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August 13, 2009

Here come the nutters!

Am I imagining it or does there seem to be a sudden upsurge in the number of people who seem to be disconnected with reality? To elaborate, is there an increasing number of vocal and visible people who are believe strongly in some crackpot idea despite the complete lack of plausible evidence in favor of their belief?

Into this category I put those who believe that the Earth is 6,000 years old and that evolution did not occur. Also included are the so-called 'truthers' (those who think that the events of 9/11 were planned and executed by the US government or that they had advance knowledge of it and yet allowed it to happen), and the 'birthers', those who think that Obama is not a natural born citizen of the US and is thus ineligible to be president. And then we have the 'gunners', those who are convinced that Obama is going to take away their guns and enslave them. They have been forming militias and stocking up on weapons and ammunition ever since the election, presumably to prevent the military takeover of the country under the orders of Generalissimo Obama.

It is not surprising that this kind of paranoid climate would encourage individual nutcases like the Baptist preacher who is asking god to put a hit on Obama. Some have even gone on murderous rampages as a result of their beliefs

The health care reform debate has spawned yet another group of crackpots, called the 'deathers', who roam town hall meetings and yell about how the health care reform plans currently under consideration will result in government bureaucrats deciding who will live and who will die, and that they seek to kill off old people and anyone with any defects. This is quite an amazing level of delusion

The fact that there exist a sizable number of people who believe in each of these things is not surprising. I have long felt that there is no proposition, however crazy, that you cannot persuade up to about 20% of Americans to take seriously, simply by using spurious arguments that seem to have a veneer of plausibility, along with 'evidence' consisting exclusively of vague references to 'they say' or 'I read somewhere', with the source never specified. For example, a survey finds that 23% say 'no' or 'not sure' to the question of whether they believe Obama was born in the US. (Among Republicans, the figure is an incredible 58%!)

It is quite likely that there is strong overlap amongst all these groups, given their common basis in irrationality, so that the total number of believers may not be that much larger than the number that believes in just one of them. But given the rapid proliferation of such groups, it may be useful to adopt an umbrella label of some sort that covers everyone. How about the 'nutters'? Tom Tomorrow describes the weirdness of these people in a recent cartoon.

These people are helped in their paranoia delusions by prominent politicians, who should know better, reinforcing their beliefs. A report says that Representative Paul Broun (R-GA) said "spoke of a “socialistic elite” – Obama, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid – who might use a pandemic disease or natural disaster as an excuse to declare martial law."

Then there is the ever-reliable serial exaggerator Sarah Palin. On her Facebook page she says the following about health care reform: "And who will suffer the most when they ration care? The sick, the elderly, and the disabled, of course. The America I know and love is not one in which my parents or my baby with Down Syndrome will have to stand in front of Obama's "death panel" so his bureaucrats can decide, based on a subjective judgment of their "level of productivity in society," whether they are worthy of health care. Such a system is downright evil."

Her statement has no connection to reality. Can she really be so stupid and ignorant as to believe this? Can she really not know that the proposed health reform legislation does not say anything of the sort? Or is she cynically deceiving and exploiting her followers? In addition, she once again shamelessly uses her baby as a political prop when it suits her purposes, while whining that her family should be off limits.

(To make it worse, Palin uses for support Minnesota Republican congresswoman Michelle Bachman, a person with an Alan Keyes level of craziness. Deciding which of Bachmann's statements and actions is the loopiest is not easy, but my favorite was when she warned that Obama was thinking of abandoning the dollar as the US currency.)

Stephen Colbert gives his take on the death panels.

The Colbert ReportMon - Thurs 11:30pm / 10:30c
Death Panels
www.colbertnation.com
Colbert Report Full EpisodesPolitical HumorMeryl Streep

As I said earlier, some greedy geezer seniors are prominent among the deathers who are trying to whip up anger against health care reform with their insanities, perhaps in order to preserve their own government-run Medicare health privileges. Christopher Beam writes: "To be sure, there are plenty of legitimate reasons for seniors to be concerned about reform. Seniors already have universal health care in the form of Medicare. There remains the possibility that a broader universal plan will drain resources from a program they like as it is, thank you very much."

The Daily Show has some thoughts on the motivation that drives these people.

The Daily Show With Jon StewartMon - Thurs 11p / 10c
Healther Skelter
www.thedailyshow.com
Daily Show
Full Episodes
Political HumorSpinal Tap Performance

So what is making these people so unhinged? Is it the thought that any Democratic president must necessarily be evil, and that a black one has to be the anti-Christ? Could they be that unhinged? It is strange because Obama is not even a liberal. He has kept and even increased the secrecy practices of the Bush regime, he is not planning a total pull out of Iraq any time soon (if ever, which I doubt), he is rapidly escalating the US war in Afghanistan, he has done little to advance gay rights, he has refused to close down the torture prisons that the US runs in other countries or to forbid the policy of extraordinary renditions, he is not prosecuting the lawbreaking torturers of the Bush regime, he has continued policies friendly to Wall Street in general and Goldman Sachs in particular, he has undermined support for a single-payer health care system, he continues the violation of human and constitutional rights such as habeas corpus, and so on.

We should not be that surprised. As cartoonist Tom Tomorrow points out, Obama has made vague promises into an art form that enabled his starry-eyed followers to read into his speeches what they wanted to hear and thus believe he was far more liberal than he really is. As a reality check, this website keeps a scorecard on Obama's promises. Sam Smith also keeps tabs on Obama.

So why are these people so angry about his presidency when he is really not opposed to their interests in any fundamental way, just making changes in the margins? I do not believe that their anger is completely artificial, although powerful interest groups are definitely bankrolling and urging these groups on. Is it as simple as racism, that these people cannot stand the prospect of white people not having exclusive control of the power structure, even if the minorities who replace them pursue pretty much the same policies?

The Daily Show has some thoughts on the racial fears that seem to be driving at least some of these people batty.

The Daily Show With Jon StewartMon - Thurs 11p / 10c
Reform Madness - White Minority
www.thedailyshow.com
Daily Show
Full Episodes
Political HumorSpinal Tap Performance

POST SCRIPT: The Daily Show on the level of current discourse

The Daily Show With Jon StewartMon - Thurs 11p / 10c
Healther Skelter - Obama Death Panel Debate
www.thedailyshow.com
Daily Show
Full Episodes
Political HumorSpinal Tap Performance

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Comments

I was reminded of this by your mention of the birthers. I remember you wrote a post specifically on the subject, and I recently came across a Scientific American 60-Second Science podcast that talks about it. It's pretty interesting: people felt that Tony Blair to be more "american" than Obama.

http://www.scientificamerican.com/podcast/episode.cfm?id=whats-behind-birthers-obama-belief-09-08-10

Posted by Trevor Allen on August 13, 2009 10:59 AM

I think Obama has improved but his numbers have gone down anyway.
Where is Kerry, Durbin and the other heavyweights among the Democrats.
chi Pink dazzle flat iron

Posted by chi flat iron on August 16, 2009 11:28 PM

Funny how entertainment and politics have become so intertwined.

Posted by Jim Cusson on August 17, 2009 03:27 PM

Bottom line is that every one loves a conspiracy theory.

How about that the Federal Reserve is not actually public but that it is owned by a few people and therefore giving these people the literal license to print money, thereby devaluing the dollar by the second. Hmmmmm

I get sweating hands when I think about this one!

Posted by sweating hands on August 17, 2009 03:39 PM

Oh god I just read the baptist story, now I don't know if it is just personal marketing or if he is a nutcase.

Unbelievable.

Regards,
CHI hair straightener

Posted by daniel on June 17, 2010 07:30 PM