Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Prospect of a Paranoid President

Losing momentum, Rick Santorum is letting the public mask slip and openly showing what historian Richard Hofstadter identified half a century ago as “The Paranoid Style in American Politics.”

The candidate is now publicly attacking a New York Times reporter: “Stop lying” and “quit distorting our words,” calling his question "bullshit" and adding “C’mon man! What are you doing?...You don’t care about the truth at all, you really don’t.”

This outburst is prompted by a query about Santorum’s recurring line about Mitt Romney as “the worst candidate” for the GOP to pit against President Obama.

Half a century ago Hofstadter, a two-time Pulitzer Prize historian, wrote: “In recent years, we have seen angry minds at work, mainly among extreme right-wingers, who have now demonstrated, in the Goldwater movement, how much political leverage can be got out of the animosities and passions of a small minority...I call it the paranoid style, simply because no other word adequately evokes the sense of heated exaggeration, suspiciousness, and conspiratorial fantasy.”

Santorum’s media attacks differ from Newt Gingrich’s earlier (and successful) use of reporters as straw men, deflecting questions about himself into crowd-pleasing diversions to win approval-—and the South Carolina primary.

Gingrich’s calculation has given way to Santorum’s apparently genuine frustration at not being seen as the GOP savior from evil, recalling Hofstadter’s observation that “failure constantly heightens the paranoid’s sense of frustration. Even partial success leaves him with the same feeling of powerlessness with which he began, and this in turn only strengthens his awareness of the vast and terrifying quality of the enemy he opposes.”

Yet Santorum is not alone. His latest fulmination brings enthusiastic approval from another member of the club, Sarah Palin:

“Welcome to my world, Rick, and good on ya...it was about time because he’s saying enough is enough of the liberal media twisting the conservative words, putting words in his mouth, taking things out of context and even just making things up.”

Happily, Palin is now relegated to the world of Fox News and HBO docudrama but, with Santorum still in the real-world race, Americans have to ponder the possibility of a truly paranoid President with his finger on the nuclear button.

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