An influx of peculiar outrage has spread across the American public since President Obama has taken office, and this anger has manifested itself through town hall meetings of erratic senior citizens, paranoia-stricken voters, and weeping television commentators who draw comparisons between our democratically elected government and a fascist regime. For the past two years opposition to the current White House has dominated the headlines of news and social media with boisterous allegations, while their softly spoken and relatively moderate allies have been completely marginalized. This has served to exclude sensible objections to Democratic policy from serious debate. To encourage productive negotiations and restore civility between our two major parties, it is these softer voices of reason that must battle the angry mobs that fell from the grace of their own ideology for the editorial voice of the conservative soul. In order to understand the emergence of the current poisonous climate, we must revisit and dissect our country’s recent history.
Though there may not be one simple answer, this erosion of intellect can be partly traced to a mass of conservative thinkers and self-proclaimed independents (now the Tea Party) resigning to cognitive dormancy for just under a decade, by affording their elected leaders unwavering policy support regardless of fiscal and ideological implications. Under the Bush Administration from 2001 to 2009, the dreams of many Americans were laden with glorious battles, newly formed peaceful democracies, and family values. There was a general disengagement from an intra-party peer review process that normally drives policy decisions. And when this conservative base was awakened by the prospect that an African-American Democrat might be elected President, they began to exercise that which had been repressed for eight years – critical faculty. The result was a political sideshow that permeated town hall meetings and even the senate floor. It was the inevitable consequence of the collective awakening of a group that had been willingly lulled to sleep by the assurances of their trusted leaders. Served with this groggy awakening was the election of a Democratic President, an astronomical deficit, two wars with no defined terms of victory, and armed homosexuals in uniform.
To put the intensity of this conservative backlash in perspective, it is imperative to list a few major initiatives (and corresponding results) of the Administration immediately preceding that of President Obama. In 2001, the Bush Administration worked full time to convince us that Saddam Hussein was partly responsible for the September 11th attacks (he wasn’t), then alleged that Hussein harbored Al-Qaeda terrorists (he didn’t), and shortly thereafter insisted Iraq possessed weapons of mass destruction (that were never found). From 2003 onward, they predicted that the war would be completed in less than six months (it wasn’t) and promised that the liberating coalition would be welcomed by a grateful people (they weren’t). We were told that all of this was to be accomplished with a budget under 60 billion dollars (current estimates have it at 3 trillion dollars). The Administration finally settled on a truthful objective for invading Iraq: implementing democracy (thus far successful). In the name of fighting terror abroad, they detained suspects for years without a trial (violation of Habeas Corpus) and authorized torture (violation of US law, international law, and ironically, Christian belief). To combat terror at home, our government passed the USA PATRIOT Act. This legislation afforded the government unprecedented powers that allowed it to spy on its own citizens (violation of one’s right to privacy). At the risk of making a broad generalization, I cautiously note that all of the aforementioned activities were met with nearly unwavering conservative support; few dissenters among them could be found.
Conversely, let us consider some of the issues that in two years alone (2009 – 2011) have brought hundreds of thousands of conservatives to town hall meetings and even to the streets in protest. Outrage erupted when the President opened a discussion to reform health care. Critics warned that senior citizens would die en masse from neglect under the proposed legislation (sadly, we may never know). Conservatives of all ranks are in a frenzy and warn that our country is on a path to socialism and/or tyranny. Far too many claimed President Obama was not a citizen of this country. Without grasping its inherent prejudice, many also accused him of being a practicing Muslim. It is indeed curious that the nationality and religion of one man aroused more conservative protest than did the war that created a trillion dollar deficit and killed over 4,000 American soldiers.
The Democratic Party is not without their fringe, however there is a marked difference in the caliber of status of those making the ridiculous accusations. On the left, unrealistic youth were primarily responsible for comparing President Bush to Adolf Hitler; many did so as we were preparing for an invasion. Such critics were never taken seriously and played a negligible role in the national discourse. On the right, a significant number of average voters, conservative icons, and a disturbing number of Republican Congressmen actively assert that President Obama is pursuing a socialist agenda, despite hundreds of billions of dollars in bailouts that he lent to private corporations. This vast difference between the critiques of the two Presidencies must not be overlooked.
Recent waves of ridiculous partisan rhetoric accuse the Obama-led Democrats of tearing out the pages of the Constitution to reshape a democracy into a socialist-lead tyranny. This rhetoric is at least partly fueled by the inability of conservatives to publicly and privately express grievances with their own party. Alarming portions of post-Bush era conservatives are rediscovering faculties that have been stagnant for nearly a decade, thus they are predictably overindulging in senseless critique with little emotional control. If only a fraction of this critique was present from the base of the ruling party in 2003, many of the ideals to which conservatives allegedly adhere might be more prevalent in our society today.
As we pass through the young seasons of this century, an era that hosted an assault on most of the central tenets of American conservatism, namely citizen privacy, small government, and deficit reduction, it was evident that we swiftly fell victim to an extraordinary paradox: that when their most fundamental principles were under direct attack, conservative Americans simply rolled over and waved the flag of surrender – that same flag is tattooed on every ‘Main Street’ front porch as an emblem of one’s patriotism. This flag was also the rallying cry that unleashed the dogs of a costly war whose wake dissolved some of our Constitution’s fundamental Articles. The aftermath of this period has left the public square filled only with those who decided (eight years too late) to show up to what is now an empty debate hall that echoes with paranoia, fear, and hopelessness – the inevitable result of a democratic mass abruptly waking up from its hibernation. Sadly, those who walked the streets and tended to that very hall while others slept are now permitting insidious accusations of false citizenship and unintelligible ramblings by people that make little distinction between capitalism and socialism, and who do not understand what life is truly like under the domination of totalitarianism.
Until conservative voters reject ostensible doctrines of American infallibility, like Mitt Romney’s “No Apology: The Case for American Greatness” or apocalyptic warnings like Newt Gingrich’s “To Save America: Stopping Obama’s Secular Socialist Machine,” great numbers of conservative youth will fail to learn two of the cornerstones of a functioning pluralistic society – mutual understanding and compromise. A revolution is indeed needed; not within the White House but rather in the top tier of the influential hierarchy in the Republican party.
Conservative intellectuals must rise up against the forces of those willing to reduce a complex debate to overly simplistic tweets and unintelligible online chat lingo. Caricatures like Sarah Palin, Michele Bachmann, Glenn Beck, and Rush Limbaugh plague the discourse both within and outside their party, and a bold public challenge from a brilliant, honest, and eloquent Republican will demonstrate how intellect and wit will be more formidable opponents to Democratic policy than fear-mongering and television reality shows. Moderate conservatives are eager for leadership that can articulate their grievances without comparing their opponents to historical tyrants.
Many Americans retain strong oppositional views to the policies of the previous Administration, but history will ultimately decide whether they were in the best long-term interest of our country. That being said, we need only 30 minutes of Glenn Beck programming and 5 minutes skimming the erratic Facebook posts of an Alaskan megalomaniac to realize the dangers of allowing an uncomfortably large and steadily growing undereducated fringe hijack the voice of one of the most powerful political parties in the world.
Article posted on 1/2/2012
By Brian T. Murphy
For two years a large opposition movement has dominated the headlines of news and social media with hysterical allegations against the current White House. This piece discusses the emergence of a conservative uprising and link its roots with intricacies in human cognition.
Cognitive Dissidence: Roots of a Conservative Uprising