Move Over Star Wars: A Trilogy of GOP Cognitive Dissonance: 2008, 2012, 2016

The Republican Party has been pushing several major themes in recent years:

1) Government is the enemy. The Republican answer to government is corporations. Government is the enemy; corporations are your friend. Somehow, in the conservative mind, corporations we have no control over are preferable to government we can vote for – or against. Privatize everything. Privatize education, privatize healthcare, defense (Halliburton and Blackwater, anyone?). You name it, you can bring in corporations to rake in profits at our expense and to our detriment.

2)The Democrats grow government; the Republicans shrink government. This is the meme; it is also a lie. History shows that the “big government Democrat” is as much a myth as the “fiscally conservative” Republican. The GOP has done a good job of convincing voters that Democrats want the government to intrude in every aspect of your life; the Tea Party was a corporate-funded response to this narrative. Corporations stand most to gain from weak government. The People the most to lose. Interestingly, it is the GOP who, since Obama took office, have been passing all the intrusive legislation not only at the local and state level, but at the federal. The GOP wants a federal agent in every bedroom.

3) Democrats love to spend; Republicans are fiscally conservative. This is another myth that can be quickly burst by appeal to the history books (who voted in 1999 to repeal the Glass-Steagall Act  that had protected our economy since 1933? Hint: Sen. Phil Gramm (R-Texas) led the way. If you look at the history of the past half-century or so, since Eisenhower, you will see that it is in fact Republicans who do all the spending, just as they are the Party that grows government (the two often go hand-in-hand).  The narrative demands that Obama has added more to the deficit than like, every other president in history – like, ever. But the reality is the opposite. As David Frum has pointed out, “Accelerating economic activity is rapidly reducing the budget deficit. The deficit has contracted since 2009 at the fastest rate since the end of World War II, faster even than during the late 1990s boom.”  Contrast this with the $4 trillion Bush added to the deficit (before the Wall Street bailout). Well, you wouldn’t know that from Fox News or Drudge or World Net Daily or Red State or Grover Norquist’s Americans for Tax Reform.

4) Culture and Society are Immoral. Without the Religious Right’s control of the Republican Party, the Culture War would not be in our dictionaries. Once upon a time, Republican supported many of the same things Democrats supported. Since the Grand Old Party became God’s Own Party, contraception and abortion have become immoral and a sign of depravity and wickedness. Homosexuality has become not just “yucky” but straight-out demonic, as in gay animal demons and the like.

5) The Democrats have destroyed our economy. This is the most laughable myth, given it was a Republican president running the show from 2001 through 2008 when the economy tanked (but see #6 below). President Bush waged two wars that he failed to fund and lowered taxes besides. He also de-regulated corporations and Wall Street. He gave full vent to trickle-down economics and America paid the price. The rich got richer, the poor got poorer, and our economy became the victim of unbridled capitalism. And don’t forget that $4 trillion Bush added to the deficit in just eight years, or who voted against the Glass-Steagall Act in 1999. In fact, Obama has saved the economy and at minimal cost to American taxpayers.

6) President George W. Bush never existed. Thus, everything that happened under the Bush administration happened under the Obama administration.

There are others. But I will work with these.

Now that the economy is improving, now that America is disengaging at long last from Bush’s two wars, and now that public opinion is comely down firmly on the side of socially liberal policies, it is anyone’s guess how the GOP will eventually react. I say eventually because everything going on now is part of the process of deciding on the future of the GOP.

We have stalwart conservatives wanting to double-down on their war against Planned Parenthood and contraceptives and abortion and marriage equality, even though polls show quite clearly that these policies fly directly in the face of prevailing (and growing) public opinion. The narrative is that President Bush is a baby-killer but as Sarah Jones wrote here the other day, “the total number and rate of reported abortions fell by 5% between 2008 and 2009.”

We have conservatives continuing to attack Obama over his handling of the economy.  But as David Frum asked at CNN Opinion, how will the GOP respond if the economy booms?

Now, okay, we all know the Republicans have been successfully selling the idea that Obama is coming to take their guns and give them to black folks (along with their worldly wealth, apparently even though the red states where this thinking prevails are statistically moochers) even though nobody ever comes to take their guns. The meme sells because it’s what the racist bigots want to believe. Likely, given that social conservatives also see things in black and white and want to believe that Democrats and Obama kill babies, the actual statistics will be meaningless to them. They will simply block that reality away.

