The quotes from the Carville-Greenberg focus groups that I posted last night prompted one reader to raid his copy of Hoftstadter's classic "The Paranoid Style In American Politics." Everything old is new again: 

"The Manichean conception of life as a struggle between absolute good and absolute evil and the idea of an irresistible Armageddon have been thinly secularized and transferred to the cold war. People who share this outlook have a disposition to interpret issues of secular politics as though they were solely moral and spiritual struggles." 

"Those who look at the world in this way see their fundamental battle as one to be conducted against other Americans at home, and they respond eagerly to the notion, so pervasive in the right wing, that the worst enemy of American liberties is to be found in Washington." 

"Most conservatives are mainly concerned with maintaining a tissue of institutions for whose stability and effectiveness they believe the country's business and political elites hold responsibility. Goldwater thinks of conservatism as a system of eternal and unchanging ideas and ideals, whose claims upon us must be constantly asserted and honored in full. The difference between conservatism as a set of doctrines whose validity is to be established by polemics, and conservatism as a set of rules whose validity is to be established by their usability in government, is not a difference of nuance, but of fundamental substance." 

"When [pseudo-conservatism] argues that we are governed largely by means of near-hypnotic manipulation (brainwashing), wholesale corruption, and betrayal, it is indulging in something more significant than the fantasies of indignant patriots: it is questioning the legitimacy of the political order itself. 

The two-party system as it has developed … hangs on the common recognition of loyal opposition: each side accepts the ultimate good intentions of the other. The opponent's judgment may be held to be consistently execrable, but the legitimacy of his intent is not … his Americanism is not questioned. One of the unspoken assumptions of presidential campaigns is that the leaders of both parties are patriots who, however serious their mistakes, must be accorded the right to govern. But an essential point in the pseudo-conservative world view is that our recent Presidents, being men of wholly evil intent, have conspired against the public good. This does more than discredit them: it calls into question the validity of the political system …" 

"Goldwater's zealots were moved more by the desire to dominate the party than to win the country, concerned more to express resentments and punish 'traitors,' to justify a set of values and assert grandiose, militant visions, than to solve actual problems of state." 

"The pseudo-conservative [is convinced that those] who place a greater stress on negotiation and accommodation are either engaged in treasonable conspiracy … or are guilty of well-nigh criminal failings in moral and intellectual fiber" 

"Pseudo-conservatives believe that] [t]he goal of our policies cannot be limited to peace, security, and the extension of our influence, but must go on to ultimate total victory, the idealogical and political extermination of the enemy." 

"[T]he far right has become a permanent force in the political order because the things upon which it feeds are also permanent: the chronic and ineluctable frustrations of our foreign policy, the opposition to the movement for racial equality, the discontents that come with affluence, the fevers of the culturally alienate who practice … 'the politics of cultural despair.' As a movement, ironically enough, the far right flourishes to a striking degree on what it has learned from the radicals. Their forces have … been bolshevised – staffed with small, quietly efficient cadres of zealots who on short notice can whip up a show of political strength greatly disproportionate to their numbers."

Plus ca change, non?

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