Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Poor and Republican in Minnesota

Do Unto Others As You Would Have Them Do Unto You.

This is called the Golden Rule. It is so called because it is the one rule that is common across all of the world's major religions. Even those of us who don't ascribe to any sort of religion understand this rule and tend to abide by it in our daily dealings. I would argue that it's the only rule you need to get you through life, really. Ok, there's the one about yellow snow.

(As a side note, if you're really curious in exploring the world's religion's in depth, but don't really care for the soul crushing boredom of actual religious texts, might I recommend this.)

Myself, along with many other liberals, center our politics around this principle. It's one thing to show concern for the fiscal state of the union, it's entirely another to undercut benefits to those who are in need, because it was/is/may someday be us. And when you impact others, you're impacting yourself.

There are several different types of liberalism, the type that addresses this principle aligns most closely with the Northeastern idea of noblesse oblique, that one has an obligation to help others. This tenet that is an offspring of Catholicism explains why so many Catholics are a certain type of liberal. There are others, with differing sources, but bear this in mind as this discussion segues into something entirely different.


One of the frequent conversations I have with others of a similar political persuasion is a continued befuddlement at how poor and lower middle class Republicans can justify being Republican in the face of the sustained, continuous economic damage the party and their policies continue to do to people in that particular demographic and income bracket.

To that end, the New York Times has answered that question, in spades, here. I would strongly encourage you to spend some quality time with this article, because it has done more than anything else written over the past few years to explain to it's audience why things are the way they are to a certain portion of our population.

There is a certain portion of the population that cannot extricate their religion, and the larger aims of the religious organization to which they belong, from Republican politics. This manifests itself in the candidacy of Rick Santorum, the Mormon followers of Mitt Romney, and the evangelical population that hung on to George W Bush for as long as they could.

But for the rest, there exists this idea of "for me but not for thee". This manifests itself in people who advocate benefits for their age group (current seniors) but are perfectly fine with future generations receiving fewer benefits than the ones awarded to them. They rationalize this by saying they don't want their children/grandchildren to inherit debt, but in reality, this still ultimately involves the "me". I should have mine at the expense of everyone who isn't like me. And I should control the future as well by ensuring you have less then so I can have more now. It's the worst kind of narcissism. Sometimes it's wrapped up in a bow with the phrase "God will provide."

Another recurring theme you'll find in the New York Times piece is the idea of resentment and self loathing. The central focus of the piece are people who accept federal benefits, blame others for their situation and then correspondingly vote for politicians that would phase those benefits out entirely. I'll leave the money quote of this article here for you to ponder:

They are frustrated that they need help, feel guilty for taking it and resent the government for providing it. They say they want less help for themselves; less help in caring for relatives; less assistance when they reach old age.

Acceptance of benefits for people who have bought into the myth of the American Dream, and have failed at it is a major blow to the pride. Some people react with an internal locus of control, others lash out at others in comically inept ways, as detailed here.

It is no secret that the Republican electoral base is becoming increasingly exurban and rural. It follows that people who fashion themselves as independent and who subscribe to the Scotch-Irish tradition of self reliance gravitate toward areas of lower population density as said density changes the world around them. It's also reasonable to conclude that a powerful and profitable message can be sent to people of this tradition by encouraging them to fear and be leery of people who are unlike them, and changes from historically acceptable patterns of thinking. This is a 60 year tradition of Republican politics, effective first in the South, and later put in a nice wrapper by Grandpa Reagan. (Or at least the modern version is. Reactionary politics goes back hundreds of years).

What we've seen more recently is a poorly marketed, ill timed type of logic that rings hollow with an increasing number of people. If we look at the changes in attitudes toward marijuana usage and gay marriage, we see an electorate that operates increasingly on a Golden Rule principle. Or, at the very least, a liberterian principle that says "it doesn't impact my life, so I don't really care" principle. And this is a positive thing. It serves as a foundational base upon which one can work in the Golden Rule to campaign on.

But back on topic, if we set aside the top 1%, who benefit economically from Republican policies, and we set aside the religious zealots, what we're left with is a group of people who essentially grew up in a world that had one strict set of standards, whose standards have gone wildly off the rails (or who have been marketed to believe so) and who react by attempting to reset the world to the way things "should be", where "should be" is defined as a state of order that benefits them the most. And the further the world spins away from that order, the more reactionary they become. And often times, their trendy children react by dropping out and adopting Libertarianism.

For an additional resource on the psychology of a Republican voter, I'd strongly recommend the most comprehensive research on authoritarian personality, available, for free, here.

And live the golden rule today. You won't regret it.

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