Michael Gerson

Yet this is precisely what the sabotage theorists must deny. They must assert that the case for liberal policies is so self-evident that all opposition is malevolent. But given the recent record of liberal economics, policies that seem self-evident to them now seem questionable to many. Objective conditions call for alternatives. And Republicans are advocating the conservative alternatives -- monetary restraint, lower spending, lower taxes -- they have embraced for 30 years.

It is difficult to overstate how offensive elected Republicans find the sabotage accusation, which Obama himself has come very close to making. During the run-up to the midterm election, the president told a town hall meeting in Racine, Wis.: "Before I was even inaugurated, there were leaders on the other side of the aisle who got together and they made the calculation that if Obama fails, then we win." Some Republican leaders naturally took this as an attack on their motives. Was the president really contending that Republican representatives want their constituents to be unemployed in order to gain a political benefit for themselves? No charge from the campaign more effectively undermined the possibility of future cooperation.

The sabotage accusation, once implicit, is now direct among panicked progressives. Part of the intention seems to be strategic -- to discourage Obama from considering Clintonian ideological triangulation. No centrist concessions, the argument goes, will appease Republicans who hate the president more than they love the country. So Obama should double down on liberalism, once again.

It is very bad political advice. It also indicates a movement losing contact with political reality. When an ideology stumbles, its adherents can always turn to alcohol -- or to conspiracy theories. It is easier to recover from alcohol. Conspiracy thinking is not only addictive, it is tiresome. It precludes the possibility of interesting policy debate or genuine disagreement -- how can you argue with a plot?

In 1964, John Stormer, a sabotage theorist of the right, came out with the book "None Dare Call it Treason," which asked: "Is there a conspiratorial plan to destroy the United States into which foreign aid, planned inflation, distortion of treaty-making powers and disarmament all fit?" Stormer's progressive descendants are just as discrediting to the ideas they claim to serve.

Michael Gerson

Michael Gerson writes a twice-weekly column for The Post on issues that include politics, global health, development, religion and foreign policy. Michael Gerson is the author of the book "Heroic Conservatism" and a contributor to Newsweek magazine.
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