”With a convincing re-election under his belt, it is more difficult to paint President Obama as illegitimate, but the unhinged, hate-fueled impulse still exists. The Birthers may have been finally sidelined from decent conversation, but the essential disrespect and near-dehumanization of this president keeps bubbling up. History will be harsh in its judgment against these peddlers of conspiracy theories – they won’t be seen as the patriots they imagine but as crackpot reactionaries who ended up hurting the credibility of their fellow conservatives.” – John Avlon, Daily Beast
Avlon was writing about the latest conspiracy theory: a claim that Obama hates guns and thus would never shoot skeet. But he raises a larger point: the anti-Obama venom of the far right has been over the top and bordering on the bizarre. That harms the Republican party and those conservatives who decry and condemn such wild accusations. The left didn’t like Bush, but didn’t have such outlandish paranoia.
Those who cannot respect and accept that Obama is President, who need to try to claim he’s anti-American, fascist or some kind of foreign agent, are not conservative but reactionary. This is the same segment of the political spectrum that spawned the KKK, fought against interracial marriage and de-segregation, and wanted to keep women in the kitchen. It represents a minority on the right, but is quite vocal.
Expect it to get worse. As gay marriage becomes ever more mainstream, women serve in combat, the ethnic make up of the country continues to change, and the information revolution further pushes traditional ways of doing things into the past, these people will feel that they’re losing everything. They’ll think their freedom is being taken. The masses who don’t agree with them will be derided as “sheeple” complicate in the destruction of America. They’ll the minority poor and immigrants as parasites who suck up our tax dollars. They’re warn against internationalists who want to have the US part of a broader global network rather than being in control – fear of the UN and international treaties will continue apace.
Consider the vitriol against Obama. It’s not just that he’s liberal. There are many mainstream conservatives claiming that he’s moving too far to the left and questioning his agenda. That’s legitimate. It’s when suddenly there is a conspiracy everywhere – the birthers, skeet shooting, Hillary faking illness because of Benghazi (and I’ve never figured out what they thought the conspiracy about Benghazi even was), etc. – there is a loss of contact with reality.
Why would people fall for that sort of thing? People tend to think emotionally rather than rationally. No rational look at Obama’s policies, speeches or plans could warrant any kind of paranoia. He’s been establishment Democrat, left of center, but also severely criticized by the left wing of his own party for being too moderate. He ran an election based on his record, and the people approved of his leadership.
What drives that emotion is that just as many of them thought for sure Romney would win, four years ago they were convinced Obama would fail. They didn’t realize he’d show strong leadership skills, deftly handle the economic crisis, restore America’s reputation globally, successfully disengage from Iraq and avoid real scandal.
That creates cognitive dissonance. They expected an incompetent radical but got a politically gifted moderate. Most conservatives, sometimes grudgingly, have come to admit that Obama does have excellent leadership skills and has deftly handled the politics of his office in a time of economic crisis and war. That’s no easy task, and winning re-election under those conditions is impressive. Just as liberals in 1984 started to admit that Reagan was not the light weight they had believed, conservatives now realize Obama has what it takes for the job of being President.
But some can’t do that. It’s not just because of cognitive dissonance, but the recognition that their world view is being falsified by how history is unfolding. In issue after issue America is changing, the latest being states voting to implement same sex marriage and Congress increasing taxes on the very wealthy. Immigration reform is coming. Globalization is real and it restrains US power and alters the nature of sovereignty. Some are used to a black and white Cold War world with America the leader of the “good.” While after 9-11 some tried to see a similar Islam vs. the West dynamic, that view has faded. Instead, the world is more complex and interdependent.
Obama symbolizes these changes. He is a minority. He has a strange name, Barack Hussein Obama. He doesn’t seem to be what they consider a good American to be – he’s urban, sophisticated, spent many years growing up outside the country, and doesn’t look like a traditional President. Obama symbolizes what reactionaries fear.
What they don’t know is that they’ve already lost that battle. The religious extremists have been slapped down even within the GOP. The country is changing – just as the KKK and southern conservatives couldn’t stop blacks from getting equal rights, cultural change cannot be held back by a handful of reactionaries.
Expect the talk to drift towards “armed rebellion” and paranoia that small limits on ammunition and types of weapons is some kind of wild governmental gun grab. Paranoia, extremism, anger, hate, vitriol — all kind of defense mechanism against having to accept that their world view is not going to prevail.
Conservatism began in Great Britain as an effort to protect the aristocracy and traditions from democracy, capitalism and the masses. It morphed as society morphed, ultimately accepting capitalism and democracy. Modern conservatism has always been progressive – but with the caveat that change in policy should not outpace changes in culture. Conservatives thus have traditionally been pragmatic and very skeptical of ideology.
The extremists and Obamaphobes are not true conservatives. They are reactionaries wanting to cling to a past that is already gone. When they steer the GOP and don the conservative label they damage real conservatism and contribute nothing to solving the problems this country faces moving into the 21st Century.