Authoritah

In today’s edition of Quantifying the Obvious, let’s examine the growing authoritarianism in America’s political dialogue. Those who can remember back fifteen years or so will recall that the GOP once stood for keeping the government off of the people’s backs. Even after that started to change with the political absorption of the religious right, who first and foremost think that government belongs in the bedroom and mandating various aspects of your private life, the GOP spent most of the Clinton years in a practical hysteria over the depradations of an intrusive government.

In one of the grandest flip-flops in political history the same folks now argue that an unprecedented surveillance state is the only thing that will save us from a certain, grisly death at the hands of very bad people. That line of argument seems to have worked out very well for them, proving that flip-flops often happen for a reason. Anyhow, via Drum, we now have the obvious, with numbers.

In 1992, authoritarianism barely had an effect on partisanship. Other things being equal, authoritarians tended to score about 7 percentage points toward the Republican end of the seven-point partisanship scale. By 2004, however, that 7 percentage point difference between authoritarians and non-authoritarians had ballooned to more than 20 percentage points.

[….] Authoritarianism’s effect in 2004 was also strong relative to other variables. Its effect was substantially smaller than that of income in 1992. By 2004, its effect was twice that of income. In 1992, its effect was less than one-fifth as strong as the effect of government spending preferences. By 2004, the effects were much closer. It is not that the traditional left-right dimension in American politics is unimportant. What has changed is how relevant authoritarianism has become.

[…] Appeals to authoritarian issues are mobilizing non-voters into the Republican camp, making non-voters and Republican voters nearly indistinguishable in their authoritarianism. This formerly disaffected group has found a political home.

[….] Republicans always benefit from increasing public fears, whether about gays, terrorism, illegal immigration, or anything that activates authoritarianism. It makes people who only have a little authoritarianism share the preferences of those who have a lot. The political implications of this fact for Republican fortunes are clear.

This excerpt largely draws from research described by Prinston professor Karen Stenner in her book The Authoritarian Dynamic. A more pointed follow-up book, The Politics fo Fear, is in the works.

The implications seem so pedestrian that I don’t really know why I wrote this post. Hyping fear activates voters with authoritarian sympathies whether it is fear of race, gays marrying or the menacing security threat from the Hitler du jour. Krauthammer, for example, sees Hitlers everywhere. Saddam and even Hugo Chavez come up often. Activating that undertapped voter base creates a demand for policies which suit their predilections. In order to keep these voters energized, the party delivers both suitable policies and fresh doses of fear. Lather rinse repeat.

Nobody who remains a Republican voter will accept this study as legitimate, of course. Expect methodology criticisms as well as the usual credibility smears (e.g., academics must be liberal). Par for the course. It will undoubtedly fail to sink in that none of this is necessarly bad or evil, which is a metaphysical contruct that I find useless for dealing with the real world, but simply a winning political strategy.






10 replies
  1. 1
    srv says:

    TSA statement today:

    “We now know enough to say that a total ban is no longer needed from a security point of view,” said Kip Hawley, head of the Transportation Security Administration, at a news conference at Reagan National Airport.

    So, the gov’t knows about the UK investigation for over half a year, and the planned use of liquids. Let’s call that time t(1). Suddenly, they ask the UK to arrest the supposed bombers. Let’s call that t(2).

    t(2) – t(1) = 6 months?

    During this period of time:
    1) TSA does not make any assessment off what is a threat, and what should be banned
    2) TSA does not make any procedural preparations for banning liquids
    3) TSA does not look for/buy equipment better suited for scanning liquids

    Another indicator of Authoritarianism is wanton capriciousness of the state security apparati. The state can just pull something out of it’s ass at any time, and we aren’t allowed to question it. Our representatives stand around and don’t make a peep.

    As much as I used to laugh at Gore Vidal, he’s been saying exactly this since the 80’s. I regret I didn’t believe it would happen here.

  2. 2
    Tsulagi says:

    The Fluffers for Bush will always find something to be afraid of to keep them on their knees. Who do they choose as their Savior to do battle with the scary evildoers in order to lead them to the promised land? A pathetic small-minded spoiled brat who on the day the country was attacked on its own soil set speed records in running.

    Oh, and don’t forget the “mavericks” in their well-worn kneepads. They joke about Monica Lewinsky? She’s got nothing on these guys.

