January 31, 2008

Why The Right Can't Govern

If the George W Bush years have taught us anything, it is that the Right is lousy at governing. It doesn’t matter what area you examine, it is indisputable that the United States is much worse off after seven-plus years of George Bush. We are deeper in debt, our infrastructure is failing, our health-care system is collapsing, our military is overwhelmed, cities facing disaster know they are on their own, our international reputation is in the pits, and we’re still not doing anything about global warming.

It was under George W Bush’s watch that our country went from being a country that much of the world looked up to for the values that we espoused: the rule of law, tolerance, openness, diversity, human dignity, hopefulness and a dynamic and vibrant people who saw potential and opportunity wherever they looked.

Today, we are a people driven by fear. Whether that fear comes from the fear-mongering from our leaders (especially the fear of terrorists, the fear of the unknown, the fear of the immigrants, the godless and the heathens) or that of the rational left where the fear comes from seeing so many dangers on the horizon and so little responsiveness from those who we elected to manage our affairs.

What is it about the right that has led to this state of affairs?

John Dean, the former counselor to Richard Nixon and one who knows more than a bit about power-hungry presidencies, has been writing about the problems with the Republican Party for some time now. Last year, his insightful Conservatives Without Conscience delved into how the Republican Party has been taken over by authoritarians who have some specific personality characteristics that render them incapable of governing. Recently, he’s been using his column at FindLaw to summarize the key points from his book and to extend his thesis to how this affects the Republican Presidential candidates.

Dean notes that the Republican Party is now firmly in the hands of authoritarian conservatives having purged or alienated the moderates and libertarian Goldwater conservatives, and he believes this is not a healthy outcome for America. He cites the extensive research conducted by social scientists since World War II. Dean was particularly impressed with the body of work of Professor Bob Altemeyer who has built large datasets from questionnaires and scenarios over decades of studies of tens of thousands of college students and their parents. Altemeyer also surveyed numerous state legislators in both the North and South of the United States which allows us to see how the parties map onto the authoritarian scale. As Dean says, Altemeyer has created a tremendous database that is based on empirical data, and not partisan speculation. From this data, Dean writes:

At the outset of Conservatives Without Conscience, I provided a quick and highly incomplete summary of Altemeyer's findings, explaining that his empirical testing revealed "that authoritarians are frequently enemies of freedom, antidemocratic, anti-equality, highly prejudiced, mean-spirited, power hungry, Machiavellian, and amoral." To be clear, these are not assessments that Altemeyer makes himself about these people; rather, this is how those he has tested reveal themselves to be, when being anonymously examined.

One need not be too prejudiced to think that the type of leadership one would experience when someone with those characteristics is in charge would be bad if one was not considered to be part of the gang. This type of leadership is the opposite of what a Democracy requires where trust is a key to allowing the other party to take the helm after an election.

Dean then breaks out authoritarians into those who are followers (the many) and those who lust to lead and gain power over others. Here’s how he describes the personality of the followers.

Based on Altemeyer's study, as well as those of other social psychologists, I prepared a list of the additional traits that these personalities, both men and women who test high as right-wing authoritarians, often evidence: highly religious, moderate to little education, trust untrustworthy authorities, prejudiced (particularly against homosexuals, women, and followers of religions other than their own), mean-spirited, narrow-minded, intolerant, bullying, zealous, dogmatic, uncritical toward their chosen authority, hypocritical, inconsistent and contradictory, prone to panic easily, highly self-righteous, moralistic, strict disciplinarian, severely punitive, demands loyalty and returns it, little self-awareness, usually politically and economically conservative/Republican.

Then there are the leaders. They are the social dominators – people (mostly males) who want to rule over others.

Again, I have prepared a listing of the traits revealed in the testing of these remarkably manipulative and cunning personalities, who are typically men: dominating, opposes equality, desirous of personal power, amoral, intimidating and bullying, faintly hedonistic, vengeful, pitiless, exploitive, manipulative, dishonest, cheats to win, highly prejudiced (racist, sexist, homophobic), mean-spirited, militant, nationalistic, tells others what they want to hear, takes advantage of "suckers," specializes in creating false images to sell self, may or may not be religious, usually politically and economically conservative/Republican.

Dean then examines how people with these personality types have shaped the Republican Party and what that means. He concludes that the type of conservatism that dominates in the United States is Authoritarian Conservatism and having these people in power has bad ramifications for the United States and for the world.

In a new book, Broken Government: How Republican Rule Destroyed the Legislative, Executive and Judicial Branches, John Dean reviews how the Authoritarian Conservatives have severely damaged the government they took over and he shows how the bad governance that we have experienced under them is no fluke. As he says, when authoritarian leaders take power, they don’t govern, they rule. As an example, he discussed the way Newt Gingrich ruled the Congress when he was in charge.

Osborne reported that Gingrich was dominating, opposed to equality, desirous of personal power, and amoral; that he can be a bully, hedonistic, exploitive, manipulative, a cheater, prejudiced toward women, and mean-spirited; that he uses religion for political purposes; and that he wants others to submit to his authority and is aggressive on behalf of authority. When Gingrich took charge of the House in 1995 as Speaker, he imposed authoritarian rule unlike that of any Speaker before him. His bullying, demanding style provoked antagonism and incivility, and made demonizing one's opponents standard operating procedure. Gingrich eliminated the seniority rights of Republicans in the House, and he personally selected committee chairs who would be loyal to him - and who could help raise money, using their posts for the good of the GOP. Gingrich lorded over the House, telling members not to bring their families back to Washington, and even suggesting which books they should be reading.

One important point Dean makes is the Authoritarian Conservatives are not stymied when their actions are viewed negatively by the public. Not only is this a price that must be paid, but it actually shows them that they are doing what they must do.

