Before we unprofessional leftists get too high on our horse, blithely scoffing at Beck or Palin's staged chicanery, let us acknowledge our own home-grown "conspiracy theories." Agreed, ours are more realistic, indeed evidence-based, but they're still self-serving, wide-ranging projections, often presuming more than they prove. Was Iraq only about oil? Is Obama merely the pawn of Wall Street, the Pentagon, or big business? Have safety-first, corporatist advisers rotted his once politically agile brain? Okay, some conspiracies have the ring of truth.
Whatever, I distinguish a good, rousing conspiracy theory from its dark, hissing cousin, the Big Lie, the readily disprovable trickery fueling misdirection, war games or fear-mongering. What a growing list: death panelists, WMDs, Saddam's 9/11 linkage, phantom al Qaeda behind Afghan surges, or a Kenyan-born, Muslim, racist president who hates America.
The best conspiracy theories "explaining" who killed Kennedy, what drove Vietnam, Afghan and Iraq invasions, the Twin Towers destroyers, power trips by predatory elites, or the climate change con job are: 1) about something empirical, and 2) aren't ultimately open to proof, or disproof, thus comprising a symbolic, moral narrative. Unlike crude propaganda, leading with its chin while scorning truth, great conspiracy theories are plausible, at least for the targeted group. I imagine them like underground fires, timed to emerge here and there to inform otherwise inexplicable, threatening mysteries. Only a hardened few don't take comfort some clique is out to get them.
Armed with an obsession or agenda, conspiracy fabricators aim, fire and kablooey: public confidence in officialdom, even majority rule, is shaken by undeniable, looming urgencies (Armageddon in a mushroom cloud). Call in the Marines. Blame the other the Devil or socialists, atheists, secularists or fat cats, Bush-Cheney or Islamic fanatics. After all, if only shadowy agencies hold real power, then media politics are surface theatre, pantomimes desperate for interpretation by broadcast wizards (pick your favorite pundit).