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11 September 2008 @ 09:28 am
Why Democrats "Don't Get" Republicans  
Via the_gwenzilliad:


What Makes People Vote Republican

From the introduction:

Diagnosis is a pleasure. It is a thrill to solve a mystery from scattered clues, and it is empowering to know what makes others tick. In the psychological community, where almost all of us are politically liberal, our diagnosis of conservatism gives us the additional pleasure of shared righteous anger. We can explain how Republicans exploit frames, phrases, and fears to trick Americans into supporting policies (such as the "war on terror" and repeal of the "death tax") that damage the national interest for partisan advantage.

But with pleasure comes seduction, and with righteous pleasure comes seduction wearing a halo. Our diagnosis explains away Republican successes while convincing us and our fellow liberals that we hold the moral high ground. Our diagnosis tells us that we have nothing to learn from other ideologies, and it blinds us to what I think is one of the main reasons that so many Americans voted Republican over the last 30 years: they honestly prefer the Republican vision of a moral order to the one offered by Democrats. To see what Democrats have been missing, it helps to take off the halo, step back for a moment, and think about what morality really is.
 
 
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(Deleted comment)
madfilkentist: CarlWindowmadfilkentist on September 11th, 2008 02:32 pm (UTC)
Haidt tries to escape from his own group's blinders, but doesn't really succeed. He doesn't grasp that there is an intellectual tradition behind Republican ideas, and sees their viewpoint only as a gut-feeling perspective. This is an easy mistake to make with the current administration; Bush is uncomfortable with any intellectual tradition. Indeed, the Republican Party has largely lost track of its intellectual roots, which has cost it and will cost it more.

But conservatism came from strong foundations, though made of two incompatible materials: a solid grasp of economics (far ahead of the Democrats in this respect, who chronically substitute wishful thinking for economics) and a narrow religious justification for its policies. The religious element has become increasingly fundamentalist, dragging the party down from its earlier respectability. Haidt sees only that, but by itself the party would never have had much of the strength it has.

As long as the Democrats pretend there's no intellectual debate, that the opposition may be well-meaning yahoos but still yahoos, their responses will continue to look like posturing.
Elizabeth McCoy: Sigharchangelbeth on September 11th, 2008 02:37 pm (UTC)
a solid grasp of economics

Do the Republicans, as a party, still retain that? Really? It seems that both sides are now big on the "spend money that isn't ours to fuel our pet projects," and the only choice is whose pet projects get funded with the debt.

*beth is depressed, yes*
madfilkentist: votemadfilkentist on September 11th, 2008 02:45 pm (UTC)
That's why I used the past tense.
Cat Sitting Stillcatsittingstill on September 12th, 2008 06:06 pm (UTC)
If all they have left at the moment is religious fundamentalism, a basically emotional argument, how are we "pretending" there is no intellectual debate?

Answering emotional arguments with intellectual ones risks falling into the "cold hearted cerebral, not like real people" trap. I think we better save intellectual arguments for when there are actual intellectual arguments on the other side.
Bill Suttonbedlamhouse on September 12th, 2008 06:21 pm (UTC)
As I read it (and see it in context of both the article and the experience of the Republican party post-1980), "narrow religious justification" is not necessarily equal to "religious fundamentalism". It just means that people find a foundation for their moral philosophy in religion.

In fact, I would go so far as to say that an overriding moral authority is the common factor, not necessarily religious justification. It happened to be the Religious Right that took advantage of it and pulled those looking for authority to their way of thinking.

Given that, there is room to sway people away from those whose authority we question, we just have to frame the argument in a context that addresses where the ideas came from. I'd postulate that most people with the type of view discussed here would not at all be comfortable with an argument of, "well, I figured it out so that means it's right for you" or even "these guys you never heard of came up with this and it sounds right to me." Some sort of basis for how such a thing works in society, either historically or from something perceived as an authoritative source, needs to be added.

Yes, that leads to difficulty accepting new ideas, but that's why it's lumped in under "conservative". The opposing viewpoint would be that "liberal" tries new ideas too soon, before they are proven, and thus risks a collapse beyond what can be fixed.

Cat Sitting Stillcatsittingstill on September 12th, 2008 06:41 pm (UTC)
Err, I was not responding to the article, but to madfilkentist saying
He doesn't grasp that there is an intellectual tradition behind Republican ideas, and yet also saying Indeed, the Republican Party has largely lost track of its intellectual roots.

He followed that by saying conservatism came from strong foundations, though made of two incompatible materials: a solid grasp of economics ... and a narrow religious justification for its policies

archangelbeth pointed out that present day Republicans don't seem to have a solid grasp of economics, and madfilkentist seemed to concede the point. That leaves only the "narrow religious justification for its policies" which according to madfilkentist's first response has become increasingly fundamentalist, dragging the party down from its earlier respectability

I have to say I think fundamentalism is basically emotional. There are semblances of intellectual arguments in that area, but my experience has been that they mostly fall apart when examined closely, making about as much sense as "eating dog meat will make you sick."

Madfilkentist said As long as the Democrats pretend there's no intellectual debate, that the opposition may be well-meaning yahoos but still yahoos, their responses will continue to look like posturing.

That's a pretty stiff accusation, and it's undermined by his own observations. How are we *pretending* there is no intellectual debate? If the intellectual foundation of the Republican party was a strong grasp of economics that it no longer has, what intellectual arguments does it retain?

And if the Republican party's arguments are largely emotional, then I agree with the linked article that we need to meet them on an emotional level.
markbernsteinmarkbernstein on September 11th, 2008 03:53 pm (UTC)
These are legitimate points. I do believe in trying to understand other points of view, including those I disagree with. And yes, I have encountered, and sometimes been guilty of, the smugness and sense of superiority described here. (I hope I've been learning as I go.)

But doesn't this cut both ways, Bill? Certainly there are Republicans who see themselves as wearing halos, who are convinced they hold the moral high ground, who are filled with righteous anger, who have no interest in learning from other ideologies, in particular dismissing anything "liberal" with a contemptuous sneer.

I hold no personal animosity for, or sense of superiority over, those who honestly desire moral order. I do, however, hold in contempt those wh0 cynically and shamelessly manipulate that widespread desire to gain power, when they hold themselves to no such moral standard.
Bill Suttonbedlamhouse on September 11th, 2008 04:29 pm (UTC)
Oh, I don't disagree at all. The point of the article isn't to claim that narrow-mindedness is one sided. It is to point out that there are more than just fundamentalist power freaks on the Republican side, and those who vote for them aren't just stupid or duped.

The Republicans found themselves in a situation of being in the minority for decades, and finally worked out what they needed (not least of which a connection to an easily-stated and simplistic religious viewpoint) to put themselves where they are today. That they now cynically use the emotions that got them into power to stay in power isn't their method alone. One could say that the same thing happens when the powers that be stop funding just the things good for the country and start funding everything in sight so people feel happy and vote for them, an action certainly not limited to one party in the history of democracy.

In order to win the hearts and minds of the country, not just those already convinced, the Democrats need to do more than just assume Republican voters are idiots and either ignore them or pander to them. They need to understand what those voters stand on when they look at the country and the candidates, and frame the message so that it addresses those underlying foundations.

markbernsteinmarkbernstein on September 11th, 2008 05:26 pm (UTC)
That they now cynically use the emotions that got them into power to stay in power isn't their method alone.

Granted. But I do wonder a bit at your phrasing, as I think they were just as cynical when they used them to get into power in the first place.

In order to win the hearts and minds of the country, not just those already convinced, the Democrats need to do more than just assume Republican voters are idiots and either ignore them or pander to them. They need to understand what those voters stand on when they look at the country and the candidates, and frame the message so that it addresses those underlying foundations.

Far, far easier said than done, I fear. How do you successfully frame that message, and get it out to people, when so much media coverage is given over to repeating distractions, distortions, and outright lies? One need only look at cable news over the last few days, and the massive amount of time spent on the idiotic and utterly false "lipstick" pseudo-controversy, to have this question come to the forefront.

And by the way, I consider it right and proper that each party ignore some portion of the other's members, as there are certainly Republicans who will never vote Democratic, and Democrats who will never vote Republican, so efforts to reach them would be a waste of time. Both parties work on solidifying the base and attracting swing voters, and that makes sense.

