Get breaking news alerts via email

Click here to manage your alerts
Commentary: The power of paranoia

By Carter Eskew

Special to The Washington Post

First Published Mar 22 2014 01:01 am • Last Updated Mar 22 2014 01:01 am
Join the Discussion
Post a Comment

"American politics," historian Richard Hofstadter wrote 50 years ago, "has often been an arena for angry minds."

He identified a "paranoid style" in U.S. politics that has run throughout our history from the anti-Masonic movement of the late 18th century to the John Birch Society and McCarthyism.

Hofstadter died of leukemia in 1970 at age 54, but he would have had no trouble recognizing the continuation of the paranoid style in the NRA, the tea party and Occupy Wall Street.

Rand Paul also seems to fit this mold. In a speech Wednesday to Berkeley College Republicans (once an oxymoron), the Kentucky senator decried the National Security Agency’s surveillance of Americans and compared its tactics to the FBI’s spying on civil rights leaders, and thus embodied two characteristics common to the paranoid style: seeing your opponent as a powerful conspiracy and anticipating the apocalypse if this enemy is not destroyed.

Since he began his long run for the presidency, I have thought Rand Paul’s libertarianism would be a force in the Republican Party.

Swaths of the country are angry and are fertile ground for his message that government isn’t incompetent, it is highly effective at destroying individual initiative and freedom for its own nefarious purposes.

Again, as Hofstadter wrote, we should not underestimate "how much leverage can be got out of the passions and animosities of a small minority."

Carter Eskew is a co-host of The Insiders blog, offering commentary from a Democratic perspective, and was the chief strategist for the Gore 2000 presidential campaign.

story continues below
story continues below

Copyright 2014 The Salt Lake Tribune. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Top Reader Comments Read All Comments Post a Comment
Click here to read all comments   Click here to post a comment

About Reader Comments

Reader comments on sltrib.com are the opinions of the writer, not The Salt Lake Tribune. We will delete comments containing obscenities, personal attacks and inappropriate or offensive remarks. Flagrant or repeat violators will be banned. If you see an objectionable comment, please alert us by clicking the arrow on the upper right side of the comment and selecting "Flag comment as inappropriate". If you've recently registered with Disqus or aren't seeing your comments immediately, you may need to verify your email address. To do so, visit disqus.com/account.
See more about comments here.
Staying Connected
Contests and Promotions
  • Search Obituaries
  • Place an Obituary

  • Search Cars
  • Search Homes
  • Search Jobs
  • Search Marketplace
  • Search Legal Notices

  • Other Services
  • Advertise With Us
  • Subscribe to the Newspaper
  • Access your e-Edition
  • Frequently Asked Questions
  • Contact a newsroom staff member
  • Access the Trib Archives
  • Privacy Policy
  • Missing your paper? Need to place your paper on vacation hold? For this and any other subscription related needs, click here or call 801.204.6100.