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ATG Inbox: Paranoid Nation

Like to read other people's mail? Well, have at it. The Against the Grain inbox is open for your perusal. And by the way, this is not a blog.

Paranoid Left, Paranoid Right
A lot of viewers agree with my contention that the paranoid style of politics now afflicts both left and right without prejudice. Others think being a little paranoid is a good and necessary thing.

It is good to see you do a little more of a balanced piece. That one doesn't make any off us look too attractive, but it does hit real nerves.

It seems to me that Republicans have usurped a lot of the Democrats mores of the past, and rather than Democrats, crowing about their adversary coming over to the "light side", they are instead abandoning their traditional positions to W and Co.

We need at least two parties in this country. We need one to quit abandoning everything that has been touched by the other, and keep those things where common ground can be found to build upon.

As America ages, we will probably become increasingly conservative. If one party will not put the product we want on the market, the other one will. We need a little of both.

Ken Sternberg

You have to be a conservative. That lame attempt to spread the blame around for the radicalization of American politics, you barely even bothered to look at exactly that which you say you examined (such as the no-bid contracts Haliburton garnered from "disasters" that the Bush administration DID cause) and were you to just look at this one instance, one instance that has caused almost 2000 American deaths, you would have more evidence to not only the ineptness of the right-wing neo-cons currently in power but would barely be scratching the surface of their incredibly dangerous and reckless reign of power, which you had to try and balance out by finding some competing claims that clearly do not measure up to the Bush Administration.

In short, you, like many others afraid to call a spade a spade, have no balls. You are a sell out that should not even bother to write about American politics.

Try the Entertainment Division next time.

Dan Weakley, Peoria

I think you are on to something when say that the paranoid style of politics is starting to take over. This approach to politics is central to totalitarian regimes (e.g.: Nazis, Communists, China nowadays). By whipping the population into a frenzy against the "enemy" the population forgets the local problems and focuses on the "enemy" instead.

I think that the Internet has made this problem worse. It is now possible to say outrageous things on the Internet anonymously to a very segmented audience (Daily Kos, for example). This kind of thing would almost never have been said on a national media outlet previously and, on the rare occasion that outrageous slanders were perpetrated in the national media, there would be a very rapid recognition of the slander.

It is depressing to read some of the stuff that is said on these very partisan web sites. The echo chamber just reinforces all the prejudices that the partisan readers already have. Because the commenting can be anonymous, some of the people are saying just really disgusting, terrible things. The effect is to reduce the other side from being humans capable of reason and persuasion to non-humans who are the "enemy".

Ann Coulter is an interesting person. She is obviously very bright and yet she says the worst things about people. For example, in disagreeing with Bush's nomination of Miers to the Supreme Court, Coulter had to insult Bush by reminding him that he was a drunk in the 80's when the Federalist Society was founded. She seems to completely lack empathy and decency. Both Terry McAuliffe and Howard Dean were guilty of outrageous slanders while head of the DNC so now it is going mainstream as a tool to motivate the base. Manners, empathy, and decency matter.

If we can't regard our political opponents as people, we're headed down the path of using our police and courts to torment our political enemies. After that, how long will it be before assassination becomes a political option in America?

Steve Koch

I read with interest your op-ed piece on the CBS News website and found myself agreeing with much of it. I even see a bit of myself there. I think, however, an important caveat needs to be made here. It is, "Just because you are paranoid, that does not mean that they are not trying to get you!" Joseph McCarthy may have been wrong in many things, but he was correct in the one big thing. The Soviet Union WAS trying to destroy us and there were spies in the U.S. government at that time. The Venona Papers make that clear. That many liberals of the day denied or minimized this was not helpful. It was dangerous. Paranoia in the political sense, if not the psychiatric, is sometimes a rational response to identifiable threats.

That the "loyal opposition" takes the alternative view and tries to block the party trying to sound the alarm to the approaching danger, often for short term political gain at the expense of national security, is something that should be resisted by rationally paranoid citizens. Much of the criticism coming out of the left recently, though, has been simply hysterical and has no use in advancing the national interest or political discourse. Much of it is hate filled and is ultimately destructive to the political system in this country. Morphing George Bush into a malevolent supernatural being is not useful. Recent rants from Al Gore, George Soros, Charles Rangel, and Hollywood personalities too numerous to mention, have an Alice in Wonderland quality that would by laughable, were they not so destructive. While no side is blameless in this, there is no parallel in the conservative arena or the Republican Party to the quantity or venomous to that coming out of the left and from portions of the Democratic Party. I am simply amazed and appalled.

David Oberholtzer, Springfield, VA

Dick Meyer really hit the nail on the head when he wrote his commentary on the paranoid left and the paranoid right. It made me look at myself and have a good laugh. Since I drive a Prius hybrid with a sticker on the back that says "Save the earth — send Bush to the moon!" you can guess which paranoid side I'm on.

As I read the article I realized that, since breaking with the Republican Party in 1992 over planks I felt made separation of church and state blurred, I have become more and more an avid advocate of more liberal policies. I feel secure that Katrina was not caused by George Bush, but back-pedaling on environmental issues is going to make us more and more susceptible to Mother Nature. I work in a very conservative pro-Bush office and when I get into political discussions they almost always escalate into beet red debates with me just as beet red as my counterpart. This country is too strong not to survive an Administration.

