Paranoid Politics: J. Edgar vs LaPierre

Seldom in history has file-keeping been a path to power, but last week’s NRA convention celebrated its chief clerk’s kind of national clout unseen since J. Edgar Hoover bullied the White House and Congress half a century ago.

Hoover and Wayne La Pierre, two bombastic file-keepers who rose to control those elected by voters through fear and blackmail, seized and held on to power to push the nation into diametrically opposed directions.

Hoover exploited anxieties over Cold War spying and domestic crime in a time of economic abundance to fuel paranoia and glorify government, his kind of secret policing, at the expense of civil liberties and individual rights.

LaPierre, in contrast, has taken advantage of economic adversity and lunatic nightmares about a minority President to make government itself the straw-man suppressor of citizens’ freedom to arm themselves with weapons of war.

What they have in common is practice of what historian Richard Hofstadter described as “the paranoid style in American politics,” which prompts a proponent to see “conspiracy in apocalyptic terms–he traffics in the birth and death of whole worlds, whole political orders, whole systems of human values. He is always manning the barricades of civilization…he does not see social conflict as something to be mediated and compromised, in the manner of the working politician.”

Beyond their divergent choice of devils, Hoover and LaPierre share a bone-deep racism…

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Author: ROBERT STEIN

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