Saturday, October 17, 2009

The strange world inhabited by the conservative right

Stan Greenberg, James Carville & Karl Agne conducted some very interesting focus group studies with groups of conservatives and independents. This is the Executive Summary of their report of findings:
The self-identifying conservative Republicans who make up the base of the Republican Party stand a world apart from the rest of America, according to focus groups conducted by Democracy Corps. These base Republican voters dislike Barak Obama to be sure - which is not very surprising as base Democrats had few positive things to say about George Bush - but these voters identify themselves as part of a ‘mocked’ minority with a set of shared beliefs and knowledge, and commitment to oppose Obama that sets them apart from the majority in the country. They believe Obama is ruthlessly advancing a ‘secret agenda’ to bankrupt the United States and dramatically expand government control to an extent nothing short of socialism. They overwhelmingly view a successful Obama presidency as the destruction of this country’s founding principles and are committed to seeing the president fail
A major conclusion they drew from this study is that the press is focused on racist explanations for the voter's beliefs, but there are indications that racism is not the main driver of conservative attitudes and behavior. What they did find, though, is that conservative beliefs are very different from those of even the more conservative independents. The independents tend to just blow off the more extreme statements from the conservatives, considering such extreme rhetoric as efforts to influence people politically but not really representing what the conservatives actually believe themselves. Here are the findings regarding what the extreme conservatives do actually believe:
  1. ...[T]hese conservative Republican voters believe Obama is deliberately and ruthlessly advancing a ‘secret agenda’ to bankrupt our country and dramatically expand government control over all aspects of our daily lives. They view this effort in sweeping terms, and cast a successful Obama presidency as the destruction of the United States as it was conceived by our founders and developed over the past 200 years.

  2. This concern combines with a profound sense of collective identity. They readily identify themselves as a minority in this country - a minority whose values are mocked and attacked by a liberal media and class of elites.

  3. They also believe they possess a level of knowledge and understanding when it comes to politics and current events, one gained from a rejection of the mainstream media and an embrace of conservative media and pundits such as Glenn Beck and Rush Limbaugh, which sets them apart even more.
[I have taken the liberty of adding numbered grouping what was a single paragraph to emphasize the three points.]
So that's the essence of what the report states.

Remember, this is a report of what the Republican base believes, not necessarily what their leaders believe. The right wing political leaders have to cater to this base to maintain their leadership positions, but I think that some believe this stuff and a lot do not.

The evangelicals like Sens. Ensign, Coburn, Enhofe and I suspect, Demint, are true believers. There is no doubt that the more extreme Representives such as Bachman believe this. I'm not sure whether to put Sarah Palin into the group of true believers or the group who manipulates them. A lot of the conservative leaders are their for their own advantage, not because they buy into the full core conservative base agenda. That's probably why the base is so ready to kick out any backsliders like Specter and Lindsay Graham. They don't trust them. They can't trust even other conservatives. Only the members of the oppressed conservative group can be trusted.

Then there are the Wall Street Republicans (big business, big banks, and big oil especially) who are ready to capitalize on this group of isolated and disaffected conservatives. By feeding propaganda to the Republican base directly and by buying off the evangelical leaders, they can manipulate the right-wing politicla leaders into handing them control of the American economy. The entire TV business news system is under their control because they control the advertising revenue that makes the business news possible. The wealthy ultra-conservatives like the oil tycoons, Amway people (i.e. Eric Prince of Blackwater fame), the Walton family (Walmart), the news tycoons (Richard Mellon Scaife, Rupert Murdoch) etc. are a noticeable subset of this group. So are the Libertarians and the Neocons. They are also members of minorities who feel oppressed by the mainstream and they also practice manipulating the Republican core base to the extent that they can.

The Democracy Corps report gives an intriguing look at the nature of the Republican core base. It is a major population group that a number of politicians and economically powerful groups and individuals manipulate to get what they want from the government. That base and its vulnerability to being manipulated politically appears to me to be at the core of America's currently largely dysfunctional politics.

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