Who’s your daddy?

by John Holbo on February 10, 2013

I read Jonah Goldberg op-eds; also Media Matters; thus, back to back, this:

“There is always a certain meanness in the argument of conservatism,” Ralph Waldo Emerson famously said, “joined with a certain superiority in its fact.” Children often think their parents are being mean when they tell their kids to do their homework. That doesn’t make the parents mean, it makes them responsible. Eventually, the lessons of life persuade children their parents were right all along.

And this.

On Fox & Friends, co-host Gretchen Carlson claimed that the U.S. solar “industry’s future looks dim.” The show brought on Fox Business reporter Shibani Joshi, who said that Germany’s solar industry is doing “great” because “they’ve got a lot more sun than we do,” before adding, “In California, it’s a great solution, but here on the East Coast it’s just not going to work.”

I’m not the target audience, so the fact that I guffaw at ‘superiority in its fact’, coming from Goldberg, doesn’t indicate much about public perceptions. But I wonder … (this is sort of a continuation of John Q’s musings about whether the Overton window has shifted, for the better): has anyone done polling that might indicate whether voters – some groups of voters – have, over time, come to associate conservatism’s evergreen ‘meanness’ with, shall we say, an inferiority of fact? Is the public tending more to associate the mental toughness of conservatism with that thing you get from wearing a tinfoil hat too tight? Carlson and co. assuming Germany is on the equator, or something? Just the latest barrelfish example, of course, but …

I bother to ask only because it seems conservatives like Goldberg, and the promising pols he talks up in his piece – Jindal, Rubio, Ryan, Cantor – are defensive about this stereotype. That is a bit new, isn’t it? ‘The prudent party’ is this year’s ‘compassionate conservatism’. An attempt to reassure voters you’ve got a quality that you know is associated with the other side, not your side.

The problem with candidate Akin wasn’t just that he was ‘mean to women’ but that he was mean in such a wacky, reality-confounded way. So he reinforced two negative stereotypes of the brand. But just admitting that the brand has been branded this way leaves you deep in the hole. Goldberg jokes that ‘We’re not stupid!’ is not a great chant. But it’s worse: “Some of us aren’t stupid!’ Democrats are famous for finding ways to lose the frame game, and conservatives can always blame media bias for anything. But this is such a loser line: ‘The mainstream media want you to think that, just because some Republicans are crazier than any Democrats …’

I just listened to a Matt Lewis/Bill Scher bloggingheads in which they discuss the Karl Rove vs. the Tea Party kerfuffle. Lewis (the conservative) says if Rove really cares about crazy candidates who crash in the general, he should pour that money into getting them some proper training, not promising to try to kill them. Send them to some ‘don’t stick your foot in your mouth’ boot camp. But there’s no hint, from Lewis, that the perceived competence deficit is some phoneybaloney leftist talking point. It’s not that Rove is talking about nothing, or that liberals need party-training-as-potty-training in some equal, opposite way. I think, if this were pointed out, Lewis would say what Goldberg says: we’ve got young stars with great prospects – Jindal, Rubio! That’s true. But that’s sort of a separate point.

Once you’ve conceded that your party is, distinctively, half crazy, you’ve conceded a lot on the trust front. (Conceding that your party is mean is comparatively easy. Mean is tough! That’s good! So long as you aren’t half-crazy.)

Will conservatives start coming up with slogans along the lines of the ‘Get Clean For Gene’ campaign of yore. ‘Act like your brain isn’t being eaten by prions for Ryan’. The problem is not just that not a lot of synonyms for sanity rhyme with Jindal or Rubio. Republicans are always complaining that you can’t trust Republicans to be conservative. If conservatives also grant that you can’t necessarily trust a conservative not to be your crazy uncle, who’s left that you expect people to trust like a dad?

{ 65 comments }

1

Adam Kotsko 02.10.13 at 3:47 pm

It seems that the Republicans need to do what Domino’s Pizza did when they rolled out their new recipe a couple years ago — openly disown their previous, shitty recipe. (Colbert did a great segment on this, highlighting a commercial that implied that previously they had used something other than cheese.)

The problem with this technique is that you can only pull it off once, and you have to have full commitment — including, of course, an actual new recipe. And then there are the dangers: what happens when everyone realizes that the reason it tastes so much better is that you’ve basically turned the crust into garlic bread? This is perhaps where the analogy begins to break down.

2

b9n10nt 02.10.13 at 3:51 pm

Our daddy is the “Power Elite”, the nexus of wealth and influence over public policy. The frailty of conservative ideology, perhaps, merely reflects the distractedness of the Power Elite. In the modern age, we have grown up in time of unprecedented security for those on top of the social hierarchy. It’s no surprise there’s been a corresponding lack of urgency towards crafting an ideological legitimization of that power: there’s been no need.

3

christian_h 02.10.13 at 4:00 pm

I don’t get Lewis’s point, by the way. It seems to rely on the assumption that the Republicans field crazy candidates because … Those candidates are crazy – so you train them to be less crazy. But that’s getting it backwards. The Republicans field crazy candidates because those candidates get the support from the activist base. If you train one candidate to be less crazy, an even more crazy one will appear and challenge him.

4

Charrua 02.10.13 at 4:11 pm

The problem is twofold: it’s not obvious that those candidates are just making gaffes (which is solvable) instead of saying what they think (which is less solvable), and the mechanisms that the GOP developed to enforce ideological discipline are strongly decentralized (specially after the ascent of the Tea Party movement) making the kind of push towards cosmetic moderation especially difficult.
There is not a clear way for the party elite to purge its most extreme wing, at least that I can see.

