In a previous post, I commented on the paranoia that is rotting the McCain campaign from the inside. I see that George Packer (via Andrew Sullivan) also points out the distinctly paranoid atmosphere on the political right. It reminds Packer of his experience in Baghdad:
This, in particular, caught my attention:
The problem isn’t lack of education—it’s that of a self-isolating political subculture gone rancid. I heard an Iraqi engineer claim that American soldiers allowed Kuwaitis to steal hundreds of Iraqi cars as revenge for the first Gulf War. I heard a Shiite cleric argue that the Kerry campaign was behind suicide bombings. Bloggers like Andrew McCarthy, a former federal prosecutor who peddled the Ayers theory, and Ann Althouse, a law professor who pushed the plastic-device story, hold diametrically opposed views to those of Islamists and Arab nationalists. But their habits of mind are just the same.
Even before I read the Packer piece, I had intended to comment more on the rapid escalation of right-wing political paranoia with its growing list of conspiracy theories, calls for post-election riots, civil war and calls, even, for the dissolution of the United States. Ironically, as these supposedly pro-American extremists fan group paranoia and advocate violent overturning of the collective will of the American people, the mindset they are cultivating looks increasingly similar to the mindset of Islamic terrorists.
I'm reminded that as the sprawling debacle in Iraq unfolded, pundits both on the left and the right called President Bush's assumption that all human beings yearn for freedom and democracy 'naive.' Given some of the things we're hearing lately, it is clear that many Americans on the right do not want and cannot handle life in a democracy. They reject the notion of a government elected by the people, insisting, instead, on the collective purification of American politics and society. But since their real 'purity' problem—the sense of inner impurity—never fully abates, the paranoid net widens, growing more insistent and extreme.
It is no accident that this political paranoia festers among right-wing, fundamentalist Christians who place a heavy emphasis on eschatology. These Christians tend to conflate spiritual sanctification with political purification. Personal salvation is embedded within the larger narrative of collective sanctification that culminates in the final judgment when all evil is destroyed, once and for all. But the self-designated elect never feel quite sure, deep down, about the progress of their own sanctification and the state of their own salvation. So, they purify themselves by projecting and attacking evil as an external phenomenon. The eschatological narrative supplies the manifest rationale for the projection—the human collective must and will be sanctified in the fulfillment of scripture.
This is nothing new, of course. It's the stuff of witch hunts. And it is easy to see why Sarah Palin, a fundamentalist Christian, is such an important political player in the fundamentalist mind. She is part of a paranoid, eschatologically-driven view of American politics. And she has been more than willing to play the manipulative Abigail Williams to Salem, fanning the fires of mob paranoia.