The Republican Narrative and Cognitive Dissonance

Sep 28 2010 Published by under Featured News, Issues, Republican Party

Listening to the Republican narrative, one has to assume that either,

a)      They’re being gratuitously stupid; or

b)      They’re being gratuitous liars.

It’s not a happy choice; it says nothing good of the Republicans either way.  It’s seldom true that there are only two alternatives but it’s extremely difficult to find a third that might apply. It’s very difficult to believe that they seriously mean what they say. It’s like catching your child with his hand in the cookie jar and crumbs all over his face, and saying, “You can’t eat any cookies, Johnny” and his response being, “I know, dad!”

Obviously he doesn’t know or he wouldn’t have his hand in the cookie jar. If they do seriously believe they know then the only explanation can be is that they are stupid. It’s pretty obvious, with your arm buried to the elbow in the evidence that you are lying.

So why attempt the lie in the first place? We can all see the crumbs all over their faces. It is no secret what they’ve been up to. Just turn the cookie jar into the “United States” and you have a measure of the problem faced by America’s voters.

Are they stupid too?

One wouldn’t think so, given the outcome of the 2008 elections. The voters rejected the Republican narrative then, and in two years, as John Stewart recently – and hilariously – demonstrated, it hasn’t changed. Will people honestly believe a lie they’ve already seen through?

On the other side of the coin, it’s difficult to believe that having once been caught Republicans would try the same lies again. That they are seems to indicate that they think the voters are stupid. Or are they counting on voters memories being short?

Sure people are fed up with the rate of recovery. We didn’t get out of the Great Depression overnight either. But consider the fact that it took George W. Bush eight years to reduce the American – and global – economies to utter ruin. It’s simply unreasonable to expect President Obama to fix everything in two years. No economic policy, even if passed, can have an effect that quickly, and Republican obstructionism has meant that Obama has not been able to do everything he has wanted to do to fix it.

Polls demonstrate that most Americans recognize this. Bush still gets the blame from the majority for wrecking our economy. Yet the Republican narrative insists that the voters are fed up with the Democrats and will oust them. There seems to be some sort of disconnect here.

Keep in mind that the Republican narrative also insists on a few bald-faced lies, for example that the Tea Party is a grassroots, populist movement, when it is in fact funded by rich conservatives who are manipulating the masses for their own gain. Another is that the Democrats are the party of big government and deficit spending, when it is in fact demonstrably untrue that the Republicans are not guilty of huge deficit spending or huge increases in the size of government.

They seem to be insisting that 2+2=5.

Of course, some of them have been able to convince themselves that Obama was president when 9/11 took place, or that it was Obama who invaded Afghanistan.

Cognitive dissonance seems to run through the Republican narrative. Cognitive dissonance was first proposed in the 1950s by Leon Festinger. He explains it in the following terms:

Whenever an individual holds two cognitions (beliefs, ideas, opinions) which are psychologically inconsistent, he will experience a drive to reduce this inconsistency. Dissonance may be reduced by changing either or both of the existing cognitions or by adding new cognitions which reduce the conflict by putting it in a new perspective.

Since it is impossible that 9/11 could have happened on the Republican watch, it must have happened under a Democrat. Many other “impossibilities” mean that whatever the historical record says – and modern history is extremely well documented – certain things must or must not be true.

In layman’s terms, the Republican narrative is divorced from reality. So perhaps this is our third choice:

c)       They’re suffering from cognitive dissonance.

Since their narrative sells very well to the base, it’s not an unlikely explanation; the base too, might be suffering from the same form of debilitation.

Is there a remedy? Intervention might be suggested, but the 2008 election outcome could be seen as a form of intervention and it seems to have had no effect at all. Since they represent the will of the American people they could not have possibly lost the election, Even Sarah Palin promised that “God would do the right thing on Election Day.”

As a result, Republicans seem unable to grasp the fact that they lost. Instead, they see Obama as a usurper and themselves as a government in exile. Instead of an election defeat, they have fashioned a narrative in which a left-wing coup has displaced them from their proper place at the helm.

The possibility that the American voter could reject them doesn’t seem to exist in their warped version of reality.

So it is quite unlikely that another intervention – defeat in 2010 – will have any discernible effect on their symptoms or on their disease. They continue to insist that the popular rising none of us are seeing has displaced incumbents nationwide when in fact this is not the case, and polls do not demonstrate that Democrats facing re-election are as unpopular as the narrative insists they must be.

It is to be hoped that the delusions of the Republican base are not shared by those on the left and – in particular – by those in the center. The independent vote was essential in Barack Obama’s election in 2008 and their vote will be critical in the Midterm elections. The American voter must not be fooled by the Republican inability to discern fact from fantasy. When they tell you that used car was never in a flood, the water still sitting inside it should be evidence enough that what they’re selling you is a lie – a lie you don’t have to be part of.

11 responses so far