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In his recent Nation essay 9/11: The Roots of Paranoia, sometime Reader contributor Christopher Hayes offers an enlightening take on the gullibility of Americans.
According to a Scripps public opinion poll, "one-third of Americans think that the government either carried out the 9/11 attacks or intentionally allowed them to happen," but Hayes notes that life pretty much "continues as before, even though tens of millions of people apparently believe they are being governed by mass murderers."
Hayes explains that "the credulous style can brook no acknowledgement of unarticulated motives to our political actors, or consultations to which the public is not privy."
The more I think about Hayes's theory -- which he juxtaposes with historian Richard Hofstadter's famous essay on the paranoid style in American politics -- the more I realize how well it works for Chicago. I can't tell you how many critics of the Daley administration have begged me not to print their names for fear they will lose their jobs or basic services or become the target of city inspectors. Yet many of these same people seem surprisingly content to live in a city about which they fear the very worst. Most of them tell me they plan to vote for Mayor Daley.
"In the credulous style, all political actors are acting with good intentions and good faith," Hayes writes. "Mistakes are made, but never because of ulterior motives or undue influences from the various locii of corporate power. When people in power advocate strenuously for a position it is because they believe in it. When their advocacy leads to policies that create misery, it is due not to any evil intentions or greed or corruption, but rather simple human error."
Think about it: Mayor Daley was shocked to read in the newspapers about the patronage abuses of his top aides -- not to mention the hired truck scandal, the Duff minority hiring scandal, and every other other scandal of the last few years. Property taxes? They're not going up -- the mayor said as much in his budget speech. Tax increment financing districts? They don't take money from the schools, they give money to the schools, just like the mayor said. The list goes on and on.