The irrational state of the political right

Yesterday I awoke to a friend on Facebook copying an op ed from Ben Stein, written prior to the passage of the health care reform bill. There was no link included, but the gist of the editorial was that "Obamacare" was socialism and your doctors would be replaced with bureaucrats, that Hillary Clinton enabled Iran to develop nuclear weapons, that climate change was a farce and any legislation to control it would take away our freedom, and on and on. It was a remarkably poorly written editorial, seemingly focused on health care but containing a random smattering of neoconservative buzz words.

Later that day, I saw two disturbing news stories on CNN. One about a urologist who put a sign on his door saying "If you voted for Obama, seek urologic care elsewhere"; despite being contrary to the AMA code of ethics (as pointed out by the Silver Fox), the doctor insisted he wasn't actually turning people away. Riiight. The other story was about a man who replaced his American flag with a Soviet flag, saying that the nation was becoming more and more "socialist" since Obama was elected, and that the health care bill was the worst offense yet.

Earlier this year, a Research 2000 poll from Daily Kos had some disturbing trends among self-identified Republicans, with a frighteningly large percentage of them believing, among other ridiculous things, that Obama is a racist, socialist Muslim born outside of the U.S. Some of my conservative friends dismissed the poll since Daily Kos is notoriously liberal, but another scientific poll by Harris Interactive found similarly disturbing trends. Add to this the usual crackpottery of Glenn Beck's slippery slope alarmism, and the rest of the "Obama's radical agenda" noise by Fox News stalwarts such as Sean Hannity, and it's plain to see that rational thought is sorely lacking in the modern political right.

When one looks objectively at the health care reform bill – regardless of whether you agree with all of it – the ideas are remarkably centrist. There is no single-payer system or even a public option as many liberals wanted. The exchanges are an idea championed by the ultraconservative Heritage Foundation; the individual mandate was part of Mitt Romney's reform in Massachusetts and has received support by many Republicans, including John McCain, Orin Hatch and Bill Frist; and Republicans have always strongly supported Medicare entitlement reform. Moreover, the final bill that was signed into law contained over 200 Republican amendments.

But I digress; I don't want to pore over the health care bill. Rather, this all begs a question: with so many conservative ideas and amendments taking center stage with this legislation, why is the bill characterized as being part of a "radical liberal agenda" by so many conservatives? Why, when tax breaks for the poor are a centerpiece of the legislation and after Obama passed one of the largest tax cuts in history in the stimulus package, are there people taking to the streets, calling themselves a "Tea Party" – a movement historically opposing taxation without representation – and protesting tax increases that didn't happen and non-existent "socialism"?

There's clearly something deeply wrong with modern conservatism. It seems that most conservatives have removed themselves from constructive, productive dialogue in the public forum and have instead taken to shouting from the fringe with naive alarmism. They shout nonsense from street corners and TV studios, ignore facts, and band together to oppose legislative ideas that they have historically supported simply because they're coming from the other side of the isle.

I mentioned in a recent blog that liberalism and atheism, among some other quirky things, are associated with a higher level of intelligence. While I certainly would refrain from making generalizations about the conservative movement, the disturbing polls above demonstrate that for a great many conservatives, intellect is not a revered quality. We all expect divisiveness over politics, but there's something bigger, something deeper going on in modern conservatism that reflects poorly on both their leaders and their constituency. What we can do to address it, I am not sure. I wish I knew.

Comments

  1. The irrationality concerns me greatly. I live in an area that is 68% Republican. Extremely right-wing. Even the Democrats tend to be conservative. True liberals like myself are as rare as 80 degree weather in December (I live in Ohio)

    I see and hear the most outlandish things. Yet, if I try to challenge their mindless assertions all I get is "you are a liberal. what do you know?"

    The socialism claim is pretty popular here. When I ask them to define socialism or give me the history of socialism all I get is "I know socialism when I see it" which is also translated as "I heard it on Fox News so it must be true."

    Sarah Palin is loved around here almost as much as Jesus. :) I want to puke when I hear her lauded and praised but....

    So I am with you......Not sure how to combat this because facts don't matter.

    Bruce

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  2. That's truly the most frustrating part of it. I've had numerous discussions/debates with my conservative friends, and they simply have nothing to say when I give them the facts. But it never stops them from saying the same ridiculous things again and again.

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  3. That Dr should have his license pulled.

    Now that would be change I could believe in!

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