5

LFC 02.10.13 at 4:19 pm

has anyone done polling that might indicate whether voters – some groups of voters – have, over time, come to associate conservatism’s evergreen ‘meanness’ with, shall we say, an inferiority of fact? Is the public tending more to associate the mental toughness of conservatism with that thing you get from wearing a tinfoil hat too tight?

If you are interested in how the U.S. electorate perceives the two parties, or perceives liberals vs. conservatives (w.r.t ‘factual inferiority’ or other matters) — and I, frankly, usually can’t get all that interested in such questions — then you should probably spend more time reading a blog like The Monkey Cage and less time reading J. Goldberg et al.

I’m sure that Holbo, being a philosophy prof., finds it more congenial to write clever twists on Ralph Waldo Emerson apothegms quoted by right-wing hacks, but the people who actually know something systematic about attitudes of the U.S. electorate — to the extent that anyone knows something systematic — are, for better or worse, the numbers-crunching political scientists.

Btw, several days ago I watched the first 25 mins or so of a lecture by Larry Bartels linked at the above-mentioned blog. One thing that came through clearly in those 25 mins was the ignorance of large swaths of the electorate about basic facts. Iirc, something like 60 percent of voters who were in a swing or undecided category (I forget the exact label) in the last pres. election did not know that Repubs control the House of Representatives. So these voters, as Bartels remarked, were having to evaluate arguments about how much Obama accomplished (or didn’t accomplish) in his first term without being aware that, for part of that term, one chamber of Congress was controlled by the opposition party. An electorate that is, to a significant degree, factually challenged itself may not be in an ideal position to determine whether certain politicians are displaying ‘inferiority in fact’.

6

John Holbo 02.10.13 at 4:34 pm

“I’m sure that Holbo, being a philosophy prof., finds it more congenial to write clever twists on Ralph Waldo Emerson apothegms quoted by right-wing hacks, but the people who actually know something systematic about attitudes of the U.S. electorate — to the extent that anyone knows something systematic — are, for better or worse, the numbers-crunching political scientists.”

Sorry, what’s the complaint? Because political scientists are likeliest to know the answer to my question, I am wrong to ask the question? Being a philosopher? But couldn’t I be both a philosopher and interested in knowing this thing that, probably, political scientists know? (I am forbidden to wear both hats for some reason?)

“An electorate that is, to a significant degree, factually challenged itself may not be in an ideal position to determine whether certain politicians are displaying ‘inferiority in fact’.”

I think you may have misunderstood the post. The point I was making was that, whatever the electorate thinks – which obviously I don’t know, hence the use of question marks – Republicans seem to be behaving as if the electorate probably thinks this thing, and behaving as if the electorate is at least half-right to think this thing. This seems an interesting development.

7

MDH 02.10.13 at 4:37 pm

Re: #1. While I agree in principle, this seems hard to do when in a given election cycle where you’re trying out your new recipe, you’re only at liberty to change on the order of 10% of the ingredients which comprise the pizza. It’s not just that you need a viable new recipe and not just that people need to be convinced they’ll like it better. Dominos can actually go out and buy a different brand of tomato sauce and cheese; the GOP ranks, filled as they are with near half-crazy uncles, isn’t so easily replaced.

8

Omega Centauri 02.10.13 at 4:48 pm

Tom amplify on Chris @3. I think the true driver os the craziness, is the dynamics of what it takes to succeed in big money talk-entertainment. The way to get noticed is to be crazier than the others. This leads to a race to the craziest.

9

Doctor Science 02.10.13 at 4:59 pm

I think I disagree with Charrua @ 4:

the mechanisms that the GOP developed to enforce ideological discipline are strongly decentralized

It seems to me that they are very strongly centralized — at Fox News. Is there any evidence that it’s difficult for Roger Ailes to decide we have always been at war with Eastasia and have it followed? If Ailes decides that the Fox News line will be to support the pragmatists, won’t the Republican base go along?

10

John Holbo 02.10.13 at 5:05 pm

I just got an email from someone, pointing out that Jindal is kind of crazy too. I agree. (I wouldn’t want the post to suggest I think Jindal is reasonable or moderate.) But I think those, like Matt Lewis, who think Jindal has a bright future are quite likely to be right. He seems like the kind of crazy that knows when to burn bright, when to turn that light down low. He seems very self-aware about how he looks to different audiences.

11

Jerry Vinokurov 02.10.13 at 5:08 pm

Is this really anything other than symbolic gyrations in the direction of possibly doing something sensible, a theater in which Jonah Goldberg plays the bad cop to the allegedly good cop of Marco Rubio (hah!), Bobby Jindal! (hahaha!), and Eric Cantor (*sob*)? I feel like this can be dissected back and forth for a good long time and of course it’s all quite ridiculous, but I also believe that you can’t be anything other than what you are. Maybe at the individual level it’s possible to change minds, but institutions have a hell of a lot more inertia and thus their identities are more stable; by and large the Republican establishment hasn’t experienced a collective epiphany and isn’t going to. The extent of their realization has been that they are kind of unpopular, but considering that causal model-building isn’t exactly their strong suit, they’re not really sure why, and their predictable solution to their own unpopularity is either “conservativate harder,” or “disguise the nasty things you’re going to do to people.” All this alleged infighting and talk of rebranding and whatever else is not the expression of an actually meaningful debate within the party, or actual willingness to confront the facts about the world; it’s just throwing feces around to see if sticks to anything.

