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Who You Calling Deranged?

Democracy Corps has a very interesting survey about the worldview of conservative Republicans. The focus group interviews show that the Republican right, which consists of about a fifth of the electorate, is held together by a set of beliefs that goes well beyond small government and traditional values. "Our groups showed that they explicitly believe [Obama] is purposely and ruthlessly executing a hidden agenda to weaken and ultimately destroy the foundations of our country," reports the survey. Conservatives further believe that Obama’s policies are not merely misguided but "purposely designed to fail."

Conservatives pundits tend to be extremely touchy about the subject of right-wing paranoia. In response to a typically measured column by E.J. Dionne early this week ("Middle-income men, especially those who are not college graduates, have borne the brunt of economic change bred by both globalization and technological transformation," he sensibly observed), George W. Bush’s former minister of propaganda, Peter Wehner, exploded at Dionne’s "condescension." Wehner lashed back:

"[D]uring virtually the entire tenure of Obama’s predecessor, E.J. was part of a group, Angry White Men Inc., whose membership included the likes of Keith Olbermann, Chris Matthews, Frank Rich, Paul Krugman, Jonathan Alter, Jonathan Chait, Bill Maher, Michael Moore, and many others. This homogenous crew was, to a person, afflicted with a condition diagnosed as Bush Derangement Syndrome, one that has effects on its victims long after the cause of the condition has left the stage."

Of course, the group mentioned above is not "homogenous" in any rational sense of the word. (It lumps together, among other splits, supporters of the Iraq war with Michael Moore!) The only homogeneity is a strong disapproval of George W. Bush’s presidency. To Wehner, of course, this remains the one salient fact. Wehner is still trying to use the propaganda technique from 2003, acting as if the only people who think Bush did a horrible job as president are wild-eyed left-wing radicals who suffer from some unusual derangement. In reality, by the last few years of the Bush administration, more than half the public strongly disapproved of Bush as president. If "Bush Derangement Syndrome" existed, it afflicted most of America. Those Americans still convinced of Bush’s brilliance long ago dwindled to a tiny remnant. Perhaps they represent the small hardy few who were able to resist B.D.S., but Wehner really ought to stop speaking from the perspective of the majority.

Wehner, hilariously, sneers, "Very few columnists have a degree in psychology. E.J. Dionne is not one of them. He should therefore leave the psychological explanations to others who are better equipped to deal with such matters." This was two paragraphs after diagnosing numerous figures with Bush Derangement Syndrome!

The most interesting conclusion from the Democracy Corps survey is the degree to which the GOP conservative worldview stands completely apart from the rest of America. Conservatives do not have a slightly more radical version of the same beliefs as other Americans. They have a completely sealed-off belief system. Even the most right-leaning independents find the right-wing worldview, with its conspiracies and persecution complex, unrecognizable:

"By comparison, the independent voters expressed clear concerns about Obama – especially that he is doing 'too much, too fast,' that he is spending too much, that they do not understand his health care reforms, and that he does not have a clear plan for bringing jobs back to the US –  some of which certainly touched on the conservative Republicans' concerns.  But they still fundamentally like and respect him on several levels and are very clearly rooting for him to succeed. …

The Republican base voters are not part of the continuum leading to the center of the electorate: they truly stand apart. For additional perspective, Democracy Corps conducted a parallel set of groups in suburban Cleveland. These groups, comprised of older, white, non-college independents and weak partisans, represent some of the most conservative swing voters in the electorate, and they demonstrated a wholly different worldview from Republican base voters by dismissing the fear of "socialism" and evaluating Obama in very different terms."

Conservatives, giddy at rising public discontent, have repeatedly portrayed a public somehow "waking up" to the reality of Obama that they have seen to clearly all along. But the right remains fundamentally as isolated today as it was in the final dying spasms of the Bush cult.