The GOP psyche: An explainer
I believe the Republican Party’s psychic break happened the moment their “compassionate conservative” economic philosophy melted the world’s economy. President George W. Bush, the champion of deregulation, bailed out the banks and then offered: “I’ve abandoned free market principles to save the free market system.”
I know when I first heard it my head exploded. It sent the Republicans reeling.
They had always believed if liberals just stepped out of the way conservative alchemy would usher in a new golden age for America. Then the opposite happened.
This was the same historical moment the Party of Lincoln saw the star of the future first half-black allegedly liberal president with the middle name of Hussein rising, while the economy — spiked on their hyperbole and bluster — had busted. This was all that was needed to crack the collective psyche of America’s right wing.
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And just to pry it open even further, the new overwhelmingly popular president whom they disavowed as a Bolshevik Nazi Black Panther Kenyan Illuminati Muslim Socialist, had ideas which were actually centrist Republican policies — shooting Osama bin Laden in the face, for example. Also shrinking the size of the federal workforce and therefore shrinking the size of the government, renewing the Bush Tax Cuts, reducing the deficit and cutting spending. Basic Republican staples when they actually live up to their rhetoric.
ObamaCare’s individual mandate had been the Republican alternative to socialized medicine since the days of Nixon: Americans having private insurance instead of Medicare for all. Now the individual mandate, according to Republicans, IS socialized medicine.
Cognitive dissonance is the discomfort that arises when self-image conflicts with reality. This phrase was coined in the 1950s by psychologist Leon Festinger and fleshed out in his book “When Prophesy Fails.” Festinger found when believers are faced with a doomsday deadline that comes and goes, instead of disillusionment, they “often increased their enthusiasm and activity. They poured greater energy than ever before into obtaining new converts.” Hence the rise of the tea party: Basically they’re the Grand Old Party fueled by the psychological backlash from failed prophesy.
Often the way this stress is dealt with is by re-defining values. It’s commonly referred to as moving the goal posts. This explains why the GOP used to be OK with secrecy, drones, bailouts, NSA spying and deficit spending — but now, post-Bush, see these things as tyranny. It’s what Festinger called, “ingenious defenses with which people protect their convictions.”
The GOP believes they’re patriots and the stewards of free markets. Once that belief collides with facts, like conservative policies asphyxiating the middle class, they have to make it the fault of an enemy. Meaning: To Republicans a Democratic twice-elected (by huge margins) President has to be a foreign Muslim treasonous dictator whose economic policies are killing us all because otherwise everything they’ve ever held true is a lie.
This explains why Republicans have to be against anything proposed by the man the Heritage Foundation’s president, Jim DeMint, hilariously calls our Imperial President. Unilaterally giving federal janitors a raise doesn’t exactly make one Darth Vader unless your own sense of self is in a death grip.
In cognitive dissonance theory, proof doesn’t matter in self-perception. History can be revised to gel with belief. For example: Ted Cruz, the architect of the 2013 government shutdown blames the disaster on President Obama and the Democrats. He has to. What he did was unpatriotic. In order for him to continue to see himself as a patriot, he has to convince himself (and us) that Obama did it.
The least radical guy in the country is now dubbed the most radical guy in history according to his dissident dissonance-sufferers. Now something as ubiquitous and usual as the executive order (FDR did 3,522 of them: Bush 291: Obama so far has done a paltry 168) is unprecedented, lawless and the end of the Republic!
What does this mean? It means we’re dealing with people who are unstable. They’ve gone through a great trauma (the Bush years) and they’re still trying to piece themselves together. Their numbers are dwindling and it’s only the true believers left.
As the GOP struggles with their fractured identity Obama is making it worse by implementing their policies! He’s set to cut $9 billion from the food stamp program.
What does it mean for liberals and progressives? It means we’re defending Republican policies to Republicans who now deplore said policies as communist plots.
Yeah, it’s nuts.
— Tina Dupuy is a nationally syndicated op-ed columnist, investigative journalist, award-winning writer, stand-up comic, on-air commentator and wedge issue fan. Tina can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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