12

phosphorious 02.10.13 at 5:12 pm

The problem with candidate Akin wasn’t just that he was ‘mean to women’ but that he was mean in such a wacky, reality-confounded way.

Or even worse. . . he was being as compassionate as his craziness would let him. Pro-lifers, remember, are trying to save babies, hardly a mean ambition. But ask them what counts as a baby. . . and stand back as their lips start flapping.

As for your larger point. . . about whether the light is beginning to dawn on the un-crazy conservatives that things have gone too far. . . I’m not so sure. The fact that Karl Rove seems to be leading the charge against the Tea Baggers suggests to me that this is all mere strategy and triangulation. Karl Rove couldn’t pick the Truth out of a line up, and that’s if he cared to take the trouble, which he doesn’t.

He’s just looking for the best way to sell the craziness, to get it back in power. There’s still a preoccupation with tone, not content.

13

Charrua 02.10.13 at 5:14 pm

Well, even if that were true (and I’m not sure it is), that would count as decentralized mechanism in a normal political party, right?
It ties with Omega @ 8 point that there is a talk show host dynamic at work here.
Talk show radio, Fox News, the whole conservative media ecosystem plays too much of a role in the enforcement of ideological discipline, so much that even the elite of the party (the party leaders, its biggest donors, etc. ) have trouble controlling the process.

14

Substance McGravitas 02.10.13 at 5:18 pm

I bother to ask only because it seems conservatives like Goldberg, and the promising pols he talks up in his piece – Jindal, Rubio, Ryan, Cantor – are defensive about this stereotype.

If you’re gonna play mad scientist and try to press out some coherence juice from these guys – particularly Goldberg – you’re gonna be a sad mad scientist.

15

LFC 02.10.13 at 5:33 pm

JH@6
Because political scientists are likeliest to know the answer to my question, I am wrong to ask the question?
No, you’re not wrong to ask the question.

The point I was making was that, whatever the electorate thinks – which obviously I don’t know, hence the use of question marks – Republicans seem to be behaving as if the electorate probably thinks this thing, and behaving as if the electorate is at least half-right to think this thing. This seems an interesting development.
I don’t really follow the intra-party debates among Republicans. They had two Senate candidates in the last election — Akin in Mo. and that guy in Indiana whose name unfortunately escapes me — who said things so patently crazy or offensive that they lost races they should have won, given their states’ leanings and demographics. When two Senate candidates turn out to be self-defeatingly crazy in a blatant way, it’s not surprising that, as you point out in your post, some conservatives are going to become defensive about the far-right-wingers-are-crazy meme/accusation/whatever, and not surprising that they are finding it hard to deny that a few of their candidates were in fact crazy. But there were very right-wing candidates who apparently managed not to say *totally* bonkers things who won, like Cruz in Texas. So I’m not sure whether the Repubs will conclude that this was an isolated problem w a couple of candidates (and mandate don’t-put-foot-in-mouth-boot-camp as the cure) or whether they will conclude that it’s a more general problem w how voters perceive the party and its ‘brand’.

16

Peter Hovde 02.10.13 at 6:02 pm

Dial back on the self-swindle for Jindal?

17

Sancho 02.10.13 at 6:29 pm

“Prion” is pronounced pree-on. IIRC, the researchers who identified them had a good understanding of marketing and were careful to correct the pronunciation when discussing their findings.

Prions don’t exactly eat brains, but float around instructing healthy proteins to change shape and appearance, preventing them from working properly in maintaining brain function. Like hipsters.

18

christian_h 02.10.13 at 6:37 pm

I think as has been pointed out repeatedly on the internet (whence, it must be true), Republican politics have not significantly shifted to the right since Reagan. What seems to have changed – starting maybe during Clinton’s presidency – is the openness with which these policies now need to be advocated by candidates in order to convince the base of their sincerity. I don’t particularly think that this is very hard to explain either – making candidates support crazy bigoted policies openly makes it harder for them to disavow them later, undermining the big business Republican strategy of faking right socially in order to implement pro-business policies. These tendencies are reinforced by the increase in prominence – due to the campaign spending explosion – of the small number of ultra-rich Republicans who actually agree with the socially reactionry base.

So what I am trying to say is that what may seem like (and quite likely, is) weakness on the part of the Rovian wing here – that they are forced to admit half their party is crazy – is also necessary as an appeal to the party’s true constituency to engage in the fight.

To give a very different example of a similar phenomenon: in the 80ies, radical left forces in the Labour Party (UK) were very strong (Militant, Bennites etc.). [To be clear, I am a revolutionary socialist myself and certainly am not suggesting that those forces were crazy in the same way the reactionaries in the Republican party are - quite the opposite.] The pro-business wing of the party recognized this and went on the offensive, finally ending with installing Blair (and destroying the party in the process, but that’s a different story). As part of this offensive they found it necessary to very publically assail the “crazy” left within their ranks, even at the risk (quite possibly realized) of losing an election or two due to the effect of this attack on their own party. Interestingly, as part of this process parts of the pro-business wing of the party also split off to form the SDP – a process that can be observed locally in the Republican party as well, eg in Kansas.

