Thursday, February 4, 2010

Is Conservatism Dumb?

One day not long after we moved to South Texas -- it must have been around 1968 -- I was out riding my Sting-Ray when I saw a bumper sticker reading "Liberalism is Anarchy." Fairly certain that I was a liberal, I mentioned what I had seen to a family friend. He had a ready response: Conservatism is dumb, he said.

By now, most of you have read about the Daily Kos poll of Republicans in which, among other things,
  • 61% either agreed or were not sure that Barack Obama should be impeached
  • 58% either believed or were not sure that Obama was born in the United States
  • 63% think he is a socialist
  • 57% either believe or are not sure that he "wants the terrorists to win"
  • 76% either believe or are not sure that ACORN stole the 2008 election
  • 86% either believe or are not sure that Sarah Palin is more qualified to be president
  • 64% either believe or are not sure that Obama is a "racist who hates white people"
Some have questioned the methodology of the poll and others criticize the absence of a control group. (In other words, how would Democrats respond to similar hot button questions.) FiveThirtyEight.com had a spirited debate about the poll, with over 500 comments that eventually deteriorated into a pissing contest. Tellingly, conservative debaters danced around the questions of whether the results seemed credible and what their own positions were. (There was at least one avowed birther, and most think Obama is a socialist.) All agree that the results raise the question of whether Democrats are smarter than Republicans.

Are they? There is an always has been a yahoo, Know Nothing element in American politics. Moreover, this element is usually courted by the conservative political party of the day. Democrats are no exception: After the Civil War, they co-opted the most violent members of southern society, continued fighting the war through terror tactics, and eventually scuttled the southern Republican party. Southern Democrats disenfranchised African-Americans with Jim Crow laws and returned them to a state that many argued was no better than slavery. The media and judiciary openly supported the Democrats, and the "success" of this particular "movement" lasted for a hundred years until the Civil Rights movement eclipsed it by harnessing northern sympathy and ending the reign of Jim Crow. White southerners established the myth of Reconstruction, in which a vengeful and avaricious North brutally oppressed a beaten but noble South. This myth survived the Civil Rights movement and has only recently been challenged. So, don't think these crusades can't work.

There's no doubt in my mind that many of today's conservatives are willfully ignorant. It has always been thus; the historical antecedents are many and not hard to find. As the Reconstruction myth demonstrates, it's not hard to establish a new reality by repeating a lie often enough.

"The spark of patriotic indignation that inspired those who fought for our independence and those who marched peacefully for civil rights has ignited once again," wrote Sarah Palin of the tea baggers in USA Today. Now, this is beyond offensive. No tea bagger has put his or her life or livelihood on the line to overthrow a century of barbarous tyranny. And I'll bet that the fathers of more than one tea bagger stood on the wrong side of the bridge at Selma. And yet the leaders of these people have told themselves that they are heirs to the Civil Rights movement so often that it has become an article of faith to them. The organizations that oppose affirmative action and a woman's right to choose invoke Martin Luther King's name so readily that one barely has time to feel nauseous.

And so it goes. Barack Obama is a socialist, socialist, socialist. He's a Marxist, Marxist, Marxist. And -- just so you'll feel good about yourself -- it's him and not you who is racist, racist, racist. The Democrats are left wing, left wing, left wing. (As I told a conservative friend, would that it were so.) ACORN, ACORN, ACORN. Terrorism, terrorism, terrorism. These are loaded words to the yahoo contingent, and so much the better when a popular puppet like Sarah Palin delivers them. Send them out there enough times and the response will be like a recalcitrant bull goosed with a cattle prod.

Does the Daily Kos poll prove that Republicans are stupid? I don't know: I'm sure that there are plenty with high IQ's. But I don't need the KOS poll to tell me that there is a critical mass of willing minds susceptible to blunt instrument propaganda and propaganda techniques. That's no surprise, either, and extreme conservatives from time immemorial through Newt Gingrich and Rush Limbaugh have exploited it. In short, smart conservatives are ever ready to take advantage of gullible people whose emotions, once harnessed, will in the end perpetuate the right-wing power elite.

If this movement sustains itself, the tea baggers will attend Republican precinct meetings and attempt to infiltrate the party. They might even succeed in electing a Republican president in 2012. But at the end of the day, John Boehner and Mitch McConnell will still be their leaders, Sarah Palin will continue to pocket six-figure speaking fees, and corporate, pharmaceutical, and insurance interests will still control Republican policy. Same as it ever was...

I've been asking myself what it is about Barack Obama personally that elicits such virulent, pathological hatred from the wingnuts. The McCain campaign played the race care by trying mightily but unsuccessfully to paint Obama as an "other," but this tactic failed spectacularly. Plus, anti-Clinton acrimony was (and is) perhaps even more intense. Thinking about what the two men have in common, I realized that both were born to single mothers in modest circumstances and both rose above those circumstances to attend elite schools and embark on a career in politics that led the presidency. Far from being the other, both are uncomfortably like the people who hate them, at least in their origins. My take is that a powerful strain of resentment has combined with deeply rooted self-loathing to form an irrational animosity toward the two men...

The GOP's chief budget writer wants to -- surprise, surprise -- cut Medicare and privatize Social Security. He also wants to raise the retirement age and reduce Social Security benefits...

Don't miss Larry Blumenfeld's review of Ned Sublette's The Year Before the Flood. Blumenfeld connects the themes of Sublette's excellent book to the post-Katrina politics of the Crescent City in what amounts to a fascinating essay about the current state of New Orleans arts and culture...

Makin' a living the old hard way. Takin' and giving day by day. I dig snow and rain and bright sunshine. Draggin' the line...

