Thursday, September 24, 2009

The Paranoid Style (Still) In American Politics

I've finally read Richard Hofstadter classic essay from the November 1964 edition of Harper’s Magazine - the Paranoid Style in American Politics. It's one of those pieces of journalism/scholarship that I've heard about over the years (most recently in the Economist's Lexington column) but never actually got a round to looking up. I should have done so earlier because it is remarkable. Hofstadter was writing in the early 60s about the supposed plots by communists, catholics and Masons. It is a world I've only read about in James Ellroy novels, but replace the paranoia aimed at those groups with a fear of, well, socialists (still), Muslims in general and a certain "Kenyan Muslim" in particular and you have a perfect description of much of the American fringe right of today. Hofstadter was 45 years early but describes perfectly the type of thinking behind those who have been marching outside the "townhall meetings" with AR-15s over their shoulders, calling the president a communist AND a fascist for trying some healthcare reform.


KGS said...

Hmmm. Richard Hofstadter: "I hate capitalism and everything that goes with it."

The only economic system in the history of mankind that is solely responsible for lifting billions of people world wide from dirt poor poverty over the last 150 something that this guy despised totally.

Doesn't sound to me like a very rational human being who deserves then, credibility for pointing out the supposed character flaws and psychological disorders of those (conservatives) with whom he profoundly disagreed.

Remarkable indeed.

Toby - Northern Light Blog said...

Hey Kenneth, here's a question for you - you've been living in Finland for I understand quite some time now. So I guess you've had experience of Finnish healthcare. So if you or your family get poorly - what do you do? If Obama's increasingly lame insurance reform is fascist (or communist, I can't remember which - let's just call it "evil" to save time) what do you? Surely getting on a plane to head back to the US to buy health care on the free market is a lot of hassle? Have you decided to compromise and make use of the communist Finnish single payer system? You've paid your taxes so of course you have right to - but have you been put in front of a death panel yet? ;-) Can't say I have, although I've met one pretty lousy doctor who might have managed to kill me had my injury been worse! :-)

KGS said...

Silly statement. It's like anti-gun activists in the US being advised by other anti-gun activists elsewhere to leave camp if they're really serious about anti-gun laws.

I didn't invent the system here, but out of love for my wife I chose to live here regardless of the system. It doesn't mean I have to love the system or leave it for ideological reasons.

Having seen my 84 year old mother-in-law in Finland wait 7.5 months for a simple cataract operation on both eyes, being pratically blinded in one and poor vision in the other, while my mother in Michigan 81 years old, having both eyes operated on within a month of diagnosis, I'll choose the US system over the Finnish one any day of the week.

Seeing that the NHS is in shambles as well, I don't think that you have anything worth crowing about either.

Still you evade nicely the fact that your "historian" was anything but a non-biased source for historiacl information, as well as not being accredited to deliver a scintilla of an opinion on the mental heath of his political opponents.

The facts are, that you wonderful hisstorian hated a system that has benefited mankind in a way never deemed achievable centuries before.

In other words, he's communist that YES, disqualifies the jerk from being taken seriously as someone worthwhile listening to.

KGS said...

This Washington Times editorial explains the consequences:

*if a doctor authorizes expensive care, no matter how successfully, the government will punish him by scrimping on what already is a low reimbursement rate for treating Medicare patients. The incentive, therefore, is for the doctor always to provide less care for his patients for fear of having his payments docked. And because no doctor will know who falls in the top 10 percent until year's end, or what total average costs will break the 10 percent threshold, the pressure will be intense to withhold care, and withhold care again, and then withhold it some more. Or at least to prescribe cheaper care, no matter how much less effective, in order to avoid the penalties.*

"This is certainly a form of rationing. And the editors of the Times don't exaggerate when they say that, while there are no formal death panels, the Democrats' bill will give us the functional equivalent, except that the accountants who serve as the "proxy" panel won't know whose deaths they are causing. "