19

Cranky Observer 02.10.13 at 6:43 pm

= = = The problem with candidate Akin wasn’t just that he was ‘mean to women’ but that he was mean in such a wacky, reality-confounded way. = = =

For the record, and for the benefit of those who have not lived in the square states (or in the United States at all), and speaking as a person who had the misfortune to have Todd Akin as his US Representative for a period of time: Mr. Akin did not “misspeak” or “use a wrong word” in his famous statement about rape. A substantial percentage of his base [1] literally believes that when a good virtuous [Christian] woman is raped that her body does ‘have a way to shut that down’, and that only the other type of women [s***s and Jezebels] become pregnant as a result of rape. I dealt with this exact, literal, and heartfelt belief in both the workplace and my community during my time in Missouri – and that state by no means has the highest percentage of such thinking in the United States.

Cranky

[1] Generally among evangelicals, as you might imagine, but not exclusively among Republicans or the Radical Right either; no small number of those who consider themselves (conservative) Democrats held similar beliefs.

20

Glen Tomkins 02.10.13 at 6:50 pm

You have to think about the loss of credibility in terms of what different audiences will find credible. The Rs lost people like us a long time ago, but they were able to keep winning anyway, because we aren’t the majority. As Adlai Stevenson replied to the little old lady who told him, “All the intelligent people I know are voting for you.”: “That’s nice, but I need a majority to win.”

If the Rs are now so overcommitted towards positions that even the middling voter in the country as a whole will not find credible, they will just have to find ways to keep winning without that demographic. Fortunately for them, election law in this putative Union is set by states, and they control many more states than their strength in presidential elections would suggest they should control, because the legacy of inattention to voting has allowed them to systematically suppress the vote and/or gerrymander the results, in off-presidential elections.

As inevitable as it might be that they will be pushed towards restricting the effective franchise, there’s certainly nothing inevitable about their success in that direction. It’s encouraging that they’ve mostly backed off the scheme of going off winner-take-all for EC votes, and that in VA they’ve backed off an extreme state Senate gerrymander. But that’s what we have to rely on now, that they won’t be sufficiently united in their willingness to defy the national consensus to play the hardball that could let them keep on winning and controlling the national govt long after losing the national majority.

21

Pat 02.10.13 at 7:47 pm

John Holbo #6:

Sorry, what’s the complaint?

I believe the complaint was you quoted Jonah Goldberg. Which is a waste of all of our time and/or minds. No?

22

Mao Cheng Ji 02.10.13 at 7:54 pm

As someone said a few days ago in a previous thread, they’ve already won. The Democrats are a right wing party, and the Republicans are to the right of that, in Cuckooland. The new brilliant and controversial Democratic health care law was a wingnut proposal of just a few years ago.

I don’t see how the Republicans can rehabilitate themselves without any help from the Democrats, moving over, giving them some space on the right side of the bench. If it keeps going like this, they would soon have to campaign on the platform of human sacrifices or something…

23

Antti Nannimus 02.10.13 at 7:58 pm

Hi,

The problem isn’t that some right-wing U.S. conservatives are mean, and some are crazy, and some are both. The problem IS that predictably and reliably 28 to 30%, of the entire U.S. electorate fits into at least one, and often both, of those categories. At certain times even many more of us do. When combined with our national xenophobia, big-money politics, and constant media manipulation, that is a HUGE long-term problem, not only for the U.S, but also for the entire planet.

Have a nice day,
Antti

24

ML 02.10.13 at 8:02 pm

Sorry to veer off topic but the toughness and the parental thing isn’t too far off. There are studies showing that conservatives are very likely to have had authoritarian parents and that the more physical discipline they received, the further to the right they will lean on many issues.

So meanness is authority and authority is daddy and daddy knows best. Trust meanness.

25

Pat 02.10.13 at 8:02 pm

… following up on the above, please stop paying attention to Jonah Goldberg. There is nothing to learn from him, even as an anthropological experiment. The man is stone-cold stupid, and he’s not going to become somehow insightful, no matter how long you watch him.

Following up on that: It is perhaps time to stop wondering if there’s some reason for conservatives all being stupid and just grant that they’re stupid. They believe that global warming is a hoax. They believe that evolution is just a theory. They believe that the New Deal failed and that Keynesianism was discredited… I believe it was supposed to be in the late 60s, but I’ve never been able to make heads or tails of the supposed “argument.” They believe the president was born in Kenya, and they believe Saddam did 9/11. They believe universal college is snobbery. They believe the answer to our economic woes is a balanced budget. They believe the cause of our economic woes is it’s too easy to get food stamps. They’re stupid.

They’re not in possession of different values, or viewing the world through a different framework. They’re stupid. Objectively, measurably, stupid.

Now, they’re not constitutionally stupid. It’s not that their mommas drank or their daddies didn’t remove the lead paint. It’s an intellectual laziness, I think, whereby they give themselves permission to be stupid, because it’s more fun to believe the president is an illegitimate foreigner who bribed voters than to grapple with the rather tame truth that it’s hard to win elections when you tell the electorate that 47% of them are parasites. They are capable of doing the math, of working out the logic, but they semi-consciously adopt this posture of stupidity instead.

But we’re not getting any degree closer to clarity by dancing around the issue. They’re stupid. Their supposed intellectual stars all lose their luster the moment they open their mouths—Paul Ryan, Kantor, Jindal, Goldberg… there’s a quote out there about Irving Kristol talking about all the placement for Bill Kristol that Harvey Mansfield did but him nevertheless disapproving of affirmative action because it’s contrary to meritocracy—there’s simply no such thing as an intelligent conservative. Being conservative obliges one to adopt a posture of stupidity. That’s pretty much all there is to it.

26

William Timberman 02.10.13 at 8:08 pm

Everybody wants to be Leni Riefenstahl, it seems. A prominent AZ Democrat, seriously considering running for governor in 2014, went on the radio back in January (on a talk show that I’ve helped sponsor, no less. Oh, the shame of it all!) to opine that what was wrong with AZ was that it needed better branding. No. No, no, no, no…etc.

