By Dave Lindorff
With the polls continuing to show Barack Obama holding a steady or even growing lead heading into Election Day, especially in the key swing states of Pennsylvania, Ohio, Florida, Colorado, New Hampshire and Virginia, and with Democratic challengers looking strong in at least 10 Senate races and dozens of open-seat or Republican-held House races, it’s looking like this will be a big win for Democrats, both in the presidential and the Congressional races.
Hopefully one thing such an across-the-boards win will lead to would be a withering away of the self-destructive conspiracy-theory paranoia that has gripped much of the Left over the last eight years.
Once largely emblematic of the far Right, which saw black helicopters of the dreaded United Nations behind every mountain, Jews running everything, Communists working nefariously under every bed, fluoridation plots, an immigrant assault on the Anglo-Saxon gene pool, and a liberal cabal out to steal their assault hunting rifles, now the Left is awash in the same kind of fevered thinking.
Chief among the leftist conspiracy theories are that the Bush/Cheney administration was behind the 9-11 attacks, that the current administration has plans to cancel or annul the November 4 election and institute martial law, that there are plans for a “false flag” attack on American forces which will be used to justify an all-out war against Iran, that there is a false-flag terror attack planned inside the US set for before the election, designed to throw the vote towards John McCain, that the Wall Street meltdown and subsequent bail-out are a deliberate scheme to steal the nation’s assets and funnel them into Republican pockets, and that Republican operatives have the technological capability, and plan to steal the current election by manipulating the results on the electronic voting machines used by many election districts. In a variant of the Right’s anti-Semitic ravings, the Left attributes god-like powers to the Israel lobby and its formal lobbying organization, the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC)
Never mind that some of these conspiracies are mutually exclusive (if Bush and Cheney are going to declare martial law, they should have no need to steal the election), or that it’s getting pretty late in the game for others to actually happen. The common thread running through these conspiracies is that “they” (the Republicans, AIPAC or the ruling corporate elite, as the case may be), have superhuman powers beyond our wildest imaginations, as well as flawless execution, and are going to achieve their evil ends no matter what we do.
Following this line of thinking (if it can be called that), there’s no point in voting, because “they” are going to steal the election anyhow (and that, of course, is if the election is even held next week!). There’s no point in going to rallies or marches in Washington DC, because “they” are going to attack Iran and start World War III anyhow. Public protest is also dangerous, because “they” are going to declare martial law, and then all of us who go out and publicly oppose the government will end up locked away in detention camps in the Mojavi desert.
I confess, as a journalist, to having unwittingly aided and abetted some of this conspiracy thinking, for example with my reporting on the evidence that all four of the so-called “black boxes” from the two planes that hit the World Trade Center on 9/11 were recovered, and that the FBI actually has them, despite its testimony to the contrary before the 9-11 Commission. I make no apology for, and still stand by that report, which was based upon reliable sources at the National Transportation Safety Administration and in the New York Police Department, but I want to stress that such a report does not justify going beyond asking the logical question, “What is the government hiding here?” to making the wild speculation that it means the government planned and carried out those attacks.
I also reported on solid evidence in 2006 that the Bush/Cheney administration was moving several aircraft carrier battle groups into position in the Persian Gulf in advance of Congressional off-year elections in what appeared to be possible plans for an attack on Iran. I still believe that may have been the administration’s game plan, but that it was derailed by senior Republican leaders who prevailed on James Baker, chair of the Iraq War Study Group, to release his team’s bi-partisan study three months early, which called for negotiations with Iran and Syria in order to bring peace and stability to the Iraq region. I would add that this is a far cry from imagining that the administration was planning to fake an Iranian attack on American forces.
I am not saying that governments don’t engage in treacherous conspiracies. Certainly the faked tale of a Gulf of Tonkin incident was a conspiracy designed to allow the Johnson administration to begin an all-out war against the Vietnamese. And certainly there was a conspiracy in the Bush/Cheney administration during 2002 and early 2003 to mislead and lie to the Congress and the American people about Saddam Hussein’s alleged links to 9-11 and to global terrorists. But those relatively simple conspiracies actually prove my point—both have been clearly exposed thanks to leaks, turncoats, and good investigative reporting.
What I am saying is that the grander conspiracies being concocted in the more fevered brains of some people on the Left do not hold up under careful and critical inspection. The biggest failings they share are two: first of all, conspiracies as grand as multi-state election thefts via electronic fraud, and the carrying out of a two-front, high-casualty mass terrorist act on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, require the cooperation of such large numbers of people that leaks, turncoats, informants and simple screw-ups are inevitable; and secondly, this administration in particular has shown itself to be phenomenally inept, intellectually stunted, and tactically clueless. The War in Iraq, which was supposed to be a “cakewalk,” has been an unmitigated disaster for Republicans. The War in Afghanistan is a fiasco. The War on Terror, while a success in terms of helping Republicans win seats in Congress in 2002, and Bush to win re-election in 2004, has been a bust longer term. Management of the US economy has been a model of incompetence. So has the grand plan to crush Democrats and create a dominant Republican Party for the next century. The Rovian campaign strategy of lies, smears and dirty tricks, while initially successful, appears to have worn out its effectiveness in just three two-year national election cycles.
None of this would matter except that I think the Left’s embrace of conspiracy-theories has become profoundly damaging to the whole progressive movement. Conspiracy thinking produces a deep cynicism towards positive action and towards the kind of long-term organizing upon which real social and political change depends. When people think that the fix is in, they are not inclined to put time and energy into the hard work of organizing unions, working to get local candidates elected to office, running for positions on party committees, etc. Conspiracy thinking also leads people on the left to completely write off the Democratic Party as a vehicle for progressive change, as the notion that “they” run everything is broadened to include in the term “they” the elected Democrats in the White House and Congress. Democrats may be weenies, but such a conflation of Republicans and Democrats is also self-defeating nonsense, as is the notion that Obama is “just another tool” of the corporate/imperialist power structure. Democrats are not just Republicans by another name, and Obama is not just McCain or Bush with a better tan.
The reality is that if Obama is elected president, and if Democrats end up gaining solid control of Congress, it will be critically important for progressives to organize powerfully to press this new government to do the right things—promptly ending the two wars in the Middle East, taking strong and far-reaching action to tackle global warming, restoring some basic equity to the economic and tax system, making health care affordable and available to all, restoring the Constitution and the Bill of Rights, demanding punishment for those in the current administration who have committed crimes, and so on.
We cannot expect Obama, or the Democrats in Congress who have proven themselves to be such gutless compromisers, to take significant progressive actions on their own. They must be driven by force of public action to do the right thing.
Maybe when this election goes right and isn’t stolen, making Obama the president, and debunking the vote-theft fear-mongers, and when Obama goes on to be inaugurated in January, without being blocked by a military coup, these paranoid conspiracy theories will fade away and people on the Left will start working to make change happen instead of imagining reasons why it can’t or just moaning that “they” are going to destroy us all.
DAVE LINDORFF is a Philadelphia-based journalist and columnist. His latest book is “The Case for Impeachment” (St. Martin’s Press, 2006 and now available in paperback). His work is available at www.thiscantbehappening.net