Saturday, March 27, 2010

Ironies Abound

I have a new theory about why the Republicans have been so successful over the past ten years - or more. Consider the recent health reform legislation: the very people who will most benefit from it (lower income working people) are the ones who most vociferously opposed it. A recent New York Times article profiled Tea Party activists and found that many had joined the movement after losing their jobs. And that many were living on government subsidies - the very ones that they protest against so adamantly. Perhaps the most revealing part of the article, though, was its account of why some of the members joined - that it gave them a sense of belonging, of purpose, and recognition that they didn't get anywhere else.

I think the Republican party has been doing this for a long time, now. Its focus on churches and Christian "values" is really an appeal to that segment of the population who belong to churches because they need the community and direction that those churches provide (see Matt Taibi's description of an evangelical community in his book The Great Derangement). Perhaps the conservative movement is really composed, largely, of people who need the direction, purpose, and sense of belonging that membership in an evangelical congregation or the Tea Party provides. The reward structures offered by those communities outweigh facts, apparently, and make it possible for people to demonstrate, and vote, against their own economic interests. Apparently without thinking about it much.

This suggests that the essential problem with liberals is that they're too, well, satisfied with their lives - they don't need that kind of external support and reward structure, so there's no liberal equivalent of the evangelical church network or Tea Party movement. And the problem with the Democratic party is that it hasn't leveraged similar reward structures, so it has nothing to offer that segment of the population who are searching for meaning from those kinds of structures. Apparently, there are enough Americans who need that kind of support to make Fox News, the Tea Party, and the right wing overall successful. Perhaps the number of Americans who fall into that camp is a measure of our overall well-being as a country.

In addition to the obvious irony that these people are trying to prevent the very progress that will provide them more economic security, the final irony is that all these people, searching for community, do so in the name of individual rights and liberties. Their message is libertarian but their behavior is collective. It's difficult to imagine a political movement that could possibly be more intellectually inconsistent.