The Party of Denial


    (Cross posted at Daily Kos)

    It’s been said that conservatives have a more coherent ideology than progressives, which makes their views an easier sell to the public, and so on.  That may be, because when you look at all they have to say, it really does all boil down to one unique approach to the world – what Dr. Freud called “denial”: reacting to painful and difficult truths by simply denying that they exist.  

    Denial serves different purposes for the two basic classes that make up the Republican coalition.  For the Republican’s tea party stooges and redneck cheerleaders, denial is a psychological phenomenon, a way to pretend that all the problems in the world that require us to change our ways are actually just illusions or lies created by vast conspiracies.  For the party’s corporate owners and benefactors, meanwhile, denial is a convenient way to divert attention from the disasters brewing due to America’s vast and growing imbalances of wealth and the outdated political, economic and social institutions that protect millionaires while imperiling the rest of us.  

    You can run down the whole conservative agenda and find denial hiding behind pretty much every line of it.  So let’s!

    –  Energy and climate change: The right wing has simply given up on rational discourse regarding the global climate crisis.  This is the purest example of denial, since rather than arguing policy, Republicans are now attacking scientists for daring to present findings that are too scary or require too high a cost to confront.  Al Gore was dead on when he called it an “inconvenient truth” – inconvenient psychologically for the masses and financially for certain vested interests.  But making jokes at Gore’s expense will not be of much use to us as the oceans rise, the coral reefs bleach, the glaciers melt and polar bears become just a bittersweet memory.  And meanwhile, China is beating us on renewable energy, high speed rail and more.  It’s a bleak situation that denial may make us feel better about, but can never solve.  

    –  The national debt:  This is the closest thing to a real issue that the right wing has.  Yes, the national debt is too big and is growing too quickly, as it has pretty consistently since the 1970s.  But the denial comes in when the right wing claims that the budget can be balanced while the government continues to cut taxes, shower trillions of dollars on the military, and protect every political interest that Republicans shield as fiercely as Democrats (farm subsidies, space exploration, etc.).  This is one issue area where I have to admit that Democratic politicians are largely in denial too – no one is showing the courage to present real solutions, which involve looking at such touchy issues as Social Security, Medicare, health care, taxes and military spending.  And it involves cutting off the subsidies to all the corporations sucking at Uncle Sam’s teat – which is why they find denial on this topic to continue to be so useful.  Better to pretend that it can all be fixed by cutting benefits to seniors, the poor, the environment and other vulnerable parts of society.

    The military-industrial complex: While the tea party rails against big government spending, the biggest government program of all, the military, gets a free ride.  As writers such as Andrew Bachevich and William Greider have demonstrated, our military has long ago gone well beyond any concept of “defense” – instead, we are playing world policeman at 761 bases in over 150 countries.  In denial, conservatives think the issue is whether we “support the troops” or not.  Well, of course, we pray for the safety of the brave young men and women put in harm’s way.  But the question is whether we benefit from this vast projection of force and mind-boggling explosion of money (over half a trillion a year to the so-called Defense Department – but actual wars cost extra), or whether it is pulling us down the path that too many empires have faced, of overextension and decline.  A scary thought – pushing too many people toward denial rather than rational approaches to keep America genuinely strong and secure.

    –  Immigration:  There are twelve million illegal immigrants in the US.  This is yet another one of these problems that has been crying out for leadership since…well, basically throughout my lifetime.  We all know that it is impossible, logistically, politically, ethically, and yes economically to kick them all out.  But our conservative friends refuse to consider anything along the lines of what they call “amnesty.”  Which only leaves the non-solution of pretending we’re going to round up and expel a dispersed group greater than the population of the L.A. metro area.  Denial rearing her ugly head again.

    I could go on and on, of course, and I’m sure you can add many more examples.  But what’s striking here is the pattern.  At a time when America, and the world, face so many enormous challenges, the Republican/Tea Party approach is to bury our heads in the sand and pretend that it’s the 1950s, “Father Knows Best” is on TV and everything we’ll be all right if we just keep on doing what we’ve always done.  

    Psychologically, it’s not hard to understand why so many people are in denial.  If you grew up in another time and see a vast array of changes around you (Gay couples getting married?  A black president?  Terrorist threats?), it’s easy to get scared and want to fold up into the fetal position.  

    But that is the road to national extinction.  We need to look our problems squarely in the face, confront them and move on.  Sadly, if we allow Republicans to take over either house of Congress, all we will get is more denial, diversions and delays, rather than any actual problem solving.  Which is why we need to work like dogs over the next three and a half weeks to make sure that situation doesn’t come to pass.  

    • normanva

      I will be the first to say that there can be too much regulation. However, the concept of unregulated free trade promoted by big business and cantor just doesn’t work. Unregulated energy markets brought us Enron, unregulated financial markets brought us the financial crisis, to name two disasters.

      Being thick skined and already having been called a nazi lover for supporting Obama, I might as well give a nazi quote which is what I think of the current republican party.

      Make the lie big, make it simple, keep saying it, and eventually they will believe it.

      Adolf Hitler  


    • Isn’t that people keep repeating a lie to get people to believe it (that’s sort of always been the case in politics), but that cognitive psych studies show that if anyone repeats something over and over, that person comes to believe it.  There was a time when I could think that many Republicans didn’t believe half the things they said (I could have said the same of many Democrats, by the way) but at this point, we live in such willfully closed ideological circles of communication that I think that people have forgotten that what they started out saying was ever untrue.

      To me, one of the biggest (and potentially saddest) examples is Jonah Goldberg’s book LIBERAL FASCISM.  When that book was written and first published, there was a tongue in cheek quality to it that made the book interesting — you could roll your eyes, but still play along if you were so inclined.

      But that book was treated VERY seriously by the right wing establishment, and it’s ideas have (for lack of a better phrase) trickled down.  (Think of Glen Beck’s anti-Wilsonian rants.)  And now, Goldberg himself thinks of himself as a serious shaper of conservative thought.  The sort of ironic tone he once was known for is pretty much gone, and while I was never likely to agree with Goldberg over much, I miss the tone he once had now that he’s oh so very very influential and serious.

    • Teddy Goodson

      An inspiring leader (on the order of Churchill, FDR, or JFK, or even Lincoln) would come right out explicitly and say something such as you did:

      At a time when America, and the world, face so many enormous challenges, the Republican/Tea Party approach is to bury our heads in the sand and pretend…

      This would raise the debate to another level at once. Gutless Democrats, many of whom have actually absorbed the Republican framing of today’s problems, cannot quite get their tongues around such confrontational statements. Interestingly, ordinary Americans are trying to express these sentiments among themselves in conversations and on the Internet, yet their leadership is afraid to do so. Or, perhaps, incapable of doing so, intellectually or morally.