in Alabama, Kulturkampf

Santorum, Gingrich Appeal to Authoritarians in Alabama

The Laurens County, South Carolina Republican Party has high standards for its candidates. They have to pledge their opposition to abortion under any circumstances, their support of unlimited gun ownership, and a federal budget balanced even on the back of Laurens County. Prospective officeholders must also promote premarital sexual abstinence and oppose any form of expansion to the marriage franchise. They also must promise not to look at pornography, as two reporters recently explained at the Clinton Chronicle:

You must have:

“A compassionate and moral approach to Teen Pregnancy;”

“A commitment to Peace Through Strength in Foreign Policy;” and

“A high regard for Unites States Sovereignty.”

That is code for culture wars, both at home and abroad, as practiced by patriarchal authoritarianism. The obsession with a “right to life” ends at birth, in which case “if you can’t feed ’em, don’t breed ’em.” That twelve year-old rape victim will pop out her puppy, and if she cannot be forced into birth then she must at least be raped again with an ultrasound probe; but their interest in the role of government in life ends there.

All leading Republican candidates subscribe to this view. Mitt Romney, the “moderate,” wants to end federal funding for Planned Parenthood — which would not prevent one abortion, but would certainly end birth control access for millions of American women. Rick Santorum, now emerging as the messianic “real conservative” of right-wing culture war dreams, is not actually very far to the right of Romney on the issue.

Indeed, Romney’s basic problem is that he was winning the endorsement of Planned Parenthood when he ran for governor of Massachusetts, but converted to the apostolic abortion creed in mid-decade as his presidential aspirations took shape. A look at Alabama’s primary results last night shows his support comes from urban Republicans, while the Salem Church of Christ Republicans go for Santorum and the Montgomery Baptists for Gingrich.

There was a time when Southern evangelical religion didn’t spit fire at the word “liberal,” but all liberality has fled the Republican Party. It’s in the pledge and the conservative catechism of denial. And as always, authoritarian politics presents with cognitive dissonance: Santorum’s woman-hating won female Republicans, while Gingrich won males. Republican men don’t want to hear about batteries in cars; they drive pickup trucks and respond to ridiculous $2.50/gallon campaign promises.

Today’s “conservative” demands that the scary seekrit Muslin be replaced with a savior who will rubber-stamp regressive legislation on every score and in full denial of reality. Newt Gingrich is in peak oil denial, Santorum is in climate change denial, and Mitt Romney is in denial of his own record as governor. All of them want to deny women control of their means of reproduction. The entire psychology of conservatism is now warped around the abortion litmus test, but also promises a much broader reversal of history than Roe v Wade. As I keep saying, they are the fear they want us to feel.

I refer readers once again here to Bob Altemeyer’s frightening study of right-wing authoritarian (RWA) psychology, The Authoritarians (.PDF). Altemeyer held an experiment in which RWA volunteers performed a model UN-game and swiftly destroyed the planet twice in one evening:

The authoritarian world ended in disaster for many reasons. One was likely the character of their Elites, who put more than twice as much money in their own pockets as the low RWA Elites had. (The Middle East Elite ended up the World’s Richest Man; part of his wealth came from money he had conned from Third World Elites as payment for joining his alliance.) But more importantly, the high RWAs proved incredibly ethnocentric. There they were, in a big room full of people just like themselves, and they all turned their backs on each other and paid attention only to their own group. They too were all reading from the same page, but writ large on their page was, “Care About Your Own; We Are NOT All In This Together.”

The high RWAs also suffered because, while they say on surveys that they care about the environment, when push comes to shove they usually push and shove for the bucks. That is, they didn’t care much about the long-term environmental consequences of their economic acts. For example a facilitator told Latin America that converting much of the region’s forests to a single species of tree would make the ecosystem vulnerable. But the players decided to do it anyway because the tree’s lumber was very profitable just then. And the highs proved quite inflexible when it came to birth control. Advised that “just letting things go” would cause the populations in underdeveloped areas to explode, the authoritarians just let things go. (Emphasis mine)

Conservative Southern strategies have created a safe bastion in Alabama — the Democratic ballot yesterday was less than half the size of the Republican one at my polling station. Yet the reigning political economy of today’s “conservatism” has been practiced in Alabama since 1901; the Buffet Rule applied to Alabama income taxes would instantly close the state’s entire budget gap by overturning 111 years of practice. Many Republicans support a flat income tax, but now that Republicans have “brought change to Montgomery” the one thing they cannot do is make Alabama’s regressive income tax flat.

Austerity and absolutism accompany their obstetrical obsessions, and that is not an accident. Mitt Romney exemplifies the socially Darwinian producer. Having made his fortune from creative corporate destruction, he is incoherent to the true-believing latter-day conservative. Santorum is now clearly that voter’s leading choice, with Gingrich second.

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