Many observers have suggested that the Bush/Cheney Administration may, in the eyes of history, be the worst ever. Yet this condemnation must seem beside the point to authoritarians, for these people simply do not care what others think of their performance. What is important, in their eyes, is simply that these leaders and their compliant followers are doing things the way they believe they must be done, and enforcing their will upon any who dare to dissent or disagree.

Our founding fathers fought a revolution against a tyrant king. They would not be pleased to see their carefully designed Constitution with its crucial checks and balances being shredded to empower a party that not only tolerates tyranny, today they actively cheer its arrival. The goals of the Authoritarian Conservatives are antithetical to the goals of the vast American public and the expressed philosophy of the Constitution. What are you doing to guarantee they are soundly defeated as we work to create a world in which our children and grandchildren can live?

[Ed: This was another of my articles written for the Vox Populi Nebraska eZine first published in the October 2007 issue.]

Posted by Mary at January 31, 2008 12:44 AM | Philosophy | Technorati links |

"The right can't govern" is a true statement with the domestic socialist George Bush in the White House.
But you cannot name me a successful liberal program by any Democrat president. They have all been failures.
Reagan had the Cold War victory and the economy growth Clinton basked in.
Bush has stopped dozens of terrorist attacks planned for this country since 9/11 and we are winning the war against Jihad - despite people like you.
Now, except for FDR entering WWII to save his staff's comrade, Josef Stalin, name one liberal program that has worked?
Let me help you. None.

Posted by: Hank Dagny at January 31, 2008 06:26 PM

Thank you, 'Dagny', for that crude parody of the authoritarian-follower mindset.

Posted by: Mike G at January 31, 2008 11:46 PM

"Reagan had the Cold War victory and the economy growth Clinton basked in" -hd

pure hokum...enlightened economist's along with others had predicted the soviet slip in the seventies when reagan was still beating up hippies long before he had established a national base/support of ditto heads. If you actually read dean's book, he does not totally de-construct conservatism, but the extreme or regressive elements of many strands that have evolved over the last half of the twentieth century. One of the trends or elements found in conservatism, past and present, is patriarchal authoritarianism, not to mention the biblical kind.

As far as clinton "basking" in any efforts due to effects of the "reagan revolution" ...how odd four years of the bush one era went by in a flat line on into the first clinton term. reagan is the start of an upward movement of a wealth shift which this bush two group has wrung dry through poor management and out right graft. we are in for a rough ride, and you hd are one largely misinformed idealog.

Posted by: benmerc at February 1, 2008 04:46 AM

Ben, it took a near miracle to recover from the last time a Democrat Congress and President sang koombya - Carter.
We had a 'misery' index for crying out loud.
You liberals can't point to a single government or civilization that has ever thrived under the socialist/communist policies you pine for.
Name one?
Pure hokum is the definition of liberalism preached by those who would rule to those who need chronic butt wiping - and called 'useful idiots' by Lenin himself.

Posted by: Hank Dagny at February 1, 2008 10:28 AM

PS: I destroyed Mary's post on my post. It's too easy.
Mary and Ben, if you want to cure your mental illness called liberalism, Dr. Hank will see you in his blog.

Posted by: Hank Dagny at February 1, 2008 10:30 AM

Hank, you are delusional (for starters...Lenin has little to do with contemporary western liberalism)... what is relevant though, is that just about every Republican candidate is at war with the "Age of Reason" and the western enlightenment, thats something to really think about. But lets stick to the tangibles, there are stats that prove other wise, concerning your statements on Carter and the economy. Not to mention Carter was clearly on the right path delving into alternative energies, and promoting conservation of oil resources (true conservatism that actually works) and seeking new high tech energy R&D, remember Carter was an actual self made millionaire with high degrees in nuclear engineering. Just think if Carter had stayed in , or Reagan would have had the common sense to continue some of Carter's efforts...we would not be in Iraq. Carter also helped forge the only lasting peace that continues to stand in the Middle East, that stands to this day. Jimmy Carter helped champion the human rights movement (as did other world figures), which eventually had a much more substantial impact on all of the oppressive soviet bloc states, and their pressure to free them selves from the oppression...this list could go on, but all of this information is available to those who seek out truth and knowledge, not to mention many of us that were conscious and working for a progressive society during those very times, and beyond, many people lived it, so deniers as your self have little impact.

On your absurd statement about any worth while "Liberal" efforts...I mean, come on Hank, just how does your thought process work? Why don't we just take ONE basic element of American life and life style...the work place. Let me give you one guess who brought us the 8 hour day, the 40 hour week, workmen's comp, and unemployment insurance...also the many other benefits that we take for granted today. These conditions were brought about by people that wanted justice and fair play, they also had the vision and understanding that a stable and mostly secure work force is a more productive one, you know; "win -win" (a typically unknown concept to many conservatives).

So, HD, please spare us your sentiments, as they are clearly out of scope with the reality that surrounds the average working American. Really man, you have to present FACTS in a debate or even discussion...I have not even scratched the surface as to what progressives have done for society over this last century. I'll leave the rest of this discussion to you, by all means tell us what conservatives have done during their tenures, other then divide and steal, typically creating some of the most corrupt administrations of the modern era, not to mention creating nearly every economic collapse along with the highest deficits and widest disparities. I can not relate to someone as far behind the curve as you appear to be, but hang in there I am certain you will work something out. But if you don't,...and when you get tired of all the division, hollow rhetoric and hypocrisy of the conservative mind set, by all means, come on over, as we progressives are an inclusive people (for the most part).

Posted by: benmerc at February 1, 2008 02:51 PM