Oh, one more thing. How do you define "pander"? Is it pandering, for example, to point out that Obama's tax plan will offer far more relief to the middle class than McCain's? I'd honestly like to know your view on this.
Bill Suttonbedlamhouse on September 11th, 2008 06:35 pm (UTC)
Granted. But I do wonder a bit at your phrasing, as I think they were just as cynical when they used them to get into power in the first place.

I think that may be an example of the disconnect the article discusses. In thinking back to the 80s, it seems pretty clear that the Republicans were actually connecting with specific issues that a large group of voters felt weren't being addressed properly. Now, that's not 100%, of course, but it was certainly a different party than it is today.

How do you successfully frame that message, and get it out to people, when so much media coverage is given over to repeating distractions, distortions, and outright lies? One need only look at cable news over the last few days, and the massive amount of time spent on the idiotic and utterly false "lipstick" pseudo-controversy, to have this question come to the forefront.

To a certain extent that is where the grass roots come in. The first step is to connect with people outside of their normal information channels (i.e. don't try to out-Fox Fox "News"). I truly think most people can distinguish between pseudo-issues and real ones, except when they use them as "reasons" to reinforce a mind already made up, as suggested in the article.

However, the grass roots need to realize the point of view here and come into their community organizing with a broader perspective.

And by the way, I consider it right and proper that each party ignore some portion of the other's members, as there are certainly Republicans who will never vote Democratic, and Democrats who will never vote Republican...

I'm not talking about ignoring the fringe Right (or Left, if we go from a Republican perspective). Yes, that makes sense. However, the electorate right now is so split down the middle that it is crucial to get more than just some nominative swing vote group ("the silent majority", "soccer moms", whatever they are this year). If we want to truly unify the country, not just win another 50.1%-49.9% election (or lose one and blame it on the Electoral College or skullduggery in a single state), we absolutely must start getting the confidence of more than just those already inclined to be more independent.

How do you define "pander"? Political pandering is to take an action based on what people say they want not because you agree or even care but because it is a cheap way to buy their votes. A certain amount of such action is necessary for successful compromise. Too much indicates either that the candidate/representative has no stand of his own or that he doesn't care enough to find out the underlying meaning or consequences of the action.

Some examples might include pork-barrel spending, stopgap measures to cut taxes or to fund particular individual programs, changing one's stand on an issue after the fact due to political pressure, selection of certain nominees for high public office who stand close to the Presidency, and (in my mind and particularly so today) voting for acts to provide a President and government with unprecedented powers against the country's own citizens when belonging to a political party claiming to be for free and independent thought (or a political party claiming to be for less government interference, take your pick).

Again, none of this is meant to say that Republicans are or have been the good guys. But if Democrats want to really be the party of change, if they want to win, they need to do something different from what they've done the last decade (I'm including the last part of the Clinton administration here). It's all well and good to blame the media and spin, but if you have a real understanding and connection then you become media- and spin- and sometimes even scandal-proof.


Edited at 2008-09-11 06:36 pm (UTC)
markbernsteinmarkbernstein on September 11th, 2008 08:51 pm (UTC)
I think that may be an example of the disconnect the article discusses. In thinking back to the 80s, it seems pretty clear that the Republicans were actually connecting with specific issues that a large group of voters felt weren't being addressed properly. Now, that's not 100%, of course, but it was certainly a different party than it is today.

I can accept this. I was never particularly drawn to the Reagan Revolution myself (I voted for John Anderson in 1980), but I'll grant that the man appeared to be sincere. I was thinking more of the Gingrich Revolution of the 90s and Dubya's campaigns, which I *do* regard as cynical.

To a certain extent that is where the grass roots come in.

Obama agrees with you. :) It doesn't make the news, but a huge amount of the money and volunteer effort in the Obama campaign is going to the ground effort - voter registration (millions of new voters registered - I recently saw a figure of 400K new voters in Michigan alone), organizing, and GOTV efforts are, in many ways, the centerpiece of his electoral strategy.

I'm not talking about ignoring the fringe Right (or Left, if we go from a Republican perspective).

Neither am I, depending on your definition of "fringe". I'm referring to the historical fact that it's incredibly unusual for any Democratic or Republican presidential candidate to pull less than 40% of the vote. There are a *lot* of people whose minds won't change, and the reasons vary. I don't, for example, regard as "fringe" someone who always votes Republican because being pro-life is their most important issue. Or someone who always votes Democratic because they're an ACLU member whose primary interest is protecting First Amendment rights.

