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January 02, 2013 5:42 PM From the Other Side of the Looking Glass

By Ed Kilgore

At The Guardian, Michael Cohen pens a tirade with which I sympathize enormously:

Since Republicans won the House of Representatives in 2010, the country has staggered from one pointless fiscal showdown after another. In every case, Congress and the president have repeatedly kicked the can down the road rather than pass legislation that either made serious efforts to right the country’s fiscal imbalances, or would stimulate economic growth.

Cohen goes on to argue that Republicans don’t really give a damn about anything other than keeping taxes on the wealthy as low as is possible.

It certainly appears that way, and I’ve made the same kind of argument before. But it’s probably a mistake to attribute subjective beliefs to people just because they objectively seem to be true. Most of the time, it may well not matter whether conservatives actually believe what they say about their dogmas being the right answer to any conceivable national problem—e.g., that cutting federal assistance to poor people helps them, or that it’s just a fact lower marginal tax rates on the wealthy happen to perfectly coincide with better lives for everybody, always and eternally. When it comes to predicting conservative behavior, however, understanding their psychology matters, as we are reminded by Dave Weigel:

Time and again, Washington is shocked by two incredibly well-known facts about House Republicans. One: They believe all of that stuff they tell their conservative audiences, from the town halls to the Sean Hannity remote feed. They ran in 2010 promising never to raise taxes and to take a samurai sword to the budget. Whatever Paul Ryan asked them to cut, they voted to cut. Two: Most of these members come from safe districts where the only threats to re-election are primary challenges or death by natural causes.

So maybe Republican pols believe their party line, or maybe it’s just that their party “base” believes it, but you’d better believe they’ll act on these beliefs no matter how illogical or even counterproductive it seems. American Conservative ideology has evolved steadily over the last few decades from a loose set of habits and prejudices to a system of Hegelian specificity, rigidity, and self-validation. They’re not going to abandon it or even modify it due to mere trifles like a national emergency, much less a fiscal conflict.

Ed Kilgore is a contributing writer to the Washington Monthly. He is managing editor for The Democratic Strategist and a senior fellow at the Progressive Policy Institute. Find him on Twitter: @ed_kilgore.

Comments

  • Mark-NC on January 02, 2013 5:54 PM:

    Spot on correct! I don't believe Republicans are actual liars. They live in Republican land with Republican facts and they base what they do on what they believe.

    Breaking the bubble to bring them to reality may not be possible.

  • c u n d gulag on January 02, 2013 6:14 PM:

    Party Und Philosopy, Uber Country!

    PARTY UND PHILOSOPHY, UBER ALLES!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  • emjayay on January 02, 2013 6:58 PM:

    For the millionth time, and I'm sure he's not the only guy that has made this sort of analysis, but have you read any of George Lakoff's stuff? For example (the book I read)

    http://www.amazon.com/Moral-Politics-Liberals-Conservatives-Think/dp/0226467716/ref=sr_1_5?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1357170786&sr=1-5&keywords=george+lakoff

    George's concepts are fundamental to what you are talking about. Check your local public library.

  • Kathryn on January 02, 2013 7:43 PM:

    Bill Maher is spot on with his open phone booth looking prop about life in the bubble. Rommey proved it when he challenged Pres. Obama about what president said in the Rose Garden about terrorism and Benghazi. I have yet to tire of that clip, please proceed Governor, love it. For a nanosecond, Mitt hesitates before stepping in it. Obviously, he was briefed with right wing propaganda. Will check out George Lakoff article/book you mention emjayjay, thanks.

    Of course, the ramifications of this are pretty sobering, a substantial percentage of Americans are under the sway of a sort of Orwellian thought process with fascist Christian features and some are elected to the Congress, looking at you Michelle, Louie, Steve King, etc.

  • Kathryn on January 02, 2013 7:44 PM:

    Bill Maher is spot on with his open phone booth looking prop about life in the bubble. Rommey proved it when he challenged Pres. Obama about what president said in the Rose Garden about terrorism and Benghazi. I have yet to tire of that clip, please proceed Governor, love it. For a nanosecond, Mitt hesitates before stepping in it. Obviously, he was briefed with right wing propaganda. Will check out George Lakoff article/book you mention emjayjay, thanks.

    Of course, the ramifications of this are pretty sobering, a substantial percentage of Americans are under the sway of a sort of Orwellian thought process with fascist Christian features and some are elected to the Congress, looking at you Michelle, Louie, Steve King, etc.

  • rfb99 on January 03, 2013 4:59 AM:

    Republicans and many other Americans truly believe that wealth is associated with virtue. The corollary is that the poor are afflicted with some character (e.g. laziness) or mental defect responsible for their situation. Therefore government policies should primarily be designed to encourage the accumulation and preservation of personal wealth. My own view is that there is little correlation between wealth and virtue, what little exists is slightly negative. That is, the wealthy are slightly more wicked than average.

  • James M on January 03, 2013 5:34 AM:

    This interview clip with Senator Pat Toomey would seem to validate the substance of this post.

    http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/3036789/ns/msnbc-morning_joe/#50342665

    Beyond all the distortions and mistakes in Senator Toomey's arguments, the thing that struck me was that he really seems to be a true believer.

    Also, concerning Mr. Kilgore's:

    "But itís probably a mistake to attribute subjective beliefs to people just because they objectively seem to be true."

    As Mr. Spock said,"A difference which makes no difference is no difference.".

  • jhm on January 03, 2013 8:08 AM:

    Is the title a William Gibson allusion, or maybe a contrast the Mirror?