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Analysis: Field day for the fringes, an American tradition

June 08, 2012|By Mark Z. Barabak
  • A staff member places the Seal of the President of the United States on a lectern before a speech by President Obama at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas on Thursday.
A staff member places the Seal of the President of the United States on a lectern… (Isaac Brekken / Getty Images )

Comes now the startling news that in 1996, Barack Obama, then a candidate for the Illinois state Senate, became a card-carrying Socialist.

The so-called proof was offered Thursday by the Washington Times, which linked to a National Review Online account involving the community organization ACORN, the Wisconsin Historical Society and something called the New Party.

This, on top of previous "revelations" that Obama is not a natural-born American citizen, is secretly gay and a closet Muslim will surely ensure his defeat in November.

Except none of those statements are true and few, save Donald Trump and the rabid Obama haters of the world, pay much attention to rumors that have eddied for years in the dark, dank corners of the Internet and other gathering holes of the conspiracy-minded.

There is a reason that serious Republican strategists stay away from this stuff (though GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney did stand alongside Trump to raise money for his presidential bid). They know the touch-and-go economy gives them all the ammunition they need against the embattled incumbent. Embracing the wacky of the world only undermines that effort by antagonizing independents and others more concerned with the heft of their wallet than the gibbering of crazed partisans.

Both parties have their extremists, convinced the leaders of the other side are venal, corrupt, evil or some combination of the three. There were Democrats who never accepted the legitimacy of George W. Bush as president and could scarcely see, much less think, straight at the mere mention of his name. The same applies to former Massachusetts Gov. Romney.

A cottage industry — and quite a lucrative one — has grown up to exploit that outrage, driving Web traffic, selling books, goosing radio and TV ratings and, most of all, convincing the perpetually outraged to pry open their wallets and give generously to drive the dastardly out of public life.

All that heavy breathing changes few, if any, votes and is hardly edifying. (At least for anyone who thinks politics should be about something more than throwing mud clods or grinding the other side into the turf.)

But it’s a living for some, a diversion for others and a demonizing tradition — see Salem witches, Masons, Catholics, Bolsheviks, Jews — as American as crabapple pie.

Now if only someone could prove that the Rev. Jeremiah A. Wright was Trump’s secret pen-pal. That could turn this election on a dime.

mark.barabak@latimes.com

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