It is a source of endless amazement to people on the left to see the utter disregard that Republicans have for the truth; extending to a total lack of concern when their own statements utterly contradict things they have said only days earlier. It is hard for us to understand how anyone can be so tolerant of what, to us, would be a massive humiliation when we were caught in this shameless behavior. And yet they show no concern at all as they go on, repeating the most unbelievable lies as though they are proven fact.
I have watched this strange behavior since the 1960's, and I would like to offer the only explanation for it that I have ever found. So, here it is. To us, discussion or argument is an attempt to consider ideas, to see which are viable and which are not- which can be reconciled with known facts and which cannot. This seems to us to be so obviously the purpose of political conversation that the vast majority of liberals are unable to imagine any other way of thinking. But in fact, this is not at all what people on the right are doing when they make political statements.
To fully understand what conservatives are up to, we need to consider the origins of today's right wing propaganda apparatus. The whole structure of the wingnut lie machine grew out of political talk radio which emerged in the 1960's. There were a couple of earlier examples of this phenomenon- Father Coughlin or Gerald L. K. Smith come to mind- but most of the behavior we see today really emerged on religious radio stations in the sixties, as more and more of their shows began to push what we would today consider a right wing Christian line, mixing fanatic anti-Communism with bizarre interpretations of Christianity and economic claims attacking the Fed and the IRS, and veering off into Bircherite territory concerning the Illuminati and world-wide economic conspiracies. These shows, largely broadcast on stations like the powerful, clear channel station KXEL in Waterloo Iowa, which reached a very large part of the midwest, or its sister station XEL in Tijuana, were partly the product of religious figures shamelessly attempting to exploit new territory- figures like Reverend Carl McIntyre or Stuart McBurnie- and partly open attempts to exploit the fear and ignorance of these stations' audiences- like the ubiquitous "Voice of Americanism," financed by the Hunt Brothers, rich Texas oil men, and the sixties' equivalent to today's Koch brothers.
A characteristic of the sort of argument to be found on these stations' religious content is the reliance on what is called "apologetics." This is an argumentative technique which originates from the religious person's utter conviction that he holds the whole truth, and the Christian belief that people are heading toward eternal damnation if they do not accept that truth. It justifies any strategy to convince people, because their existence is dependent on adopting the religious person's beliefs. Apologetics naturally evolved into a form of conversation which appeared to be an open, equal discussion of facts, but was in fact a totally one-way communication, in which nothing that was said by the other side could have any effect at all on the religious person, and in which any statement which accomplished the goal was acceptable.
Now, we mix religion and politics, and we have a situation where many people attach the same sense- that only they hold the truth- to political as well as religious issues. What we get is an idea utterly foreign to the rest of us- that the statements they make are not a part of seeking for the truth in any way, but are simply a means to a predetermined end. If that end can be accomplished, Conservatives are utterly unconcerned with the truth of their statements, or of their consistency with anything they previously claimed to believe. Thus, the idiotic claims that Obama was born in Kenya, that he is a far-left Communist, that global warming does not exist, and on and on. And thus, the endless Republican attacks on a health care law that they themselves originated, or the shameless attacking of a hundred other Democratic proposals which they themselves claimed to support when they thought they would work to their advantage.
When you disconnect all Republican statements from any notion of truth or falsity, and see them as nothing but manipulative tactics to achieve short-term goals, all of their mysterious behavior begins to make sense. In fact, I will go so far in support of this simple idea of mine to suggest that it explains practically all of their argumentative behavior, and it is the only explanation that does so.
And there is another point to be made here before I am done. We are accustomed to see the hard-core right wing evangelical churches as having become infected with a wave of political intolerance originated by Conservative political figures. In this accounting of things, they are victims of cynical political manipulators. But in fact, I believe the exact opposite is what really happened. In fact, it is the evangelicals who have infected the right with their fanaticism and self-righteousness, creating a mindless, destructive movement that cannot be appealed to by any sort of fact-based reasoning. It is the Evangelicals who have inoculated Conservatives against the truth, not the other way around.