THE HARD-TO-ANTICIPATE PARANOIA…. It’s generally wise for prominent political figures to consider how critics might interpret their words. If a team of detractors are studying every syllable, just waiting to pounce on something they can use, it makes sense to be cautious. There’s no benefit in giving rivals ammunition.

But in this environment, it’s hard to anticipate just how paranoid some people will choose to be.

Yesterday, for example, White House Office of Health Reform Communications Director Linda Douglass appeared in a three-minute video to debunk one of many bogus far-right claims. The White House blog post on this noted:

There is a lot of disinformation about health insurance reform out there, spanning from control of personal finances to end of life care. These rumors often travel just below the surface via chain emails or through casual conversation. Since we can’t keep track of all of them here at the White House, we’re asking for your help. If you get an email or see something on the web about health insurance reform that seems fishy, send it to

This hardly seemed controversial. There’s an aggressive campaign underway to mislead Americans, and the White House wants to help set the record straight. If some especially pernicious lies are making the rounds, folks can let the White House know directly, so officials can get the truth out.

Except, that’s not how the right sees it. RedState interpreted this to mean “the White House wants you to report … anybody publicly opposing” health care reform. Soon after, Rush Limbaugh had embraced the same line, and Malkin wasn’t far behind. Naturally, Drudge joined the fun.

By late yesterday, House Minority Whip Eric Cantor (R-Va.) was asserting that the White House wants Americans to report on each other. Today, Sen. John Cornyn (R-Tex.) appears to have completely lost his mind.

Cornyn says this practice would let the White House collect personal information about people who oppose the President.

“By requesting citizens send ‘fishy’ emails to the White House, it is inevitable that the names, email, addresses, IP addresses and private speech of U.S. citizens will be reported to the White House,” Cornyn wrote in a letter to Obama. “You should not be surprised that these actions taken by your White House staff raise the specter of a data collection program.”

Cornyn asked Obama to cease the program immediately, or at the very least explain what the White House would do with the information it collects.

This is what politics in America in the 21st century has come to.

Steve M. added, “I don’t blame the Obama people for the wording — it’s written in a way that makes perfect sense to sane, reasonable people. But the RedState blogger and Rush Limbaugh (and Malkin and, clearly, the GOP leadership) want crazy people to get upset.”

Quite right. All of these far-right clowns almost certainly recognize reality here. To help overcome lies and whisper campaigns, the White House wants to know what folks are hearing so officials can respond with the truth. Cornyn, Cantor, Limbaugh, et al, however, need to fuel right-wing rage, and since reality won’t do the job, they’re reduced to trash like this.

Steve Benen

Follow Steve on Twitter @stevebenen. Steve Benen is a producer at MSNBC's The Rachel Maddow Show. He was the principal contributor to the Washington Monthly's Political Animal blog from August 2008 until January 2012.