There was an amusing bit on Real Time last Friday. The panel was talking about Romney’s recent conference call and how the adults in the Republican Party needed to take control. Maher said that one way they could do that was to stop all this nonsense about Benghazi. Given that Real Time is at base a comedy show, it is not surprising what happened next. The two “reasonable” Republicans, David Frum and Ana Navarro, got apoplectic. “But there is a cover-up!”
This is the problem with all of the talk about the Republican Party reforming itself. The Republican elite didn’t get into power by accident. The difference between the extremists and the moderates is the way that they talk about issues, not where they actually stand on issues. Like the rank and file members of the party, moderates are authoritarian followers. As much as I look for reasons to explain the conservative worldview, nothing fits better than John Dean’s authoritarian theory.
This gets to the heart of what is so frustrating about talking to Republicans. Most of the time they are incredibly reasonable. Yet in the heat of an election or on an issue that Fox News is pushing (e.g. Benghazi), they lose all perspective. This explains why they look back so fondly on Bill Clinton and how they will gush with praise over Obama in 8 years. These people are easily led by demagoguery.
The reason the most vile Republicans rise to the top is that they best pose the issues in a way that the conservative authoritarian followers can accept. The question is never do you want to protect everyone from potential global warming; it is: do you want to destroy the economy or believe in a liberal conspiracy theory? It is never how do we best help the poor; it is: do you want your hard earned money going to a bunch of loafers? It is never what is the proper role of government surveillance; it is do you want another 9/11?
When I talk to conservatives their answers are normally nuanced. But they can’t help jumping for the sloganeering of the party elites. And this is as true of the public “moderates” as it is for the rest. Both Frum and Navarro said reasonable things about non-partisan issues. But that doesn’t make them any less dangerous. In fact, it makes them more dangerous. They clearly have the capacity to see the complexity of the world but they choose to (following Stephen Colbert) let their guts lead them.
And this is why the Republican Party will not reform itself anytime soon. For all the reasonable talk from the moderates, they are as easy to get worked up in a froth as the rest of their party. The froth production masters are the crazies. When David Frum manages to not get excited by things like the Benghazi scandal, then the party will change.
Read John Dean’s excellent Conservatives Without Conscience.
And look! Candy: