A reader asked me recently if I ever grow frustrated in arguing politics with right-wing ideologues. I had to think a moment before answering, and then realized that I do often find myself extremely frustrated when engaging in heated discussions with those whose views on political issues fall far to the right of mine.
I might add here that I do not consider myself a left-wing ideologue. Rather, I place myself to the left of center on an American political spectrum, but not all that far left on most issues. (The fact that I often get criticism from those who feel I’m too conservative on various issues would seem to verify my characterization of my political leanings, such as they are.)
In any event (and regular readers can form their own conclusions on that not-all-that-important question), I certainly can relate to the point my reader makes. To argue with an ideologue (of either stripe, but here we’re talking about those on the right) is a good way to get a headache or to lose a good night’s sleep.
Those folks don’t give an inch, and they rarely even acknowledge the reasonableness of their opponent’s views. Emblematic of their perspective are the inflammatory books authored by the queen of far-right ideology, Ann Coulter (“Treason: Liberal Treachery from the Cold War to the War on Terrorism,” “How to Talk to a Liberal (If You Must),” “Godless: The Church of Liberalism”), who, it’s probably safe to say, never met a non-conservative whose patriotism, let alone, sanity, she trusted.
What gives with these people? Why are they so opposed to anything that smacks of a liberal political position? How can they be so dogmatic, even in the face of failed policies that embraced their professed positions (the war in Iraq and the current economic meltdown being the two most recent of a multitude of historical examples)? Why is everyone who disagrees with them either a socialist or an atheist or both?
These questions and others like them would be unworthy of consideration were it not for the fact that far-right ideologues comprise a sizeable minority of the American populace (probably somewhere between 25 and 30 percent, if polls and election results are an indication). And because of the vagaries of apportionment in our representative democracy, they also command a sizeable minority of the U.S. Congress, perhaps even more than their percentage of the total populations would otherwise suggest.
Moreover, to the extent that they are amply represented in the media (particularly on talk radio and the Fox News cable network), they tend to dominate public discussions.
This phenomenon dates back to the Reagan presidency, but it became especially prevalent during the Clinton administration, when folks like Rush Limbaugh and Newt Gingrich were ascendant, the former spewing political trash-talk that attracted a large following of otherwise casual political observers, the latter mouthing a distinctly intellectual philosophical line that appealed especially to readers of the National Review and the Wall Street Journal. Together, these two men (aided by other lesser lights) created a political orthodoxy that is very much akin to a fundamentalist’s religious beliefs.
And that point is the cause of their intransigence and dogmatism. For them, the conservative ideology is sacrosanct. It consists of a belief in “the invisible hand” of free market capitalism and the essential necessity of a faith-based society.
Stated simply, the ideology of the far right in American politics is tied irrevocably to Milton Friedman’s brand of economics and Pat Robertson’s view of God’s role in America’s destiny. (Friedman was the principal proponent of the Chicago School of economic theory; Robertson best expressed the late 20th century view of Christian-evangelical political thought.)
Chicago School economists rail against any effort to disrupt the natural flow of a wholly market-driven economy. They abhor all government intervention, be it in the form of regulation, taxation (all but the bare minimum necessary to preserve the peace and secure the nation’s safety) or government spending. They will espouse the virtues of free enterprise, even when free enterprise, given its complete freedom, crashes and burns (as the current economic meltdown evinces).
Thus they cry “socialism” in response to the Obama budget and economic recovery plan. For these ideologues, attempts to re-invigorate the economy through government intervention is viewed as blasphemy, not because it might succeed, but because it departs radically from the “invisible hand” that, for them, is sacrosanct.
Evangelical Christianity has been readily evident in American politics for at least the last 35 years, dating back to the Supreme Court ruling in Roe v. Wade. That single decision essentially created the movement, marking, as it did, the intrusion (from the ideologues’ perspective) of government into the part of life that is controlled by the will of God.
The movement has expanded its horizons in the intervening years, continuing to fight for repeal of Roe, while also taking on other Biblical battles, such as the right to pray in schools, opposition to gay marriage (or any other form of government-recognition of the lawfulness of homosexuality), support for teaching creationism (or its “scientific” twin, intelligent design) as an alternative to evolution, and, most recently, adamant opposition to embryonic stem-cell research.
Obama is as good as an atheist, never mind his self-professed Christian identity, for the disciples of Pat Robertson and his ilk. Even if he claims to seek ways to reduce the number of abortions and to oppose same-sex marriage, Obama is an enemy of God’s almighty power for his support of abortion rights, civil unions and embryonic stem-cell research.
And so the portrait of the right-wing ideologue explains the frustration that is bound to result from any attempt to engage in serious debate. They can’t tolerate any thought that violates their basic beliefs, albeit those beliefs are based entirely on theoretical constructs (free markets work best; God knows best).
True believers rest their case on imponderable suppositions. For them, those suppositions are unshakeable. Hence, any effort to dissuade them with practical arguments or even with irrefutable evidence fails to move them.
They are wedded to their beliefs. They cannot deny them anymore than they can deny themselves.