If marketing is king, then I guess that makes me the pawn. (Same as it ever was….)

27

blavag 02.10.13 at 8:08 pm

The actual base of the Republican party is still the same handful of deeply reactionary billionaires and Rove and the others have been operating a finely crafted scam to part them from as much of their money as possible. It may be that the crazed uncle voters have come to that conclusion as well ( the trouble they have of getting Republicans to be properly conservative quoted above) or it may be that the billionaires have shifted their attentions to states and localities–cheaper and more effective.

28

parsimon 02.10.13 at 8:16 pm

Holbo’s original question:

has anyone done polling that might indicate whether voters – some groups of voters – have, over time, come to associate conservatism’s evergreen ‘meanness’ with, shall we say, an inferiority of fact?

Wasn’t there a recent poll on consumer confidence in various news outlets, and Fox was showing dropping numbers? That just goes toward a growing awareness of the teh stupid, however, not particularly to what John is apparently interested in: whether the meanness is associated (by the public) with the inferiority of fact.

29

david 02.10.13 at 8:24 pm

The pro-business wing of the party recognized this and went on the offensive, finally ending with installing Blair (and destroying the party in the process, but that’s a different story).

Wait, what? Didn’t Blair then go on to become Prime Minister for a solid decade? As opposed to Labour being in the wilderness for two?

30

PJW 02.10.13 at 8:34 pm

The gist of the OP will get an interesttting test here in Iowa when the dangerously crazy Rep. Steve King (likely) runs for the seat coming open with the retirement of longtime Sen. Tom Harkin (D-Iowa), an intelligent, progressive politician. Iowa is a bit schizophrenic and hard to predict as we can be fairly progressive on big issues such as getting rid of the death penalty in the 1960s and being a relatively early adopter of gay marriage. But then we have nutjobs like King easily winning elections to the House and with what appears to be a better-than-average chance of taking over Harkin’s liberal seat. Head scratcher.

31

LFC 02.10.13 at 9:23 pm

Pat @25
there’s simply no such thing as an intelligent conservative

Actually there are intelligent conservatives. It’s possible to be smart and wrong. I’ll give you one of quite a few possible examples. Before John Roberts became a judge and then Chief Justice, he was one of the best appellate advocates in the U.S. of his generation, probably the best. I once heard on the radio an old tape of Roberts arguing a fairly complicated case at the Supreme Court and dealing with some very skeptical questions from the justices. He did not end up winning that particular case but he gave an incredibly fluent, polished, disciplined, and in a word, amazing performance. Stupid he ain’t.

32

PatrickinIowa 02.10.13 at 9:35 pm

Iowa’s “schizophrenia” is geographic. The closer to Illinois you are, the bluer. The closer to Nebraska, redder. King has a very safe (loony) district. Grassley comes off as a bit cranky, but he goes after the defense department from time to time, so he peels off some “moderates.” And he’s an incumbent.

Harkin’s seat goes to a competent Dem if King wins the primary, I predict.

What I find hard to believe is that Jonah Goldberg’s parents made him do homework. They may have got him jobs, but further his intellectual development? That’s defies belief.

33

John Quiggin 02.10.13 at 9:36 pm

The point is that, to be a conservative in good standing, you have either to believe lots of really stupid things, or to keep your mouth shut while your political allies assert things you know to be false. Sooner or later,that makes you stupid, in the way that Pat @25 said.

34

ponce 02.10.13 at 9:50 pm

As Goebbels said, It doesn’t really matter that Republicans candidates are crazy and their propagandists are mostly lazy, idiotic nepotism hires.

All that matters is whether they are effective or not.

Thank gawd they are not.

http://www.calvin.edu/academic/cas/gpa/goeb54.htm

35

Russell L. Carter 02.10.13 at 10:11 pm

William Timberman@26:

I’m astounded to learn that such a beast as your group exists in my near neighborhood. I’m over the hill in Prescott. Mirroring the comment about Iowa above, AZ is deeply schizophrenic, too, as a minute spent pondering our current and previous governors reveals.

36

Lee A. Arnold 02.10.13 at 11:30 pm

John Holbo, basically the GOP is up scheiss creek, until they accept a few facts. First, the internet is changing things. No political party is going to be able to control the public debate any more. As I wrote under John Quiggin’s post: the plutocracy cannot fund enough communication channels to ensure that its rhetorical strategy will continue to dominate.

The unravelling has only just begun.

I think that no one has done the sort of polling you ask about. I think it is possible to argue that the U.S. is mildly center-left, not center-right, and the majority of intelligent commentary on the internet began to reveal this, by around 10 years ago. We want retirement security, we want healthcare, we want environmental protection, we want regulation of banks and corporations. However that is a different thing from whether people know their facts.

My sense of it is that (A) most people do NOT know the facts; they cannot distinguish which facts are superior or inferior, and they go with the crowd, the herd instinct; (B) however, there is a genuine distrust among bluecollars for libertarianism; I have heard libertarianism referred to even by bluecollar Republicans as a mental disease, and (C) the reason the GOP brand has fallen into current disrepute is that their recent political ascendancy is associated with the business deregulation and favoritism for the wealthy that gave us the current economic crisis.

The Dems would not usually escape being blamed too (as they ought to be blamed) but they have had a bit of political luck, insofar as they are recently ideologically much more of a hodge-podge, and they have been able to use the Republicans’ more intransigent ideology against them. This has been a conscious tactic of patient maneuvers, and it was formulated at least as far back as the disputes over the healthcare reform before its passage, which made the possibility of the tactic apparent.

