Separate Worlds

Separate Worlds:

Democracy Corps has been down Georgia way.

The self-identifying conservative Republicans who make up the base of the Republican Party stand a world apart from the rest of America, according to focus groups conducted by Democracy Corps. These base Republican voters dislike Barack Obama to be sure – which is not very surprising as base Democrats had few positive things to say about George Bush – but these voters identify themselves as part of a ‘mocked’ minority with a set of shared beliefs and knowledge, and commitment to oppose Obama that sets them apart from the majority in the country. They believe Obama is ruthlessly advancing a ‘secret agenda’ to bankrupt the United States and dramatically expand government control to an extent nothing short of socialism. They overwhelmingly view a successful Obama presidency as the destruction of this country’s founding principles and are committed to seeing the president fail.

Instead of focusing on these intense ideological divisions, the press and elites continue to look for a racial element that drives these voters’ beliefs – but they need to get over it. Conducted on the heels of Joe Wilson’s incendiary comments at the president’s joint session address, we gave these groups of older, white Republican base voters in Georgia full opportunity to bring race into their discussion – but it did not ever become a central element, and indeed, was almost beside the point.

First and foremost, these conservative Republican voters believe Obama is deliberately and ruthlessly advancing a ‘secret agenda’ to bankrupt our country and dramatically expand government control over all aspects of our daily lives.
Their ears work. I've heard that sentiment expressed several times lately.

The argument is difficult to counter, more difficult than you might imagine. The reason it's hard is that all of the facts are in their favor, and the only thing against them are unprovable: questions of intention, of character, of the meaning behind observed acts.

The facts are these:

1) America is the most powerful nation in the world, and has set the terms of international debates for more than a decade.

2) This power results from three basic things: military strength, the superiority of the market instead of central planning to make basic decisions, and the strength of our economy (this last to include the dollar's position as a reserve currency).

3) Therefore, to undermine that strength, you'd need to undercut all three things.

4) The Obama administration has asked for deep cuts in military spending, while continuing to maintain a heavy deployment schedule in two wars. The Obama administration has also called for unilateral cuts in our strategic nuclear forces. These actions undermine both our conventional and nuclear military strength.

5) The Obama administration has nationalized major industries and banks, not completely, but enough to give the government a controlling interest in the corporation. The argument that taxpayer money is going to these corporations, and therefore that the corporations must submit to government designs whenever the government feels it is important. These actions have vastly reduced the role of markets, and increased the role of central planners, at the center of major decisions in our economic life.

6) The destruction of the dollar is well documented. Obama's major remaning initiatives are health care reform and cap and trade. If successful, the first intends to result in a further government takeover of a massive part of the economy, again working against markets; furthermore, the expense of the thing will compel much higher taxes at some point. The addition of a major new entitlement adds to the fiscal crisis already expected from Medicare, Social Security, and pension funds. Cap and trade will likewise suppress US industry and call for higher taxes, perhaps passed on as "higher prices" on goods, across the economy. These actions undermine our fiscal strength, and make it more likely that the nation will be bankrupted.

7) Therefore, the Obama administration has acted to weaken all three pillars of American strength. Its stated agenda will further weaken all three pillars, perhaps to the breaking point in the case of fiscal policy.

Now, all of that comes from nothing more than reading the headlines. Usually, conspiracy theories are fairly easy to counter because they have some lie at their center: the famous Truther bit about how steel can't be melted by fire(!), or the idea that a missle hit the Pentagon, or whatever. None of this is undocumented. Obama has called on the military to cut its budget while fighting two wars; he has purchased interests in major banks and corporations, and then used those interests to issue orders to the corporations; the dollar has suffered a serious undermining in world markets, to the degree that there is talk of replacing it as the world's reserve currency; and the debates on health care and cap-and-trade both involve the eventual admission that higher taxes or prices will be necessary.

What remains is to argue that all of this is resulting from the Obama administration's adherence to bad economic philosophy, rather than from a secret plan to ruin America. You're left to argue that yes, these things are happening, but it's because the President has no executive experience. He's never run anything in the real world before. His people genuinely believe in their claims that the government can plan better than the market, and will make better decisions. They're trying to help, in other worlds; they just don't realize the effects their decisions will have, because they are too young, too inexperienced, or have lived lives too removed from the private sector and too insulated by government or academia from personal economic consequence.

Then they remind you of Obama's several apology tours in which he's essentially stated that America has been wicked up until now, but he's going to fix us. Everyone reading blogs is well aware of the Rev. Mr. Wright, Bill Ayers, Ms. Dunn and her Maoist credentials, etc., etc. So are people here. There is, in other words, plenty of empirical evidence on his feelings and associations that reasonably reinforces the worldview.

Democracy Corps says that this means that conservative Republicans are going to have a hard time appealing to others in future elections, because the chasm in worldviews is so wide.

I don't know if that's true or not. It seems just as likely to me that, if things don't get better between now and 2012, other people may decide that these folks may be right. The famous "confirmation bias" suggests that people first decide if you are "good" or "bad," and then interpret everything to fit the profile. Right now, most Americans have their mental switch on Obama flipped to "good," and so they are interpreting all this as unconnected difficulties associated with a challenging situation and inexperience. If that switch flips to "bad," it all becomes convincing evidence of a desire to undermine the nation's strength.

That's where we are now. Obama's favorability ratings line up with this worldview nicely, with both personal negatives and this worldview being higher in the South, and among Republicans. People outside the South, and independents, are more likely to view Obama as personally favorable -- which means they are unlikely to consider him a wicked tool of evil interests.

If unemployment continues at a heavy rate for a long time, some people may find their switch flipping. As they begin to view him unfavorably, they become open to the argument that he might be actively wicked instead of accidentally wicked. There's plenty of room for conversion as the economy grinds down, because his plans will either fail or succeed: if they fail, they won't help; yet if they succeed, the extra taxes and costs will make things worse.

Some may argue that it doesn't matter whether the President is actually trying to destroy the country, or is merely destroying it by accident. It does matter, though. It's very important how we perceive him, because it defines our duty as opponents of the agenda. If you believe as I do, your duty is the duty of the loyal opposition: to try to swing policy through debate and argument, but to support at least foreign policy wholeheartedly once the debate is over. Afghanistan is a good example of this: I hope to inform the debate we are having, but once a decision is made I will, as our military will, try to help bring about whatever we decide to do.

If the President is a "domestic enemy," actively trying to destroy America, your duty may be very different. The performance of that duty creates a world that I hope we'll not have to live in. If you do believe, let me suggest this: it would almost certainly be better for the nation to be led for four years by a wicked man who wanted to destroy it, chafing within the confines of the separation of powers, than to suffer what would come from traveling those roads.

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