Delusions Hold GOP Back

Success in 2010 has blinded the GOP to the dangers of moving too far to the right

The thing that struck me most about the Republican National Convention is the extent at which they were preaching to the converted.    They are missing a chance to recast themselves as the hope for the future.   Whereas four years ago President Obama chose “hope and change,” the Republicans seem to be running on “fear and loathing.”

I believe the reason for this self-inflicted wound is groupthink.    There are two variants.   Activists have become convinced that Obama is a dangerous radical threatening the core values of the democracy and thus see it as a kind of moral imperative to remove him.   The second variant is that the establishment has become convinced that anger at and disillusion with Obama is enough to win them the election.    They realize Obama isn’t some kind of threat to the Republic, but are willing to go along rhetorically with the extremists.

Groupthink, as described by Dr. Irving Janis, includes a few attributes.  First is an over estimation of group power, along with a view that the group itself is inherently moral.   All politicians play fast and loose with the facts, but the Romney camp has taken this to new depths.   Moreover, there seems to be no reflection on the ethics of voter suppression; in Ohio the Secretary of  State first tried to increase early voting in Republican counties while decreasing it in Democratic ones, and now is saying he’ll ignore a judge’s ruling to reinstate early voting the weekend before the election.   What’s the law if you are sure you’re cause is morally pure?

A key aspect of groupthink is an “ends justifies the means” mode of thought.

Boehner’s ability to compromise for the good of the country – something he wanted to do – was prevented by the angry ideologues

Read the blogs and pundits on the right, and a narrative emerges amongst activists: Obama is evil and dangerous and the Democrats want to institute some kind of collectivist hell.  That is delusional thinking.  It ignores problems in their own strategies and Obama’s essential centrism.

A second symptom of groupthink is closed mindedness.   That includes discounting warnings or any dissonant information that might suggest they are on the wrong track, as well as a strereotyped view of the opponent as weak and vulnerable.   The polls that show Obama leading?   Meaningless, blogs and pundits on the right say, because bad job numbers, a crash of the Euro, and increased public attention to the election will change everything.  In the summer the narrative painted Obama as desperate and scared.   The Democrats have been dismissed as out of touch collectivists, incompetent, and even with authoritarian predilections.

In a bizarre return to Cold War fears, many on the right are convinced Obama is some kind of communist – even though his plan has tax rates lower than Reagan’s, cuts regulations, and explores entitlement reform. It is an irrational argument.

A third symptom of Groupthink is pressure for conformity.   Don’t question the group consensus, don’t stray from the message.   Look at the vitriol against one of Romney’s advisers when she suggested Romneycare in Massachusetts was a good thing.

Think of it, what if at the GOP convention candidate Mitt Romney said, “The Romneycare I put in place in Massachusetts is working.  It is popular, holds down costs, and assures that all citizens of the state have insurance.   I believe President Obama’s heart is in the right place on Obamacare, but it is a mistake to try to do this at the federal level.   It will create too many rules and regulations, and too much power in Washington.   States will be left to follow the dictates of DC bureaucrats.  As President I’ll work to make it easier for states that want to pursue something like Romney care to do so, with the federal government not putting obstacles in the way, while those who are happy with the status quo may keep it.”

Wow.   People would see that Romney is not some ogre who cares only about his tax shelters but actually has worked to assure all people in his state get health care.    That would have been independent voters in the bank.

Of course, he can’t do that.   Or, at least, he’s afraid to do that.  When he ventures from the harsh attacks on all things progressive, his base bellows.   And, since in a close election you need an enthused base, he’s afraid to lead, afraid to veer from a mix of vagueness and hollow slogans.  This self-censoring by otherwise reasonable establishment Republicans is a result of thinking Obama is weaker than he is.

Groupthink  creates fiascoes — a bad decision where: a) people should have known better when they were deciding; and b) they stick with the decision and a disastrous course of action even when it should be clear that they made a wrong choice.

A subset on the fringe of the political discourse sees imminent economic and social collapse, sometimes with survivalist fantasies.   Would be Timothy McVeighs rise from the woodwork.

