From an interesting Thomas Edsall piece in today's NYT:
In the six focus groups of Republican voters, according to Greenberg’s report, “few explicitly talk about Obama in racial terms,” but
the base supporters are very conscious of being white in a country with growing minorities. Their party is losing to a Democratic Party of big government whose goal is to expand programs that mainly benefit minorities. Race remains very much alive in the politics of the Republican Party.
Voters like this, according to the report, are convinced they have lost the larger battle:
While many voters, including plenty of Democrats, question whether Obama is succeeding and getting his agenda done, Republicans think he has won. The country as a whole may think gridlock has triumphed, particularly in the midst of a Republican-led government shutdown, but Republicans see a president who has fooled and manipulated the public, lied, and gotten his secret socialist-Marxist agenda done. Republicans and their kind of Americans are losing.
In his report for the Democracy Corps, Greenberg describes the Republican base electorate as fearful of being strategically outmaneuvered:
They think they face a victorious Democratic Party that is intent on expanding government to increase dependency and therefore electoral support. It starts with food stamps and unemployment benefits; expands further if you legalize the illegals; but insuring the uninsured dramatically grows those dependent on government. They believe this is an electoral strategy—not just a political ideology or economic philosophy. If Obamacare happens, the Republican Party may be lost, in their view.
Conservative troops blame moderate Republican for what they see as Democratic victories. The Republican base
thinks they are losing politically and losing control of the country – and their starting reaction is “worried,” “discouraged,” “scared,” and “concerned” about the direction of the country – and a little powerless to change course. They think Obama has imposed his agenda, while Republicans in D.C. let him get away with it.
It's not about ideology; it's about survival. These people feel cornered and desperate. They are not interested in working within a political process they see as fundamentally illegitimate. Their adrenaline-soaked brains are in lizard mode, and they see their situation as eat or be eaten. They see the government as their predator. Is there any wonder they want to destroy it?
Why do people feel this deep anxiety when so many others don't? For me the best explanation lies in understanding how Conservative anxiety is rooted in the social psychology of identity. The main difference between Conservatives and Liberals lies in that conservatives derive their sense of identity from their community, its norms, beliefs, and mores; Liberals derive their sense of identity from their sense of themselves as individuals who choose their own norms, beliefs, and mores.
Liberals may join a group and submit to its community norms, but they choose to join, and they can choose to quit. They might join and quit many groups in the course of a lifetime. For conservatives, there is no choosing or quitting. Your identity is deeply linked with the community you were born into. When the community's norms, etc., are attacked, they feel attacked as individuals in a way that Liberals find hard to imagine.
People, even Liberals, who are sports fans can have some sense of what this feels like. I'm hardly obsessed with how my local sports teams are doing, but I pay attention, and it surprises me how badly I feel when our teams lose. I tell myself it's just a game, but clearly it's more than that. I have become identified with these teams, and their losses are my losses; their successes my successes. It seems silly to people who stand outside of that, but it's very real. A city's team is its army, and the individual citizen's hope for his own survival is linked with his city's army's prevailing in the battle against the invading horde. My personal destiny is deeply linked to the destiny of my city. If the city loses, I get put to the sword or enslaved. I think we all share this deep anxiety in in our collective unconscious, and sports allegiances draw deeply from this anxiety. It's not true in reality, but it's true in some deep atavistic symbolic sense.
Well conservative cultural anxiety is cognate with that. The government is a proxie for the invading horde; it represents everything that they see as seeking destroy their world. There are economic motivators mixed in with all this, but they don't explain the fundamental anxiety-driven irrationality. It's about deeper survival needs. All traditionalists rightly fear liberal individualism. It's utterly incompatible with their sense of cosmic order and what's right. They cannot coexist with it because to allow it means the destruction of the cosmos and of their sense of who they are in it.
And what's the alternative? They don't want to live in a flat, traditionless world peopled with deracinated, superficial Liberals, and I don't blame them. Liberals are not sympathetic to religious conservatives, but perhaps they would be if they see traditionalist conservatives' fearing extinction as similar to the extinction suffered by the American Indian at the hands of 19th century Liberals. Liberals are now nostalgic about the American Indian, but their ancestors were not. Perhaps a hundred years from now Liberals will be similarly nostalgic about Bill Buckley, Barry Goldwater, and Ronald Reagan--and their extinct Republican Party.
But conservatives are wrong to think that so much depends on holding onto their particular, really rather quaint imagination of the cosmic order. They will surivive its dissolution, and the Liberal disorder they find so repugnant is not the only alternative. If they truly understood and lived by the spirit of the Gospels so many of them claim to be defending, they would accept that theirs is now a path of dispossession. They would understand that their anxiety, while understandable, nevertheless must be resisted because it displaces faith and hope. There is no room for grace in a soul that is obsessed with its own survival, and it's fundamentally unchristian to cling to anything, and certainly not to the past.