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Why Obama won - the Vince-Fosterization of American politics

November 9, 2012 - Mike Maneval
While President Barack Obama’s election to a second term was ensured by many variables, some of which are being talked about, and likely will be talked about heavily by pundits and columnists for weeks and months ahead, one of the biggest is a trend I suspect will be borne out again in 2020 and presidential elections well beyond. I call it the Vince-Fosterization of the political climate.

For reasons also numerous themselves to list, elements of opponents of incumbent presidencies have increased their trafficking of conspiracy theories, often couched in the most vitriolic, hyperbolic ways possible, about these administrations. It partially – likely even mostly - is fueled by a largely positive development, the revolutionary ways in which the Internet and other technologies can reduce the costs of publishing commentary and expressing opinions. It also is because of failure in some publications, professional writers, and other contributors in either furthering the most ludicrous of such conspiracy theories or in not identifying and refuting the theories themselves or the use of conspiracy-mongering as a contribution to political discourse.

While it may have begun earlier, it really, for the first-mentioned reason, picked up steam during the presidency of Bill Clinton, of whom it was alleged was part of cocaine-smuggling operation using a rural Arkansas, and had a long-time political colleague named Vince Foster murdered, which was made to look like a suicide, among other allegations.

The common thread here runs through the Republican administration of George W. Bush, during which a portion of the allegations leveled on certain websites, in some political punditry, in some magazines, devolved into a phenomenon poorly labeled as “trutherism,” the idea that a Republican inner circle was so much more concerned with serving the interest of an aristocratic, well-connected elite they would decline to prevent a specific and devastating terrorist attack if it in any way served the economic interests of that elite. Others allegations his administration intentionally set out to commit war crimes, and seethe to this day no one was brought trial for them.

And it has continued through the first four years as president of the eight Obama will serve. Conspiracy theories about where he was borne, about who is influential upon him, about the Muslim Brotherhood infiltrating the State Department, about the level of authority of appointed “czars” – a practice that goes back decades, including the administrations of Richard Nixon and Ronald Reagan. In all cases, the volume and ferocity of this element of the national debate led the majorities or pluralities of American voters who were not, for ideological or other reason, predisposed toward mistrust and skepticism – the voters who put these men into power in the first place – to question the validity of the opposition. Valid criticisms were drowned out by absurd and often lurid tales of amoral manipulation, often of a magnitude and degree that Occam’s Razor would dictate impossible to sustain, and punditry that shared the conspiracy-mongerers’ poor assessment of the incumbent failed to distinguished their concerns from paranoid ranting.

Some of the valid criticisms dealt with the course of public policy. And some were much more plausible allegations of unethical behavior that also often failed to be questioned, when compared to the worst allegations, seemed to many not only less colorful but positively mundane, perhaps even tolerable.

Perhaps the media landscape will never allow them the opportunity to distinguish themselves and still make their own, often salient, points in the ways they could when a less-capable movement of conspiracy-theorists called the John Birch Society tried to claim President Dwight D. Eisenhower enabled Communist infiltration.

And if that is the case, the incumbency – regardless of party – faces the strongest advantage in retaining the White House in American history. We will learn if they can during the next eight years and if it worked when we see how the man or woman who could be our fourth consecutive incumbent to win reelection fares.

 
 

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