Posted by: N.S. Palmer | April 19, 2009

Conservatives Go Nuts Over Obama

By N.S. Palmer, Ph.D.

Is it just me, or does it seem to other people that a lot of conservatives and libertarians have gone completely nuts since Barack Obama became president of the United States?

I’m not talking about National Review magazine, where they were nuts even before Obama and have been nuts ever since founder William F. Buckley handed over control to the neoconservatives. Nor am I talking about Fixed News or talking-points hubs such as I’m talking about people who are verifiably smart and informed, who are not paid propagandists, and who formerly seemed pretty rational.

At the traditionalist conservative Chronicles Magazine, Dr. Thomas Fleming — a brilliant classical scholar as well as a political writer with whom I’ve agreed more often than not — opines that because of President Obama’s conciliatory gestures,

President Unpronounceable of Iran will not have to cut back on his nuclear weapons program if he wishes to have direct talks with the United States.

Dr. Fleming fails to mention that:

  • Iranian President Ahmadinejad‘s name is neither unpronounceable nor even unspellable, though it is a bit of tongue-twister when compared to “Fleming.”
  • The U.S. Central Intelligence Agency concluded in 2007 that Iran had scrapped its nuclear weapons development back in 2003. In other words, Iran has no “nuclear weapons program.”
  • Iran has signed the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty under which it agrees to international supervision in exchange for the right to develop nuclear power for peaceful uses. The three countries near Iran that really do have nuclear weapons — India, Pakistan, and Israel — have not signed the treaty.
  • The International Atomic Energy Agency, which monitors Iran’s compliance with the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, concluded in 2007 that Iran was enriching uranium to reactor-grade purity (5%) but not to weapons-grade purity (90%). In other words, Iran is exercising its rights under the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty.
  • The U.S. government thought that Iranian nuclear power was a great idea when Iran was run by the Shah, an American client ruler who was put into power by the CIA and was kept in power by SAVAK, his secret police who specialized in terror and torture. To put the Shah into power, the CIA in 1953 overthrew the first democratically-elected government in the Middle East, the administration of Iranian Prime Minister Mohammed Mossadegh. (See, for example, A History of the Middle East by Peter Mansfield, pp.249-250.) Most Americans don’t know that, but you can be sure that almost all Iranians do. They overthrew and exiled the Shah in 1979.

Dr. Fleming adds that President Obama:

has never had any problem in cozying up to the enemies of our country.  He has seen the enemy and it is us, the American people who enslaved his ancestors.

I would say that statement goes a bit beyond the evidence. Quite a bit.

At the libertarian Web site, also run and written by very smart people, the wailing and gnashing of teeth are no less hysterical. Retired finance professor Michael S. Rozeff warns the site’s readers about Yale University economist Robert Shiller, whose book Irrational Exuberance analyzed the dangers of stock market bubbles such as the one that burst in 2008:

Shiller’s policies will crush the realization of the American entrepreneurial spirit, and even that spirit itself, as they crush the economy … he is at once socialist, fascist, authoritarian, and statist. … Shiller is a highly useful idiot for Obama and Geithner and Summers and Romer and Bernanke. He cheerleads them. His extreme version of their policies makes them seem reasonable and moderate to the untutored, if that is possible.

Let’s see: Shiller will crush the American entrepreneurial spirit and the economy. He’s a socialist, fascist, authoritarian, statist, useful idiot, and cheerleader. Who imagined that a college professor could be so powerful and so versatile? And how does he look with a pair of pom-poms and a short skirt?

Shiller’s ideas that prompt Rozeff to hurl all that frothy invective are pretty mainstream stuff, such as fiscal stimulus to jump-start the economy and sensible regulation of the financial system to prevent future subprime meltdowns and Madoff-style swindles. Those are all ideas with which the Rockwell site disagrees, but Rozeff’s piece goes far beyond mere disagreement. It’s about personal vilification.

Elsewhere on the Rockwell site, education writer Linda Shrock-Taylor, who has done many fine articles in the past, tries to revive the long-discredited canard that President Obama is not a native-born American citizen:

Decisions coming out of the Oval Office are increasingly…foolhardy, if not outright Treasonous. [Obama] swore to reduce taxes for 95% of the wage earners but this  guy has done away with workers’ JOBS, not their taxes. Are the people faring better? Not at all.

Leave aside the fact that her accusations are patently untrue. After all, Obama has been president for almost three months. He should have fixed the economy by now, right? Ms. Shrock-Taylor’s complaint duplicates almost verbatim a joke from a skit on the television show “Saturday Night Live” wherein three Republican politicians confronted “The Rock Obama.” But Ms. Shrock-Taylor finally gets to her big punch line:

That candidate assured the nation that he was a US citizen, thus eligible to become president of the United States. However, this Barry-guy has hired entire law firms to fight off all attempts by citizens to gain access to his birth and school records. He must really, really fear that We the People will learn the truth.

