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Conservatives, Get a Grip on Reality

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Here’s a question for conservatives and Republicans: Going into the 2012 Election Day, or even in the last few days before Election Day, did you think Mitt Romney was going to win? A couple of months ago, did you think the strategy of threatening to shut down the government or prevent raising the debt ceiling, to force the outright repeal or defunding of Obamacare, would really work? Romney lost by 4,967,508 votes, 126 Electoral College votes, and 3.85 percentage points. That’s not very close. Obamacare isn’t going to be repealed this year, and it’s not going to be defunded.

So the question is whether conservatives and Republicans should begin to worry if their instincts—specifically, their judgment on matters of politics and policy—are a bit off. Maybe “spectacularly wrong” would be more accurate. Does that worry anyone on the right or in the Republican Party? Are they concerned that continuing to follow such awful political instincts could lead to catastrophic consequences for their movement and their party?

Obviously, not every Republican or conservative thought, up until the end, that Romney would win or that the anti-Obamacare strategies would work. But this increasingly widespread tone deafness should concern party leaders, particularly when it leads to self-destructive decisions, as we are witnessing these days. In politics, it isn’t uncommon to see judgment clouded by emotion, but when hate and contempt predominate, truly awful decisions often result.

Driving in to work Tuesday morning while listening to WTOP, Washington’s excellent all-news radio station, I heard my friend, the extremely able congressional reporter Dave McConnell, relate a conversation he had had with a Republican House member. This member told McConnell that allowing the debt ceiling to be breached might “get the leadership’s attention.” That sounded like a kid saying if he threw his mother’s priceless vase against the wall, she might start letting him do what he wants. Political judgment this bad, coming from members of Congress, is a dangerous thing for a party. When it comes to dealing with something with enormous consequences, such as intentionally creating a situation that could lead to default on our national debt, we are no longer quibbling about minor differences of opinion.

The combination of redistricting; population-sorting; and media-viewing, listening, and reading habits has created ideological and partisan culs-de-sac and incestuous thinking that are causing astonishing miscalculations on hugely consequential matters.

I consulted a psychiatrist and a psychologist on this question. Both said there is no formal term for the behavior some Republicans are exhibiting, but one described the groupthink as “hysterical delusional affirmation,” and the other named it “delusional synergy.” One said, “It entails suspension of logical intellectual processes with a selective consideration of only confirmatory input. Paranoid people typically experience ideas of influence and control where they believe that they see things that others cannot. This process is often propelled by delusions of grandeur, quite often messianic in nature.”

Certainly, delusion is not new. During Bill Clinton’s presidency, the hatred and contempt for the Arkansan among many Republicans and conservatives was so great it led prominent GOP members to do some pretty outrageous things—up to and including then-Rep. Dan Burton of Indiana shooting a melon in his backyard to try to prove some harebrained conspiracy theory about the late White House counsel Vince Foster’s death. And that’s not to mention the impeachment fiasco. When hatred turns into obsession, it spawns some pretty erratic and destructive behavior.Destructive behavior is not confined to one political party. During George W. Bush’s presidency, the Left and some Democrats got caught up in some pretty crazy stuff as well; some peddled conspiracy theories that Bush knew about the 9/11 attacks in advance and that his 2004 reelection was stolen. More recently, House Democrats’ decision in 2009—despite a worsening recession—to push ahead on cap-and-trade climate-change legislation, and then pursue health care reform after unemployment topped 9 percent, cost them their House majority, along with Senate seats, governorships, state legislative seats, and control of chambers. This led to devastating redistricting consequences for the party. It’s also worth pointing out the fairly crazy belief on the left that the political controversy surrounding health care reform would help Democrats and virtually ensure Obama’s reelection. The union-backed decision to push a recall of GOP Gov. Scott Walker in Wisconsin falls into this category as well—another colossal miscalculation based on hate, not logic.

And don’t get me started on the “birthers.” It’s one thing to dislike or disapprove of Obama, but to get obsessed over birth certificates—really? “Hysterical delusional affirmation” and “delusional synergy” aren’t terms normally associated with the political process, but after the spectacle of the past few weeks, they seem pretty apt. While many Republicans—those who are clear-eyed about today’s political realities—are exempt, these terms apply to enough of them that it may be time for the GOP’s Non-delusional Caucus to stage an intervention. Otherwise the party may be headed for some voter-administered therapy.

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