The stock market may be tanking, but my paranoia levels are soaring to new record highs with each passing day. If there were a way to make money off paranoia, I would be richer than Warren Buffett right now.

Sadly, this is not the case.

You’d think I’d be feeling relatively good about how the presidential election is going about now, wouldn’t you?

I mean, let’s face it, it’s rare that one gets to see the complete collapse of a national political campaign with just a little over three weeks left to go in the race. And the McCain campaign’s collapse has been nothing short of spectacular. Between McCain’s ongoing weirdness about the economic catastrofuck and his poor performance in the debates, and Palin’s scandals in Alaska and her appalling performance in interviews, not to mention the almost daily changes in major campaign platform components, the smear tactics that seem to be hurting McCain more than Obama, and the increasingly scary crowds at McCain campaign events…well, it’s been like this:

Yet I find myself unable to sleep, worrying about everything that can still go wrong.

Regular readers of this blog know that I’ve been harping on about terror management theory and its implications for our national politics for some time now. My first post on the subject – a rather lengthy primer on terror management theory and how it relates to the political world – was in June of 2007.*

At the time I wrote that post, I ventured into Paranoid Conspiracy Theory Land, where I speculated that persons with a vested interest in seeing that the Republicans retain control of the White House might use the principles of terror management theory to swing a presidential election where the Democratic candidate had a commanding lead in the polls in the weeks leading up to the election to something more to their liking.

The increasingly disturbing rhetoric we are seeing coming out of the McCain campaign, and particularly from Sarah Palin and other McCain surrogates. Attempts to paint Obama as somehow not really American, someone foreign, someone Muslim, someone who associates with terrorists – all of these are tactics one would expect coming from a group of people who are familiar with terror management theory. Ditto all the race-baiting tactics they’ve been using. They want to portray Obama as “other”, because “other” is scary and they want people good and scared.

The increasing ugliness that can be seen at McCain/Palin rallies in recent days – people calling Obama a terrorist or shouting “Kill him!” or “Off with his head!” are evidence that these tactics are succeeding at least with a small portion of their base. This is sad, but not terribly surprising. There has long been that ugly, racist side of America – the side a lot of whites at least like to think we’ve gotten past somehow (though most of my friends who are members of minority groups would tell them otherwise). To see it surfacing in such a blatant manner is very troubling, and points out again how easy it would be for our country to slide into outright fascism of the sort usually associated with Nazi Germany. (Assuming that we haven’t already crossed that line, anyway.)

Still, the poll numbers suggest that most voters are more focused on the economy – an area where McCain’s behavior has been truly erratic and unreassuring to most voters –  and thus have not been swayed by the fear tactics employed by the McCain camp. Likely all that McCain has managed to do is stir up a bit of a hornets’s nest among those who already were likely to vote for McCain anyway, while scaring off independent voters and more moderate Republicans.

This still raises the scary specter of assassination – as Frank Rich pointed out so ably in his column in the New York Times this weekend. (edit: hat-tip to jc on the column, btw) But let’s be frank, that’s been a threat with the Obama campaign from the early days of this campaign, and the Secret Service is all over it. All we can do is hope that they continue to do the excellent job they’ve generally done in protecting presidents and other important officials since the days of the Kennedy assassinations.

It would take something much larger than innuendo and subtle race-baiting to swing the kind of voter shift that McCain needs at this point. This is, in fact, consistent with terror management research. The stronger the “death prime” that induces mortality salience – that is, the awareness of one’s own mortality – the larger the reaction you will get in a population, in terms of number of people who will change their positions or be swayed to take a position they wouldn’t ordinarily.

In other words, as long as the economy is what most voters are most concerned with, all McCain’s fear tactics are unlikely to sway enough voters to tilt the election his way. He either needs to convince the voters that he can handle the economic mess – something that will be difficult for him to do given his behavior over the past few weeks – or he needs a very big BOOM! somewhere in the world, preferably (from his standpoint) somewhere in the U.S.

Don’t get me wrong. I do not believe for one moment that McCain would take any steps to engineer a big BOOM! that would endanger the lives of Americans. Despite all his nasty rhetoric lately, I still believe that McCain is a man who loves this country and sincerely believes that he would be a better leader for it than Barack Obama. I don’t agree with him on the latter point, but I most definitely acknowledge the former.

But that doesn’t mean that there aren’t others out there – people with the money and connections and lack of moral conscience necessary to make these things happen – who wouldn’t do so on his behalf. There are probably a lot of people – people in or associated with the current administration, people in the business world – who have a very strong interest in making sure that Republicans retain control of the executive branch of government. And some of those people I wouldn’t trust further than I could comfortably throw them when it comes to a choice between the lives of innocent Americans and their own pocketbooks.

Which is why I’ve been feeling so paranoid lately.

I think that there is a very high probability of some sort of attack somewhere on American soil in the next two weeks – particularly the next week. And this worries me a great deal.

It could cost the lives of Americans.

It could change the outcome of the election.

It could get us involved in a war.

And it could all be instigated not by foreign terrorists – Bin Laden and his groupies – but by Americans hoping to secure a political and economic future to their liking.

And it could work.

jane doe

* My other posts on the subject of terror management theory can be found here.

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