George Packer of the New Yorker on the paranoid style in Iraqi—and American—politics:
A roundup (via Andrew Sullivan) of conservative anti-Obama blogging during the election. Much of it has appeared on popular right-wing Web sites, including National Review Online, disclosing the “news” that Bill Ayers wrote “Dreams from My Father,” Obama was involved in domestic terrorism during the South Africa divestment campaign of the early 1980s, Michelle Obama used the word “whitey” in recorded conversation with Louis Farrakhan, Obama has had a female lover as well as a gay lover with a criminal record, he was fed answers during the first debate via a clear plastic device in his ear, and his birth certificate was forged, casting doubt on his citizenship (which is why he’s now in Hawaii—to preserve the cover-up, not to visit his very ill grandmother).
Wading for a few minutes through the sewage of these Web sites reminds me uncannily of the time I’ve spent having political discussions in certain living rooms and coffee shops in Baghdad. The mental atmosphere is exactly the same—the wild fantasies presented as obvious truth, the patterns seen by those few with the courage and wisdom to see, the amused pity for anyone weak-minded enough to be skeptical, the logic that turns counter-evidence into evidence and every random piece of information into a worldwide conspiracy. Above all, the seething resentment, the mix of arrogance and impotent rage that burns at the heart of the paranoid style in politics.
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.