The rest of the world is looking at the United States and wondering, with good reason, why we have gone crazy. Not the entire country has gone crazy, of course. But we have a system of government in which a medium-sized minority can bring things crashing down if they so choose, and exactly such a group is rending one of the major parties apart. The minority group is roughly “the Republican base,” an uneasy alliance of Evangelical Christians and the Tea Party.
So it’s interesting and important to understand what these folks really think — something the media, with its valorization of drama, isn’t very good at conveying. The polling organization run by James Carville and Stanley Greenberg has recently tackled the issue, and presents a fascinating summary of what the concerns of the Republican base really are. (Carville and Greenberg are committed Democrats, of course, but I got the link from The American Conservative, where Ron Dreher completely agrees and expresses his horror and dismay.)
Here are the ideas floating in the mind of an average member of the Republican base, expressed in convenient word-cloud form:
For slightly more detail, here are the bullet-pointed main findings:
Most of the Republican base are not fat-cat plutocrats — there aren’t enough of those people to make up a sufficiently substantial voting bloc. A lot of the people described here are poor or at best middle-class, but their cultural identity and self-image is derived in large part from race/nation/religion/lifestyle categories that they see as under attack. The dominant emotions here are fearful ones. (I don’t mean to be condescending by talking about “these people”; this is the environment that I grew up in myself.)
This kind of analysis helps understand why Obamacare — which, for all its faults, is primarily aimed at providing health insurance to more people, many of whom are squarely in the Republican base — is such a hot-button issue. It’s not that they don’t want health insurance; it’s not even that they don’t want the government involved (since they love Medicare and Social Security). It’s that they see Obamacare as a craven ploy to get more people (people not like them) dependent on the government, establishing a permanent Democratic majority, and therefore easing the way for more power going to immigrants, gays, and so on.
Some of their analysis is actually correct! The demographics are tending strongly against what we now think of as the Republican base. The world is changing, and they don’t like it.
The scariest part of the report is that last bullet point, that “climate is next.” The Republican civil war is already bringing the US to the brink of financial disaster. It could end up causing the entire planet immeasurable harm. Scientists need to realize that the climate change debate, like the creationism-in-schools debate from a while a back, is actually not about scientific facts. It’s about culture, and that’s a much more difficult problem to address.