Glenn Greenwald sees something all-too-familiar in the vicious, reality-averse wingnut invective directed towards President Obama:
In 1994, Jesse Helms, then-Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, claimed that “just about every military man” believes Clinton is unqualified to be Commander-in-Chief and then warned/threatened him not to venture onto military bases in the South: “Mr. Clinton better watch out if he comes down here. He better have a bodyguard.” The Wall St. Journal called for a Special Prosecutor to investigate the possible “murder” of Vince Foster. Clinton was relentlessly accused by leading right-wing voices of being a murderer, a serial rapist, and a drug trafficker. Tens of millions of dollars and barrels of media ink were expended investigating “Whitewater,” a “scandal” which, to this day, virtually nobody can even define. When Clinton tried to kill Osama bin Laden, they accused him of “wagging the dog” — trying to distract the country from the truly important matters at hand (his sex scandal). And, of course, the GOP ultimately impeached him over that sex scandal — in the process issuing a lengthy legal brief with footnotes detailing his sex acts (cigars and sex talk), publicly speculating about (and demanding examinations of) the unique “distinguishing” spots on his penis, and using leading right-wing organs to disseminate innuendo that he had an abandoned, out-of-wedlock child. More intense and constant attacks on a President’s “legitimacy” are difficult to imagine.This is why I have very mixed feelings about the protests of conservatives such as David Frum or Andrew Sullivan that the conservative movement has been supposedly “hijacked” by extremists and crazies. On the one hand, this is true. But when was it different? Rush Limbaugh didn’t just magically appear in the last twelve months. He — along with people like James Dobson, Pat Robertson, Bill Kristol and Jesse Helms — have been leaders of that party for decades. Republicans spent the 1990s wallowing in Ken Starr’s sex report, “Angry White Male” militias, black U.N. helicopters, Vince Foster’s murder, Clinton’s Mena drug runway, Monica’s semen-stained dress, Hillary’s lesbianism, “wag the dog” theories, and all sorts of efforts to personally humiliate Clinton and destroy the legitimacy of his presidency using the most paranoid, reality-detached, and scurrilous attacks. And the crazed conspiracy-mongers in that movement became even more prominent during the Bush years. Frum himself — now parading around as the Serious Adult conservative — wrote, along with uber-extremist Richard Perle, one of the most deranged and reality-detached books of the last two decades, and before that, celebrated George W. Bush, his former boss, as “The Right Man.”
Ah, the ’90s — good times. But I would look even further back for historical antecedants than Greenwald does, to a far darker period in US politics. Sam Kashner, from a profile of William Manchester, author of Death of a President:
“In that third year of the Kennedy presidency,” Manchester wrote, “a kind of fever lay over Dallas country. Mad things happened. Huge billboards screamed, ‘Impeach Earl Warren.’ Jewish stores were smeared with crude swastikas.…Radical Right polemics were distributed in public schools; Kennedy’s name was booed in classrooms; corporate junior executives were required to attend radical seminars.” A retired major general ran the American flag upside down, deriding it as “the Democrat flag.” A wanted poster with J.F.K.’s face on it was circulated, announcing “this man is Wanted” for—among other things—“turning the sovereignty of the US over to the Communist controlled United Nations” and appointing “anti-Christians … aliens and known Communists” to federal offices. And a full-page advertisement had appeared the day of the assassination in The Dallas Morning News accusing Kennedy of making a secret deal with the Communist Party; when it was shown to the president, he was appalled. He turned to Jacqueline, who was visibly upset, and said, “Oh, you know, we’re heading into nut country today.”
This past weekend’s 9/12 rally — and the unremittingly paranoid iconography of right-wing backlash politics on display once more — should give pause to any student of American history, whether academic or lay. Hofstadter would certainly recognize the (lily-white) kid wearing a t-shirt pining for a “new era of McCarthyism.” I don’t pray (because I don’t believe there’s anyone up there to receive any spiritual SOS), but I truly hope (hope) the historical parallels ultimately turn out to be limited in scope and scale.