Thursday, August 6, 2009

GOP conspiracy theories have a history

Steve Benen gets it right at The Washington Monthly.

THE PATTERN OF DERANGEMENT.... The truly insane conspiracy theories touted by the right against President Obama have sparked some worthwhile discussions about the political mainstream and partisan fringes. But Bob Somerby noted yesterday that no one should mistake this far-right madness as a new phenomenon. Let's not forget what conservative activists were saying throughout the '90s:

* As governor, Bill Clinton murdered many rivals. Hillary Clinton was involved.

* As first lady, Hillary Clinton was involved in Vince Foster's death.

* As governor, Bill Clinton trafficked drugs through Mena, Arkansas.

* Bill Clinton was himself a major coke user. It's why his nose is so red.

* As a graduate student, Bill Clinton visited Moscow because he was a Soviet agent (or something).

* The Clintons decorated the White House Christmas tree with condoms and drug paraphernalia.

TV preacher Jerry Falwell, a self-proclaimed Christian leader, peddled a nauseating video with lurid conspiracy theories -- and was nevertheless invited onto Meet the Press as a guest.

This also ties into the point I emphasized yesterday: while the Democratic mainstream keeps its nuttier members at arm's length, insane ideas popular with far-right activists are quickly embraced by the GOP mainstream. This is clearly the case with the deranged reaction to Obama's presidency, but it was also true in the Clinton era.

For example, Rep. Dan Burton (R) of Indiana was inexplicably made chairman of the House Government Reform Committee, and considered every wild-eyed accusation made by an unhinged activist worthy of a congressional investigation. In one instance, Burton held hearings -- for 10 days -- on the Clintons' Christmas card list. In another, Burton fired a bullet into a "head-like object" -- reportedly a melon -- in his backyard to test the absurd notion that former White House counsel Vince Foster was murdered.

Again, Burton wasn't just some talk-radio shock-jock or publicity-hungry activist; he was the chairman of a congressional committee with oversight authority over the White House. And he wielded that gavel as if he were a fringe blogger with a chip on his shoulder, reinforcing the non-existent line between the GOP base and the GOP mainstream.

In this sense, all the talk about "Obama Derangement Syndrome" and "Clinton Derangement Syndrome" is probably mistaken. It has far less to do with the presidents themselves and far more to do with the pathological tendencies of those who seek to destroy Democratic administrations.

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