If It Doesn't Make Sense, It Doesn't Make Sense, and You Don't Have to Make Sense Out of It
Something strange has happened in America in the nine months since Barack Obama was elected. It has best been summarized by the comedian Bill Maher: "The Democrats have moved to the right, and the Republicans have moved to a mental hospital."
. . . Since Obama's rise, the US right has been skipping frantically from one fantasy to another, like a person in the throes of a mental breakdown.
It started when they claimed he was a secret Muslim, and -- at the same time -- that he was a member of a black nationalist church that hated white people. Then, once these arguments were rejected and Obama won, they began to argue he was born in Kenya and secretly smuggled into the United States as a baby, and the Hawaiian authorities conspired to fake his US birth certificate. So he is ineligible to rule and the office of President should pass to... the Republican runner-up, John McCain.
These aren't fringe phenomena: a Research 2000 poll found that a majority of Republicans and Southerners say Obama wasn't born in the US, or aren't sure. A steady stream of Republican congressmen have been jabbering that Obama has "questions to answer." No amount of hard evidence -- here's his birth certificate, here's a picture of his mother heavily pregnant in Hawaii, here's the announcement of his birth in the local Hawaiian paper -- can pierce this conviction.
This trend has reached its apotheosis this summer with the Republican Party claiming en masse that Obama wants to set up "death panels" to euthanize the old and disabled. Yes: Sarah Palin really has claimed -- with a straight face -- that Barack Obama wants to kill her baby.
. . . The US is the only major industrialized country that does not provide regular healthcare to all its citizens. Instead, they are required to provide for themselves -- and just under 50 million people can't afford the insurance. As a result, 18,000 US citizens die every year needlessly, because they can't access the care they require. That's equivalent to six 9/11s, every year, year on year.
Yet the Republicans have accused the Democrats who are trying to stop all this death by extending healthcare of being "killers" -- and they have successfully managed to put them on the defensive. The Republicans want to defend the existing system, not least because they are given massive sums of money by the private medical firms who benefit from the deadly status quo. But they can't do so honestly: some 70 percent of Americans say it is "immoral" to retain a medical system that doesn't cover all citizens. So they have to invent lies to make any life-saving extension of healthcare sound depraved.
. . . These claims have become so detached from reality that they often seem like black comedy. The right-wing magazine US Investors' Daily claimed that if Steven Hawking had been British, he would have been allowed to die at birth by its "socialist" healthcare system. Hawking responded with a polite cough that he is British, and "I wouldn't be here without the NHS."
. . . Indeed, if you spend any time with American right-wingers -- as I have, reporting undercover on events like the National Review cruise and the Christian Coalition Solidarity Tour of Israel -- you soon find that your arguments don't center on philosophy. You have to concentrate on correcting basic factual errors about the real world.
They insist Europe has fallen to Islam, since Muslims immigrants are becoming a majority and are imposing sharia law. In reality, Muslims make up 3 percent of the population of Europe, and most of them oppose sharia law. They insist Franklin Roosevelt caused the Great Depression, and should have cut government spending. In reality, whenever he did cut spending -- as he tried periodically throughout the 1930s -- the economy began to tank. But explain this patiently -- with a thousand sources -- and they simply shriek that you are lying, and they know "in their heart" what is true. They insist gay marriage would cause the institution of the family to collapse. In reality, where it has already been introduced in Europe, heterosexual families continue just as before. On the list goes: evolution is a lie, a blastocyst is akin to a baby, and torture produces actionable intelligence...
. . . This kind of mania can't be co-opted: it can only by over-ruled. Sometimes in politics you will have enemies, and they must be democratically defeated. The political system cannot be gummed up by a need to reach out to the maddest people with the maddest fears. . . . "It is as though, at the height of the civil rights movement, you thought you had to bring together Martin Luther King and George Wallace and make them agree. It's not how change happens."
However strange it seems, the Republican Party really is spinning off into a bizarro-cult who believe Barack Obama is a baby-killer plotting to build death panels for the grannies of America.
Johann Hari is a writer for the Independent.