If It Ain’t Broke, Don’t Fix It

I just couldn’t resist mentioning this little gem out of Georgia. Apparently, the state legislature passed a bill prohibiting microchips from being forcibly implanted into citizens. The take-away punchline from this theater of the absurd is where Governor Barnes spoke about what should have been obvious to the drafters: “if someone holds him down to insert a microchip in his head, “it should be more than a damned misdemeanor.”” That’s right – forcibly implanting a microchip into someone would be a misdemeanor in Georgia, right there next to vandalism and petty theft.

(as an aside, I was immediately struck with the irony that the woman in the story who provided “testimony” before the legislature in support of the bill mentioned a fundamental right to privacy as the basis for outlawing forced microchip implants, something that the Right has aggressively argued does not exist under the Constitution when attacking the Roe v. Wade decision)

Down the Rabbit Hole
Where did this concern over implanted microchips come from? An Internet rumor about health care reform. Never mind that the law, as passed, doesn’t even contain the language that triggered the rumor and that the original language didn’t mandate – or even mention – implanted microchips in any way, shape or form. The Georgia legislators decided to tackle this fantasy problem despite all evidence that they were wasting their own time and the tax dollars of their constituents, a testament to the power of right-wing paranoia.

In the same speech mentioned above, Barnes relayed his concern about a growing trend where Republicans attack problems that don’t exist. You’ve heard of the ‘Birthers’? The Arizona House passed a bill requiring US presidential candidates to produce a birth certificate as proof of natural citizenship before being placed on the ballot as a direct result of their efforts. Remember that video of ACORN employees giving tax advice to a “pimp and prostitute” (which turned out to be heavily edited to make the employees look like they did something they didn’t)? Congress withdrew funds from the group and they have subsequently disbanded as a national organization under public pressure. I wholeheartedly agree with Barnes that this is an issue but, historically, it’s nothing new for conservatives. Reports from the fever swamp have influenced our democracy throughout the 20th century and into the 21st.

New World Orders and Communism and Coups (Oh My!)
Consider this political cartoon about The New Deal from The Chicago Tribune in 1934:

Planned Destruction

This is definitive proof that the specific villains change but the rhetoric and paranoia stay the same; we see the same types of specious arguments coming from far-right authors, “news” sources and websites to this day. The New Deal was real but the illusory threat it posed to our nation was so rage-inducing to some business leaders on the Right that there was actually a coup in the works to overthrow FDR, though it does not appear that the idea got very far. A quick comparison with this article from last year wherein we’re told that Obama was pushing us dangerously close to “The End of America” with New Deal-esque policies and it becomes abundantly clear that political history can be circular.

In the 1950’s there was the infamous Joseph McCarthy who claimed that 159 elected officials and federal employees were Soviet spies. In retrospect, only 9 of these people were ever demonstrated to have any kind of dealings with Soviet espionage for a success rate of 5.6%, which is almost certainly due to random chance and not any kind of insight into communist intelligence gathering. If you cast your net wide enough, you’re bound to catch something.

The John Birch Society was most influential in the 1960’s and their view that

both the U.S. and Soviet governments are controlled by the same furtive conspiratorial cabal of internationalists, greedy bankers, and corrupt politicians. If left unexposed, the traitors inside the U.S. government would betray the country’s sovereignty to the United Nations for a collectivist New World Order, managed by a ‘one-world socialist government.‘”

was seminal to modern-day, New World Order conspiracy theories. Membership was at its highest in the early 1960’s when it is estimated that between 60,000 and 100,000 people were active in the group. It is still active and remains modestly powerful despite a dramatic reduction in membership.

So that’s some of the history. More recently, we have P. David Gaubatz and Paul Sperry’s Muslim Mafia in which the authors argue that there is a secret underground organization of Muslim activists trying to “Islamize” America. Another “threat” exposed by David Gaubatz: the Council on American-Islamic Relations is (gasp!) lobbying the government. Later that month, four Republican House members called for an investigation into the allegations, as if a quick reading of the documents they stole from CAIR wouldn’t be enough to allay fears.

This is by no means a complete list of the kinds of wacky beliefs that have influenced the workings of our government but it gives a good idea of what we’re looking at.

Mainstreaming The Crazy
It’s not the fact that there are people out there with strange ideas that is troublesome – the Left has its own collection of wild-eyed radicals. The trouble is the degree to which far-right-wing lunacy creeps into mainstream politicians and leaders; by contrast, I’ve never heard of any congressional inquiries into the workings of the Military-Industrial Complex and I don’t expect to anytime soon.

Elected representatives like Michelle Bachmann and James Inhofe whip up fear in their supporters with half-baked theories about Census data plots and “the greatest hoax ever perpetrated on the American people” (a.k.a. climate change). Yes, Mr. Inhofe, it’s totally possible that the vast majority of climate scientists and major scientific institutions the world over are all conspiring together to fool people into believing that the environment is in grave danger for the purposes of…fund raising? Really? I mean, you’d think that holding a fund raising dinner or a pledge drive would have occurred to them as a far more viable option. “Think big” is their motto, I guess.

Stop the Madness
We laugh at these people but bear in mind that US foreign policy throughout the Cold War was partly premised on the idea of a shadowy international communist conspiracy which supposedly influenced the citizens of small nations like Nicaragua and El Salvador into voting for leftist candidates. Obviously, they could never be swayed by the merits of a left-leaning ideology and so we had to support murderous, fascist dictatorships like that of “Papa Doc” in Haiti to save them from themselves (for a disillusioning and exhaustive account of Cold War CIA and military activities, read Killing Hope by William Blum).

If our representatives are pursuing solutions to problems that don’t exist, time and resources which should be devoted to real problems is diminished. If our people are running around obsessed about fanciful threats to their person and freedoms at the suggestion of their leaders, they waste time and effort that could be put to more productive use. I’m sure that many conservatives will say that we need to remain ever-vigilant for threats to the nation or some other excuse for this long-standing propensity to believe the absolute worst about their ideological opponents. I think they need to sit down and think hard about the negative effects they’re having on our society.


April 2010


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