Imbalanced fear

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).
Instantman, in reference to an article about women and the sexual revolution, says:

This kind of stuff, by the way, is the reason why a lot of Democrats who are basically in agreement with the Republican party are still afraid to vote for Republicans.

This seems to be a common attitude among many libertarians (and to the degree that labels apply, I think that one fits Glenn about as well as any), particularly the ones who approached that philosophy from the left (i.e., former Democrats). I once had an extended email discussion (back during the election) with another libertarian friend (who's also a blogger, but shall remain nameless) about how as much as he disliked the socialism of the Democrats, he felt more culturally comfortable with them. Again, this is a prevalent attitude of products of the sixties. You know, Republicans were uptight fascists, and Democrats were idealistic, free-living, and hip.

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.)

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.

But the most important reason is this--while I find the anti-freedom strains of both parties equally dismaying, the Democrats are a lot better at implementing their big-government intrusions, and there's good reason to think that this will be the case even if the Republicans get full control of the government.

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.

The Democrats do not leave people alone. They want your money, your guns, and endless restrictions on personal freedom.

Yet still, people fear the Republicans more.

That may soon change.

posted by Eric on 11.18.08 at 02:15 AM


That'a what comes of 40 years of demonizing Christians and socons. Forty years of destroying personal moral values and replacing them with the progs view that Gov't should be the arbitrator of what is moral, and it is what they say it is.No dissent allowed!

That is a job a gov't can not do and not over-reach,because a gov't such as the progs have in mind can not come up wholecloth with "what is morality?",and not have it based on the current fad,or figure out how to enforce it without using the backlash of envy.

You linked a few months back to an article that basically said that the progs did not have any moral compass,and that in order to win they would have to invent one as they had no religion or God except their politics.

Well,apparently they have found something that seems to be working for them.But it is a religion of fear, intolerance,and covetness,and could only be born by destroying the old religion,as it is the polar opposite of Christianity.

I am afraid that we will find that the progs religion is not what has made this country great.

People have values,gov'ts have bureaucracies.

m simon,
I am pretty certain that you will want to disagree with me,as you seem to have it in for Christian/Judeo/socon morality. But to do so ignores their value,and gives the progs the edge.

A Christian or a Jew always has the right to choose to,or not to,follow the law of God,because God has given us free will. To then choose as an individual not to sin is the highest morality. The progs would take away your need for free will.

flicka47   ·  November 18, 2008 4:13 AM

Fear also makes one stupid, witness Rosie O'Donnell's frequent asinine statements to the effect tht Republicans are more dangerous than the Taliban. And yet she remains unstoned.

The "Religious Right" is greatly overrated, but it makes a wonderful straw man for the left. I note that after eight years of Bush 43 abortion is still legal. I fail to note, however, America's feminists lining up to fellate him in gratitude as they offered to do for Clinton. Most religious people want mostly to be left alone, and their political activism, as expressed in terms of their religion, is defensive. The left gains no credit for provoking such people, but they garner plenty for rescuing us all from the horrendous theocratic church camps, filled with barefoot, uneducated, pregnant women singing praise as the menfolk toil in the Fields of the Lord.

Steve Skubinna   ·  November 18, 2008 7:18 AM


Chris   ·  November 18, 2008 7:52 AM

Fear is irrational, but fear of the one in power is real , this fear can and will change the instant the power group changes and some issue promotes fear of the new
Democrats have the advantage of being perceived as having no control, therefore they are safe, this has changed.
People love to hate anyone who represents authority, control and/or wealth.

Hugh   ·  November 18, 2008 8:22 AM

If the liberals, democrats, progressives, socialists or whatever other label they deny, ceased plundering the citizens and punishing them for unpopular behaviors, they'd never lose.

Brett   ·  November 18, 2008 9:07 AM


Do you realize that the two links in

"The Democrats do not leave people alone. They want your money, your guns, and endless restrictions on personal freedom."

both lead to a story about how REPUBLICANS are reintroducing the assault weapons ban?

Did you even bother to read those links?

Dr. Nobel Dynamite   ·  November 18, 2008 9:16 AM

I don't understand-- as far as I can tell it is simply asserted in this post that the religious right would be impotent in implementing their program in U.S. politics, while the leftists will be able to accomplish everything they please.

What accounts for the difference? Is it simply that the left has a scary amount of power right now, or is there something intrinsic in either movement that would make a religious agenda unworkable in general?

Phil T. B.   ·  November 18, 2008 10:17 AM

I am pretty certain that you will want to disagree with me,as you seem to have it in for Christian/Judeo/socon morality.

Nope. I don't have it in for Christian/Judeo/socon morality.

What I believe is that you can't effectively enforce it by government. And trying to do so, no matter how ineffective, has lost Republicans votes.

You have to win over people to a particular view of morality one individual at a time. Putting government guns to people's heads just breeds resistance. Palin won more people over to her view on abortion by example than 50 years of Republican hectoring and efforts to use government guns to enforce a particular point of view.

