Paranoia About Paranoia
By Arnold Kling
But there are others, new to political engagement, who have found paranoia and anger intoxicating. They watch Glenn Beck rail against the omnipresent threat of Saul Alinsky, read Ayn Rand’s elevation of egotism and contempt for the weak, listen to Ron Paul attacking the Federal Reserve cabal, and suddenly their resentments become ordered into a theory. Such theories, in politics, can act like a drug, causing addiction, euphoria and psychedelic departures from reality.
Gerson, a former Bush speechwriter, is a regular columnist in the Washington Post, where his column serves as a reminder of how hostile the Bush people were to libertarian ideas.
I would be the last person to impute rationality to mass political movements. Nonetheless, I am fed up with the psychoanalysis of the tea party movement. When people say that they do not like big deficits and government activism, why not take them at their word? Why say that what they really believe are wild conspiracy theories?
It would not surprise me to learn that many tea partiers believe strange things. But it would not surprise me to learn that many people of all political stripes believe strange things. If you are willing to filter out the strange beliefs of ordinary Democrats and Repubilcans in order to provide a narrative of a coherent ideology, then you should do the same with the tea partiers.
I think that a lot of pundits would be comfortable describing the 2008 election as the a rational, focused statement in favor of the progressive agenda, rather than an emotional outburst of frustration with economic circumstances. Yet those same pundits would feel comfortable describing the tea party movement and the election of Scott Brown as an emotional outburst of frustration with economic circumstances, rather than a rational, focused statement in opposition to the progressive agenda.
The underlying hypothesis of the pundits is that The Elite Know What they Are Doing. Ergo, when the voters support the elite, the voters are being rational. When the voters oppose the elite, they are suffering from some emotional disorder, such as unfocused anger or paranoia.
I doubt that voters are rational. However, for me, that is not the main problem. For me, the main problem is that the elites think they know more than they really do.