Jeffrey Toobin: Giuliani’s Obama Comments an Instance of a Noun, a Verb, and Political Paranoia

New Yorker writer and CNN legal analyst Jeffrey Toobin pulled a Stephen Colbert on Friday when he charged Rudy Giuliani with, essentially, first-degree truthiness. Toobin claimed that while Giuliani’s “I do not believe that the President loves America” comments were “simply incorrect,” it was more important to understand that they were “not principally meant as assertions of fact.”

Rather, argued Toobin, they were “meant to tap into a deep wellspring of American political thought, one defined by the Columbia historian Richard Hofstadter five decades ago...Hofstadter described ‘the paranoid style in American politics,’ which he said was characterized by ‘heated exaggeration, suspiciousness, and conspiratorial fantasy.’”

Toobin went on to quote from Hofstadter’s essay (“The modern right wing…feels dispossessed: America has been largely taken away from them and their kind, though they are determined to try to repossess it and to prevent the final destructive act of subversion”) and added, “Hofstader wrote those words in 1964, but they apply just as aptly to Giuliani’s remarks.”

From Toobin’s piece (bolding added):

[I]f Giuliani had beat a dignified retreat into private life after 2001, he would have left a largely admirable legacy.

But since Giuliani’s disastrous run for the Republican Presidential nomination, in 2008, he has become a national embarrassment of a distinctive type. The latest example came at an event in New York this week for Wisconsin governor Scott Walker’s nascent Presidential campaign. “I do not believe, and I know this is a horrible thing to say, but I do not believe that the President loves America,” Giuliani said…“He doesn’t love you. And he doesn’t love me. He wasn’t brought up the way you were brought up and I was brought up, through love of this country.”

Elaborating in a later interview, on CNN, Giuliani said, “President Obama was brought up in an atmosphere in which he was taught to be a critic of America. That is a distinction with prior American Presidents.”

This has been a theme for Giuliani: President Obama is a fundamentally un-American figure, who has intentionally separated himself from what Giuliani believes are the values of the United States…

At one level, one could see Giuliani’s statements as simply incorrect. Obama does love America; he does work hard for his country; he did not say everybody should hate the police. But Giuliani’s attacks on the President are not principally meant as assertions of fact. They are meant to tap into a deep wellspring of American political thought, one defined by the Columbia historian Richard Hofstadter five decades ago. In an article in Harper’s, Hofstadter described “the paranoid style in American politics,” which he said was characterized by “heated exaggeration, suspiciousness, and conspiratorial fantasy”…. He wrote:

The modern right wing…feels dispossessed: America has been largely taken away from them and their kind, though they are determined to try to repossess it and to prevent the final destructive act of subversion…Their predecessors had discovered conspiracies; the modern radical right finds conspiracy to be betrayal from on high.

Hofstader wrote those words in 1964, but they apply just as aptly to Giuliani’s remarks.

With his cosmopolitan background, Obama makes an especially tempting target for the paranoid style. He is so easy to portray as foreign, as other, as an emissary from alien civilizations who has managed to insinuate himself into the center of American power. It’s difficult to imagine Giuliani applying the same kind of insults to, say, Hillary Clinton. (She gets others.)

Culture/Society Conservatives & Republicans New Yorker Obama Watch History Jeffrey Toobin Barack Obama Rudy Giuliani


Sponsored Links