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Clinton's Vast Right Wing Conspiracy, Revisited

What we lack and urgently need, since two political assassinations in 1968 defined modern American politics, is a frank and sane way to discuss political conspiracy.
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I used to think it was as absurd to say that nothing was a conspiracy as to say that everything is a conspiracy. That was before developing a thorough understanding of the absurdity of existence--especially in the political realm. It now seems altogether possible, even probable, that both statements could be simultaneously true. "Conspiracy" is the elephant in the living room of American politics. When a mainstream politician of Bill Clinton's caliber asserts that a "vast right wing conspiracy" is alive and well it certainly is news--which is why a journalist like Susan Older feels compelled to write a post to say it ain't so.

What we lack and have urgently needed, since two political assassinations in 1968 defined modern American politics, is a frank and sane way to discuss political conspiracy. Our inability to do so may be a significant reason why US politics has grown increasingly unhinged ever since.

When Obama disparaged "revenge plots hatched on campuses long ago" during the primary campaign he was talking about the same phenomena as Clinton's "vast right wing conspiracy" merely viewed from the opposite end of the telescope. While Obama's lofty and detached perspective, the "best laid plans of mice and men" attitude, may be healthier and more conducive to effective response, it isn't inherently more accurate. Indeed, the most dubious premise of Obama's primary campaign was that somehow or another all of this vicious attack politics would simply disappear if we could just get past the baby boomers and the hothouse politics of the 60's. Blaming the Clintons for the existence of a rabid right wing attack machine that hobbled Bill's presidency and assassinated his character from jump street was like blaming a rape victim for wearing a miniskirt. It's deeply ironic to see Obama's political and even personal survival jeopardized by this same killer machine.

History is nothing more or less than the actions of people who have power conspiring to hold on to it and people without power conspiring to get it. End of story. To the extent that history is progressive is precisely the extent to which power passes from the few to the many. As King put it "the moral arc of the universe bends towards justice". But this progress is anything but linear. Reactions and counter-revolutions such as the one that followed the 1960s civil rights revolution that altered the role of minorities and women in US society are the norm not the exception. Barack Obama is literally the child of the revolution--and not surprisingly, rather less radical than his parents.

To discuss conspiracy in an intelligent manner, its essential to distinguish between lower case "conspiracy" in the strictly legal sense, upper case "Conspiracy" in the grand historical sense and "CONSPIRACY THEORY" in the truly nut-bag sense--something that mainstream American political discourse has utterly failed to do. This allows a vital organ of the right wing attack machine like Fox News to ridicule a sane and seasoned pol like Clinton as "paranoid" when he states that the vast right wing conspiracy is alive and well.

CONSPIRACY THEORY imposes order on the chaos of reality which is psychologically satisfying for obvious reasons even though that alleged order is evil. Lower case "conspiracies" involve two or more people plotting to break the law and get away with it, requiring some degree of orchestration. Admittedly, there does appear to be some spontaneous tendency for institutions to hunker down and cover up when individuals inside those institutions break the law. Conspiracy in the grand historical sense involves large themes and historical narratives into which individuals fit their own personal narratives and plot lines and act accordingly. This sort of "Conspiracy" is far too vast to be orchestrated. It's an improvisational piece. And when certain music starts to play, when a particular drum begins to beat, as Thomas Friedman's excellent op-ed pointed out today, assassination attempts ("watering the tree of liberty with the blood of tyrants" as that narrative would have it) become not just probable but certain. The only uncertainty is whether they succeed. The loudest voices singing this song, Limbaugh, Beck, et al, will be the most guilty--not the poor slob who pulls the trigger.

The attack machine likes to think it's playing the 1812 Overture, with Barack as Napoleon, brought down by a climactic cannon blast. To my ears, the attack machine's tune is more like Elmer Fudd singing "Kill da Wabbit." This looks like a strategy that's born to backfire, like so many of the best laid plans of mice and men.