The Paranoid Style at the Huffington Post

Back in the day, Richard Hofstadter wrote "The Paranoid Style in American Politics." His takeoff point was Birchers and Goldwaterites, but he tried to argue it was a recurring theme in history:

I call it the paranoid style simply because no other word adequately evokes the sense of heated exaggeration, suspiciousness, and conspiratorial fantasy that I have in mind. … [T]he idea of the paranoid style as a force in politics would have little contemporary relevance or historical value if it were applied only to men with profoundly disturbed minds. It is the use of paranoid modes of expression by more or less normal people that makes the phenomenon significant.

And today's more or less normal example is Jim Lampley, writing in the Huffington Post. You may not have heard, but he's got a bit of a … thing about the 2004 Presidential election. Mainly, he knows that Kerry won. And why don't you know that? Well, because dark and sinister forces are keeping the truth from you.

His latest post on the topic is here. Let's begin:

More than two weeks have passed since I first established here that a mountain of evidence suggests the 2004 Presidential election was decisively tampered with and general media are doing nothing about it. Needless to say, the response, pro and con, was overwhelming.

Lampley, of course, "established" nothing, and his "mountain of evidence" was fact-free. He pointed with utmost confidence to exit polls that purported to show a Kerry win; when confronted with the fact the exit polling companies themselves admitted there were dreadful problems with the data, he waved that away. (The exit pollers are assumed to be unerring wizards when they give results in harmony with what Lampley "knows"; the same people are obvious fools when they try to describe what they did wrong.)

Among the most interesting observations were those of the large number of conservative critics who defined my position as "liberal". One website headquartered in Philadelphia called me "somewhere to the left of Leon Trotsky". That's fascinating. I had never realized the belief in free, full and fair elections was a socialist or communist tenet. I had thought it was a fundamental element of democracy.

Disingenuous drivel. If Lampley had merely said "I believe in free, full and fair elections," would anyone care? His position on the political spectrum is both obvious and irrelevant.

Some of you are sympathetic, but feel like this is too long a shot. I'll remind you again that the truth of Watergate was still well-submerged at this point in 1973. But the New York Times and the Washington Post ultimately did their jobs back then.

Moron. At this point in 1973, there had been actual arrests based on an actual crime, court procedings, convictions, and high-level resignations. And actual evidence. (Almost) needless to say, that's not the case here.

The Post showed its colors yesterday, moving a story about the vast disparity between pre-Iraq war military assessments and what the Bush Administration chose to tell the public from its original placing on page one to a main edition spot on page twenty-six. I don't think we can count on Katherine Graham to shepherd the truth anymore, and Ben Bradlee's gone.

Well, Katherine Graham is dead, actually. Didn't anyone tell Lampley? Does the Post moving stories around say anything about whether the election was fixed? No, of course not. This is the kind of thing you talk about when you don't have any evidence for your actual hypothesis.

As for the Times, it is of course the constant target of the right-wing media conspiracy which labors so hard to cover the crimes of this Administration up.

Damn! It's a conspiracy! Here's Hofstadter:

The paranoid spokesman sees the fate of conspiracy in apocalyptic terms—he traffics in the birth and death of whole worlds, whole political orders, whole systems of human values. He is always manning the barricades of civilization. He constantly lives at a turning point.

Bullseye, Prof Hofstadter. Lampley is a lonely figure manning the barricades, and he calls us to action:

The Times will try, but it needs our help.

Help? We should close our eyes and wish real hard, maybe? Is Lampley trying to imply that the Times is working on a story about this? I hope he realizes that Jayson Blair and Walter Duranty don't actually work there any more.

So here's another reading list for those of you who are willing to fight for democracy in America. You need to read Bob Koehler's work, which is suppressed by the editorial page of the Chicago Tribune. His seminal piece is "The Silent Scream of Numbers", which clearly makes the statistical case. His commentary on media silence is "Citizens in the Rain", which ponders whether media reform is a necessary corollary to election reform. His scariest observations are in "Democracy's Abu Ghraib", which asks the question, "if they can disable an election, what's next?". You need to know.