If we want to truly unify the country

I don't know if that's possible. This country, as far as I can tell, only shows a high degree of unity when attacked. Other than the short period after 9/11, you have to go back to WWII, I think.

Some examples might include pork-barrel spending, stopgap measures to cut taxes or to fund particular individual programs, changing one's stand on an issue after the fact due to political pressure, selection of certain nominees for high public office who stand close to the Presidency, and (in my mind and particularly so today) voting for acts to provide a President and government with unprecedented powers against the country's own citizens when belonging to a political party claiming to be for free and independent thought (or a political party claiming to be for less government interference, take your pick).

Again, none of this is meant to say that Republicans are or have been the good guys.


That last line made me stop and blink. I see everything on that list as things that Republicans have done in my memory. None of them strike me as primarily Democratic sins.

It's all well and good to blame the media and spin, but if you have a real understanding and connection then you become media- and spin- and sometimes even scandal-proof.

And it's all well and good to make these sorts of generalizations, but history has shown how difficult it is to achieve "real understanding and connection". I think that the cable news era has made it even harder.
Bill Suttonbedlamhouse on September 11th, 2008 09:55 pm (UTC)
"voting for acts to provide a President and government with unprecedented powers against the country's own citizens when belonging to a political party claiming to be for free and independent thought (or a political party claiming to be for less government interference, take your pick).

Again, none of this is meant to say that Republicans are or have been the good guys."

That last line made me stop and blink. I see everything on that list as things that Republicans have done in my memory. None of them strike me as primarily Democratic sins.


Last I checked, the "Patriot Act", excesses and all, passed both houses of Congress each time with majorities far exceeding party differences.

It has been a while since Democrats have been in control of both the House and Senate, so I suppose some might think that pork-barrel spending was invented in 1994 by Newt Gingrich. I assure those with shorter memories than you or I that it was not. I also point to a Democratic majority in the House that doesn't seem to be quite as willing to challenge the status quo as they campaigned on, seeming to be more willing to let things slide so that they could continue to point to the failures of the Administration.

And yes, the "close to the Presidency" line was meant to point to a certain current VP candidate I view with a non-zero amount of cynicism. Never say I don't throw you a peanut sometimes (*grin*).
markbernsteinmarkbernstein on September 12th, 2008 02:05 am (UTC)
Then we agree that members of both parties have been guilty of all the offenses you list. I had inferred from your previous comment that these were, in your eyes, primarily Democratic sins. I see now that's not the case.
Steve Simmonsscs_11 on September 14th, 2008 01:54 am (UTC)
To say "That they now cynically use the emotions that got them into power to stay in power" is off the mark (no pun intended, Mark B.) It's to say "Oh, they don't really believe those things, they just say them to stay in power."

No. Even among the power brokers, the ones who've learned to use the phrasing consciously rather than instinctively, they really believe those things.
Bill Suttonbedlamhouse on September 15th, 2008 01:31 pm (UTC)
I truly feel there are many who believe to the extent of X but are willing to exaggerate the threat to X+a bunch in order to stir people up the way they need to.

Of course, some of those are called "media talking heads who need something to hang a promo on", but they encourage each other.
Steve Simmonsscs_11 on September 15th, 2008 04:50 pm (UTC)
I agree that some of it is exaggeration, but some of it is necessary summary or abbreviation. "I'm for/against abortion" is the kind of sound bite that can make the news. "I'm opposed to abortion after the fourth month except in cases of rape or threat to the health of the mother, and in all circumstances after the 24th week" will never get on the air at all. As you and Mark mention, the media is as much to blame for that as the parties and candidates - but the candidates have to get on the air.
Phil Parkertigertoy on September 11th, 2008 04:43 pm (UTC)
I do not disagree with or hold in contempt the general concept of moral order. I strongly disagree with many of the details of the moral order those who currently carry the Republican brand would impose. Even though I understand that it is unhelpful and I try to avoid it, I feel a great deal of animosity and contempt for THEIR moral order.

The personal attacks, hypocrisy, and argument by unsupported assertion (which, while I believe are worse on the Republican side, are certainly present on the Democratic side) inflame emotions to the point where rationality is crushed. Even though I know it's happening and I know it's being done on purpose, I am guilty of letting emotion overwhelm my rationality.