Ideological Purity . . . and Danger

December 28, 2008
Posted by Jay Livingston

Jenn Lena blogged recently about Chip Saltsman, who wants to be head of the Republican National Committee. To woo Republicans, Saltsman released a CD of anti-Democratic song parodies like “Love Client #9” (raise your hand if you remember The Clovers. No, not The Searchers, The Clovers). OK, Spitzer is fair game, and maybe the song is actually funny.

But what’s interesting is how offensive most of the titles are: “The Star-Spanglish Banner,” “Ivory and Ebony,” and (as Dave Barry would say, I am not making this up) “Barack the Magic Negro.”

The CD title is “We Hate the USA.”

I hope the RNC picks Saltsman. It looks like he’s the man to complete the process started by George W. Bush and pushed along briefly by Sarah Palin: turning the Republicans from a majority party into small cult of the self-righteous.

Their message is, “If you don’t agree with us, you must hate the USA.” Or as Sarah Palin implied, you are not a “real American.” That’s a good strategy for solidifying “the base.” The danger is that it drives away potential adherents. What a contrast with Obama’s message of inclusiveness.

Claiming sole ownership of virtue and truth runs against the American grain. We have an ethic of tolerance for diversity. “My way or the highway” may be O.K. for football coaches, but when national politicians start shouting it, a lot of people discover the attractive features of the broad highway with all those different cars and trucks and buses.

Apparently that includes the highway to Heaven. Most Americans, when asked which religions can “lead to eternal life,” say that the gate of Heaven is open to religions other than their own. By more than 2-1, Americans choose, “Many religions can lead to eternal life” over “My religion is the one, true faith leading to eternal life.”

Even among white evangelicals, despite the message their preachers repeat regularly, a majority thought that Jews and Catholics could make it past St. Peter’s velvet rope. And about a third of white evangelicals thought that Heaven was open to Hindus, Muslims, and people with no religious faith.
(For a larger view, click on the image.)

I draw two lessons from this
  • People at the top are more ideologically consistent than are the rank and file.
  • The rank and file are more tolerant of diversity than are the leaders.
I suspect that the first is an axiom of organizational theory. After all, the leaders are in the ideology business. They spend a lot of time thinking about it, so they cannot ignore or deny inconsistencies. But the second may be a particularly American variation.

The data are from a Pew report. The New York Times converted Pew’s tables to graphs (including three in addition to the ones above) to accompany a nice op-ed by Charles M. Blow on the Pew study.

1 comment:

brandsinger said...

Provocative post, and very well written. You score a great big 100 on exposing the idiocy of certain Republican sensibilities. "The base" is indeed narrow-minded and narrowing... good riddance I say.

But I give you a great fat 0 on pinning intolerance on the rightward part of our political spectrum. Jay, are you kidding? What do you think "political correctness" is all about? Who are the purveyors of thought repression in society -- and especially on campus? Please. The left laughed at Palin -- out of its own inborn smugness. As they did at Reagan, who was a writer, one-time union activist, journalist, governor and world figure who turned out to be ten times the leader of the lionized Carter, Gore, Kerry -- and now Kennedy-Schlosberg. Check out your own base!

Love your blog! brandsinger