This is all contingencies, but there is also something more fundamental: the GOP, as I keep trying to point out, has had a growing problem since Reagan first set them on their course: (1) Reaganomics is nonsense, without solid demand-side policies added to it, but (2) they must keep selling it to their only reliable voters, because they can’t win elections on mostly social-conservative issues — yet their reliable voters would be among the first people to be harmed by cutting the entitlements.

Thus, Saint Ronnie put them on a crash course with reality. When the debate over healthcare reform made these contradictions politically obvious — in other words, when it became obvious that the Republicans were taking a position in direct opposition to the best future of the country (and against a reform which was partly written on Republican principles, no less!) — it became possible to formulate tactics to take advantage of the mindlessness: to drive one wedge into the Republican Party between the moderates and the wingnuts, and to drive another wedge between the Republicans and the rest of the country.

This process is not finished, but still, political maneuvering is usually only short-term stuff.

However the GOP still has the genuine intellectual problem of making the Reaganic alchemical formulary comport with the modern principles. Thus Republican rebranding schemes will NEVER work again, unless they can find a way to rhetorically accept the real future of the country, which is going to be (1) larger government and taxation to support Medicare, and (2) more redistribution, because inequality is not abating, and it may continue to get worse.

Now this does not mean the GOP won’t win more elections, on contingencies and spot issues.

But a party needs to understand the facts, even if the people do not, because otherwise the party will crash into reality again. And you can no longer depend upon dominating the airwaves. That was a hundred-year era, and it is finished. The big government future is not going away, and unless the Republicans rebrand to accept that fact, they will be increasing marginalized and irrelevant.

37

William Timberman 02.10.13 at 11:38 pm

Russell L. Carter @ 35

It’s true, I think, that AZ is almost a laboratory test case for the premise of the OP. If the business wing of the Republican Party in Maricopa County (meaning Phoenix, for those not familiar with U.S. politics) could somehow rouse itself to do something about the crazies, as they did with Russell Pearce (State Senator, recalled in 2011, principal sponsor of SB 1070, the infamous show me your papers law) AZ could exit the dark ages almost overnight, at least in terms of its governance.

38

ponce 02.10.13 at 11:43 pm

@36

For one hundred million Americans, George W. Bush is the only Republican president they’ve known.

That’s a tough obstacle to overcome.

39

chris 02.10.13 at 11:52 pm

As Goebbels said, It doesn’t really matter that Republicans candidates are crazy and their propagandists are mostly lazy, idiotic nepotism hires.

All that matters is whether they are effective or not.

You don’t think being lazy, idiotic nepotism hires has any bearing on their effectiveness?

The only reason we’re not already doomed is that half of them are too busy grifting the other half to get down to business.

40

ponce 02.11.13 at 12:00 am

@39

I agree.

Thank gawd there isn’t a genius(evil) like Goebbels among the wingnut public shouters.

It’s so easy to shoot down a piece of fringe right propaganda from someone like Canadian High School dropout Mark (the human) Steyn by pointing out the inevitable lies it contains.

41

Pat 02.11.13 at 1:34 am

… I’m literally chuckling aloud at Ponce’s comment at #38, and the rest of the coffee shop is starting to look worried.

42

MPAVictoria 02.11.13 at 1:46 am

The big problem for the GOP is that a large chunk of there base does not think they have a problem. Seriously. Go to Red State and read their new post on why rational people are homophobic and then look at all the supportive comments. Scary stuff. These people can not be pushed into the waste bin of history soon enough.

43

pedant 02.11.13 at 1:58 am

Wait: does Goldberg think that the phrase “superiority in fact” in the Emerson quote means “a better position when it comes to facts,” i.e. “conservatives may be mean, but they are factually accurate”?

Because that is not what the phrase means.

Emerson is saying that conservatives adopt an air of superiority, an attitude as though their account of the facts was superior, when in truth their facts are not better.

This is clear from the sentences that follow in Emerson’s essay:

“…joined with a certain superiority in its fact. It affirms because it holds. Its fingers clutch the fact, and it will not open its eyes to see a better fact.”

Note Emerson’s phrase, “a better fact”: he says that the conservative obstinately refuses to see a better fact. That shows that Emerson thinks that the facts that the conservative clings to are not, in fact, superior, and the conservatives never were in a superior position vis a vis the facts.

And Goldberg illustrates this. He simply gets the facts wrong here about what Emerson meant.

44

RW (the other) 02.11.13 at 2:29 am

“I never meant to say that the Conservatives are generally stupid. I meant to say that stupid people are generally Conservative. I believe that is so obviously and universally admitted a principle that I hardly think any gentleman will deny it.” -John Stuart Mill (1866)

45

Anarcissie 02.11.13 at 3:22 am

Isn’t it possibly a bit self-serving — perhaps even delusionally self-serving — to assume that one’s own party is rational, connected with reality, compassionate, and full of truth, and one’s party’s opponents are all lunatics or criminals?

If indeed there is this profound difference between the parties, why didn’t the changes of party in the U.S. Federal government in 2006 and 2008 make a profound difference in the state behavior I observe around me, or hear of in the media?

46

MPAVictoria 02.11.13 at 3:38 am

“Isn’t it possibly a bit self-serving — perhaps even delusionally self-serving — to assume that one’s own party is rational, connected with reality, compassionate, and full of truth, and one’s party’s opponents are all lunatics or criminals?

