The Daily Sandwich

"We have to learn the lesson that intellectual honesty is fundamental for everything we cherish." -Sir Karl Popper

Location: Boston, Massachusetts, United States


Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Irrationality, Politics, and Quest for Fire

This article by TNR's John Judis was pretty fascinating. It ties in with all the debate, introspection, and hypothesizing that's been taking place since the closing years of the Clinton White House-- and in no small part serves as the fuel for the engine of the progressive blogs. It's the "what's the Matter With Kansas" issue, and why it is that so-called red staters (among others) keep voting for Republicans whose policies are having a very significant and very negative impact on their lives.

If a few scholars studying "political psychology" are to be believed, it's all about death. One sterling example is elections and 9/11. Remember way back in 2002 (And 2004. And 2006. And last week...) when the GOP was chanting 'nine-eleven' like a mantra? And winning elections even as they spent billions making the country less safe and promoting extremism in the Middle East? How the White House cynically trotted out bogus "plots" and yellow terrorism alerts every time GOP poll numbers dropped? Saddam's imaginary relationship with al Qaeda and the equally fanciful mushroom cloud?

In their experiments, Solomon, Greenberg, and Pyszczynski make a good case that mortality reminders from September 11 enhanced Bush's popularity through November 2004. But, on the basis of their research, it is possible to draw even broader conclusions about U.S. politics after September 11. Mortality reminders not only enhanced the appeal of Bush's political style but also deepened and broadened the appeal of the conservative social positions that Republicans had been running on.

For instance, because worldview defense increases hostility toward other races, religions, nations, and political systems, it helps explain the rage toward France and Germany that erupted prior to the Iraq war, as well as the recent spike in hostility toward illegal immigrants. Also central to worldview defense is the protection of tradition against social experimentation, of community values against individual prerogatives--as was evident in the Tucson experiment with the judges--and of religious dictates against secular norms. For many conservatives, this means opposition to abortion and gay marriage. . .

[I]f Solomon, Greenberg, and Pyszczynski are right, it would have been very difficult for any politician--not just the stolid Kerry--to overcome Bush's built-in advantage from being the nation's leader at a time when many voters feared another attack. In 2004, Bush, as the commander-in-chief, still had the unconscious on his side. And that advantage may have proven insuperable.

Just a very small taste of a truly interesting article. Although it boils down to pretty commonsensical ideas, it's definitely a good read.