November 18, 2008
Fear of "The Other" is always a driving force in politics, and as it is emotional, it operates independently of positions on issues. If you can get people to fear someone or some group, what they actually say or do won't matter.
Years ago, I remember reading a long article about a lesbian mother who lived with her partner in the Bay Area (I think it was in the San Jose vicinity), who was quoted as saying she feared Newt Gingrich more than almost anyone in the world. This really got my attention, and I wondered, just what the hell kind of Svengali she thought Newt Gingrich was, that he could reach out and mess with her private life in San Jose. But I realized it was just pure fear. To her, Gingrich was a religious homophobic boogeyman with plans to take away her children, and probably force her at gunpoint to marry a sexist, Superbowl-watching, wife-beating man.
Never mind that these fears were groundless, and that Gingrich could not touch her. Nor would he dare. The point is that fear works. It's a much more powerful motivator than having someone sit down and read through Gingrich's books. Fear goes beyond disagreements, political positions, or practicality.
I recalled this woman's irrational fear of Gingrich when I saw Glenn Reynolds' link to Rand Simberg's post about "Republican religiophobia." Fear of the religious right isn't just for Bay Area lesbians anymore. Republicans now fear them too.
Fear is a weird thing, because it tends to prevent thought, and therefore make everything else irrelevant. In his post about the GOP fear of Sarah Palin, Simberg says he does not understand fear of religious conservatives:
...I really don't understand this fear of the religious right, though I am neither religious, or "right" (in the social conservative sense). I explained why in a post about six and a half years ago. I think that it's relevant today, and in fact wish that I'd reposted it before the election (not that the fate of the nation hinges in any way on my posts).That's the hook the Democrats use, and it is about as logical as voting for the candidate who has more sex appeal. But it works. That lesbian in San Jose may have had trouble sleeping as she thought about Newt Gingrich's plans to destroy her family. (And I hasten to add, there are probably heterosexual counterparts who believe the people on the other side are out to destroy their families, for reasons equally irrational.)Instantman, in reference to an article about women and the sexual revolution, says:
Few people take the time to think about the reasons, but Republicans are much more feared than the Democrats. I've often thought about how ridiculous this is, because the main reason that Republicans are feared involves silly peripheral issues over which their hands are tied and they can do basically nothing. Assume all Republicans are a bunch of homophobic bigots who think a woman's place is in the home and that everyone should attend church on Sunday. I realize it's not the case, but assume it is. They can't do any of these things. They can't restrict homosexuality, they can't criminalize abortion, and they cannot pass sexist laws. So even if the religious right monolithically opposes sexual freedom, they can't do much more than join up with certain forces on the left to attempt to get the FCC to harass Howard Stern. (But they couldn't even do that, because Stern moved outside their jurisdiction to satellite radio.)
The fear of the religious right is thus largely irrational -- even if you think they're loony tunes on some of these issues.
The Democrats, on the other hand, can actually do a lot of the things they threaten to do, as Simberg notes:
First, I've found many Republicans who are sympathetic to libertarian arguments, and in fact are often libertarians at heart, but see the Republican Party as the most practical means of achieving the goals. There may be some Democrats out there like that, but I've never run into them. That's the least important reason (partly because I may be mistaken, and have simply suffered from a limited sample space). But fundamentally, the Democratic Party, at least in its current form, seems to me to be utterly antithetical to free markets.If we see the two anti-freedom strains as "your money or your sex," it becomes quite obvious that it's easier -- a hell of a lot easier -- for the government to grab your money than your genitalia.
Yet even though the anti-sex people are by no means a majority in the GOP and cannot possibly implement their schemes, more people fear the Republicans.
A great con job, if you ask me.
Sometimes it helps for the hedonists, fellow travelers, and hedonist sympathizers to remember that what's mostly going on consists of little more than an occasional moralistic lecture. I liked the way this Volokh commenter (linked by Glenn not long ago) put it:
They [libertarians] also need to practise a little strategic deafness. Conservatives like to talk about values and sin a lot, and it grates on the libertarian ear, because the libertarian fears such talk leads to oppressive action. But very often it's just talk, a form of mere community bonding -- ghost stories over the campfire -- that libertarians don't quite get, not being that fond of community bonding in the first place. Frequently enough, if you merely let conservatives have their talk, and nod appreciatively I see what you mean, yes, an interesting and valuable point then they're happy enough.The fear that such talk "leads to oppressive action" is largely groundless, because governments cannot impose the kind of "values" that social conservatives champion.
But in the case of the left, their talk of values does in fact lead directly to oppressive action. They will take your money and they will give it to whoever they choose.
All the more reason that economic conservatism (or economic freedom, whichever phrase you prefer) should be brought back as the glue which once held libertarians and social conservatives together.
As Jon Henke put it,
The ascendancy of Reagan and the Right was predicated on "a desire for less government interference or less centralized authority or more individual freedom." Reagan called it "the basis of conservatism." That idea resonated with the American public in 1980.(Via Glenn Reynolds.) It would still resonate if it were still the basis of conservatism. Leaving people alone was a wonderful idea. Maybe Republicans have to be out of power to start believing in it again.
Yet still, people fear the Republicans more.
That may soon change.
posted by Eric on 11.18.08 at 02:15 AM
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