Welcome to the national asylum

by Alexander Cockburn

Welcome to the national asylum

Was there ever a society so saturated with lunacy as ours? One expects modulated nuttiness from the better element, particularly those inhabiting the corporate and legislative spheres, but these days insanity is pervasive, spreading through all classes and walks of life. For years we have been treated to pinstriped fugitives from the asylum like Pete Peterson urging the nation into ruin by slashing the deficit, but on Monday, there in Washington in tens of thousands, were the sans-culottes screaming for fiscal propriety as though channeling the ruinous orthodoxies of Montagu Norman or Andrew Mellon.

Many among these Glenn Beck legions were surely one stroke or tumor away from financial ruin, yet are still ready to tear any advocates of publicly funded health insurance in tiny pieces as though they were hawking the Communist Manifesto at a revival meeting. Inspiring, was it not, to see such selfabnegation on the part of so many people prepared to die in the name of free enterprise!

Many of the Glenn Beckers are “Birthers,” too, making delusional forays into the supposedly dubious documentation of Barack Obama’s delivery in a hospital in Hawaii. Sometimes I think that the White House should knock these surmises on the head by releasing all relevant documents and testimonies. But of course, this would merely throw napalm on the flames.

Once, when writing some caustic remarks about the occupants of another ward in the national asylum, the 9-11 Truthers, I suggested that the “missing people” on the plane that hit the Pentagon had been kidnapped at an earlier stage in the operation, and flown to an airbase in Louisiana — the very self-same airbase where George Bush briefly touched down in his erratic flight from Florida on 9-11-2001. George Bush then personally executed the captives.

It was a satirical sally. But I swiftly received serious letters from people vexed by the lack of detail. Where had Bush shot them? With what type of weapon? A summary burst from a machine gun? Or a .22 bullet behind the ear?

For all too many on the left, the so-called 9-11 conspiracy still remains the magic key. If it can be turned, then history at its present impasse will be unlocked and we can move on. For those on the racist right, aghast at the reality of a black man (actually a half-white, half-black) in the White House, the magic key to reversing this unpleasing development is Obama’s allegedly fakeHawaiian birth certificate. Their suppositions and claims shift, butthe essence is always the same: He’s alien. He has no right to bepresident. And as with the Truthers, the provision of evidencerebutting their claims is merely fuel piled on the bonfire of theirinsanity.

From thenuttiness of his detractors to the madness of Great Ones, in this caseof President Obama. His rhetoric is decorous, but the delusions arejust as ripe and far more lethal than those of the Glenn Beckdemonstrators under his window. How is one supposed to rate therationality of a person who wins the White House in large measurebecause of popular outrage at the disastrous war in Iraq and who theninstantly ratchets up another war in Afghanistan — an enterprise forwhose utter futility history, both ancient and modern, offers copioustestimonies?

Fromtime to time, one meets a madman in a shopping mall or at a bus stopwho approaches one with discreet confidences about his mother, theQueen of England, or about the messages beamed through the fillings inhis teeth that warn him of CIA surveillance from the plane flying30,000 feet above his head. It’s an effort of will to remind oneselfthat this is a person in disheveled mental condition and it would beunwise to be drawn into protracted discussion of royal lineage trackedthrough the Almanach de Gotha or to peer into jaws suddenly opened forone’s inspection.

Similarly,with Obama, he advances ridiculous propositions with nutty aplomb, aswhen he claimed in his speech to Congress last week that his plan wasdeficit neutral. Why does he expose himself thus to well-meritedderision? Is it that Obama simply cannot bear to displease anyone —unless they are far away in places like Afghanistan?

Indeedthe president reached the apex of lunatic effrontery when he caused theassembled legislators to leap to their feet in stormy applause bypledging that “I will not sign a plan that adds one dime to ourdeficits.” This is the same president, these are the same legislators,who are committing billions in red ink for the war in Afghanistan andthe continued US presence in Iraq.

The ’70s are back, or so claims People magazine.I can see why. It’s nostalgia for the last sane decade in Americanpolitical life, when people assayed the state of the nation amid theembers of the ’60s and of the Vietnam War and elected politicians whopassed some admirable laws. It seemed America might totter into thewarm sunlight of sanity.

Itwas Ronald Reagan who truly credentialed nutdom, setting the nationalthermostat at max degrees F, for fantasy. The Republican Party is nowentirely populated by mad people. Walk through the Congress and watchthem babble and throw excrement at the walls. Then survey the “good”inmates mustered in the Democratic aisles, led by a president who atleast once in the last campaign invoked Reagan as a positive force.They’re less rambunctious, but just as lethal, perhaps more so, intheir depredations.

Peoplestart to go collectively crazy when they know that all the exits fromour present state into the world of constructive reason are locked.Just think — a president elected on a huge wave of popular hope, unableto twist a single arm in his own party, unlikely even to pass financialreform amidst the greatest wave of public hatred of Wall Street sincethe 1930s, trying to pass off as health “reform” a gift to theinsurance industry of 30 million new customers, to be required by lawto pony up insurance premiums and then be cheated. Doesn’t that makeyou crazy, too?

Alexander Cockburn is co-editor with Jeffrey St. Clair of the muckraking newsletter CounterPunch.

Copyright 2009