Saturday, December 01, 2007

A frightening glimpse into the right-wing mind

This is scary. Joe Klein got to sit in on a Republican focus group watching the Republican candidate debate. They held little dials so they could register instant approval or disapproval with what the candidates said. The results validated every stereotype I have about the thuggish right-wing authoritarian personality:

In the next segment--the debate between Romney and Mike Huckabee over Huckabee's college scholarships for the deserving children of illegal immigrants--I noticed something really distressing: When Huckabee said, "After all, these are children of God," the dials plummeted. And that happened time and again through the evening: Any time any candidate proposed doing anything nice for anyone poor, the dials plummeted (30s). These Republicans were hard.

But there was worse to come: When John McCain started talking about torture--specifically, about waterboarding--the dials plummeted again. Lower even than for the illegal Children of God. Down to the low 20s, which, given the natural averaging of a focus group, is about as low as you can go. Afterwards, Luntz asked the group why they seemed to be in favor of torture. "I don't have any problem pouring water on the face of a man who killed 3000 Americans on 9/11," said John Shevlin, a retired federal law enforcement officer. The group applauded, appallingly.

To be fair, there are probably evil things to which I'd have a positive reaction, too. And we don't know how these Republicans were selected. Maybe Frank Luntz, who organized the group, deliberately or inadvertently stacked his group with this kind of voter. And Joe Klein has had some journalistic integrity issues recently. Digby points out that the (presumably mostly Republican) debate audience actually applauded the lines that this focus group rated low:
And anyway, the applause was much too loud for it to have been done by a spattering of Democrats in the audience. I think it was a reflexive response by the decent Republicans in the audience to these candidates saying the obviously correct thing.
So maybe there's some hope yet. But this ugliness in our national character must be addressed and confronted.

For more on right-wing authoritarianism in American Politics, Orcinus is the blog to go to. This long post is a good overview of the phenomenon.

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