April 13, 2010

Stoking the Lunatic Fringe

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The President might be thinking: “I graduated Harvard Law to debate nuclear policy with a woman who pronounces the word like Homer Simpson?”

Obama has struck a new treaty with the Russians regarding nuclear disarmament. Essentially, it aims to reduce the number of American and Russian nuclear warheads by a third. If successful, both countries will retain some 1,500 weapons apiece — enough to turn the entire face of the Earth into a parking lot many times over.

Also, it states that the U.S. will not use or threaten to use nuclear weapons against non-nuclear countries, as long as those countries adhere to the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty. However, the U.S. reserves the right to renege on this policy in the event of a biological weapons threat.

Miraculously, in what Jon Stewart aptly calls “a willful misunderstanding of the policy,” former House Majority Leader Newt Gingrich and Fox News’ Sean Hannity agree that Obama is in fact saying that he will not retaliate if another country “kills over a million Americans” with biological weapons.

More miraculous still, Sarah Palin compares global politics to a school yard and the treaty to a child who says, “Go ahead, punch me in the face and I’m not going to retaliate. Go ahead and do what you want to with me.”

In other words, getting Palin’s opinion on nuclear policy, to reference Dave Chapelle, is sort of like MTV asking Ja Rule to help us make sense of 9/11.

She seems blissfully unaware of the fact that Obama’s treaty is nearly identical to the one Ronald Reagan signed with Soviet General Secretary Mikhail Gorbachev in the 1980s.

(The intellectual Right must have had a collective “facepalm” moment when she said, “We miss Ronald Reagan” and his nuclear and national defense policies.)

In reality, the treaty is an earnest step toward a world without nuclear weapons — a world that Obama does not believe he will see during his presidency or during his lifetime. The treaty poses no conceivable threat to American national security. On the contrary, politicians like Reagan subscribe to the Dr. Strangelove notion that ridding the world of Doomsday devices would make it more safe, not less.

But Palin seems more concerned about the potential for a “mine shaft gap.”

During a recent interview with ABC, Obama was asked to respond to Palin’s remarks. He said flatly: “I really have no response because, last I checked, Sarah Palin’s not much of an expert on nuclear issues.”

Unfortunately, he does have to respond. In our current political climate, Palinism is Republicanism.

Palinism is a political strategy that goes like this: First you present a blatant lie as fact to stir a large segment of the population into a fearful frenzy, like when Palin said Obama’s health care plan included “death panels.”

Then, when perpetuating the lie becomes politically embarrassing, you distance yourself from it, like when Glenn Beck distanced himself from the “birther” movement.

For good measure, you might keep the more egregious lies alive on a wink-wink nudge-nudge basis, like when Palin told a crowd of Tea Partiers in February that her America is one where “children with special needs are welcomed in this world and embraced” — an oblique reference to a Facebook note where she contended that Obama’s bureaucracy would kill her daughter, who has Down syndrome.

But by that time the damage is done and the people are properly fearful.

According to a new Southern Poverty Law Center report, the number of anti-government militia and other so-called “Patriot” groups surged to 512 in 2009 from 149 the previous year. These armed-to-the-teeth groups are primarily composed of the radical fringe of the Tea Party who believe, or at least entertain the idea, that Obama is not American, that he is a communist-eugenicist and, now, that he is trying to render the country defenseless against an impending New World Order-esque invasion and enslavement of the American people.

Intelligence Report editor Mark Potok sees this trend as “a cause for grave concern.” He likens the brewing discontent to the “Patriot” movement of the 1990s, which culminated in the Oklahoma City bombing that left 168 people dead.

The big difference: This time around the “Patriot” movement is endorsed — or at least not adequately condemned — by mainstream Republican politicians and by Fox News.

Somebody should tell Palin, as colloquially as possible, that the terrorists she’s growing in her backyard pose a greater threat to national security than the Russians she keeps an eye out for from her front porch.

Cody Gault is a junior in the College of Arts and Sciences. He may be reached at cgault@cornellsun.com. Stakes Is High appears alternate Fridays this semester.

Original Author: Cody Gault