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Behind the House GOP's ACORNaganza

It's been apparent for years now that increasingly large elements of the conservative movement in this country have been building a parallel universe with its own facts, its own rules, and its own drama of good versus evil. It's largely impervious to empirical data, and relies heavily on assertion and reassertion of key claims that flow from ever-more-lurid (and thus inherently unverifiable) conspiracy theories.

One key claim that's grown to truly monstrous proportions is that the U.S. Constitution is being perpetually threatened by "voter fraud"--vast numbers of unqualified voters drawn from minority groups, herded to the polls to support Democratic candidates who in turn promise the loot the virtuous law-abiding white majority to pay off miscreants with "welfare." This claim has been around for decades, but used to be little more than a cynical effort to find some rebuttal to better documented Democratic claims that the Republican Party routinely sought to intimidate or disenfranchise minority voters (a practice that came to especially bright light during the 2000 election crisis).

The growing importance of voter fraud allegations to the GOP in recent years was made evident by the U.S. Attorneys scandal of the Bush administration, in which failure to produce such allegations was the rationale for several politically motivated firings.

But it's during the last year-and-a-half that the same old undocumented claims of voter fraud have become linked to a broad right-wing narrative of vote-buying and election-stealing on a massive scale that supposedly explains both the financial crisis and the election of Barack Obama, and that centers on the activities of a previously obscure and marginal grassroots organizing group named ACORN.

Regular readers of this site know the narrative by now: engorged with federal grants, ACORN engineered the housing and financial crises by intimidating lenders into offering mortgages to poor and minority families with no means or intentions of making their payments, and then when the chickens came home to roost, gambled everything on an illegal effort to secure bailouts and a general "socialist" takeover of the country by stealing the White House for its long-time associate and radical community organizer, Barack Obama.

The extraordinary strength of this crazy theory, which has the particular advantage of absolving the Bush administration and Wall Street of responsibility for the financial crisis and the current recession, was astonishingly demonstrated by a recent poll showing that an actual majority of self-identified Republican voters believe that ACORN stole the 2008 elections.

Any narrative this powerful has to be fed continuously, which is why the recent congressional vote stripping ACORN of nearly all access to federal grants was a pyrrhic victory for conservatives. How could they keep fear of ACORN alive?

That necessity led to yesterday's strange event in the U.S. House, a partisan "forum" on ACORN that was sort of a parody of a congressional hearing, based on the circular reasoning that the refusal of the House itself to launch an wide-ranging investigation of ACORN was proof of the conspiracy's power.

You can read Dave Weigel's detailed account of the "forum" by following the link above, but the main claim yesterday (specifically by Rep. Darrell Issa of CA) was that the White House serves as a "war room" for ACORN, as "proved" by Obama's tangential relationship with ACORN years ago in Chicago, and more recently, by the hiring of Democratic election law wizard Bob Bauer as White House Counsel. Bauer's smoking gun, it seems, is that he once wrote a memo dismissing broad-based GOP election fraud claims, and warning (accurately) that they would be retailed by the McCain-Palin campaign. Anyone denying the conspiracy, you see, is obviously a party to it.

Personally, I hope yesterday's "forum" is the first of many such events. The centrality of the ACORN Derangement Syndrome to the contemporary Right's world-view--along with the opportunity for more responsible conservatives to repudiate it--needs to be right out there in the open, and not secluded in viral emails or segregated at Fox News. It helps explain not only the virulence of conservative passion against the Obama administration, but the rat's nest of self-exculpation, paranoia, and yes, racism that too often underlies it.