Last Sunday, from Paris, I posted a comment on the psychodynamics of the Tea Party crazies triggered by my on-line reading of Frank Rich's fine Sunday NY TIMES column. When I got home and collected the heaps of mail waiting for us, in among the bills and the catalogs and the supermarket flyers [no one ever writes real letters any more], I found several copies of THE NATION. Now, honesty compels me to admit that I read THE NATION mostly for the puzzle at the end, even though they are now recycling puzzles from the 60's that some of us are old enough to have tried once already. [The clues and answers are somewhat dated. "Legal argument pushed by many?" is "barrow" -- i.e., bar - row -- but who today remembers that pushcart peddlers used to wheel barrows?] The April 12 issue has a cover story on Glen Beck and friends, which I found to be a very important confirmation of the hypothesis I had floated in my blog post about the motivations of the current right wing hysteria.
Briefly, Beck is now pushing the bizarro claim that Obama and his socialist-communist-fascist plotters are just following a blueprint for the takeover of America articulated forty years ago by Frances Piven and Richard Cloward. According to the Cloward-Piven Strategy [which now figures prominently in the WALL STREET JOURNAL and other fora once considered to be marginally sane], radicals intent on destroying America as we know it are deliberately overloading the Federal Government with entitlement claims designed to destroy the economy and open the way to a SOCIALIST TAKEOVER. [full disclosure -- thirty-seven years ago, I edited a collection of original essays on American politics, entitled 1984 REVISITED, that included an essay I persuaded France Piven to write. I still recall the lunch at which we talked about it, the only time I have ever had the pleasure of meeting her.] Piven and Cloward were, and Piven still is [Cloward has passed away], advocates for the poor. They proposed signing up all folks actually eligible for welfare support, in an attempt to overload the system and force a reform and improvement of it. Those were still times when one could hope that the prospect of an overloaded welfare system would prompt lawmakers to improve it rather than eliminate it, by the way.
According to the NATION article, which is by Richard Kim, this paranoid conspiracy theory encompasses a great deal more than health care reform. The P-C Strategy lies behind Acorn's plot to persuade the poor to take on unmanageable sub-prime mortgages [you didn't know it was Acorn? You probably thought the banks had something to do with it. How easily you are brainwashed.] The same strategy lies behind the push for immigration reform, and heaven knows what else.
I was, I confess, utterly unaware of the currency of this fantasy about a Piven-Cloward Strategy [which just shows that I do not spend nearly enough time in the right blogosphere]. There are two things about it that fascinate me and lend conformation to my explanation of the roots of the current right wing hysteria. First of all, the fantasy antedates the push for health care reform, and the present financial and economic crisis. It even antedates Obama's candidacy in the 2008 presidential election. And second, it includes fantasies about immigration and submerging of Whites in a sea of unWhite faces and bodies. All of this confirms my guess that what is really motivating the adherants to this congeries of conspiracy theories is the deep-rooted sense that the world as they have come to know it is slipping away, and there is nothing that they can do about it.
Now, this belief of theirs is true. America is changing. Indeed, it has been changing for the past two hundred twenty-nine years, and every major change has triggered just this sort of irrational hysterical reaction, complete with conspiracy theories and religious overtones. That is, in fact, the dominant characteristic of American public history. To be sure, it has not always been the case that one of the two major political parties has embraced the hysteria as its own, although that too is rather less uncommon than some might imagine. Nor is it likely that the hysteria will die down any time soon. The changes underlying the reaction are irreversible [demographic, cultural] and they will, if anything, accelerate in the coming decades. The violence associated with the hysteria is also a familiar phenomenon in American politics, and it will not surprise me to see many more incidents.
The good news is that, as old-line marxists used to say, history is on our side. The changes are permanent and will, over the next two decades, transform the political landscape. [In the perhaps foolish hope that I can actually live to see this happen, I have signed up, at my doctor's recommendation, for a fullscale colonoscopy next Wednesday, a perfectly awful procedure that he said he would only recommend for a seventy-six year old who looked to be around for a while. How could I refuse?]