In this case the fiasco is that the Republicans have chosen a strategy that plays into the hands of the Democrats, and have refused to veer from that strategy, even though it should have been clear during the summer that it wasn’t working.   The fiasco could be large in scope — they may lose a Presidential election that should have been easy, and they could blow the chance to gain control of the Senate.   Given that the Democrats are defending 23 seats and the Republicans only ten, most people thought the GOP could easily shift power in the Senate.   As it is, the Republican majority in the House may even be in danger.   None of that had to be.

The Republicans could have run a positive campaign.   They could have chosen a theme that set them apart from both the Bush era and its policies as well as from the Democrats.   They could have argued that Obama and the Bush era economic policies were taken from failed playbooks, too ideological and rigid.   They could have explained why Obama’s policies were not doing the job, offering alternatives while differentiating themselves from Bush era policies.

Rather than provide a clear break with the economic policies of the Bush years, the Republicans just pretend he doesn’t exist.

They could have had an optimistic message that was inclusive.    They could have embraced immigration reform and the Dream Act — positions they inevitably will have to adopt anyway to remain viable as a party.    They could have spoken not just to the fears of Americans, but also to their hopes and dreams.   They could have put forth a positive vision, not a narrow “the economy is bad, I’ll fix it — trust me, I’m a businessman — and that’s what your families need.”   We’re choosing a President for a country, not a CEO for a company!

Granted, with all money in the race and the economy still in a funk Mitt Romney can still win.   He might actually decide to lead to veer to the center after all, rather than fear his base.  But at this point in time there is no explanation why the Republicans haven’t embraced a positive change message and have instead relied on anger at Obama to give them the election.   The only reason I can figure is that Groupthink has taken hold and they are truly surprised that they do not have a big lead.

  1. #1 by modestypress on September 10, 2012 - 13:12

    Humans can be devastated by infectious physical diseases such as small pox, tuberculosis, and AIDS. Usually the best approach is to develop a vaccine (if possible). Groupthink results in sociological meme diseases such as genocide, discrimination, and, of course, religious fanaticism. Difficult to immunize against it..

  2. #2 by Larry Beck on September 10, 2012 - 14:14

    “Read the blogs and pundits on the right, and a narrative emerges amongst activists: Obama is evil and dangerous and the Democrats want to institute some kind of collectivist hell. That is delusional thinking.”

    This “group-think” not only permeates and damages politics but it has infected major media sources and corporations. The MSM doesn’t challenge these extremists views because they’re more interested in gaining market share and corporations, led by the likes of the Koch brothers, use this fear and loathing to attack those who would implement regulations that may impact their profits but would create greater value by safeguarding the public’s welfare.

  3. #3 by SShiell on September 10, 2012 - 20:16

    Read the blogs and pundits on the left, and a narrative emerges amongst activists: Romney is evil and dangerous and the Republicans want to institute some kind of capitalistic hell. That is delusional thinking.

    • #4 by Norbrook on September 10, 2012 - 22:16

      Actually, what I’m seeing is that they’re attacking Romney for not standing up to the very same extremists on the Right that Scott mentions. The usual pattern in elections, particularly on the national level, is for the candidate to “play to base” in the primaries, and “shift to the middle” for the general election. Romney has, if anything, shifted more to the right for the general. Given the rhetoric from the Tea Party Republican members of Congress, as well as what is in the Republican Platform, it’s not particularly hard to see this as dangerous.

    • #5 by Larry Beck on September 10, 2012 - 23:55

      I think you’ve totally misdiagnosed what Occupy Wall Street is all about shiell

      • #6 by SShiell on September 11, 2012 - 05:04

        You obviously have a problem with reading and comprehension – I never mentioned “Occupy Wall Street”.

      • #7 by SShiell on September 11, 2012 - 05:07

        Incidently, Erb never mentioned “Occupy Wall Street” in his blog entry either?

      • #8 by Larry Beck on September 11, 2012 - 07:23

        “You obviously have a problem with reading and comprehension – I never mentioned “Occupy Wall Street”.

        Now , now. Let’s not be immature.

        So you’re saying that the narrative that’s emerging amongst activists blogs and pundits on the left is not attributable to the OWS movement?

        Anyone who can’t make such an association is themselves guilty of faulty comprehensive skills, IMO.

        I would think this is where you get the perception that such sites think “Republicans want to institute some kind of capitalistic hell.”

