The Rude Pundit is characteristically rude about Mitt Romney’s remark that “The president’s campaign, if you will, focused on giving targeted groups a big gift.” Rmoney wasn’t the only one – Bill O’Reilly and Donald Trump said something similar on the night – but the interesting bit here is unstated. Rude points out that the “gift” was basically health care, aka “what Obama’s administration spent most of 2008-2012 arguing about”.
So, why should it be surprising that people would vote for their interests? What is so reprehensible about voting for the candidate who seems to serve your interests? Paul Krugman is, of course, shrill on this point:
Mitt Romney’s post-election diagnosis, which is that President Obama played dirty: he won peoples’ votes by — horrors — actually making their lives better…
That’s how it’s meant to work, right? Politicians compete to serve the interests of a majority coalition of the public. Now, obviously, the various Republicans involved seem to be aware that a majority of the public thought they were better off with Obama. But they don’t see this as legitimate knowledge. If they did, they would be arguing about how they could change this situation, whether they needed new leaders, what policies might serve, how they could be communicated. Rather like British conservatives after 2005.
But they’re not. What we’ve learned here is that, basically, the Stiftung is right, and the Republicans haven’t been operating like (for example) Tories for many years. Rather than being a political party competing for votes on the basis of interest, they are a movement whose appeal is emotional-aesthetic rather than rational. That their voters often have to deliberately buck their own interests is a feature, not a bug. Doing something that requires you to fight your own doubts always gives a greater emotional kick.
Consider the “and theory of conservatism”. Clifford Singer used to link to this prominently on MyDavidCameron.com, and I think the deliberate dissonance between Dave’s statements that we all mocked over there is an example. Daniel Kahneman notes in Thinking, Fast and Slow that it’s easier to memorise text printed in harder-to-read type, although it is harder to understand it.
It’s been said, by me, that what Tories do all day is persuade people who aren’t rich or from southern England to vote for them. So you see why this is important for your understanding of conservatism.
One worldview sees the electorate as a given, a permanently-operating factor in the human terrain. Its preferences are out there, and the task of the politician is to formulate a policy mix and an electoral strategy to suit them. The other sees the political world as the given, and believes that the electorate is created by the politician, whose task is to mobilise a suitable electorate and to shape its preferences.
Something interesting, though, that the good doctor over at the Stiftung hasn’t cracked as far as I know: in creating a hyper-mobilised movement electorate, you also shape yourself to fit the expectations you whip up.
As so often when we are faced with two apparently opposed explanations, the reality is that both are in effect simultaneously and that a feedback loop exists. As a result, they are de-trained in trying to appeal to interest rather than to emotion. The opposite type, the desiccated calculating machine imprisoned by their own technocratic expertise, certainly exists, so you’d expect this one to exist.