Saturday, August 09, 2008

Republicans - the party of the stupid

Paul Krugman gets it right - again.
Republicans, once hailed as the “party of ideas,” have become the party of stupid.

Now, I don’t mean that G.O.P. politicians are, on average, any dumber than their Democratic counterparts. And I certainly don’t mean to question the often frightening smarts of Republican political operatives.

What I mean, instead, is that know-nothingism — the insistence that there are simple, brute-force, instant-gratification answers to every problem, and that there’s something effeminate and weak about anyone who suggests otherwise — has become the core of Republican policy and political strategy. The party’s de facto slogan has become: “Real men don’t think things through.”
Krugman's immediate focus is on the idiotic campaign “Drill here! Drill now! Drill here! Drill now!" which is widely known not to provide results anytime within the next decade and even then is not going to provide any significant lowering of fuel prices.

But as Krugman points out, this is not a new strategy for the Republicans.
Remember how the Iraq war was sold. The stuff about aluminum tubes and mushroom clouds was just window dressing. The main political argument was, “They attacked us, and we’re going to strike back” — and anyone who tried to point out that Saddam and Osama weren’t the same person was an effete snob who hated America, and probably looked French.

Let’s also not forget that for years President Bush was the center of a cult of personality that lionized him as a real-world Forrest Gump, a simple man who prevails through his gut instincts and moral superiority. “Mr. Bush is the triumph of the seemingly average American man,” declared Peggy Noonan, writing in The Wall Street Journal in 2004. “He’s not an intellectual. Intellectuals start all the trouble in the world.”

It wasn’t until Hurricane Katrina — when the heckuva job done by the man of whom Ms. Noonan said, “if there’s a fire on the block, he’ll run out and help” revealed the true costs of obliviousness — that the cult began to fade.

What’s more, the politics of stupidity didn’t just appeal to the poorly informed. Bear in mind that members of the political and media elites were more pro-war than the public at large in the fall of 2002, even though the flimsiness of the case for invading Iraq should have been even more obvious to those paying close attention to the issue than it was to the average voter.

Why were the elite so hawkish? Well, I heard a number of people express privately the argument that some influential commentators made publicly — that the war was a good idea, not because Iraq posed a real threat, but because beating up someone in the Middle East, never mind who, would show Muslims that we mean business. In other words, even alleged wise men bought into the idea of macho posturing as policy.
The politics of stupidity (meaning refusal to think things through logically) is easier to use on people who depend on authority to do their thinking for them. That is what Dr. Bob Altemayer shows is demonstrated in the research on Authoritarians. John Dean also wrote about it in his book Conservatives Without Conscience.

It's not that Republicans themselves are in fact stupid. It's that they rely on stupid or simplistic arguments to win political elections. There may be an advantage to this if they want a lot of people to perform the same simple act of casting a vote for a Republican candidate. Simplistic arguments cannot be argued with in a simple way. The Sophists knew that 2500 years ago. That led to the modern use of the term "sophistry" to mean "a confusing or illogical argument used for deceiving someone."

Why would intelligent people buy into simplistic arguments? Expressing the simplistic arguments become a badge of membership in the "club" rather than a way of proposing real government actions. The argument becomes a mantra of membership. It works great for getting a majority of the votes and getting elected.

Unfortunately, in a democracy it also commits the candidate to actually implement the simplistically described policy or be rejected for failure to support the "Club" mantra. So what we see in the modern conservative movement is large groups of people who have bought into simplistic statements of proposed government policy which they resist analyzing carefully because if they do, they are likely to be rejected by the group they want to belong too. Instead the conservatives defer to the conservative think tanks which work out plausible but simplistic ideas to use as membership mantras.

That gets the conservative politicians elected, and then instead of thinking through the probably results of the simplistic ideas, they implement them feeling sure they will lead to a conservative paradise. It is only when finally the long term effects of implementing poorly thought out plans leads to disaster that the flaws in the mantras become obvious.

