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Wednesday, March 24, 2010


Those of us on the left who consider the health care reform bill just signed into law a necessary, yet flawed, compromise with the ideal, can only view with awe and amazement the hysterical reaction to the new law by those on the right. For reasons that remain obscure to me, large numbers of ordinary citizens, and an astonishing number of their elected representatives, seem genuinely to believe that the passage of the bill signals either the arrival of the AntiChrist or the demise of any semblance of American democracy. Medicare and Social Security were both considerably more consequential social programs, after all, and yet these same people appear to have made their peace with them sufficiently to recall with nostalgia the glory days of Reagan -- which occurred, after all, after both of those programs came into existence.

The very latest manifestation of right-wing craziness is the call by Representative Louis "Louie" Gohmert, of the Texas 1st Congressional District, for repeal of the 17th Amendment to the Constitution so that Senators can again be selected by State Legislatures rather than being elected by the people. I freely confess that this was my first encounter with Louie Gohmert, and I explored his website a bit to see whether there were any tell-tale signs of dementia. Not a bit of it. Louie has a handsome wife and three lovely daughters. They all attend the Green Acres Baptist Church, where he has served as Deacon and still teaches sunday school. He attained the rank of Captain in the U. S. Army, and before being elected to the House, was three times elected to a District Judgeship in Texas. The only evidence I can find on his website of a certain failure of rationality is the fact that in one paragraph of his campaign biography, he is described as decrying the notion that Washington Bureaucrats know better than American taxpayers, while in the very next paragraph, he is proudly described as the Ranking Member on the House Judiciary Subcommittee on Crime, Terrorism, and Homeland Security, where he presumably oversees the bureaucrats who know better than the American people how to manage such things. All in all, a perfectly ordinary right-wing Texas Republican. And yet, he wants to go back to the practice of having State Legislatures select Senators.

I feel a need, indeed a compulsion, to achieve some rational understanding of Republican insanity. These are, after all, my fellow citizens. They, or at least some of them, are also Representatives, Senators, Supreme Court Justices, former Presidents, very possibly future Presidents, and in large measure gun owners and carriers. If for no other reason than elementary self-protection, I need to understand what on earth is eating them.

They are freaked out by a Black First Family living in the White House. That I get. Like all of us, they are anxious about the state of the economy. But this madness has deeper roots. Their hysteria seems to be triggered by the visceral belief that their entire world is falling apart around them. Now, that just cannot be because they desperately want to be denied health insurance because of a pre-existing condition!

I invite my readers to offer serious and considered explanations. This is not a joke. Does anyone have any idea what is striking terror in their hearts?


Unknown said...

If they are rational at all, I see two possibilities: 1) they see the Articles of Confederation as truly superior to the Constitution of 1787; 2) They want to raise the level of hysteria in the public so as to reduce the legitimacy of the federal government, by whatever means necessary...because the federal government is the only vehicle capable of providing public goods and equalizing income and economic opportunity(both of which undermine market discipline in their view).

Unknown said...

Their problems are psychological, not political. They are insecure, therefore threatened by change Their political opinions are too self-contradictory for any other explanation. Political attitudes generally have an emotional basis in all parts of the spectrum, left, right, and middle.

Robert Paul Wolff said...

I freely grant that Ann's second explanation construes the hysteria as fostered by covertly rational intentions, and I am always sympathetic to such explanations. But at best, this explains the willingness of Republican legislators and presidential hopefuls to fuel those sentiments. It does not account for the sentiments in the first place. [Can one Tea Partier in a hundred actually explain what the Articles of Confederation were? Can they square tem with thw role of the Fderal Government in establishing joint stock corporations as the centerpiece of modern capitalism? I think not.]

I am inclined to think Brenda is correct, but I would dearly love to understand more deeply, and in more detail, the nature and origins of their insecurity. I am not sure, but I do not think the Tea Party movement has its roots in what we used to call the petty bourgeoisie. Compare the origins of Hitler's support in the last days of the Weimar Republic.

Bob said...

Memes. That's it. Memes. Viruses of the mind: tax and spend, socialism, big government, Blacks will steal your women, free choice (as in, you know, "Let them eat cake"), freedome to choose (as in, "Bankruptcy or death").

Unknown said...

I believe financial, educational, and social resentments can go back generations and are received as givens by the current generation whether or not they still
pertain to its present circumstances. Maybe an inheritance of the "I've got mine and the hell with you" feeling. I have no research or citation basis for this other than personal observation, so please feel free to argue.

Unknown said...

Whether "meme" or "mantra," please add "free market," in spite of the fact that the largest U.S. corporations dwarf many countries (quibble:the federal government does not establish corporations, due to the fears of centralization in 18th century U.S. politics.... States do...then subsequently fortified by the U.S. Supreme Court).... :-)

Unknown said...

Memes, mantras, whatever, are merely rationalizations of the moment to express the unease of their users. They simply fasten onto the current fashionable expressions of resentment. To cite a few: the Know-nothings, Isolationists, Red-baiters, Father Feeney's antisemitic campaign in Boston; I'm sure there are more that simply haven't come to mind yet.

Daniel said...

Much of the fear and anger does seem to be based in insecurity and resentment. The Republicans are simply mad because they lost. I think, in a lot of ways, both parties are out to do simply defeat the other party rather than what they honestly feel is best for the nation. It is politics, after all (not that they don't ALSO have good intentions, otherwise we'd never see any changes).

The other argument against it that I'm seeing is one grounded more in a difference of philosophical belief. It's simply 'this is wrong on principle' and has to do with individualism. And the economics of accomplishing this goal. These people aren't very upset as they've been dealing with the same thing over and over again since the beginning.

Boy, I'd give just about anything for this to have happened while I was studying Rawls & Nozick (the class discussions would have been epic). I don't know that, during my own lifetime, I've ever seen anything so perfectly aligned with the difference principle. I am a bigger fan of Nozick than I am Rawls, and thus not much of a fan of this bill. It's certainly not the end of the world. Socialism it is not, but it does play in favor of corporatism.

Jack's Fated Contingency said...

I think memes provide the best explanation. They are political in the sense that policies and events provide a ground for their operation, but they are psychological in the sense that they operate almost entirely independently of the actual effects of the policies that ground them.

The discourse could operate largely unchanged with radically different policies. Take wealth distribution for example. Most Americans probably have no idea what the numbers actually look like, but nonetheless have a strong opinion about whether tax policy should be more less progressive