With our political system if we see an Administration has gone too far we can throw them out at election time and undo their wrongs. I hate the War in Iraq and the way we muddled into it, but I strongly support our troops who are doing what their Commander in Chief directs. These are brave men and women who need to constantly know they are protecting America. Dick Meyer's got me to sit back and have a good laugh at myself! Okay, now it's time for me to race back to my paranoid state.

Ned Dick

Thank you for saying what I've been saying for years! Both political ideologies have embraced a form of extremism which is irrational and even counterproductive to itself (e.g. Howard Dean as DNC chairman? How is that good for the left? Just because he's shrill and pathologically partisan, doesn't mean he'll do any good for "the cause").

At one time (the 90s) I was a municipal GOP official in my hometown. Over time, though, I saw the GOP, even at a local level, becoming more extreme, less able or willing to work with or even talk to the other side, and veering into religious territory best left out of American politics. Having grown up in town, and knowing most of the Dem officials, I could hardly believe it when my GOP colleagues vilified them all the time. They weren't that bad, in fact, most were friends. The hatred was not rational; it was based solely on party affiliation and not on who these people really were.

I moved and walked away. Since then I haven't had anything to do with politics. I no longer have the stomach to deal with it. And it's gotten far worse over the last decade. I date the current spate of extremism to the election of Bill Clinton; his Democratic machine went to work remaking government as it wished, decrying in forceful tones the horrific nature of the two prior GOP administrations; but at the same time, the GOP launched into a massive fit of screeching about it (I recall complaints that only 43 percent of the U.S. had elected him, so he was vulnerable and a lame duck even as he got into office). Then came, of course, the impeachment debacle and the "vast right wing conspiracy." It's been downhill from there.

When will it end? I dunno. I've found that talking to people about this offends them. Those on either side mistake me for one of "the Enemy"; they cannot conceive of someone who is not part of one of the two competing ideological cults. So they don't listen when I explain that they're just victims ... victims of galloping paranoid propaganda which plays on their emotions and steers them into irrationality. They can't seem to accept it. Unless they do, however, there's no chance of any change.

Dennis J. Halnon

Silly argument and silly article. Was Winston Churchill paranoid about the dangers of Hitler? Were conservatives paranoid about the dangers of Stalin and communism? Is the author paranoid about being paranoid? Is it a virtue to not be paranoid about losing your way of life?


When we have a president who suggests that martial law might be a reasonable reaction to a flu pandemic, paranoia has finally reached legitimacy.

Lucia Winchester, Sedona, Arizona

Very insightful and a subject worthy of discussion. Consider also, the larger cultural reaction to 9/11. I have not watched television for close to a decade until recently. I chuckled at the content, especially this new season, (my first glimpse in years, as I stated.) Countless shows devoted to malevolent alien take over, criminal behavioral analysis (understand your enemy) conspiratorial plots across the spectrum. As seen through history, cultural artifact reflects the zeitgeist of the times. (Japan's Godzilla movies after WW II, cold war U.S. alien/monster movies, etc.) Your historical references and examples as well.

I am not sure your discussion (although informative and interesting) could do much to dissuade any society from indulging in its collective fear. I'm not sure that tremendously increased access to information contributes significantly to the issue. A glut of information versus speculation and innuendo are probably two sides of the same coin. I don't think one can live in a culture and not be affected by the fears of the moment, but examining them is important. I do think that our current political and technological structure can and are being used as tools to fuel the historic fire. Maybe the positive thing in all of this is that we are exposed to the paranoia of the full political spectrum. A culture of paranoid checks and balances. In other words, at least there is a contradictory conspiratorial theory readily available to any political stripe.


I have often read your columns just for the sheer annoyance I get from your political views. Don't know if it is you changing or me, but I can heartily endorse your columns on the hurricane response and give a vigorous "Right On" to Paranoid Left, Paranoid Right.

You knocked it out of the park. On the right and left sides of the park simultaneously!!!

Dave Burkholder

In Paranoid Left, Paranoid Right you stated that "The Media has become of the great Rorschach's of the paranoid style, left and right." Maybe some of this is because the media has substituted opinion and spin for factual news, and this has made it too easy for everyone to stop thinking deeply for themselves. If the media would stick to facts, the average Joe would have to figure out for himself what those facts mean, rather than have pundits put partisan and paranoid ideas in his mind. And also, with less spin to produce, maybe the media would dig deeper for those facts and give us more and better information, rather than provide the shallow stuff that we get today. It seems that the media watchdog has gotten lazier, and as a result the American public has also.

T.E. Gardner, Bowie, MD

Your column on the paranoia of the left and right was remarkably well balanced and fair in presentation. Does CBS know that you are applying for a job at Fox News?

Chuck Butterick, Justin, TX

I read with glee your article regarding how both the right and left are/behave paranoid.

I was fortunate. I joined the military at an early age (18) was able to see for myself what was happening around the world. Went to night school, where I could, and eventually made it to an M.A. Key is the college programs taught critical thinking.

I wonder though? Could there be some method to the madness? I mean, if we spend so much time arguing about all the divisive issues, doesn't this take our political leaders off the hook about the real business of leading America? Health care, the expanding gap between the have's and have not's, education, a decent wage, and many other issues that never seem to sell the commercials on the cable or network news organizations?

Harold A. Kouns (Major, USAF ret.), Millbrook, AL

If you still want to send in an e-mail, you'll have to read a real column to find the address.

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