      • #9 by SShiell on September 11, 2012 - 16:27

        To clear up any misunderstanding, let me revise my comment:

        Read the blogs and pundits on the left, and a narrative emerges amongst activists: Romney is evil and dangerous and the Republicans want to institute some kind of capitalistic hell. That is delusional thinking. /s

        Clear it up any for you???

      • #10 by Larry Beck on September 11, 2012 - 22:09

        ” Read the blogs and pundits on the left, and a narrative emerges amongst activists: Romney is evil and dangerous and the Republicans want to institute some kind of capitalistic hell. That is delusional thinking”

        Is it possible that your interpretation is affected by your political world view? he problem with comments like this is they’re sweeping in their assertions but thin on realism. What you might see as claims by the left that “Romney is evil and dangerous and the Republicans want to institute some kind of capitalistic hell” might be viewed by someone like me who sees it more as claims that Romney is a threat to the middle class with his trickle down thinking.

        Is it possible that such a narrative is really what is coming out of those blogs and pundits on the left and you’re simply missing it because as one former Republican recently noted his “old Republican worldview was flawed because it was based upon a small and particularly rosy sliver of reality.”

      • #11 by SShiell on September 12, 2012 - 03:03

        I will paint a picture for you – Do you see the “/s” at the end of my revised comment? That is a notation for “SARCASM OFF”.

        Now you can tell all of your firends you now HAVE A CLUE!!!

        Cheers and out.

  4. #12 by Alan Scott on September 10, 2012 - 21:40


    At the moment we have a massive case of Freidian Projection from the left . It is on every Progressive Blog .

    • #13 by Scott Erb on September 10, 2012 - 21:43

      I will say for the record that Mitt Romney would not be a disaster as President, he would not do the horrid things many Democrats say he would, and four years from now we’d be able to chime in again. The point here is that if the GOP had a positive message with a sense that they can’t simply go back to pre-2008 policies — if they put forth a real vision — they’d probably be leading. I can’t think of any reason why their campaign strategy missed that except perhaps that they believed their own propaganda.

      • #14 by Norbrook on September 10, 2012 - 22:20

        I wish I could be as sanguine as you about it, Scott, but given Romney’s inability to say anything truthful, it’s hard to see him as anything but a disaster as a President, particularly if he has a Republican congress.

        One of the things I sometimes kick myself over was a statement I made consoling a friend after the 2000 election: “The country’s in pretty good shape. Just how much could he screw it up?” Hopefully, we never have to find out about President Romney that way.

      • #15 by Scott Erb on September 10, 2012 - 22:42

        You may be right. The thing that gets me is that while one can criticize Obama’s policies in various eyes, it’s very clear that the Republican policies of cutting taxes and regulation didn’t work. Their myths (even Ben Stein doesn’t believe that tax cuts always mean more revenue) are free market slogans that have failed in the real world. That they can’t even offer ANYTHING different….??? Good point about 2000….

  5. #16 by Norbrook on September 11, 2012 - 02:33

    Their myths (even Ben Stein doesn’t believe that tax cuts always mean more revenue) are free market slogans that have failed in the real world.

    One of the graphs out there (among several) shows the growth in the deficit and the growth in federal spending for Presidents since 1976. Interestingly, Republican Presidents run higher deficits and grow the federal government more than Democratic Presidents, including this one.

    One of the major failures of “supply side” is the core assumption that by imposing lesser taxes on the wealthy, they will then invest in other businesses and create more jobs. What the wealthy did instead was to move the money out of the country – it was great for various other countries – or put it into other funds which didn’t create new businesses or jobs. Since the Republicans also are notorious for not cutting spending, particularly when it comes to defense or other items, the deficit increases, while other infrastructure declines. Hence, we have a lot of tanks, but lousy bridges.

    • #17 by Scott Erb on September 11, 2012 - 02:50

      Exactly – in an era of globalization the idea that the wealthy will invest here isn’t true. Also, when tax rates get too low the investors seek out easy money, building bubbles that harm the economy rather than jobs that help it. That’s why a strong middle class is much better for the economy than wealthy investors.

      • #18 by Norbrook on September 11, 2012 - 10:14

        The other thing that “isn’t true” is the idea of a “free market” existing. What they generally mean is that we should remove our regulations – particularly relating to trade – as if this country were the only one with them. 🙄 Anyone who ever wants to ship something into China, India, etc. could tell you something quite different.

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