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Tuesday, September 18, 2012

True conservatives to the Randians: you're devouring the base

Serendipity.  In today's Times, Cass Sustain showcases a social science finding: the best way to puncture confirmation bias, our tendency to hear only our own side of an argument, is to recruit a "turncoat"from the other side:
People tend to dismiss information that would falsify their convictions. But they may reconsider if the information comes from a source they cannot dismiss. People are most likely to find a source credible if they closely identify with it or begin in essential agreement with it. In such cases, their reaction is not, “how predictable and uninformative that someone like that would think something so evil and foolish,” but instead, “if someone like that disagrees with me, maybe I had better rethink.”
Coincidentally, it strikes me this morning that in the torrent of well-informed criticism of the crude Randianism expressed by Romney in that leaked fundraiser, the best, the most conceptually comprehensive responses have come from thoughtful conservatives.
First, as I noted last night, David Brooks captured the multidimensionality of Mitt's misconception:
Romney, who criticizes President Obama for dividing the nation, divided the nation into two groups: the makers and the moochers. Forty-seven percent of the country, he said, are people “who are dependent upon government, who believe they are victims, who believe the government has a responsibility to take care of them, who believe they are entitled to health care, to food, to housing, to you name it.”

This comment suggests a few things. First, it suggests that he really doesn’t know much about the country he inhabits. Who are these freeloaders? Is it the Iraq war veteran who goes to the V.A.? Is it the student getting a loan to go to college? Is it the retiree on Social Security or Medicare? 

It suggests that Romney doesn’t know much about the culture of America. Yes, the entitlement state has expanded, but America remains one of the hardest-working nations on earth. Americans work longer hours than just about anyone else. Americans believe in work more than almost any other people. Ninety-two percent say that hard work is the key to success, according to a 2009 Pew Research Survey.

It says that Romney doesn’t know much about the political culture. Americans haven’t become childlike worshipers of big government. On the contrary, trust in government has declined. The number of people who think government spending promotes social mobility has fallen. 

The people who receive the disproportionate share of government spending are not big-government lovers. They are Republicans. They are senior citizens. They are white men with high school degrees. As Bill Galston of the Brookings Institution has noted, the people who have benefited from the entitlements explosion are middle-class workers, more so than the dependent poor.
The practical key to this own-team takedown is They are Republicans.  The GOP is so blinded by ideology it doesn't recognize its own constituents.

Next up, David Frum -- a voice in the wilderness since at least 2008 trying to get Republicans to focus on the actual needs of actual Americans. Frum  is well positioned to tackle the racism underlying Republican antipathy to a chimerical moocher class:
Only about one-fifth of taxpayers are non-elderly people who pay no tax at all, and they are paying no tax mostly because they are unemployed in the worst economic crisis since the 1930s, a crisis that candidate Romney blames on the president and promises to correct. It seems a hard saying to call these promised beneficiaries of a Romney recovery people who don't take responsibility for their lives.

So again: why?

Start with this data point:

When you ask white Americans to estimate the black population of the United States, the answer averages out at nearly 30%. Ask them to estimate the Hispanic population, and the answer averages out at 22%.

So when a politician or a broadcaster talks about 47% in "dependency," the image that swims into many white voters' minds is not their mother in Florida, her Social Security untaxed, receiving Medicare benefits vastly greater than her lifetime tax contributions; it is not their uncle, laid off after 30 years and now too old to start over. No, the image that comes into mind is minorities on welfare. Like this, for example:
 "This" is Romney's lying ad claiming that Obama has abolished welfare work requirements.

Lastly, Ramesh Ponnuru, lionized just now for a Nov. 2011 whack at "the freeloader myth" driving some Republicans to try to re-impose income taxes on low income Americans, also understands that Republicans are chewing up their own base with their broad-brush assault on society's perceived "takers." Methodically, he demonstrates that large swaths of "the 47%" are current or potential Republicans voters, and concludes:
Another reason Obama is doing well might have to do with the weakness of the Republican economic message. Republicans dwell on the heroic entrepreneur held back by taxes and regulation, which must be part of the story that a free-market party tells. But most people don’t see themselves in that storyline, any more than they see themselves as dependents of the federal government. They don’t see Americans as divided between makers and takers.

To the extent Republicans do, they’re handicapping themselves.
Once, one might have thought that Romney would stand with the "widen the base" conservatives.  For a year and more, though, he's shown himself to be the nation's pander-in-chief.  May he pay the price.

1 comment:

  1. In the end it will be Willard Milton Romney's own words that that will bring down his seven year run for the presidency. I thank you Romney for speaking your real mind, sure its ugly but it just confirms my feeling that you act more like a Corporation than a person with compassion who realizes that a majority of my country is suffering. Hey the empty chair was a great hit, thanks for the laughs.

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