Con men probably come from all political persuasions. But recently, there seems to be a convergence of evidence that their victims might just have a tendency to be conservative. Liberals have been saying this for decades. Conservatives are obviously easily duped or they wouldn’t keep electing people who turn around and put policies in place that are detrimental to them. They clearly have no problem with leaders who chronically lie to them (here’s looking at you, Mitt Romney). They support things that are apparently named in a deceptive way like “right-to-work,” that only serve to lower their wages, benefits, and workplace protections. But what about outside the realm of politics? Are these folks likely to fall for financial scams? A thorough search of academic sources suggests that academic scholars have not yet posed this question. Anecdotal evidence suggests it is time they did. For example, one company’s survey found that progressives (e.g. Green Party members) were less susceptible to scams than people of other political backgrounds.
From my own life, there are two ready-made examples of hard-core, middle class conservatives being taken to the cleaners. First, my grandfather spent his entire retirement prior to his death glued to his radio, listening to Rush Limbaugh, and firing off letters to me pleading with me to also tune into Rush. The other portion of his time was spent sending what little money his Social Security afforded him to scam artists. They were always selling him “miracle cures” or “elixirs of youth.” There were a few get-rich quick schemes in there as well. Needless to say, he died penniless and worse yet, in debt. Next, there is an elderly social work client of my husband’s; we’ll call him John. As a staunch Christian conservative, John lost his house a few years back by donating too much money to his church and being unable to afford his mortgage. One would hope a church would refuse to accept donations in sums that jeopardized the housing of their parishioner, but no. Now, the 89 year old, World War II veteran, John, just gave over all of his Social Security savings to two con men who promised him an awesome return on his investment including a new car (these perpetrators obviously know no shame). Naturally, he is never going to see his money again.
As it happens, Rick Perlstein, wrote an excellent, must-read article for the Baffler called, “The Long Con: Mail-order Conservatism” that sheds some light on how these con artists may be locating and targeting people like my grandfather or “John.” Mr. Perlstein signed himself up for numerous conservative mailing lists including such outlets as Human Events, Newsmax, and Townhall. Shortly thereafter, he began to receive numerous “offers” and solicitations for get-rich quick schemes, miracle cures, and other scams. What Mr. Perlstein soon began to realize is conservative organizations were selling his name/contact information to shysters. This practice of selling mailing lists is not unusual. Dedicated liberals who subscribe to mailing lists from progressive news sites, think tanks, and charities have their information sold to like-minded organizations all the time. If you sign up for alerts from Think Progress or Media Matters, you may just start receiving requests to subscribe to the Nation. However, there is something entirely different about having your name circulated among similar political groups and having it make the rounds of fraudsters across the country.
Peddling conspiracy theories has always been a racket as well. How many charlatans have eagerly helped gullible people part with their money by telling them to “SEND MONEY NOW” to “STOP the seizing of your guns by the UN?” At the extremes, tabloid websites now consolidate political stories that tell conservatives the equivalent of “Women has 20 pound baby” or “Alien escapes government lab.” What’s stunning is that key political leaders in a political party would associate with these websites that are so obviously taking advantage of gullible conservatives. For example, Rick Santorum is joining World Net Daily. Just a sampling of the of World Nut Daily’s offerings are stories about how Obama is going to use swine flu to round people up and put them in concentration camps or gays actually perpetrated the Holocaust and they plan to try it again.
One of the features of tabloids is that they prey on human weaknesses not unlike a con man. Journalist and media critic Roy Greenslade aptly says: They [the tabloids] are illiberal, reactionary, negative, pessimistic and infected with a sentimentality which appeals to readers’ emotions rather than their intellect. They play to the gallery. They whip up the mob. (…) They appeal to the basest of human instincts.
Each of these websites makes considerable money selling merchandise, a lot of it falling into that sketchy gray area between legitimate business and swindle. For example, the books World Nut Daily is selling are also incredible works of fiction sold as the gospel truth like “The Islamic AntiChrist,” “Where’s the Birth Certificate?,” and “Obama vs. America.”
Though I am loathe to quote such a wretched person, Ann Coulter does point out that some on the right recognize their problem with grifters:
“And just a more corporate problem is I think our party and particularly our movement, the conservative movement, does have more of a problem with con men and charlatans than the Democratic Party. I mean, the incentives seem to be set up to allow people, as long as you have a band of a few million fanatical followers, you can make money. The Democrats have managed to figure out how not to do that.”
This week, Rachel Maddow chronicled some of the many ways these charlatans have been bilking dollars from their minions. A few highlights include Dick Morris’s SuperPAC money laundering, Mike Huckabee’s shilling for a dubious “Repeal Obamacare” ad, and Matt Kibby of Freedom Works using organizational donations to fund his book. As Perlstein wrote:
“The strategic alliance of snake-oil vendors and conservative true believers points up evidence of another successful long march of tactics designed to corral fleeceable multitudes all in one place—and the formation of a cast of mind that makes it hard for either them or us to discern where the ideological con ended and the money con began.”
This points out that conning a conservative is a universal endeavor. It happens in politics, where they not only seem to expect rampant deception, but require it as a career choice for their leaders. Upon closer scrutiny, it appears to also be happening in their finances. The common denominator in the gullible target audience that is shared by political wingnuts and con men alike is that they lack critical thinking skills. No one is saying that a liberal doesn’t get conned once in a while. It’s just that if you really want to pocket some swindled money, the best place to start would seem to be a conservative mailing list.
Deborah is a former social work professor who taught social policy, mental health policy, and human diversity. Proud to be called liberal, she happily pays her taxes after being raised in a home that needed long-term welfare. Contrary to the opinion of many, she is living proof that government investment in children leads them out of poverty having received services from Head Start to Pell Grants. Deborah works with low-income, first generation, and disabled college students who are at high-risk for dropping out of college in a program designed to help them graduate. She lives with her husband, stepson, and an aging cat.