I'm a pragmatist. Do what works. Give up that which is counter productive.

Obviously not all Republicans see it that way. Fine. We will see how it works out with the voters. Socon Republicans may need 40 years in the desert to come to their senses. Welcome to the USSA comrades.

BTW I brought up these issues first on my blog when Alan Keyes had a disastrous loss to - can you guess? - Obama. I said that where the Republicans were headed was to defeat. Well I got the usual fierce flack.

So was I right (politically) or wrong?

BTW I voted straight Republican in the last election. And campaigned fiercely for Palin. Don't blame me. And I still like Palin. She leads by example not by (government) force. That is the way forward.

I believe a party that stands for Cultural Liberty and Economic Liberty is a winner. The people who currently control the Republican Party are not so inclined.

Might I mention that among Catholics - who should be most receptive to the Republican Social Conservative message - Obama got 54% of the vote. Despite a church campaign to make abortion a central issue in the past campaign.

Don't you just hate it when reality intrudes?

BTW no matter how many times I explain myself on the issues socons continue to misunderstand my position. Evidently, as Eric has outlined, reason is a weak reed in politics.

No matter how many times socon policies have failed in practice they persist. You might think their faith in government power re: cultural issues is as strong as the lefties faith in government power on economic issues. I'm against faith based politics be it left or right. But mine is definitely a minority view.

M. Simon   ·  November 18, 2008 10:25 AM

Socons want to take away free will too. Just about different issues.

We have financed a huge criminal class and terrorists in order to pretend to take away free will on the issue of drug use.

The same happened with alcohol (minus the terrorists).

Socons were in the thick of the public school movement. A movement designed to indoctrinate newly arrived Jewish and Catholic immigrants in American values. That one got away from them.

So where is the acknowledgment of these failures? Missing in action.

BTW in the 40s and 50s there was still considerable indoctrination going on in public schools re: Christianity. Not being a Christian myself it created considerable antipathy towards the intolerance of Christians in my own person. And you know it is quite possible that I am still not totally over it. Why push a system and policies that create enemies?

What did Jesus tell his disciples? I think it was to the effect that if a town was not receptive to the message that they should head to another place and give it a try. But it was all about persuasion - not coercion. I'd really like to see Christians return to those roots. Jesus did not suggest the Mohammad solution: believe or else. Yet Social Conservative Christians these days want to use government guns to enforce their point of view.

So how is that attitude working for you in America? The Land of Liberty? Read the election results. Get a clue.

M. Simon   ·  November 18, 2008 10:49 AM

From 2002 to the 2006 election the Republicans held majorities in the House and Senate while controlling the Presidency. What did they do on the social front? Banned online gambling and embryonic stem cell research. No crazy anti-abortion laws. No bans against gay marriage. No repeal of asinine environmental laws. I can go on. My point is that when the repubs had their chance to meddle or moralize they did not. They may have wanted to but they did not. What will the dems do with their majorities? Knowing their love of government-is-the-answer-to -all-problems-approach, we can expect increased government meddling in the private sector and PC-based regulations in all areas.

What is needed is a strong states rights movement. Let the people of each state vote via ballot initiatives whether or not to allow gay marriage, school prayer, gambling, prostitution, Christmas, etc. The environment, foreign affairs, treaties, and so forth are big national issues and need the feds to handle it. But these hot-button social issues should be left up to the citizens of each state. If you do not like the result, pack your bags and move to another state. Instead of knocking crosses out the hands of old ladies take your raging bed-wetting tantrums and move to MA or CT where gay marriage is legal.

dittybopper   ·  November 18, 2008 11:14 AM

Let me add further that if carrying babies to term is going to be mandatory then there has to be a welfare system that provides for poor mothers until the children are grown. It is only fair. And it should be enough welfare to allow the mother to live a comfortable middle class life. For the children.

Now how many socons would favor such an eminently fair system? Not many I'd wager.

Having a baby is not just a moral decision. It is also an economic one. If you don't deal with that dimension I do believe you are not serious about solving the problem.

Let me note that the rich are starting to have larger families because it is becoming a status thing. Conspicuous consumption.

And then we come to why so many blacks are aborting in comparison to the rest of the population. It is due to a lack of fathers. And why is there a lack of fathers? Well black men have been disproportionately swept up in the criminal justice system due to the drug war.


So if socons were really serious about reducing the abortion rate significantly they would be out front in calling for an end to the drug war. Crickets.

The disasters pile up and yet the faith in government solutions persists. And of course because of unintended consequences more government is required.

M. Simon   ·  November 18, 2008 11:19 AM

Interesting points, Eric. Note also the irony: Leftists 1) fear that the Right will restrict sexual freedom or abortion, and 2) accuse the Right of fear mongering about the threat of radical Islamists armed with WMD.

Jonathan   ·  November 18, 2008 12:29 PM

Maybe more people fear Republicans because they are exposed to the constant negative fear-mongering drumbeat of the mass media. Every conservative on a TV show or movie is a Klansman-wannabe. Every Christian is Torquemada.

