The murder of three Pittsburgh police officers last week by a young man who bought into right-wing lunatic fringe fears that the president is going to outlaw guns is an extreme manifestation of Obama Derangement Syndrome. But to suggest, as one right-of-center commentator has, that people like myself who make such connections are irrational is the grown-up equivalent of a child closing his eyes, putting fingers in his ears and chanting nothings to try to drown out a parent or teacher.
Presidential derangement syndromes have a pungent history and go back at least as far as Abraham Lincoln (read John Wilkes Booth), although they had never flowered so extensively until Bill Clinton arrived in Washington.
The crowning symptom of Clinton Derangement Syndrome (which had a mercifully brief return during Hillary Clinton’s 2008 presidential bid) was the belief that White House aide Vince Foster was murdered on orders of Bubba himself and was not a suicide, and loony subsets such as an allegation by Kathleen Willey that the man who made Monica Lewinsky a household name didn’t merely grope her but arranged for the murder of her husband, as well.
Then came Bush Derangement Syndrome and it was the turn of rabid left wingers, personified by the MoveOn and Daily Kos crowd, who found something nefarious in virtually everything the president and his aides said and did. It did not help that there were indeed nefarious aspects of much of what they said and did, and many of us who were not on the fringe also were reduced to a sputtering rage, as well as prayerful hope that the republic would survive The Decider.
It did — barely — which brings us to Obama Derangement Syndrome and fears that the new president will not only ban guns but lead a communist and/or socialist coup, open the borders to all comers, herd citizens into domestic detention camps, and abandon Israel.
What these syndromes have in common is an irrationality that sometimes manifests itself in paranoia, which was evident in the extreme actions of 22-year-old white supremacist Richard Poplawski, who was wearing a bullet-proof vest and armed with an AK-47 rifle, a .22 long rifle and a pistol when the three officers were dispatched to his Pittsburgh home and he in turn dispatched them.
But in the case of Obama Derangement Syndrome there is an additional element that was merely amusing a few weeks ago but has, in my view, become worrisome if not downright alarming: The apocalyptic and very public comments of prominent Republicans such as Congresswoman Michelle Bachmann, tough guy actor Chuck Norris and Fox News pontificater Glenn Beck whose delusional brand of patriotism leads them to proclaim that a second American Revolution may be necessary and it will not be nonviolent.
These are not merely the comments of “sore losers,” which is a frequent refrain from right-of-center commentators who are unwilling to acknowledge that there can be a connection between incendiary talk and incendiary actions.
And it should be noted that some derangement syndrome suffers are equal-opportunity whack jobs who see black helicopters no matter who is in the Oval Office and aren’t necessarily enraged because the current president has a funny middle name, Muslim roots and isn’t even an American citizen.
But is it merely a coincidence that a key ODS talking point is that Obama will suspend Second Amendment protections and that gun-purchase background checks and registrations have spiked since he was elected?
I don’t think so.
Is it merely a coincidence that Poplawski had expressed fears about an Obama gun prohibition and posted Beck videos online that fed into the right-wing conspiracy theory that FEMA is building secret concentration camps for round-ups of American citizens by Obama apparatchiks, which is a favorite theme of Bachmann’s, as well?
I don’t think so.
The Poplawskis and the Willeys are bona fide head cases and very much in the minority. But when people like Bachmann, Norris and Beck who have outsized megaphones avidly stoke the fires of the lunatic fringe and wingnuttery in general it is time to stop smirking and start worrying.
So what, you might ask, should be done about these big megaphones?
Sorry, but that’s the wrong question.
The right question is whether they have crossed the line from free speech, which Obama vowed to protect when he took his oath of office, to incitement to do harm, which is not protected by the Constitution. This is especially applicable to Bachmann, who is a public servant who also took an oath, as opposed to a B-movie actor and weepy TV rodeo clown.
The answer is that they are walking the line but have not crossed it. And whether it is only a matter of time before a malleable person like American jihadist Timothy McVeigh or some wack-out militiaman slinks out of their cave and really lets it rip.
Sadly, I happen to think it is only a matter of time because of the encompassing rage on the far right, the failure (with very few exceptions) of saner conservative voices to speak out forcefully against the big megaphones, the proliferation of and easy access to weapons designed only for mass killing, as well as the fact that no economic recovery or health-care reform that would enable the fringers to get Prozac or Xanax less expensively will keep them in their caves.
Shaun Mullen is a former The Moderate Voice columnist. Over a long career with newspapers, this award-winning editor and reporter covered the Vietnam War, O.J. Simpson trials, Clinton impeachment circus and coming of Osama bin Laden, among many other big stories. He blogs at Kiko’s House.