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Grant Bosse

Grant Bosse: Who are you calling paranoid?

Richard Hofstadter began his 1964 essay, The Paranoid Style in American Politics, “American politics have often been an arena for angry minds.” Hofstadter erred in attributing this to Barry Goldwater, missing as most people did the nascent strain of American conservatism in Goldwater’s campaign. But he did acknowledge that “the sense of heated exaggeration, suspiciousness, and conspiratorial fantasy” was not limited to one side of the political spectrum.

Hofstadter traced the Paranoid Style back through Joe McCarthy, the populists of the late 1800s and the anti-Masonic and Jesuit movements. Fear that some group of others is out to get us is timeless and widespread.

I’m not sure the Paranoid Style is any stronger today than it has been in past New Hampshire politics, but with many of the right and left firmly in its grip, now is as good as time as any to debunk some of the paranoid populist theories.

Last year, a group of Republican state representatives pushed a bill to prevent local schools from subjugating themselves to “the governance of a foreign body or organization.” The threat to that sovereignty allegedly came from Bedford High School’s adoption of the International Baccalaureate Program, also used in Merrimack Valley. A group of diplomats founded IB in 1968 as a common curriculum for their children. It’s similar to the Advanced Placement Program in its level of academic rigor but places more focus on writing, including a 4,000-word independently researched essay.

Critics don’t like that the IB was founded mostly by European socialists, that it has ties to the United Nations, or that the IB Organization signed onto the Earth Charter, which could generously be described as a loose collection of leftist do-gooder gobbledygook.

I come neither to praise IB nor to bury it, though I do think our educational system would benefit from both academic rigor and a focus on writing and research. But I don’t live there, and Bedford’s curriculum should be up to Bedford voters. Adopting IB would not subject Bedford students to international governance or brainwash them in socialist dogma. So why do otherwise reasonably people fear just such a problem?

Michael Shermer has written much over the years for Scientific American on why conspiracy theories are so attractive, and so hard to refute. Our brains are wired to see patterns in the noise. The suspicious hunter-gatherer survives whether that bump in the river is a log or a crocodile. His optimistic counterpart lives to pass on his genes less often. The wary and militant village wipes out the naïve and trusting one. For most of human history it made sense to connect the dots, even when the dots were random.

Agenda 21

Here’s another example: The John Birch Society is holding a series of seminars around New Hampshire in opposition to Agenda 21. The Birchers have as much credibility as 9/11 Truthers and Donald Trump and

deserve a similar place in our national dialogue. But their opposition doesn’t automatically make something a good idea.

Agenda 21 is a nonbinding sustainable development plan backed by the United Nations, based on the same flawed premises and lousy data that made Al Gore rich. It’s a big bag of bad ideas. But it is not a U.N. conspiracy to take over local zoning boards.

Still, Glenn Beck is trying to sell books on that idea, and he’s very good at selling books. He’s tapping into one of the powerful principles Shermer outlines: confirmation bias. We tend to believe the worst about people we don’t like. So instead of opposing Agenda 21 on its merits, Beck and the Birchers puff it up to a full-blown conspiracy.

The United Nations would have trouble organizing a two-car parade, much less a systematic takeover of U.S. property rights. Most elaborate conspiracies theories fall because the institutions at the heart of the conspiracy aren’t nearly competent enough to pull off such plans in perfect secrecy.

That’s why my favorite documentary of the last decade was Not Evil, Just Wrong, Ann McElhinney and Phelim McAleer’s brilliant rebuttal to An Inconvenient Truth. It refuted the bad science fueling global warming hysteria without resorting to conspiracy or demagoguery. As much as I disagree with the left’s desire to grow government in response to every problem, I don’t believe they are out to destroy America. They’re just wrong.

Political debates need to be based on ideas, even if you’re opposing someone else’s. It’s not enough to argue They are out to get us, no matter who They are today. Tell me why they’re wrong.

Even as Hofstadter was trying to discredit Goldwater, he admitted that the Paranoid Style flourished independent of ideology. Next week, we’ll examine the raving lunacy that unites much of the modern left: a paranoid obsession with the Koch Brothers and evil corporations.

(Grant Bosse is editor of New Hampshire Watchdog, an independent news site dedicated to New Hampshire public policy.)

