So Michael Gerson thinks it's beyond the pale for liberals to suggest that Republicans might be planning to sabotage the economy in order to win the 2012 elections, as people like Paul Krugman have astutely observed they obviously are doing.
According to Gerson, people asserting this are indulging in "conspiracy theories":
Yet this is precisely what the sabotage theorists must deny. They must assert that the case for liberal policies is so self-evident that all opposition is malevolent. But given the recent record of liberal economics, policies that seem self-evident to them now seem questionable to many. Objective conditions call for alternatives. And Republicans are advocating the conservative alternatives - monetary restraint, lower spending, lower taxes - they have embraced for 30 years.
Right. Even though liberals don't to resort to the factless fantasies that are the essence of conspiracy theories, they do happen to believe that the preceding eight years of conservative governance in America drove the country to the brink of economic and political ruin -- and their beliefs are very much grounded in real fact. They don't subscribe to the ongoing fantasy by conservatives that "the conservative alternatives - monetary restraint, lower spending, lower taxes" are any kind of solution, because it's been definitively proven that they are not. Conservatives, contrary to reality, do.
That insistence on living in a fantasy world -- which really has come to define conservatism these days -- is also what leads conservatives, not liberals, to subscribe to all kinds of conspiracy theories, ranging from Obama's birth certificate to his supposed plan to grab Americans' guns to the widespread belief, spread by leading right-wing pundits like Glenn Beck and Sean Hannity, that Obama is secretly a radical black America-hater intent on harming white Americans,
Funny that Gerson never seems fit to mention this, eh?
Instead, he informs us that serious Beltway Republicans find such talk unacceptable:
It is difficult to overstate how offensive elected Republicans find the sabotage accusation, which Obama himself has come very close to making. During the run-up to the midterm election, the president said at a town hall meeting in Racine, Wis.: "Before I was even inaugurated, there were leaders on the other side of the aisle who got together and they made the calculation that if Obama fails, then we win." Some Republican leaders naturally took this as an attack on their motives. Was the president really contending that Republican representatives want their constituents to be unemployed in order to gain a political benefit for themselves? No charge from the campaign more effectively undermined the possibility of future cooperation.
This really is precious. Because Republicans' desire to do anything -- anything, even vote against a fundamentally Republican health-care measure -- has led them to simply oppose anything President Obama hopes to achieve. This includes a START treaty that is basic to American security, as well as dealing with the debt limit in a responsible fashion, which Gerson disingenuously depicts as just a matter of conservatives balking at a lack of fiscal conservatism.
But this isn't a surprise to anyone. Republicans aren't interested in helping Americans as long as Obama is their president. They will only act constructively if they are in charge. As Krugman put it:
The fact is that one of our two great political parties has made it clear that it has no interest in making America governable, unless it’s doing the governing. And that party now controls one house of Congress, which means that the country will not, in fact, be governable without that party’s cooperation — cooperation that won’t be forthcoming.
This in fact has been the Republican track record of the past two years -- particularly as they have come under the thrall of the Tea Partiers. Indeed, Tea Partiers have been explicit about viewing compromise of any kind as betrayal.
And Republicans have been explicit from the start -- keyed by Rush Limbaugh's marching orders -- about being united on a single front: making Obama fail. That has certainly been the byword at Fox News in the ensuing years.
Nor has it been any less so among those congressional Republicans whose tender feelings have now been so easily offended by a little dose of truthfulness they are threatening to take their new government ball and go home. Indeed, they've been very explicit about it:
Mitch McConnell: "It was absolutely critical that everybody be together because if the proponents of the bill were able to say it was bipartisan, it tended to convey to the public that this is O.K., they must have figured it out," Mr. McConnell said about the health legislation in an interview, suggesting that even minimal Republican support could sway the public. "It's either bipartisan or it isn't."
Jim DeMint: "Senators and Congressmen will come back in September afraid to vote against the American people," DeMint predicted, adding that "this health care issue Is D-Day for freedom in America." "If we’re able to stop Obama on this it will be his Waterloo. It will break him."
Since the election, they've been even more strident, a la Darrell Issa's hasty retreat from talk of "compromise": “You know, the word 'compromise' has been misunderstood."
Mitch McConnell: "The single most important thing we want to achieve is for President Obama to be a one-term president."
John Boehner: "This is not a time for compromise."
Then there was Mike Pence, vowing "no compromise" on CNN.
The odd thing about all this is that Gerson insists on calling all this a "conspiracy theory" when in fact all of this is merely a part of the public record, and Republicans have been quite clear -- at least, among themselves -- that they view obstructing Obama in any and every particular paramount, even at the cost of American economic advancement, which they believe must wait until they are back in charge. Otherwise, Americans might view Obama favorably.
This is the opposite of a conspiracy theory, which is always a farrago of paranoid fantasy, conjecture, and half-facts. As Chip Berlet explains:
What Richard Hofstadter described as the “paranoid style” in U.S. right-wing movements derives from belief in an apocalyptic struggle between “good” and “evil,” in which demonized enemies are complicit in a vast insidious plot against the common good, and against which the conspiracist must heroically sound the alarm.
.... Conspiracism is neither a healthy expression of skepticism nor a valid form of criticism; rather it is a belief system that refuses to obey the rules of logic. These theories operate from a pre-existing premise of a conspiracy based upon careless collection of facts and flawed assumptions. What constitutes “proof” for a conspiracist is often more accurately described as circumstance, rumor, and hearsay; and the allegations often use the tools of fear—dualism, demonization, scapegoating, and aggressively apocalyptic stories—which all too often are commandeered by demagogues.
Gerson is looking for conspiracy theories in all the wrong places, methinks.