If indeed there is this profound difference between the parties, why didn’t the changes of party in the U.S. Federal government in 2006 and 2008 make a profound difference in the state behavior I observe around me, or hear of in the media?”

Do we have to do this again?

47

Omega Centauri 02.11.13 at 3:55 am

I’m not so sure they are going to go down that easily. They’ve done a bangup job of reinforcing a lot of conservative memes and thought tendencies. Resentiment about anyone who is deemed “unworthy” getting even a tiny amount of public resources for one. This is widespread, and often repeated by Democrats. Government by its nature is wasteful, only private companies can be efficient, check. And again if I had a nickel for every time I’ve heard a liberal leaning voter go on repeating some anecdotal story of government waste, I’d be able to buy the election. They’ve really done quite a bit of mindspace pollution, and this isn’t going to be cleaned up soon.

48

bad Jim 02.11.13 at 4:03 am

Thomas Edsall quotes a team that has done some recent polling: “The proportion of people expressing anti-Black attitudes was 32 percent among Democrats, 48 percent among independents, and 79 percent among Republicans.”

There is a distinct difference between the parties on economic issues, but the gulf between them on racial and cultural issues is vast and perhaps unbridgeable.

49

Gene O'Grady 02.11.13 at 4:16 am

I don’t like the equation of being a good parent with “making your kids do their homework.” How about reading to them, carrying on intelligent discussions in front of them that eventually include them, expecting them to defend their opinions with reasoned arguments, taking them to museums, you name it. Equating parenting with “making them do their homework” is cartoon show parenting.

50

Bruce Wilder 02.11.13 at 5:33 am

Goldberg is a cartoon show conservative.

51

Bruce Wilder 02.11.13 at 5:40 am

Anarcissie: “If indeed there is this profound difference between the parties, why didn’t the changes of party in the U.S. Federal government in 2006 and 2008 make a profound difference in the state behavior I observe around me, or hear of in the media?”

It seems like a reasonable question. The parties are different, in the tribal identities and cultural associations they furnish their memberships. One might almost think the party competition was a show, put on to distract the populace.

52

bad Jim 02.11.13 at 6:50 am

The ship of state has a lot of momentum and a very small rudder, particularly when the government is divided, so it isn’t capable of a rapid change in direction. Sure, both parties draw financial support from banks and big business, but even the timid reforms which have been put in place have been stymied by the opposition.

The differences aren’t really that hard to see. The last three Republican presidencies featured invasions of foreign countries, while the last three Democratic presidencies did not. There has also been a notable difference in the competence with which natural disasters have been managed, and both of these have actually drawn considerable attention from the media.

53

Katherine 02.11.13 at 10:24 am

As Gene O’Grady said at #49, this says a lot about conservative/right wing parenting, as well as their politics.

Firstly, it reveals that they think of themselves as the parents, and everyone else as the children. That’s a patronising and worrying assumption right there.

Then, parenting is associated with being mean. Now, like every single person on the planet, I had some issues with things my parents said and did when I was younger, and there are now moments when I understand things they said or did that I didn’t at the time, but “being mean” was, and is, not something I associate with their parenting, and I’d be horrified if that’s what my child associated with me.

Being a parent =/= mean. Worth bearing in mind at this juncture that the main reason the US has not signed up the Convention on the Rights of the Child is because of right wing perception that it undermines the authority of parents.

54

Trader Joe 02.11.13 at 3:11 pm

Pew Research did a study some years ago looking at how voters identify relative to a series of different value propositions (i.e. more government or less, more or less religious intensity, etc.). The time period was 1990- to date (which was maybe 2008 or so).

The study as I recall found that over that time period support for Democratic values had generally run between 45-50%, while for Republican values the support had been mostly between 40% and 45% – but had fallen below that at the time of the survey (and is no doubt well below that now).

I’m sure the study is easily found, it got lots of attention at the time. I’m not aware of any updates.

The suggestion I took away was that there was a solid base of around 45% for any Democratic candidate that wasn’t “nuts” (and they’ve had their share too) and maybe a 40% base for a similarly non-nuts Rebuplican candidate. The middle 15% of the electorate is the one that will be variously swayed by the economy, media, personal appeal and maybe, just maybe a little data (accurate or not).

Obviously its easier to pull 5 of 15 than 10 of 15 which explains much of the recent success of Democrats and will likely contribute to their long-term success unless they arrogantly rest on their laurels to the point where they think they can run “nuts” and win.

55

Anarcissie 02.11.13 at 5:21 pm

MPAVictoria 02.11.13 at 3:38 am @ 46:
‘Do we have to do this again?’
Not at all. Res ipsa loquitur.

I must take a little exception here, though (bad Jim 02.11.13 at 6:50 am @ 52): ‘ The last three Republican presidencies featured invasions of foreign countries, while the last three Democratic presidencies did not. There has also been a notable difference in the competence with which natural disasters have been managed, and both of these have actually drawn considerable attention from the media.’

One of the strongest evidences of a coherent ruling class in the U.S. is the remarkable consistency of American foreign and military policy and action since World War 2. The last three Democratic presidents have all been resolute interventionists in spite of the disastrous effects of the Vietnam intervention of their predecessors upon their party and country.

