In a survey taken after the election, the polling firm PPP found that 49% of Republicans thought that the group ACORN had stolen the election for Obama. This is fascinating considering that ACORN no longer exists, having been disbanded a few years ago. Given that about 32% of the population identifies as Republican, this means that about 16% of the voting public believes stuff that has absolutely no basis in reality.
Where does this craziness come from? One possibility is that it is the consequence of the extraordinary campaign waged in the last four years to delegitimize the Obama presidency. Especially as the presidential election campaign heated up, one was treated to extraordinarily apocalyptic views by right-wingers of all the awful things that were sure to happen if Obama were re-elected. In an Obama second term he would take away people’s guns, the economy would be destroyed because he would usher in a Marxist/socialist state, people would die because of rationing of health care, death panels would spring into being, Christians would be discriminated against and Sharia law would become ubiquitous in the legal system, the UN would take over the country, contraceptives would be distributed freely by the government, the institution of marriage would be destroyed as gays took over, Black Panthers would be patrolling the streets, abortions would be available at your neighborhood drugstore, and so on.
None of these fears deal with real and major threats, such as his assumption of sweeping powers that trump so many of the constitutional protections that were supposed to protect us, including the right to not be deprived of life and liberty without due process and his invasions of privacy via the sweeping snooping powers that exist within the National Security Agency. Instead they are all fantasy threats. Cartoonist Tom Tomorrow mocks the bubble that the GOP created for itself and its supporters, while Rachel Maddow lists all the crazy things that were said that were not only not true, they were simply unbelievable.
If you lived in that bubble and believed all those things, then I can understand how it would be inconceivable to you that your fellow citizens would vote in such a monster and hence he could only win by cheating.
But who created that bubble? Much of blame can be laid at the feet of conservative political operatives and their allies in Fox News in order to get Republican supporters fired up and to contribute money to the opponents of Obama and the Democratic party. To me at least, this election’s rhetoric seemed to be unusually unhinged and more over the top than in past elections. Rick Pearlstein has been reading the literature of the right-wing propaganda machine and finds that they plant the seeds of such fears, repeatedly drumming the message that the public is being lied to by the mainstream media and that there are truths out there that are being hidden from the general public. Romney campaign’s remarkable disregard for the truth contributed to this mentality.
Of course, none of the dire outcomes that were predicted are going to materialize. So what will these people do when 2016 rolls around and things are pretty much the same as they are now? Will the people who took all this stuff seriously realize that they’ve been had? Or will it all be forgotten as the next frenzy of campaigning begins and the next crop of candidates is transformed into dangerous monsters?
I really don’t understand the thinking of a lot of these people, especially the sense of almost palpable fear that they seem to routinely live with. It must be terrible to live in such a state of dire foreboding. Kevin Drum shares my puzzlement.
Rick is suggesting that rank-and-file conservatives simply have a cast of mind that makes them vulnerable to scary, conspiracy-minded sales pitches, and it doesn’t matter much whether the sales pitch is for an investment opportunity to save you from the destruction of the dollar or a political opportunity to save America from the depradations of the UN. And this certainly fits what we know about brain science and ideology: people with a more fearful cast of mind tend to be political conservatives, while people with a more open cast of mind tend to be political liberals.
This explains the fear-based nature of most conservative appeals, but it still doesn’t really explain why so many of those appeals are completely batty. Isn’t it possible to scare people with (relatively speaking) plausible scenarios? The UN doesn’t want to herd us all into cities, but liberals do want to make gasoline more expensive. (It’s true! We do!) Likewise, nobody’s going to confiscate your guns, but there are plenty of liberals who do want to pass an assault weapons ban.
So why the endlessly apocalyptic tone? Is the real stuff simply not scary enough to be effective? Or have conservatives gotten caught up in an arms race that long ago got out of control? What’s the deal here?
There seems to be a core group of Americans, around 20% or so of the population, who seem to be wandering around with a deep sense of foreboding that we are all in extreme danger of the country being transformed overnight into some sort of authoritarian gulag.
And that is the really scary thing. Because people with irrational fears are prone to doing stupid and even dangerous things.