Most of us have been pretty stunned by the unapologetic lying which has been the main characteristic of the Republican Presidential campaign this year. We've seen it written large in the three debates, where Romney, confident that the remaining undecided voters know nothing about the positions he has taken for the last year and a half, could be fooled by a completely different, centrist, bipartisan (and, of course, nonexistent) Romney- a character that the other 90% of us, on both sides of the political divide, know doesn't exist.
I want to take a stab at explaining this phenomenon, which I think very few people on the left understand. As some of my readers may know, I have spent a long time following the right. I can remember the birth of right wing talk radio, back in the sixties, as the main voice of American Conservatism, and I want to say something about that now.
There has been a lot of talk about the connection between Republican politics and the Christian right. The analyses of this phenomenon generally assume that Republican politicians saw a large number of low-information, and coincidentally religious, voters in the South and Midwest, and set out to systematically exploit them. I believe this is not true.
In fact, I believe that things happened the other way around. The early history of right wing talk radio took place mainly on religious stations like the one I listened to- KXLU in Waterloo Iowa; and quite a number of early political broadcasters came from a religious background. This goes back as far as the infamous Nazi supporter, Father Coughlin, and Gerald L. K. Smith, the two big names of early right wing radio. These guys were before my time, but I remember the reverends Carl McIntyre and Stuart McBirnie, from the sixties, both characters who started out as Christian broadcasters and then moved into hard core right wing politics.
Well, what I believe people like this learned from Evangelical Christians, and later transmitted to the right wing political world in general, was apologetics. Apologetics is the Christian art of one-way argument. In brief, it is a form of discussion where a person starts with the a priori assumption that what he believes is absolutely the truth, with no possibility of contradiction. Consequently, this person is only interested in manipulating people to adopt his belief, and has armored himself against any possibility of seeing any other argument. Evangelical Christians justify any tactic to accomplish their objective, of course, by the claim that their listener's eternal soul is in jeopardy, and therefore whatever they do is in that person's interest.
Now, on to my main point. We on the left are accustomed to automatically expect that, when a person expresses a political view, it is because the person believes what he is saying. It is hard for us to understand why anyone would do anything else, bu that is not what Conservatives are doing at all when they say things.
For Conservatives, political positions they take are nothing more than a way to get what they want, however irrational and indefensible that might be.
What else could explain their willingness to completely contradict what they have said before, without apparent shame or self-awareness? They know that what they are saying is not what they believe, but only a way to manipulate people. What else can explain how a person like Romney can totally abandon all of the Conservative positions that he has ever taken, three weeks before the election, and not have a single Conservative object? This is because Conservatives understant what the rest of us don't- that Romney is just saying what he has to in order to be elected, and none of it means anything. They are confident that they know exactly what he means, even though no one else may be able to figure it out. What else could explain their clinging, year after year, to ludicrous, long discredited claims like those about Obama's birth certificate, or his "apology tour," or the nonsense insisting that global warming doesn't exist? Their supposed positions are nothing but ways to get what they want (which generally consist in lower taxes, at someone else's expense, or No Negroes in the White House) and have nothing to do with reality.
This is a harsh view of the right, amounting to a claim that about a third of the country live in a state of near-sociopathy. But I believe that, unlike the assumption that right wingers give a damn about the truth, it easily explains their behavior. I've watched this sort of thing becoming ever more open as the decades have gone by, and I am positive that this alien way of thinking is what we are struggling with today. Unfortunately, I know of no way to deal with it other than ridicule and open contradiction, which may have an effect on some people but will never reach those who are lost in this swamp of right wing delusion.