Goldman Sucks Dept. Outside of the Bush-Cheney-Rumsfeld troika, has any group ever been more arrogant and out of touch than the banking and finance barons?...

NOLA's Terence Blanchard and Donald Harrison playing "Softly, as in a Morning Sunrise":

11 comments:

John Hayes said...

This seems to me right on: "a critical mass of willing minds susceptible to blunt instrument propaganda and propaganda techniques"; this is exactly what I see, & when that mass really becomes critical, then things get very unsettling. Personally, I'm still convinced that the virulence of hatred for Obama comes from racism & otherness--thankfully, the McCain-Palin cabal just wasn't able to sell this pre-election. Unfortunately, the Limbaugh-Palin-Beck-Fox News cabal is selling it pretty furiously now.

K. said...

This is America, so there must be an element of race present. I don't see how these people like themselves very much: It can't be pleasant going through life full of misdirected anger.

Foxessa said...

Irrationality is a rationally chosen strategy by the right to accomplish its objectives (which serve the corporate overlords of us all -- or, as I prefer characterizing them, "the powers that pee on us all."

Love, C.

Renegade Eye said...

Conservatism is dying. It is increasingly a regional movement. The last decade where the USA produced zero new jobs, and wars expanded, showed the bankruptcy of Reaganism.

When I listen to Limbaugh, he is always commenting on the "intentions" behind liberal politicians actions. That kind of analysis, amounts to mindreading or conspiracy theory.

The most racist and redbaiting attacks on Obama, came from the Clintons. They brought up Bill Ayers and Rev. Wright first.

Steven said...

Well said! And much better than I.

Let's see, I knew I was a liberal at age 12 and I rode a Schwinn something or another. And at what age were you riding your Stingray and feeling liberal?

You can't say enough about the lies. I just wish that the Democrats would answer those lies immediately and point by point refute them. Their dignified and intellectual silence doesn't help them one bit.

And I'm at a point now where I don't really care if they are offended...conservatives are dumb. And mean.

K. said...

Ren: Conspiracy theory is what Limbaugh, et. al. promote -- it's their bread and butter. Unless you subscribed to a conspiracy theory, how else could you believe that an organization like ACORN could fix a presidential election? That's a ridiculous notion on the face of it, and yet it has become gospel.

Steven: I was either 13 or almost 13!

The actual liberal media -- The Nation, The American Prospect, Paul Krugman, etc. -- do point out the lies and refute them. It's just that conservatives command a booming echo chamber called Fox News.

Plus, they have and always will have a simpler message: Government Bad, American People Good. It's pure demagoguery, but it works. Dems have an inherently complex message: Government is the people and it performs a vital role in any society. We need government to... You get the picture.

That being said, I could stand with a little more ruthlessness. Why does Joe Lieberman still have committee assignments? The Dems don't need him anymore and the guy is a malignancy. Let him act like a martyr and give him to the Rethugs. He's one of them anyway.

mommapolitico said...

Terrific post, K. As I would drive by trashed rental housing with a GOP sign out front, or past someone in a dilapidated car with a "Bush" sticker on the bumper (or holding ON the bumper!), I've always wanted to ask, "How has the Republican party made your life better?" I think much of it lies in the religious stances taken by many Christians that so influences their politics that they become one or two issue voters: abortion and prayer in schools, for example. These are the folks who will tell you that their families have always been Republicans, so they are, too, and they tout the "America - Love It Or Leave It!" sticker right next to their "Jesus' Mother Was Pro-Life" stickers. It is far easier to believe what one is told than to think about an issue, how it will affect your life, and how you will take a stand. Sad, but true.

Great post, K. Nice piece of writing, my friend.

Foxessa said...

But they do refute the lies and irrationalities. That's the strategy, folks.

The so-called liberals and progressives are ALWAYS in reaction mode TO the wingnutz, never proactive, never directing the discourse or the agenda -- merely reacting, which is perceived as weak. And when it comes to action, rather than words, it IS weak.

This strategy is allowing them to continue to rule the planet with very little pushback except from those who employ fundamental islam for the same purposes.

The rightwing has no shame, no guilt, no interest at all in truth, justice, boundaries, good taste or rationality, and thus have no compunctions about saying or DOING anything, i.e. outright murder and declaring it is their RIGHT to murder physicians who help women in impossible reproductive conditions. And even there, dems, liberals and progressives blither around the edges, because, well, abortion is SO divisive and such a shame, we are embarrassed to use the word for the procedure and would just rather women die instead.

Love, C.

K. said...

MP: You've paraphrased Lymdon Johnson! During the 1960 campaign, he would state rhetorically at campaign stops, ". What has Richard Nixon ever done for ?"

Besides religion and abortion, I'm guessing that guns and race are in the equation.

F: I wonder why the Dems can run great campaigns and struggle with governance? One reason, I suppose, is that the party is not tightly united around a few hot button issues, and has never been invested in the failure of a Republican president.

mouse (aka kimy) said...

anarchy, anarchy, that's our cry

A N A R C H Y!!!!


yeah! team


oh how i am sooooo sick of the no nothings


oh, and sarah is getting 100,000 a gig.... what can i say;

hell

handbasket

oh yeah..... loverly post sweet K

hope you're having a good one

Rastamick61 said...

To paraphrase Swift - bullshit flies and the truth comes limping after. Great work here K. I especially enjoy the way they have to incorporate 'or are not sure' into the responses because it's so likely that they aren't sure. I see the cons as similar to all of the loonie groups killing and blowing each other up in Beirut during the 80s. They are so disjointed and fractious with so many mullahs yelling from their bullhorns for various agenda it's impossible to get them straight. As it stands if you say the word you are associated with Limbaugh. What better time to find another party ...