  3. 3
    Paul L. says:

    The four questions ask you to specify which of two attributes you value more in children:

    Independence vs respect for elders
    Self-reliance vs. obedience
    Curiosity vs. good manners
    Being considerate vs. being well behaved

    So you want children to be well behaved means you are willing to ruled by a Strongman in fear?

    So Bush saying go on with your life as normal(Go shop) after 9/11 is authoritarian
    vs. the Democrats saying “we need to sacrifice more for this war” is anti-authoritarian.

  4. 4
    Paul L. says:

    As for Kevin Drum
    How to spin a story
    “If you’re looking for a good example, here’s the benchmark:

    The House has become remarkably stable since then, with no more than ten seats changing hands each year. The sole exception was the Gingrich-led 1994 election, which I’ve always considered more a one-off tectonic shift than anything else. Basically, a bunch of conservative southern districts switched to the GOP column all at once instead of switching slowly over the course of a decade. That dynamic isn’t going to happen again and doesn’t really tell us much.

    – Washington Monthly

    That, ladies & gents, is how you spin the fact of “Democrats controlled the US house of representatives for forty consecutive years – emphasis on ‘consecutive’ as it was uninterrupted at any point and mostly was an overwhelming advantage – only to lose it via a watershed election in 1994 and haven’t won it back to date” into “it was no big deal, just some southern districts switching all at once. Nothing to see here, move along”.

    You know, sorta like the Washington Generals suddenly going on a 12 year winning streak against the Harlem Globetrotters…..not that big a deal.”

  5. 5
    Mac Buckets says:

    So you want children to be well behaved means you are willing to ruled by a Strongman in fear?

    Only to liberals, Paul. Only to liberals.

    To the sane people, that’s the dumbest, most desperate extrapolation of a study I’ve every seen. Just laughable.

  6. 6

    The Republicans used to stand for smaller government? When was this, in an alternate universe where Richard Nixon became a used car salesman instead of a politician?

    Both parties want to expand government. The Democrats want to expand it to pay for social services and the public weal; disagree with them on the specific programs all you want, but that’s the underlying intent.

    The Republicans want to expand government into what you think, what you do, and what you say. They’ve been doing that ever since the various Red Scare epidemics. It’s all about maintaining power and control, centralizing the mechanisms of government in the hands of the wealthy and the elite. If you’re poor, get fucked, but be sure to vote GOP in November.

    The religious right has its own traditions of autocratic theocracy which dovetail nicely with the GOP’s historic impulses in the direction of an autocratic plutocracy (or kleptocracy, if you will, in the case of George Bush). It’s a marriage of convenience which is unraveling as the Christian rank and file realize that their “values” issues are of marginal importance to a clique of powermongers whose sole concern is obstructing even the slightest impetus toward increasing the economic standing of poorer castes.

    The conservatives have historically used any means at their disposal to discourage leftist activism, be it Marxism or a milder variety. Any program to eliminate poverty is viewed as a socialistic endeavour, any statute ameliorating working conditions is viewed as a socialistic endeavour, any effort to empower the disenfranchised in any way, shape, or form is viewed as a slippery slope toward Communism.

    That’s the Republican Party I grew up knowing and hating. Now what’s all this about small government conservatives?

  7. 7

    […] A recent Balloon Juice posting reminded me of one of my favorite Cartman quotes: […]

  8. 8
    Tulkinghorn says:

    Considering the party was effectively founded and shaped by Lincoln, it has always been about consolidated power in the hands of the executive first, and limiting the growth of populism second. Small government is not an independent principle, but a rhetorical justification (anti-congress) for the enhanced executive. It only gets shown to be a lie in the extraordinary circumstances when congress is controlled by the Republic Party.

  9. 9

    Considering the party was effectively founded and shaped by Lincoln, it has always been about consolidated power in the hands of the executive first, and limiting the growth of populism second. Small government is not an independent principle, but a rhetorical justification (anti-congress) for the enhanced executive. It only gets shown to be a lie in the extraordinary circumstances when congress is controlled by the Republic Party.

    Excellent point. I hadn’t thought of it that way. Really, when was the last time before 1994 when the Publican Party controlled Congress but not the White House? Was it under Truman or something? Anyway, I don’t think it’s happened very often in our nation’s history. But I haven’t checked yet, so I could well be wrong.

  10. 10

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