Universal Translator

Thursday, December 8, 2011

“Demonization”: A Fundamental Political Difference

I’ve been focusing a lot more on the Republican primary over the past few days, which means that I’ve been trying to get inside the collective head of Republican base voters – whom John Rogers, aka Kung Fu Monkey, so hilariously (and, as would later turn out time and again, accurately) named “the Crazy 27%."

In expressing my views, analyses, and speculations, I’ve used terms like “the Crazies,” “the Orderlies,” and “the Asylum.”  And I’ve suggested that a lot of these voters are motivated by sheer meanness, a desire to be the biggest, baddest, toughest prick on the block.  But I have also made the claim that neither I nor anyone on the Left that I can think of actually demonizes Republican base voters.

It occurred to me that some of my characterizations might be seen as undermining my assertion “we don’t demonize Republican voters,” so I thought I’d try to explain a little more fully (i) who I’m actually talking about, (ii) what I mean by my “non-demonization” claim, and (iii) why this is a fundamental difference between the Liberal base and the Conservative base.

I’m Talking about the Crazy 27% Base – my sense is that Rogers’s assessment of the hard-core Republican base is accurate:  it’s about 27% of the nation.  Now, to be sure, Republicans often get more than 27% of the vote, but that is because by and large they usually end up splitting the “independents” with the Democrats.

But I’m not talking about them.  I’m talking about the Limbaugh-listening, Coulter-reading, Fox News-watching Republican base.  I’m talking about that crazy 27%, of whom

Half just have worldviews which lead them to disagree with what you consider rationality even though they arrive at their positions through rational means, and the other half are the core of the Crazification – either genuinely crazy, or so woefully misinformed about how the world works, the bases for their decision making is so flawed they may as well be crazy.

I would suggest that an example of the first group, the group that achieves end results that I think are crazy but who arrive at those results by rational means, would be people like a lot of Ron Paul supporters.  As we’ve seen, these people literally believe that it makes sense in a civilized society to allow people to die from lack of health insurance because “they made their choice, and that’s what freedom is about.”  I think that is a crazy worldview, but I can’t say that it is entirely devoid of reason.  Devoid of basic humanity, devoid of compassion, devoid of empathy perhaps, but not devoid of reason.

As for the remaining group, the “core of the Crazification,” Rogers divides them into two subcategories.  The first is the genuinely crazy – people, say, who suffer paranoid schizophrenia and are convinced that Barack Obama is using CIA technology to take over their brains.  (Note – I’m not suggesting that all such people vote Republican, just that at least some of them make up part of the Republican base; I’m sure some of them also vote for Democrats too, but right now I’m talking about the Republican Crazy 27%.)  The second subgroup are just people who vote Republican because they have been woefully misinformed – people, say, who believe that it has been proven that Barack Obama wasn’t born in the US, or who believe that the Affordable Care Act establishes death panels.

The Left Doesn’t Demonize These People – for a given value of “demonization.”  The specific claim I make about the Left’s relationship with the Republican base is that “[n]obody on this side of the aisle seems to believe that the Republican voting base is out to destroy the United States,” whereas the Republican Crazy 27% do believe that all Liberals “are driven by a perverse desire to destroy the United States of America.”  And y’know what?  The more I think about it, the more convinced I am that this constitutes a fundamental difference between the Liberal base and the Conservative base.

Setting aside the “objectively crazy” people, the ones suffering from mental disease (because, really, what is there to say in this context about sick people?) consider the other two base voter categories identified above. 

I can listen to a Paulbot explaining that people without health insurance should just be allowed to die without thinking that the Paulbot is trying to destroy my country.  This is a person who has adopted maybe the most radical reformulation of “freedom” imaginable, and then has enshrined that reformulation as the hallmark of what American society should be about.  I can be horrified and appalled at the callousness of this person’s ideas, but I also understand that the Paulbot is voting for what he or she literally thinks is best for the country.  I vehemently disagree with their position, but at the end of the day this is a policy dispute.  I recognize the ‘bot means well, even if I also understand that he or she is completely wrong and that I need to do everything I can to prevent their dystopic vision of America from ever becoming reality.