In regard to natural disasters, FEMA’s performance was an object of derision here in New York City. However, they may have had better public relations elsewhere. In any case it may be that large authoritarian organizations are incapable of responding to such events because of the many layers of bureaucracy through which any proposal for action must pass, whereas local volunteer groups can simply go and do what they think needs to be done. The Gothamist, a local news website, published amusing pictures of Occupy Sandy volunteers feeding woebegone FEMA volunteers, who said they had been sent to the Rockaways with no mission, directions, funds, food, tools, or rain gear. One can imagine what would have happened if we had had a New-Orleans sized disaster. Or maybe not.

56

Stephen 02.11.13 at 9:12 pm

Christian_h@18: “I am a revolutionary socialist myself”.

I knew several such when I was younger, fewer now. Would it be too much trouble for you to explain which revolutionary socialist attempts have been successful; and why you think the others failed; and how you think your revolutionary efforts will avoid failure?

57

Stephen 02.11.13 at 9:16 pm

RW (the other) @44

Variant of your epigram:
“I never meant to say that the Radicals are generally silly. I meant to say that silly people are generally Radical. I believe that is so obviously and universally admitted a principle that I hardly think any gentleman will deny it.”

Forget who, in the late 19th century, said that. Not obviously less true than Mill. Sauce for goose, sauce for gander.

58

John Quiggin 02.11.13 at 9:25 pm

“Anarcissie: “If indeed there is this profound difference between the parties, why didn’t the changes of party in the U.S. Federal government in 2006 and 2008 make a profound difference in the state behavior I observe around me’

Obama, for nearly all of his first term, was the embodiment of Broderism, both in terms of his desire for a “grand bargain” with the Republicans, and his acceptance of standard the centrist view that the core requirement of such a bargain was to cut Medicare and Social Security. He’s shifted away from that significantly, both in process and policy terms.

The main point of posts like this, and my previous post, is to convince centrists like Obama that the Republican party, as it now exists, is not based on reality and can’t be reasoned or bargained with.

59

Mao Cheng Ji 02.12.13 at 12:44 pm

Maybe it’d be more useful to view the GOP as just an ordinary pro-business party (more regressive taxation, less social safety net, and business regulations), except that in a two-party environment it has to get 50% of the vote somehow. As Romney noted, it gets difficult, and so they have to recruit various nutcases, by appealing to various weird sentiments. If they don’t succeed with the ‘angry conservative’ theme, they can always recycle the ‘compassionate conservative’. Or, better yet, find a way to combine the two.

60

Anarcissie 02.12.13 at 9:24 pm

John Quiggin 02.11.13 at 9:25 pm @ 58:
‘… The main point of posts like this, and my previous post, is to convince centrists like Obama that the Republican party, as it now exists, is not based on reality and can’t be reasoned or bargained with.’

I didn’t realize Obama was reading this. I’d better watch my step.

Democrats can’t reason or bargain with Republicans not because of something to do with ‘reality’, whatever that is, but because the Democratic Party has taken up almost all of the Republicans’ ideological space. The Republicans’ stock in trade is sadly depleted. Serve the rich, bail out bankers and brokers? Democrat. Start and continue wars all over? Democrat. Trash the Bill of Rights? Democrat. Surveille everybody? Democrat. Bust Welfare, Social Security? Democrat. Poor old Republicans have just about nothing left to sell, as their silly Benghazi fandango shows.

61

bad Jim 02.13.13 at 6:11 am

Silly me. I would have thought that orders of magnitude mattered, that the death toll from Katrina or the invasion of Iraq were matters of profound concern. I should have known better.

62

James 02.13.13 at 8:53 pm

How much of interpreted reality is driven by the ordering facts to match a political goal?

To take an example from this thread, bad Jim @52 believes that recent Democratic presidents do not invade foreign countries because magnitude maters and Haiti, Kosovo, Bosnia, and Libia do not count.

63

rf 02.13.13 at 9:00 pm

“To the best of my knowledge, no prominent peer-reviewed article in political science has reported a difference in the frequency with which the United States enters into conflict under Democratic presidents relative to Republican presidents. That’s not because no one has looked for such a difference (I know I have). It’s because, to date, no one has found one…..”

http://www.whiteoliphaunt.com/duckofminerva/2012/10/the-difference-parties-dont-make.html

64

James 02.14.13 at 1:57 pm

My post was not meant to knock on bad Jim’s comment. People make their own determination on which facts are most important, what facts qualifies as fitting in a given category, and how to interpret the facts. All of this occurs independent of the tendency to self censer incoming information sources. This is how Republicans and Democrats can come to two totally different conclusions while having exactly the same information. Claiming of alternate reality simply the shortcut for ‘They don’t agree with me, we shouldn’t listen to them.’

65

mark drago 02.16.13 at 1:01 am

Christian_h@18: ["To be clear, I am a revolutionary socialist myself" ]…? what? what is a “revolutionary socialist” at home? someone with an inflated sense of their personal importance & purity perhaps? Is voting beneath such an entity? the whole political process conveniently beneath one’s consideration? The “system” or whatever hopelessly corrupt? It is like saying, “I am a saint…” in the context of this site: those who dispute whatever I say, etc. [I really, really miss Bérubé's blog... ]…”I am better–smarter–whatever–than you”..that is what even this excellent site–well–better than most– ever displays– and then the talkers– the revolutionary socialists, forsooth, go on to criticize the president, or congress, or this or that political entity, as if the interlocutors here are children talking about the professor–that wicked person who is intrinsically evil…ach– grow up– do something to ease the lot of your neighbor who needs help…be active in the political process…to say this party is the same as that: that is a child’s view–you do not see individuals but feel satisfaction in your insight– what nuance of “party” makes a difference– i do not give a shit about your party…your political stance; how do you treat other people?

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