At that time, many who committed themselves to the mantra suffer from Cognitive Dissonance, often resulting in Cognitive Dissonance. Since individuals have a basic need to reduce cognitive dissonance, they will generally either modify their beliefs or reject one of the two conflicting ideas. But modifying their beliefs means leaving "The Club" so conservatives are more likely to reject evidence that their mantra is wrong.

This leads to rejecting the clear facts that show tobacco smoking often leads to cancer or that human use of fossil fuel is leading to Global Warming. Conservatives really, really do not want to leave the group they belong to, so they will be the last to admit that the conservative mantras are wrong.

The bubble of the Presidency or of the Presidential nominee will accentuate this refusal to acknowledge the facts that show a conservative mantra is wrong. Ron Suskind describes the bubble that George Bush lives in as part of the opening of his new book.
Bush is a guy who needs to make things personal — it’s how he’s always organized a complex world — and he felt that he’d developed a bond with Putin. When CIA made its offer, [to bug Putin's hotel room] his response was that you don’t wiretap a friend. Condoleezza Rice said it was “too risky, it might be discovered.” CIA said that if it was, it would probably heighten Putin’s respect for Bush. Bush settled it — it was a gut decision. No dice.

This was an early sign of an extraordinary dilemma, one that would come to define America’s posture in the world: Bush’s powerful confidence in his instinct. It might be called a compensatory strength, making up for other areas of deficit. He’s not particularly reflective, doesn’t think in large strategic terms, and he’s never had much taste for the basic analytical rigors embraced by the modern professional class. What he does is size up people, swiftly — he trusts his eyes, his ears, his touch — and acts. While he has an affinity for stepping inside the shoes of others, his métier is often brutally transactional rather than investigatory or empathetic: he is looking for ways to get someone to do what he wants, and quickly. This headlong, impatient energy fueled his rise, as anyone knows after watching him strong-arm a big-money contributor, parse friend from foe, or toss a script and preach, heart to heart, to supporters in the Republican base. It’s how Bush — like many bullies who’ve risen to great heights — became the president. Once he landed in the Oval Office, however, he discovered that every relationship is altered, corrupted by the gravitational incongruities between the leader of the free world and everyone else. Everything you touch is velvety, deferential, and flattering. To fight this, presidents have been known to search furiously for the real, for the unfiltered, secretly eavesdropping on focus group sessions far from Washington, arranging Oval Office arguments between top aides — a Gerald Ford trick — or ordering policy advisers, as Nixon often did, to tell them something the advisers were sure they didn’t want to hear. These men, even with their overweening confidence, embraced a unique kind of humility, recognizing they were in a bubble and fearing they would make historic mistakes.

Bush, with his distaste for analysis and those who contradict him, didn’t go down those paths, and he seemed unconcerned, unlike other presidents, that isolation would prompt errors in judgment. Instead, he began taking policy advice from old cajoling friends whose relationships predated his ascendancy or from visiting pastors speaking frankly in their everyman voices of faith. A man who trusts only what he can touch placed in a realm where nothing he touches is authentic.
So here we see the interaction of simplistic ideas as serious policy proposals for government which are actually poorly thought out mantras used by conservative as badges of membership in the conservative club, together with the way using those mantras locks the conservative political leaders into having to actually implement those mantras to keep their power. Then finally, when the poorly thought out mantras inevitably fail as government policies, we see why the conservative political leaders face cognitive dissonance and have to choose to ignore the evidence of the failure of those policies if they wish to remain as conservative leaders.

It is a set of negative feedback loops which, after almost eight years of the most actively conservative President every, the failures in foreign policy, domestic policy and the economy are all becoming so obvious that they can no longer be ignored by individuals who are not strongly committed to belonging to the private club of Conservatives.

All of that does not mean that McCain will lose the race for President. But it certainly does lengthen the odds against him, especially as the economy goes deeper into the tank and as the occupation of Iraq becomes more and more difficult to maintain.

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