Political paranoia is not new to the American scene. Consider the witch trials in Salem, Mass., in 1692. Arthur Miller wrote “The Crucible,” a powerful play about the Salem witch trials during the Communist witch hunt conducted by Senator Joseph McCarthy. McCarthy entered the following analysis of American foreign policy into the Congressional Record.

“How can we account for our present situation unless we believe that men high in this government are concerting to deliver us to disaster? This must be the product of a great conspiracy, a conspiracy on a scale so immense as to dwarf any previous such venture in the history of man … a conspiracy of infamy, so black, that when it is finally exposed, its principals shall forever be deserving of the maledictions of all.”

For too long, McCarthy opportunistically played out this destructive drama, while political leaders stood by mutely, afraid to reap the whirlwind. It is sad that some political leaders are exploiting the “birther” conspiracy theory, while others stand mutely by, afraid to reap the anger of the true believers. We cannot afford to be distracted by this paranoid thinking from civil debate over the major issues confronting this country.