It’s that “low-effort” thinking conservatives are prone to, according to studies. Republicans love to make fun of the liberal brain, but really, it’s the conservative brains that are different (not quite fully functional might be a better way of looking at it).

Perhaps asking how Republicans will respond is the wrong question all together. Perhaps we ought to be asking, will reality factor into the Republican response. We already know there will be a response. They’re fighting over the proper reaction to Cognitive Dissonance II right now. If they don’t want Cognitive Dissonance III to be released in 2016, they need to have an answer.

I think they know that. I think there are moderates struggling to regain control of the Republican Party narrative (if not the extremist platform yet).  Mother Jones addressed the issue of moderate Super-PACs doing just that.

Blame is falling everywhere: on Romney, on Fox News and the Drudge Report. But at no level is blame being attached to the ideas themselves. Blaming the purveyors of those ideas is like blaming the sneeze for your allergies. Fox News and Drudge would not exist without the thinking. Sure, they push the narrative but they are also symptoms of that brain defect we mentioned earlier.

Religious Conservatives insist they need to double down on the repressive social policies that lost them Election Day 2012. Look at the Ohio GOP’s response: We should go after Planned Parenthood again! They didn’t just miss the bus; they’d never heard of it. Really, there are no metaphors for this sort of thinking. You would think they would stop to ask themselves why they lost the women’s vote in 2012. But no, they have already decided, courtesy of Cognitive Dissonance, that all they need are younger, hipper, more likeable candidates that old wooden Romney.

The message can’t possibly be to blame so they won’t even look at what really needs to be changed. Which brings me back to my question of reality’s intrusion in their thinking. What form the GOP will take in 2016 is, at this point, anyone’s guess. We all have hopes and opinions.

But until enough Republicans signal that they realize the message and not the means of conveyance are to blame, we should not hold our breaths for a return to pre-Goldwater normalcy. They may need to take repeated drubbings before reality sinks in, not just the appearance of reality they are struggling with now.

Just as a person suffering from an addiction must realize they have a problem before they can address that problem, the Republican Party must realize that it has fastened an anchor to the elephant’s foot. History is going one way; the GOP is going another.

Lindsey Graham (R-SC) was partly right when he said, “The demographics race we’re losing badly [sic]. We’re not generating enough angry white guys to stay in business for the long term.”

But demographics are just another excuse. The claim that changing demographics are to blame is another avoidance tactic when it comes to the Republican message itself being the problem.

As Bill Maher put it, the “Republicans have the same problem as the Beach Boys. Their fans are dying.” As Jason Easley pointed out, “The average Fox News viewer is 65 years old. The average Rush Limbaugh listener is 66. ”

Is the answer then, simply waiting them out? Waiting for all the bigoted old white folks to die out? Sadly no. They got young ‘uns too, which they’re bringing up in Bible boot camps to hate everyone not like themselves, to take the same true/false template they apply to religion to all facets of life.

They may be outnumbered but they still control the GOP and they’re still, like it or not (and actually Christian or not), the face of Christianity in America, if only because mainstream Christians are the proverbial “silent majority.”

In time, i do believe the GOP will change, just as it began to change in 1964. In time, religious fundamentalists and corporate-funded pseudo-libertarians will lose control of the party. But it might not be in our lifetime. We’ll see what sorts of answers the Republicans come up with for 2016 and – more importantly – how well they sell them.

If you want to know how well the avoidance of reality has worked for the Republicans so far, think about who was behind the repeal of the Glass-Steagall Act and who the Republicans blamed for it; the Republicans did it but they tried to pin it on Clinton, who acted on the threat of a Republican override of his veto.

Look at how no terrorist attacks took place on American soil during the administration of George W. Bush (9/11 anyone? but see Dana Perino and Rudy Giuliani).

Look at how Afghanistan became Obama’s War (Bush launched the invasion in 2001 while Obama was an Illinois State Senator).

Look at what Vice President Dick Cheney  said in 2002, that “Reagan proved deficits don’t matter.” Then think about the Republican message since a Democrat took office: suddenly, deficits are the ONLY thing that matters.

Yeah. Don’t expect reality to intrude itself anytime soon.

National Debt graph from Crooks and Liars

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