The common assumption in Washington regarding the reckless, possibly McCarthyite allegations by Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., that Mitt Romney hasn't paid taxes in a decade is that it is a cynical political ploy. Many doubt that Reid believes what he says.
Yet Reid's aides have insisted he "genuinely believes his source," according to Politico. Maybe we should believe them. Conspiracy theories and paranoid thinking are enjoying a revival at the top levels of left-wing politics.
Liberals pride themselves on their rationality and would surely scoff at the charge. Yet many of their top leaders have espoused a variety of false if not outright crackpot theories in recent years. Reid's evidence-free claim is only the latest example.
The common theme in left-wing paranoia (as opposed to the right-wing variety) is that a wealthy elite is the hidden hand behind everything. The Democrats' behavior conforms neatly to the model laid out in political theorist Richard Hofstadter's classic essay "The Paranoid Style in American Politics."
Hofstadter explains that for the paranoid, the enemy is invariably "sinister, ubiquitous, powerful, cruel, sensual, [and] luxury-loving. ... He makes crises, starts runs on banks, causes depressions, manufactures disasters, and then enjoys and profits from the misery he has produced."
In 2004, presidential candidate John Kerry raised the possibility that the Saudis were keeping oil prices low to aid President George W. Bush. "It's my prayer that Americans are not being held hostage to a secret deal," he said.
The same year, Howard Dean and Sen. Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, insisted that President Bush was about reinstate the draft. (The only ones introducing bills to do so at that time were Democrats.)
After that election, Rep. John Conyers, D-Mich., had a his staff produce a report alleging "intentional misconduct" in the Ohio vote count by officials linked to President Bush. The intentional misconduct? Long lines at voting booths. Conyers followed up by alleging that Bush was planning on invading Iran in 2008. "If Bush goes into Iran, he should be impeached. And we've sent him a letter to that effect," Conyers told a left-wing conference.
Needless to say, all of these crackpot theories were unfounded.
With Bush gone, Democrats now see the Koch Brothers as the manipulators. Sen. Frank Lautenberg, D-N.J., said last month they were "putting together a secret group of donors, and they are going to put $400 million in the pot to subvert the upcoming election."
But the Democrats' most prolific conspiracy theorist has to be House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif. In 2009, while serving as speaker of the House, she insisted the Tea Party did not exist. Those grassroots crowds were faked. It was really "Astroturf by some of the wealthiest people in America to keep the focus on tax cuts for the rich."
She repeated the charge during the controversy over the so-called Ground Zero Mosque. People could not be genuinely upset over this, she reasoned -- it must be funded by some shadowy source. "How is this opposition to the mosque thing funded? How is this being ginned up?" she asked in a radio interview.
Last year, Pelosi said at a fundraiser that big banks were behind a plot to keep down the minimum wage -- a deliberate plan to create dependency on private credit. Why? To "keep people dependent on paying fees to banks for the use of their own money," of course.
When the House voted to hold Attorney General Eric Holder in contempt, Pelosi insisted it was not really about the Fast and Furious gun-trafficking scandal at all. "They're going after Eric Holder because he is supporting measures to overturn these voter suppression initiatives" -- that is, voter ID laws -- "in the states. This is no accident. It is no coincidence. It is a plan on the part of the Republicans," she said.
When Romney spoke before the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, Pelosi said that the very act was a dog whistle aimed at racist white voters. It was "a calculated move on his part to get booed," she told Bloomberg.
Surely, a fair amount the Democrats' conspiracymongering is just cynical pandering to the Left's deepest fears. Then again, it would be a mistake to doubt their sincerity every time.
Sean Higgins (email@example.com) is a senior editorial writer for The Washington Examiner. Follow him on Twitter at @seanghiggins.