What is political conservativism anyway?

In large part, it means you embrace the term “conservative” for symbolic value far more than a desire to cut government spending and regulation.  The latest Tom Edsall piece bringing in great political science is wide-ranging and ostensensibly about the “Republican Establishment” , but this is my favorite part:

The right-wing media was purposefully created by the conservative wing of the Republican Party, in part to help resolve a basic contradiction in the movement, according to Grossmann and Hopkins:

Conservative candidates have also long grappled with the challenge of attracting electoral support for an ideological movement primarily dedicated to the perennially unpopular objective of limiting or rolling back major government programs and social benefits. [emphases mine]

Grossmann and Hopkins point out that a majority of American voters, when asked about specific policies, support federal spending. An April 2017 Pew Research Center survey, for example, found “that 61 percent of Republicans and 95 percent of Democrats would maintain or increase funding for health care” and that 61 percent of Republicans and 93 percent of Democrats “would maintain or increase spending for ‘economic assistance to needy people in the U.S.’ ”

Crucial to the continued survival of the Republican Party, however, is the fact that when questions about taxes, spending and the role of government are put in generic, symbolic, abstract terms, without reference to specific policies, the majority of Americans take a conservative stance.

How does this work? Substantially more voters identify themselves as conservative than as liberal, according to GallupGallup also found that the public believes that the government wastes 51 cents of every dollar. In August 2017, Gallup reported that 52 percent of the public had an unfavorable view of the federal government and 29 percent had a favorable view.

To counter potential defections to the Democratic Party, according to Grossmann and Hopkins, the right must focus on “conservatism as a brand name, or as a collection of general principles and values,” which is far more popular “than conservatism as a package of detailed policy positions.”

And this very much reminded me of some great recent research by Lilliana Mason that I had meant to blog about and his very much on-point:

The distinction between a person’s ideological identity and their issue positions has come more clearly into focus in recent research. Scholars have pointed out a significant difference between identity-based and issue-based ideology in the American electorate. However, the affective and social effects of these separate elements of ideology have not been sufficiently explored. Drawing on a national sample collected by SSI and data from the 2016 ANES, this article finds that the identity-based elements of ideology are capable of driving heightened levels of affective polarization against outgroup ideologues, even at low levels of policy attitude extremity or constraint. These findings demonstrate how Americans can use ideological terms to disparage political opponents without necessarily holding constrained sets of policy attitudes.

I love this so much that I actually did a conference paper on it 10 years ago.  Alas, not enough to actually have good follow-through, because that was the last of it.

So, yes, of course, there is some value and policy content to being “conservative” but as much as anything it means you like being “conservative” and hate liberals.

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The Jar Jar principle

Listened to the Fresh Air interview with Jake Tapper this morning and so loved this part:

Too often in this world, people rise to the level that they remove from their orbit anybody that would tell them Jar Jar Binks [from Star Wars: Episode I, The Phantom Menace] is a horrible character. [Star Wars director] George Lucas would be an example of that. I think he’s one of the most brilliant people on this planet, but I don’t know what happened with those [Star Wars] prequels, but they are not good. The prequels are not good and they made a billion dollars and they’re successful and all that, but they’re not good.

So I see the Jar Jar Binks principle everywhere, and I think it’s important to keep people around you who will tell you when you’re being a jerk. And I have lots of people like that in my life — many, many people. Some of them are even in my house. I think it’s very important, and I think that President Trump is a victim of the Jar Jar Binks principle. I think he removes people from his life that tell him negative things and sometimes for survival they stop criticizing the president, sometimes for survival they leave, sometimes they get pushed out the door. But I think that’s a problem with him and I think it’s one for successful people to keep in mind. [emphasis mine]

Fortunately, my wife definitely lets me know if I’m about to write any Jar Jar characters.  I think I’ve got some friends who will also tell me if I’m wrong.  Of course, I’m not exactly president or a famous movie-maker.  But, all of us need this in our lives.  I honestly think I notice this a lot in books.  For example, you know I love Harry Potter and think JK Rowling is brilliant, but I think people were afraid to tell her about her later books “you know, this is great, but would be even better about 100 pages shorter.”  Or, one of my favorite Science Fiction series, The Hyperion Cantos, in which the initial volume as popular and award winning and the subsequent books were also excellent, but, to my reading, bloated as nobody wanted to tell Dan Simmons they needed to be edited.  Anyway, just make sure you have people in your life who call you out on Jar Jar Binks.

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