San Francisco is a small town and I knew Naomi Wolf when we were both young. With the best will in the world, I didn’t like her. Okay, I’m lying — I didn’t have the best will in the world. I was an insecure teenager, and viewed with hostility anyone who wasn’t manifestly friendly towards me — and Naomi definitely was not friendly. She and her crowd viewed themselves as eclectic intellectuals, and I was a nerdy, pop-culture infused troglodyte (they got the nerdy part right).
I was never privileged to hear this elite group’s truly meaningful conversations, but I wouldn’t doubt that, when they felt it would be useful to stroke their genius chops, they engaged in erudite musings about Proust and Kant, or perhaps Marx and Camus. Naomi, although the baby of the bunch, was easily the most intimidating because, in addition to being such an intellectual (something admired in the circles in which I grew up), she was also strikingly pretty, an attribute she liked to accentuate with gauzy Indian style skirts and dresses.
That’s the view from my 15/16 year old brain. Looking back, I suspect that Naomi and her group were neither more nor less intelligent than any of the other kids I grew up around. To deal with the angst that affects all teenagers, they had carved out an identity for themselves as precocious, left-wing intellectuals. No matter their inner insecurities, it was an effective and intimidating pose. The problem is that Naomi is still running around being a precocious, pretty, left-wing . . . ah, I hesitate to say intellectual. If her recent writings are any indication, she’s still relying heavily on pompous academic prose, but her ideas are becoming fairly disconnected from reality.
In 4,600 overwrought words, she explained to the readers of the Guardian that there are ten steps to “Fascist America” and Bush is taking them all. He has whipped up a menace (the war on terror); created “a prison system outside the rule of law” (Guantánamo, to which public dissidents, including “clergy and journalists” will be sent “soon enough”); developed “a thug caste . . . groups of scary young men out to terrorize citizens” (young Republican staffers who supposedly “menaced poll workers” during the 2000 recount in Florida); set up an “internal surveillance system” (NSA scanning for phone calls to and from terrorists). An airtight case, this, and leading to just one conclusion: “Beneath our very noses, George Bush and his administration are using time-tested tactics to close down an open society. It is time for us to be willing to think the unthinkable . . . that it can happen here.”
At least Naomi’s style hasn’t changed — she’s always been overwrought. That same nascent hysteria reveals itself in an interview she just did with Joe Scarborough (didn’t he used to be a conservative?). As with her Guardian article, Naomi abandons the logical analysis skills carefully inculcated into us when we were young. She just goes for the irrational jugular. Here’s Bryan Preston describing her Jose Padilla argument (and affect):
It also intrigues me that here, Wolf not only sheepishly giggles through an interview about a creeping police state that she either really believes or cynically says is just around the corner, but that she also plays fast and loose with the facts concerning Jose Padilla. She states twice that what happened to him can happen to any American. The fact is, as Wolf surely knows if she spent more than half a minute looking into the case, is that Padilla was apprehended on the evidence given up by captured al Qaeda handler Abu Zubaydah and he had filled out a terrorist job application form while in an al Qaeda post. I guess if you’re on Zubaydah’s rolodex and he can tell US authorities where you’re traveling and when you’re traveling there and that you’re on a scouting mission for the terrorist group, and if you’ve filled out al Qaeda’s human resources paperwork, then yeah, what happened to Padilla can happen to you too. Otherwise, no, Naomi, it can’t happen to any American.
Naomi, of course, is just one of the more pretty and verbal faces of the paranoid style of American Leftist politics. (Interestingly, during the 1950s, it was the Right fringe that embodied that paranoia, most especially with the deep fear of fluoridated water.) Robert Fisk, he who created the whole new internet pastime of “fisking,” has outed himself as a Troofer. Carefully insulting himself from facts — readily obtainable, well publicized facts — he asks disingenuous questions about 9/11, all aimed at establishing that Bush’s fascist government, in thrall to Saudi big oil, and guided by the evil Cheney and Rove, masterminded a plot to kill 3,000 Americans, and then obviously killed the dozens or hundreds of co-conspirators who must have been involved to ensure that none talked. Understand that, in the Fisk world view, you start at the end: No one is talking. Therefore they must have been killed. The only person who would want to have killed these unknown dead people is someone who wanted to prevent them from talking. That someone must have been Bush, because he’s evil. And what would they talk about? ENOUGH! You get it. These are the ravings of crazy people, and I find it creepy and delusional to send my own mind down that path, even in jest.
The reality on the ground simply doesn’t penetrate the minds of the Fisks and Naomis, minds we are privileged to see exposed because of all the airtime and press-time they’re freely and admiringly given in newspapers and TV shows — papers and shows, incidentally, that have somehow managed to function with great commercial success despite Fuhrer Bush’s threatening police state. Noemie Emery summarizes the staggering disconnect between paranoid beliefs and facts. Speaking of the paranoid conspiracy theories, she says:
Well, this explains many things. It explains why poor Cindy Sheehan is now sitting in prison; why Bush critics like CIA retiree Valerie Plame have been ostracized by the corporate media and are wasting away in anonymity; why no critic of Bush can get a hearing, why no book complaining about him can ever get published, and why our multiplexes are filled with one pro-Bush propaganda movie after another, glorifying the Iraq war and rallying the nation behind its leader.
Meanwhile, back on planet Earth, Cindy Sheehan is running for Congress; Valerie Plame is rich and famous; the young Republican “thugs” made all of one appearance seven years ago–chanting “Let us in!” when Miami-Dade County vote counters planned to move to a small inner room with no observers present; and press censorship is now so far-reaching that you can’t even expose a legal, effective, and top-secret plan to trace terrorists without getting a Pulitzer Prize. “What if the publisher of a major U.S. newspaper were charged with treason or espionage?” Wolf asks breathlessly. “What if he or she got 10 years in jail?” Well, journalists have been harassed, pressed for their sources, and threatened with prison, but not by George W. Bush and his people. Back in the real world, only one prominent journalist has been jailed by the federal government in recent memory, and that was Judith Miller, imprisoned for 80-plus days for contempt by prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald, the great hero of the anti-Bush forces for having indicted Vice President Cheney’s chief of staff.
What you have to wonder at the end of the day is how effective these conspiracy theories actually are to the average person who doesn’t live and breath paranoia and politics. Is the regular guy so used to taking instruction from the television that he thinks, “Well, gee, I’d better vote Democrat to protect my Constitutional rights” or is he sufficiently attached to reality that he can reach the same conclusion Emery did? Namely, that these conspiracy theories cannot be correct because those espousing them are running around on the streets (and blathering on our TV screens) and have not been confined to gulags, psychiatric wards or firing squads — all stock in trade for those who told the truth during the much admired (by the Left) Communist years in the Soviet Union and China. I’d like to place my faith in American pragmatism and intelligence, but I do worry that 50 years of TV watching might have destroyed the ordinary person’s innate human ability to separate fairy tale from fact.
I’ll let a cartoon have the last word here:
UPDATE: For those swamped by delusions, Kyle-Anne Shiver provides some reality checks.