Dana Perino, former White House Press Secretary for George W. Bush, explains in an excerpt of her book, And the Good News Is… why she is a conservative. And it makes for interesting reading if only because her reasons fly in the face of every known fact. Which explains why she did so well under Dubya, who made reality up as he went along.
I’m a conservative because everything else seems easy by comparison. And when something is too easy, it’s too good to be true or it’s sure to fail and disappoint. I wasn’t impressed by the alternatives to conservatism—I gravitate to facts, logic, and reality, whereas to me, liberalism is based on theory, and feelings, and fantasy.
That’s right. Perino, who belongs to the party that has its own special Rovian math to make them feel better about how things are compared to how they wish them to be, says that it is liberalism that is “based on theory, and feelings, and fantasy.” It’s funny that she talks negatively about feelings, because as liberals know, our problem is we tend to put far too little reliance on feelings and too much on thinking rationally.
We all remember her boss, Dubya’s, dependence on feelings over fact back in 2001, after 9/11. He didn’t have any good reasons to invade Iraq. Sure, he made them up, but he did it mostly because he wanted to. It was going to be his war, to out-do his daddy’s war. He found excuses and when they didn’t work out, he came up with some new excuses. It was all fly-by-the seat-of-your-pants feelings. Not a rational thought to be found. But hey, whatever gets you to sleep at night.
As George Lakoff wrote in 2008’s The Political Mind, Democrats didn’t accomplish more after they gained control of Congress in 2006 because “They just tried to be rational, to devise programs to fit people’s interest at the polls.” They didn’t try to get people to change their minds about how they felt about the issues. The missed the whole “feelings” thing Republicans say Democrats depend upon.
Obviously, this is not a mistake Republicans have made. Republicans feel very strongly about things. Unfortunately, they don’t think much about them. We see this with Donald Trump every day, feeling his way to the White House, whipping up anger and outrage and nothing really concrete. Nothing rational. And let’s face it, as we’ve all found out arguing with conservative friends and family, you can rationalize away their feelings.
As Latkoff explains,
When conservatives answer liberals’ fact and figures with no facts or figures, but with their own morals-based frames presented with emotion and symbolism, their framing will win. Conservative frames will trump liberals’ frameless – and hence meaningless – facts.
David Niose, author of Nonbeliever Nation (2012) wrote in his follow-up to that book, Taking Back the Right (2014) that our current “dismal state of affairs” is the result of an attack on reason, an “aversion to reason.”
That is, no matter how we dissect the success of modern American conservatism to find its causal roots and ongoing motivating forces, we discover some combination of fear-based thinking, anti-intellectualism, racism and sexism, emotional appeals to religion and patriotism, an unquestioned acceptance of corporate power, and incessant psychological manipulation of the public – with resulting policy that caters to institutional interests over those of real humans.
As you can see, reality has nothing to do with Perino’s assertion, which, in fact, turns the truth on its head. It is not liberals, but conservatives, who speak from an emotional standpoint, while we answer, often with great futility, with an appeal to a far less compelling rationality.
Perino goes on to tell us,
I respect tradition, learn from history, and adhere to a code of ethics that has helped me make sense of the world. By definition, then, I reject situational ethics. I have standards, and I stick to them. For instance, conservatism is where I can fully express my support in the individual rather than the state, and where my belief in self- governance and responsibility isn’t in conflict with policies I support.
Learn from history? Again, this from a member of a party that is reinventing our history because it’s “too liberal” and needs to fall in line with current Republican thinking. And situational ethics. Nothing is more situational than an administration that would come up with a new reality just about the time we were coming to grips with yesterday’s.
If conservatives respected history that would know that Presidents have only said “God Bless America” since 1973, when Richard Nixon introduced the line. Not since George Washington. They would admit that “In God We Trust” has only been our national motto since 1956, and that the Pledge of Allegiance did not include “under God” until 1954. The National Day of Prayer only dates from 1952.
To listen to conservatives, all these things date from the nation’s founding, when in fact if we could just erase the 1950s, we would all be a lot better off, and closer to the secular vision of our Founding Fathers.
A further sources of dismay is Perino’s assertion that liberals are ideological hidebound, when her own party has set new standards – extreme standards – for ideological purity:
[L]iberals have to check a lot of boxes to be included — “ do you believe this, that, and the other” — and there’s a rigidity that gives them very little room to win arguments.
Yet if a conservative does not believe A, B, and C, they become a RINO instead of a Republican – a Republican In Name Only. We see this much less among liberals. Again, she has turned the truth on its head. Liberals actually have the liberty to believe a great deal of things – in God, no God, many Gods – it doesn’t matter. There are still moderate Democrats and radical Democrats. You can’t find a moderate Republican these days if you spend your whole life trying.
So when Dana Perino tells you she is a conservative because she likes rationality more than emotion, or the freedom to believe what she wants rather than having to check off a bunch of boxes, or that she gravitates to “facts, logic, and reality,” she’s doing a good job explaining why she should be a liberal, but she’s not telling you why she’s a Republican.
What she ought to be doing is explaining to us why, if she actually values those things, she’s a conservative.
Hrafnkell Haraldsson, a social liberal with leanings toward centrist politics has degrees in history and philosophy. His interests include, besides history and philosophy, human rights issues, freedom of choice, religion, and the precarious dichotomy of freedom of speech and intolerance. He brings a slightly different perspective to his writing, being that he is neither a follower of an Abrahamic faith nor an atheist but a polytheist, a modern-day Heathen who follows the customs and traditions of his Norse ancestors. He maintains his own blog, A Heathen’s Day, which deals with Heathen and Pagan matters, and Mos Maiorum Foundation www.mosmaiorum.org, dedicated to ethnic religion. He has also contributed to NewsJunkiePost, GodsOwnParty and Pagan+Politics.