Legacy Comments9

I am surprised by the temperate tone Bosse took regarding IB, but then the critics of IB are indeed paranoid cranks; however, stating that "Not Evil, Just Wrong" is a "brilliant rebuttal" to Al Gore's "Inconvenient Truth" does not square with the facts. Gore's movie had some errors in it. But those errors do not detract from the overall accuracy of the film regarding the problem of climate change. For more on this, go to the link: The movie he calls a 'brilliant rebuttal' was funded by industry sources and professional deniers, and makes use of the same kind of cherry-picked data that deniers always use to make their case. Bosse is apparently unfamiliar with the overwhelming amount of data and analysis that underpins the science on climate change. To call "Not Evil..." a 'brilliant rebuttal" is wishful thinking and uninformed nonsense, and conveys an appearance of even-handededness that his piece doesn't really have. Earthling's post details some the Koch Brothers activities--they're active funders of climate science denial, and their money, along with that of others from the far-right end of the political spectrum, is funding a number of initiatives that directly benefits their interests--a task made easier since the "Citizens United" decision. To my knowledge, the brothers have been publicly mum in response to the Muller/Berkeley study they helped to fund. That study found (contrary to both Muller's initial expectations and the Kochs' hopes, that the science on climate change is sound. I hope Bosse looks it up, and checks out the Skeptical Science pieces before he publishes Part 2.

This is a link to to the Berkeley/Muller study's home page:

as usual, is the truth:

You should read your own links. Nowhere does the link disparage the research involved, which was indeed publicized before being "peer-reviewed". But that doesn't alter the fact that Muller--who is a world-class physicist--changed his views. Nor does it alter the fact the study was funded in large part by the Koch brothers, who must have thought they'd get a different result than confirmation that the science is valid. Alas for them, Muller proved to have the integrity of an honest man; they'll need to try to buy someone else if they wish to continue to make their deceitful and dishonest case.

Grant Bosse is a Great American and an invaluable asset to NH


The Koch brother's father, Fred, was co-founder of "The John Birch Society". I went to one of their meetings back around 1975, where the JB's were saying the same stupid stuff we are hearing now from the Koch funded Tea Party. Over the last 2 years the Koch brother's combined wealth grew by 40% to $62 billion. 10% taxable income on $62B would boil down to a ongoing tax cut of $5 million per day ($1.8B/yr.) on the remaining Reagan top bracket cut from 69.125% to the current 39.6% rate. It will cost us another $10 million per day over the next 3 decades to finance a $5 million per day tax cut for a couple of billionaires. The Koch brothers aren't stupid. Their associate, William Niskanen, was Reagan's trickle down advisor genius. Now the Kochs seem to spend a few hundred $million/yr. bribing politicians with campaign and super pac cash and riling up all sorts of GOP supportive groups (NRA, AFP, ALEC, etc., etc.) in order to protect $1.8B/yr. in ongoing Reagan tax cuts. Meanwhile the Kochs run up gas prices and profits by speculating on oil market derivatives (a process that they invented - placed the first trade) while they sit patiently (waiting for XL while they deny climate change) on the substantial portion of the Canadian oil sands leases they own. The 50 year average of top bracket tax rates from 1932 to 1981 was 79%, up until Reagan, with the help of Niskanen, cut the top rate to 28%. The subsequent 30 year average top rate has been 38%. We couldn't (and still can't) afford the Reagan (or Bush) tax cuts, so our SS and other trust fund money was borrowed to pay for them. But then we couldn't afford the interest payments on the tax cut borrowing, so we borrowed that too, which created more and more interest expense every year (interest income for the wealthy bond holders). Since 1982 we have spent over $10 trillion on interest expense, and most all of it was a direct result of the tax cut borrowing. Way too many voters just don't get the math that proves we've been snookered by the big spender Republicans for 3 decades.

any fact available on the tides foundation?

Why don't you tell us all about it from your "unbiased" perspective? Since it's a charitable foundation that funds public interest groups, the fact it serves the public interest rather than secretive purposes and naked self-interest makes it distinctly different from most of the Koch's endeavors. Sufficiently different to render it suspect in the eyes of those who sneer, at every turn, at the idea of "public interest" anything.

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