(Artwork: Adapted from rpclondon / Wellcome Library, London.)
Was there ever a society so saturated with lunacy as ours? One expects modulated nuttiness from the better element, particularly those inhabiting the corporate and legislative spheres, but these days, insanity is pervasive, spreading through all classes and walks of life. For years, we have been treated to pinstriped fugitives from the asylum like Pete Peterson urging the nation into ruin by slashing the deficit, but on Monday, there in Washington in tens of thousands were the sans-culottes screaming for fiscal propriety as though channeling the ruinous orthodoxies of Montagu Norman or Andrew Mellon.
Many among these Glenn Beck legions were surely one stroke or tumor away from financial ruin, yet are still ready to tear any advocates of publicly funded health insurance in tiny pieces as though they were hawking the Communist Manifesto at a revival meeting. Inspiring, was it not, to see such self-abnegation on the part of so many people prepared to die in the name of free enterprise!
Many of the Glenn Beckers are "Birthers," too, making delusional forays into the supposedly dubious documentation of Barack Obama's delivery in a hospital in Hawaii. Sometimes I think that the White House should knock these surmises on the head by releasing all relevant documents and testimonies. But of course, this would merely throw napalm on the flames.
Once, when writing some caustic remarks about the occupants of another ward in the national asylum, the 9/11 Truthers, I suggested that the "missing people" on the plane that hit the Pentagon had been kidnapped at an earlier stage in the operation, and flown to an airbase in Louisiana -- the very self-same airbase where George Bush briefly touched down in his erratic flight from Florida on 9/11/2001. George Bush then personally executed the captives.
It was a satirical sally. But I swiftly received serious letters from people vexed by the lack of detail. Where had Bush shot them? With what type of weapon? A summary burst from a machine gun? Or a .22 bullet behind the ear?
For all too many on the left, the so-called 9/11 conspiracy still remains the magic key. If it can be turned, then history at its present impasse will be unlocked and we can move on. For those on the racist right, aghast at the reality of a black man (actually a half-white, half-black) in the White House, the magic key to reversing this unpleasing development is Obama's allegedly fake Hawaiian birth certificate. Their suppositions and claims shift, but the essence is always the same: He's alien. He has no right to be president. And as with the Truthers, the provision of evidence rebutting their claims is merely fuel piled on the bonfire of their insanity.
From the nuttiness of his detractors to the madness of Great Ones, in this case of President Obama. His rhetoric is decorous, but the delusions are just as ripe and far more lethal than those of the Glenn Beck demonstrators under his window. How is one supposed to rate the rationality of a person who wins the White House in large measure because of popular outrage at the disastrous war in Iraq and who then instantly ratchets up another war in Afghanistan -- an enterprise for whose utter futility history, both ancient and modern, offers copious testimonies?
From time to time, one meets a madman in a shopping mall or at a bus stop who approaches one with discreet confidences about his mother, the Queen of England, or about the messages beamed through the fillings in his teeth that warn him of CIA surveillance from the plane flying 30,000 feet above his head. It's an effort of will to remind oneself that this is a person in disheveled mental condition and it would be unwise to be drawn into protracted discussion of royal lineage tracked through the Almanach de Gotha or to peer into jaws suddenly opened for one's inspection.
Similarly, with Obama, he advances ridiculous propositions with nutty aplomb, as when he claimed in his speech to Congress last week that his plan was deficit neutral. Why does he expose himself thus to well-merited derision? Is it that Obama simply cannot bear to displease anyone -- unless they are far away in places like Afghanistan?
Indeed the president reached the apex of lunatic effrontery when he caused the assembled legislators to leap to their feet in stormy applause by pledging that "I will not sign a plan that adds one dime to our deficits." This is the same president, these are the same legislators, who are committing billions in red ink for the war in Afghanistan and the continued U.S. presence in Iraq.
The '70s are back, or so claims People magazine. I can see why. It's nostalgia for the last sane decade in American political life, when people assayed the state of the nation amid the embers of the '60s and of the Vietnam War and elected politicians who passed some admirable laws. It seemed America might totter into the warm sunlight of sanity.
It was Ronald Reagan who truly credentialed nutdom, setting the national thermostat at max degrees F, for fantasy. The Republican Party is now entirely populated by mad people. Walk through the Congress and watch them babble and throw excrement at the walls. Then survey the "good" inmates mustered in the Democratic aisles, led by a president who at least once in the last campaign invoked Reagan as a positive force. They're less rambunctious, but just as lethal, perhaps more so, in their depredations.
People start to go collectively crazy when they know that all the exits from our present state into the world of constructive reason are locked. Just think -- a president elected on a huge wave of popular hope, unable to twist a single arm in his own party, unlikely even to pass financial reform amidst the greatest wave of public hatred of Wall Street since the 1930s, trying to pass off as health "reform" a gift to the insurance industry of 30 million new customers, to be required by law to pony up insurance premiums and then be cheated. Doesn't that make you crazy, too?
---------Alexander Cockburn is co-editor with Jeffrey St. Clair of the muckraking newsletter CounterPunch. He is also co-author of the new book "Dime's Worth of Difference: Beyond the Lesser of Two Evils," available through www.counterpunch.com.
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