Dude, you need to know. Quick check: any actual evidence there? No. Plenty of additional innuendo and fact-free speculation, though. Hofstadter again:

As a member of the avant-garde who is capable of perceiving the conspiracy before it is fully obvious to an as yet unaroused public, the paranoid is a militant leader. He does not see social conflict as something to be mediated and compromised, in the manner of the working politician. Since what is at stake is always a conflict between absolute good and absolute evil, what is necessary is not compromise but the will to fight things out to a finish.

Lampley's fighting cause, of course, is nothng less than "democracy in America", which is opposed by, er, "they." He continues:

There are articles which go further toward establishing that John Kerry actually won [bogus link] the election. There are articles on the converse, on what kind of mental gymnastics [bogus link] it takes to actually believe Bush won despite what time-honored research techniques proved. There are the hard numbers from the final exit polls [bogus link], which didn't lie. The lie was the "official" result.

Let's see… first link is to an amateurish page last updated the day before the election, full of handwaving and ALL CAPS TEXT. Remaining links are invalid (both at the HuffPost and here), but two seem to kind of point to the fevery swamps of Democratic Underground, and the other to CNN. Not really convincing, Jim, sorry.

Lampley winds up:

The cretins in the Bush Administration are no doubt thrilled to have made Amnesty International's select list of human rights abusers. They're actually being cited there for some of their smaller crimes. The biggest one was domestic, not international. It's the one you are reading about, if you care. I pray to all the traditions of democracy that you do.

Hofstadter comments:

Perhaps the central situation conducive to the diffusion of the paranoid tendency is a confrontation of opposed interests which are (or are felt to be) totally irreconcilable, and thus by nature not susceptible to the normal political processes of bargain and compromise. The situation becomes worse when the representatives of a particular social interest—perhaps because of the very unrealistic and unrealizable nature of its demands—are shut out of the political process. Having no access to political bargaining or the making of decisions, they find their original conception that the world of power is sinister and malicious fully confirmed. They see only the consequences of power—and this through distorting lenses—and have no chance to observe its actual machinery. A distinguished historian has said that one of the most valuable things about history is that it teaches us how things do not happen. It is precisely this kind of awareness that the paranoid fails to develop. He has a special resistance of his own, of course, to developing such awareness, but circumstances often deprive him of exposure to events that might enlighten him—and in any case he resists enlightenment.

We are all sufferers from history, but the paranoid is a double sufferer, since he is afflicted not only by the real world, with the rest of us, but by his fantasies as well.

Lampley has no new evidence, and he pays no attention to the debunking of his previous pseudo-evidence. He resists enlightenment.

[Hofstadter's essay is on the web here.]

Last Modified 2012-10-26 1:09 PM EDT

URLs Du Jour (5/26/2005)

  • The list of websites that can reliably present their opponents' arguments honestly and fairly is pretty short. Eugene Volokh demonstrates why Slate's not on the list. Disappointing, not surprising. UPDATE: Spoons isn't even disappointed.

    [Everywhere Girl]

  • Are you Everywhere Girl? The search for you has boggled the great minds of cyberspace and made them soft. Click the link for a all-expense-paid trip to London!
  • Speaking of Spoons, they point out that something called the Parents Television Council is objecting to Paris Hilton's ad for Carl's Jr. and their new "Spicy Burger". She's washing a car in a swimsuit that you probably won't be seeing at your local pool anytime soon.

    Let me report that I've checked out the ad myself extensively, and I can tell you Paris is doing a really poor job of getting that car clean; clearly a bad example for youth. I bet Everywhere Girl would do better.

  • "Robert Musil," the Man Without Qualities has apparently resumed posting after a too-long absence. Go there and read.

Last Modified 2012-10-26 12:58 PM EDT