At a time when right-wing conspiracy theories about health care reform and the Obama administration are running rampant, there’s a much less visible development that shows, with a particularly ironic twist, how such theories can affect more mundane matters like the appointment of a distinguished academic to relatively obscure White House job.
The academic in question is Harvard professor Cass Sunstein, a legal scholar generally considered to be a “centrist,” and an old friend of President Obama. His appointment to head the White House Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs has been repeatedly stalled by “holds” placed by Republican senators who are reacting to viral lobbying that suggests Sunstein is a gun-hating animal rights fanatic, mostly based on some out-of-context quotes from a 2004 book. Amanda Ripley has the story at The Daily Beast:
Asked about these arguments by senators at his May 12 nomination hearings, however, Sunstein explained that he is a strong believer in the Second Amendment, and he promised that he will not promote litigation on behalf of animals. Nevertheless, shortly after those hearings Senator Saxby Chambliss (R-GA) put a hold on Sunstein’s nomination, citing the very concerns the nominee had addressed in his testimony. Meanwhile, sinister accusations about Sunstein’s radical left-wing agenda were whipping around the blogosphere, fueled by Sean Hannity and Glenn Beck on Fox News.
After a meeting with Sunstein, Chambliss released his hold, but two new ones have been issued, one by John Cornyn (subsequently released) and now a second by an anonymous senator.
The ironic twist in this case, as Ripley explains, is that Sunstein is the author of a well-known and very recent book about partisan and ideological conspiracy theories, entitled Going to Extremes. Sunstein’s hypothesis is that the “echo chamber” effect whereby ideologues associate and listen to like-minded people rather than to others tends to make objectively ludicrous assertions about “the enemy” subjectively credible.
That seems to be the case with the assertion that Obama chose Sunstein in order to help take away everybody’s guns and let Fido go to court. Thanks to the peculiarities of Senate procedures, while allow confirmable appointments to be held up by one senator, right-wing theories about this man they don’t really know anything about could eventually cost him a job for which he is abundantly qualified.