Never mind that Obama’s birth certificate was confirmed and shown to reporters by the Hawaiian state government. Or that other reporters visited what Ms. Shrock-Taylor calls Obama’s “Muslim school” and found that it was no such thing. In Ms. Shrock-Taylor’s mind, the crafty “Obama-Mama” tricked Hawaiian officials into issuing a birth certificate for a baby born in Kenya. There’s no evidence, of course, but it could have happened. As for Obama’s school, its Muslim features were concealed to deceive the reporters. The best one can say for her musings is that they’re not entirely impossible, much as it’s not impossible that Hillary Clinton is Elvis Presley in drag. After all, no one has ever seen Clinton and Presley together. Mere coincidence? Ask Ms. Shrock-Taylor.

What’s the Connecting Link?

All the scare stories about Obama and his administration have a common thread: He’s not one of us. He’s one of them. And you can never trust them.  They pal around with terrorists, try to make peace with America’s enemies, and lie about their past.

Let me tell you where I’m not going with this argument, because my point does involve a certain amount of nuance.

I quoted those writers not because they’re crazy, stupid, uneducated, or uninformed. They aren’t: they’re intelligent, educated people who are normally quite reasonable. As far as I can tell, they’re also not racists, in the sense that they don’t hate people on account of race or believe that members of some races lack human rights.

But all those writers are human beings. Their neurobiology inclines them to trust and support people like themselves. Conversely, it inclines them to distrust and to withhold support from people unlike themselves. They happen to be white. Obama happens to be black. Hence, his motives and actions are automatically more suspect than those of a white politician. It’s not that anyone is necessarily a “bad person.” It’s just human nature at work, and in this case, it’s unhelpful. (See the discussions of kin selection and reciprocal altruism in Chapters 7-9 of The Moral Animal by Robert Wright.)

One can see the emotional subtext most plainly in Ms. Shrock-Taylor’s article: Obama just can’t be our legitimate president. He’s not one of us, he’s one of them. They are always out to get us. Therefore, he must have won the presidency by some kind of trickery. He must have lied about his birth certificate, or pretended to be a Christian when he’s really — gasp — a Muslim.

The human mind has many levels, and most of its levels are invisible to our conscious awareness. I believe that many conservative and libertarian writers are subconsciously so alarmed by the thought of a black president that they — well, I was going to say that they become unhinged, but that’s overstating the case. It’s fair to say that they appear determined to reach certain conclusions by any means necessary, including through arguments and appeals to emotion that they would not normally use or accept.

Copyright 2009 by N.S. Palmer. May be reproduced as long as byline, copyright notice, and URL ( are included.


  1. Nicely researched and laid out, as always. I appreciate the way you brought it in for a smooth landing there at the end… no bombs dropped, just an overview, the lay of some ugly land, and an explanation for why it’s so barren and forbidding. What a real shame it is for us all there aren’t more people like you in the halls of government in the US.

  2. Thanks for your kind comment!

    It’s hard to criticize people whom I respect (even if I disagree with them), but I tried to keep it balanced.

  3. Kudos on the great post. I too have been mystified by the well-educated, well-spoken people I have met who:
    – believe that the evolution of higher species is a myth (e.g. an Asian-American ex-gf with a law degree! revealed only after we broke up)
    – believe that the earth is 6000 yrs old (a high school history teacher with a Master’s degree)
    – believe that global warming is a liberal hoax (a large portion of American self-described conservatives)
    – Took the word of the CIA over Nancy Pelosi (60+% of the Washington Establishment)
    – Refuse to believe that one of our surveillance ships was knowingly attacked by a certain MidEast ally-state of ours, and that the hundreds of deaths were covered up as an “accident” (the 1967 incident)
    – Believe in a mythical “free market”

    And so on.

    The phenomenon reveals much about the nature of human intelligence. Being a misogynist, or a religious fundamentalist, or a bigot, often does not bespeak an inability to reason or express oneself. They are more of an emotional disease or personality malformation, largely separate from one’s analytic and communication skills.

    Prime example: Ahmadinejad, who has a PhD in transportation engineering and claims to have been in the top 200 out of 400,000 participants in Iran’s national university entrance exams; yet has denied the specifics of the Holocaust out of personal and political ideology.

  4. Those are pretty scary examples, doubly so because they’re not surprising. We all base our judgments on information that is incomplete and partially incorrect. When our emotions and prejudices get in the way, it skews our perceptions even more.

    The conservative media are partly to blame. Even intelligent, rational people reach the wrong conclusions when they’re consistently misinformed. Some members of my family are a case in point.

    I didn’t know the things you mentioned about Ahmadinejad. I knew that he had a Ph.D., but apart from that, he’s always impressed me as an Iranian doppelganger of George W. Bush.

    Thanks for the great comment!

  5. Thanks for posting the link to this post on Krugman’s blog. I found it well worth reading.

    So, have the Right become even more unhinged during the past three months? Looks like it to me.

    • I think that some of them have. Others are just hoping that President Obama’s economic recovery efforts fail (with a little help from them) so that they can blame it on him and re-take Congress in the 2010 elections.

      However, as a recovering conservative/libertarian myself, I can tell you that many of them believe in what they say and are trying to do what’s best for the country. They are simply mistaken. That’s what I think is so brilliant about President Obama: he just keeps deploying calm, conciliatory logic in an attempt to win over his critics. He makes it possible for them to change their minds and admit they were wrong without feeling like they “lost” the argument. The ones who are just unprincipled political operatives will never cooperate no matter what. But the majority of conservatives and libertarians are idealists: they can be reached, and Obama is doing it.

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