Every liberal is a good-hearted, caring, open-minded person.

After, oh, a couple of decades of this it tends to sink in.

Trimegistus   ·  November 18, 2008 12:52 PM

I think one of the fundamental problems is that leftists only want your money. (OK, except for the issue of gun control). Thieves are annoying but, in the end, they are just thieves.

When I get into arguments with conservatives, they either want to throw people in jail for consensual acts or demonize people for their sexuality or make fun statements about how if two men want to marry that is just like wanting to marry a donkey. I usually need to take a shower after that kind of discourse.

Seriously it's a really different level of political confrontation.

Fritz   ·  November 18, 2008 1:31 PM

M. Simon touches on the social indoctrination that comes from the Christian desire to spread the word. I hate being preached at.

I live in the Bible Belt and get it all the time. Meet someone new, one of the first questions is what church do you go to?

Sitting in the ICU waiting room wondering if my son is going to die, be a vegetable... obviously well-meaning Christians tell me that "it's God's will". What's that about "free will" again?

Where I live, many of these Christians are also Democrats, so I don't see it as a political thing. It's a social assumption that more than annoys me.

And it is oppressive.

My sister, bless her heart, is a far-left liberal Dem, but the one thing we both agree on is religion and its thoughtless promoters.

Donna B.   ·  November 18, 2008 2:11 PM

I live in Atlanta, which, I'm told, has the third-highest (per capita) Gay population of any major city in the US. (Only San Francsico and New York being higher.) I'm straight, but OK with Gays except for so many of them becoming another Democratic voting bloc. The reason for this is supposed to be fear of the Religious Right, which I've never understood. Even if the Religious Right seized power and banned homosexuality--so what? Georgia has had anti-sodomy laws on the books since Oglethorpe, probably, and from what I can see not one of these laws have stopped one person here from getting all the Gay sex he can handle. (And apparently many of them, from what they tell me, can handle quite a lot.) Yet almost no one escapes the Tax Man. (Some try; many go to jail.) Since most of the Gays I've known--and I've known lots, in both NYC and here--like creature comforts, antiques, objets d'artesm expensive clothes, fine dining etc., I point out that "liberals," with their penchant for "spreading the wealth" and restricting capitalism, pose a much more significant and palpable threat to their lifestyles. Yet they fret over Palin because she's an evangelical. Weird.

Anonymous   ·  November 18, 2008 4:08 PM

For me, the biggest problem is the disturbing trend line of the GOP. They are both moving towards the "social issues" agenda and away from the "fiscal conservative" positions of the past.

Right now, there are some still Republican leaders attempting to straddle the line but I don't believe that will be a very stable position for long. I'm seeing more Republicans getting involved at the grass roots level for whom the various social issues (abortion, gay marriage, embryonic stem cells, opposing the teaching of evolution in schools) is their only priority, and they don't have any sort of genuine commitment to free market economics, individual rights, etc.

At least in Colorado, it's difficult-to-impossible for a Republican candidate to make it through the primaries and into the general election without kowtowing to this faction. And that faction has become increasingly aggressive in recent years.

I have no hopes for anything good from the Democrats -- they're a lost cause as far as I'm concerned. As we're also stuck with the current 2-party system for the forseeable future. Hence, my biggest concern is that if the current GOP trend continues, then we'll end up with two parties who both want to use the power of government to massively violate your rights and infringe on basic human freedoms, but merely differing in the exact forms of those infringements.

A generation ago, there were many church-going conservatives who also took a relatively-good "live and let live" approach towards these social issues. I fully respect that position and I would be happy if that continued.

But that group is in fast decline and being supplanted by a new variety of religious conservatives of the "you must live my way" variety.

If the GOP wins and gets rewarded when they de-emphasize free market economics and energize the "social issues" crowd, then the Party will continue moving in the wrong direction and we'll be in real trouble in 8-12 years.

On the other hand, if they take the 2008 loss as an opportunity for internal reflection and debate, then they could shift in the right direction -- back towards capitalism and free markets. I believe this debate is both necessary and will ultimately decide the future of both the GOP and (more importantly) America.

The next 4 years are going to be a very rough ride under President Obama -- I don't deny that, and I'm not looking forward to it. I don't endorse his policies, and I think he will do tremendous damage to our great country.

But given how miserable our choices were in 2008 and how the choices seem to get worse each election cycle, I really don't want to be faced with even *worse* choices in 2012, 2016, and 2020 (e.g., think Huckabee vs Michelle Obama).

Some of the blog readers here who live in California or New York may not see the growing influence of the Religious Right as much of an issue as those of us who live in Colorado or other "flyover" states. But just as the liberal journalists in the coastal states too-often write off the Religious Right, I'm afraid that the better secular conservatives in those states may be committing a variation of the same error in underestimating them.

For those who want additional information on this, I'd like to point people to two books:

"The Elephant In The Room", by Ryan Sager

"With God On Our Side", by William Martin

Paul Hsieh   ·  November 19, 2008 11:23 AM

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