For an example of the remaining group, the woefully misinformed group, let’s just consider economic issues.  I suggest that these are the people who think tax cuts always pay for themselves, that trickle-down, supply-side economics works, that a completely unfettered free market always achieves prosperity for everybody, etc., etc., etc. 

And, again, I can listen to these people and understand why they vote the way they do; hell! unlike my dispute with the Paulbot, I even agree with their goals.  These people – like me – just want a prosperous America.  The problem is that all of the things that they believe are things that don’t make any sense and have not once worked in 30 years of trying them.  I oppose these people politically not because I think they want to destroy the United States (although 30 more years of such policies might, in fact, do the trick), but because their understanding of how the world works is so misguided that were their policies to be enacted they would surely just make things work.

Why This is a Fundamental Difference Between the Liberal Base and the Conservative Base – because while the Left understands that the Conservative base might be misguided or misinformed, the Left never stops believing that Liberals and Conservatives still are and always will be in this together.  In fact, that is one of the defining features of the Left:  a sense that we all share in this community and that we need to work for the common good of the country.  Liberals want to enact their policies because Liberals think their policies will help everybody – including Conservatives.

But the Limbaugh-listening, Coulter-reading, Fox News-watching Right doesn’t see it that way.  They imagine that Liberals are out not only to defeat them at the polling booths, but to destroy America as a country.  They think Liberals want to hand US sovereignty over the United Nations, they think Liberals want to completely destroy capitalism and dismantle the free market, they think Liberals want to eliminate Christmas and impose Sharia law, they think Liberals want to put Conservatives in re-education camps and use the Muppets to indoctrinate their children.  In short, they think – quite literally – that to disagree with their Conservative ideas is to attack the United States of America.

And don’t imagine for one moment that I am exaggerating.  Hunter at DailyKos drew attention just yesterday to this little detail from a recent National Journal story about Newt Gingrich’s rise:  “A candidate ‘needs to have a warrior ethos to be the GOP nominee.  They have to be a fighter, and they have to have some substance,’ said Republican media strategist Rick Wilson.”

Hhmmmm . . . and whom do you think Republicans want their nominee to fight?  Who would the Republican Crazy 27% view as the biggest threat to the country?  Luckily, GOP Strategist Wilson provides us with the answer: 

Wilson said he recently conducted a focus group where Republicans were asked whether, if they had a choice, they would rather “kill Obamacare” or have killed Osama bin Laden.  “They would have killed Obamacare and waited for the actuarial tables [to] play out for bin Laden,” Wilson said.

Just . . . wow.

These Republican base voters would have preferred never to bring Osama bin Laden to justice but to let him die of old age if that was the price to pay for defeating Barack Obama’s signature legislative achievement.  Osama bin Laden.  The Republican base thinks President Barack Obama succeeding politically is a bigger threat to the United States than Osama bin Laden.

What can one even say to such things?

* * *

There is an old joke a Scottish client once told me about the historical enmity between England and Scotland:   A Scotsman met an Englishman in a pub one night, and after having a few too many whiskies started laying into him.  “You English,” the Scotsman sneered, “you think you’re all too good for us Scots.  You laugh at us, you revile us for our ways, and our accents, and our history.  You devote all your spare time to makin’ fun of us ‘cause you’ve got nothing better to do with your own lives.  You English sicken me.”  “Now, wait a minute, hold on there,” protested the Englishman, “that simply isn’t true.  In fact, the English don’t really think much about the Scots at all.”  “That’s what I’m talkin’ about!”

I’m reminded of that joke because, thinking about this fundamental difference between the Liberal and the Conservative bases, I can kind of see how the Conservatives’ enmity is self-perpetuating. 

One of the complaints most often thrown at Liberals is that we are all elitist snobs who look down our noses at the rest of the country.  Conservatives hate the idea that they are looked down on, are patronized, are condescended to by their political rivals, and this is a large part of the reason Conservatives are convinced that Liberals are big-“E” Evil.  Whereas Liberals think Conservatives are just foolish/misguided/crazy, but not, y’know, actually “evil.” 

Man, thinking about that has gotta drive Conservative voters up the goddamned wall:  Liberals are such evil snobs they can’t even be bothered to hate us!  Those bastards!

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