After the 1992 election, it took over a year for the first signs of significant right-wing populist activity to appear in America – signs like the quasi-military “militia” movement in Michigan and elsewhere, the appearance of bunkered apocalyptic religious communities – Waco, etc, and the carefully nurtured paranoid rumors of “Black Helicopters”, UN invasion forces and the “cocaine/mafia hit men” working for Bill and Hillary Clinton.
This time very genuinely disturbing trends are starting to appear even before Obama takes office.
The reason, of course, is obvious. The insidious smears directed at Obama by McCain’s media operation, the right-wing media and third-party internet rumors directly identified him with violent political terrorism, Moslem extremism and thuggery and intimidation by Black militants. Nothing remotely this inflammatory was leveled at Clinton during the 1992 campaign.
Republicans will now try to dismiss this as just the natural excesses of a “hard-fought campaign” and more politically sophisticated Republicans will now ratchet down the rhetoric and concede that none of the charges were literally or even remotely true.
But this uniquely vile propaganda offensive has left a huge toxic residue. There are now millions of Americans who quite sincerely believe that all the accusations noted above about Obama are in large part or in complete measure true. They are particularly concentrated in working class and small town America, where informal “word of mouth” channels of communication are trusted more than national media. The core group that accepts this view are long time hard-right conservatives but their influence extends outward in concentric circles of person-to-person communication.
Many Obama supporters do not directly sense the extraordinary degree of cultural disenfranchisement and political isolation these people are feeling at this moment because they do not ordinarily socialize with this sector of America. But the sense of genuine shock and – yes – fear is very, very real.
Read the following digest of a call-in to G. Gordon Liddy’s radio show, reported by Media Matters:
On the November 4 broadcast of his nationally syndicated radio program, G. Gordon Liddy spoke to a caller who stated: “I’m ready to go to the concentration camp, that [Sen. Barack] Obama’s police force — he will round me up. Because I — I’m a white American.” Liddy then said, “Well, listen to this,” and aired an edited clip of Obama [talking about the America Corps program] saying in a July 2 speech in Colorado Springs: “We cannot continue to rely only on our military in order to achieve the national security objectives that we’ve set. We’ve got to have a civilian national security force that’s just as powerful, just as strong, just as well-funded.” Liddy then stated: “Shades of the Gestapo. The Geheime Staatspolizei,”
This kind of paranoid discourse could previously be assumed to be confined to a relatively small fringe of the conservative right. But, as the crowds at Sarah Palin’s speeches indicated, it has recently metastasised well beyond its traditional boundaries. This new and larger group is composed of basically decent people, but they are genuinely afraid.
As a result, Democrats must seriously anticipate that the increasingly extreme right-wing attitudes and social movements that developed over a three-four year period during Clinton’s first term may start to appear within a matter of a few months rather than years.
What can Dems do? First, while not compromising on needed programs and policies, they must maintain a sincere stance and attitude of inclusiveness – as Obama himself is doing. The basic fact is that these Americans are not our enemies. They are, in Obama’s excellent formulation, potential supporters we have yet to convince.
Second, Democrats at all levels should aggressively insist that the more sophisticated Republican advocates in the media and elsewhere who helped promulgate the vilest of the smears should not be “forgiven” for what they did until they make real and substantial efforts to remediate the toxic legacy of this campaign.
They poisoned people’s minds. That’s not “hardball” politics; that’s just disgusting. They have an obligation to help repair the damage they did to the United States of America.