ideological opponents, and to find conspiracies where none exist.

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