Bluefield Daily Telegraph, Bluefield, WV

Columns

August 3, 2012

Electronic conspiracy theories: Obama’s haters spin unbelievable web

— — When you write a newspaper column that some people don’t agree with, they send you mass-circulated emails of unknown provenance to show you the error of your ways. These emails are usually ridiculous.

But how kind of these readers, just the same. They feel the need to make sure that the political message of the zealot community is understood, lest it be thought that good sense has any part of it.

You should see some of these emails. Actually, you wouldn’t want to see them. You’d shake your head so much that a chiropractor would have to be called.

When not outright lies easily debunked by a glance at any fact-checking website, such emails are often crass, vicious and just plain stupid. The ones that pretend to be serious are humorous in a pathetic way, and the ones that try to be humorous are about as funny as the average funeral.

All of them have long been untethered from the anchor of reality and flow on a tide of bile. They are messages in a bottle of vinegar thrown onto the electronic waves.

But by what hands? Old and bitter hands, I am guessing. Call it the Revenge of the Conservative Codgers. Not that they are all that old. The rot appears to set in at about age 50. GOP? As an elderly but perceptive reader suggested to me, it might stand for Grumpy Old Party.

Judging by my correspondence, I conclude that the worst of the email swappers resent that life as they knew it has changed — a president born in Kenya, can you imagine? Why, yes, these folks can imagine. They are susceptible to any implausible suggestion lobbed into their inbox.

They are prepared to swallow anything that echoes their prejudices, no matter how foolish. They are a Fifth Column sending the equivalent of political pornography to each other.

My favorite is the one that said President Barack Obama had ordered half the cattle guards in Colorado to be fired, not knowing — hee, hee! — that cattle guards are the grids on roads that keep the cattle behind their fences. What a dope that Barack Obama must be. More to the point, what sort of a dope could believe this was true and email it on.

If you do not have faithful emailers to feed your inner crazy, then go to www.snopes.com and check out the political section among wacky urban legends. It has grown to historic proportions during Obama’s first term. He is the president they love to hate.

While it’s tempting to view both left and right as equal offenders in the trafficking of name-calling and nonsense, I never received the same sort of emails when George W. Bush was president. Maybe it was because for that president, fact was more damning than creative fiction.

Although Bush was sometimes called a fascist by the hysterical left, nobody of moderate liberal mind thought that was anything more than a lame metaphor, as all fascist comparisons tend to be.

By contrast, polls suggest that large numbers of conservatives actually do believe — undaunted by any evidence — that Obama is a committed Marxist/Socialist. That idea, which would be restricted to the crackpot fringe in another era, is crackpot mainstream today.

Most conspiracy theories strike me as unlikely because successful conspiracies require the two rarest things in life: high intelligence and complete silence.

But I can believe that somewhere in America, along a shady lane in an anonymous warehouse, teams of reactionary email authors are composing their fictional products in the certain knowledge that they will be eagerly circulated by the great unthinking mass of Obama haters. My suspicion is fed by the fact that these emails, as different as their stories are, always read exactly the same.

Here is my dilemma: Beyond the danger of having the U.S. Supreme Court further populated with justices who confuse corporations with flesh-and-blood people, I am hard put to suggest many reasons to re-elect Obama, who has been aloof and ineffective and a general disappointment to his supporters. Except this: Mitt Romney is no better and has become utterly phony in seeking the big prize for the Republicans.

And it would be depressing if Romney’s pandering ended up making all the accumulated grubbiness of the last three-plus years pay off for the legion of haters who have done their best to put party ahead of country. That to me is an issue all by itself. Do we want to make these people happy? Will America be a better place if the far right’s war on reality succeeds?

Reg Henry is a Pittsburgh Post-Gazette columnist; distributed by Scripps Howard News Service.

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