Hate groups helping sway voters towards theocrats

Known anti-gay hate groups sponsored a major gathering in DC at which multiple Republican nominees will speak. One pastor there has already urged evangelical Christians to vote for Rick Perry – and he knows the numbers of voters he’s trying to rally.

The Values Voter Summit took place this weekend, and the major news was Rev. Robert Jeffress’ endorsement of Rick Perry and his statement that Mitt Romney’s Mormonism is “a cult.” Although that has captured headlines, and Romney’s condemnation of “poisonous language” has made a smaller splash, the larger context of the Values Voter Summit provides an informative example of how the extremely conservative Christian agenda is driving Republican politics today.

The two primary sponsors of the VVS, the Family Research Council and the American Family Association, have been identified as anti-gay hate groups by the Southern Poverty Law Center for their unremitting anti-gay propaganda and lies. Yet somehow the five major candidiates for the Republican nomination were willing to speak at this event.

There’s a very specific set of “values” at the core of this event. Even though the first two imperatives on the VVS’ website banner are “Reduce Government” and “Limit Spending,” members of these groups and the politicians who pander to them have shown absolutely no concern about increasing government in order to regulate women’s rights and marriage, and have insisted on wasting money defending unconstitutional laws.

The third imperative, “Champion Traditional Values,” is clearly the predominant one. And their version of traditional, ’50s values has more in common with the 1850s than the 1950s.

As Fred Clark points out, the Values Voter Summit is not staged by liberal bloggers conspiring to foment hysteria. (Honestly, in a million years I would never have dreamed up guys in suits holding up plastic dinosaurs.) The conservatives with extreme agendas are highly influential, and they’re working to become more so.

To me, the most illuminating element of Jeffress’ follow-up interview with CNN was this little factoid that has been largely ignored:

Look, when it gets down to it, we need to remember this. In 2008, 30 million Evangelical Christians sat at home and didn’t vote. Barack Obama won by 10 million votes. Whether you like it or not, Mitt Romney will not energize Evangelical Christians.

I have no idea whether his numbers are accurate. The point is that he’s calculating the numbers. He’s not just praying, he’s not just preaching, he’s counting votes and working to get voters “energized” to swing the next election. Let me say this as clearly as I can:

Even people who are working towards irrational ends often use perfectly rational means.

Others with similar goals in mind are using highly sophisticated means to try to increase voter registration and participation among people with the “right” “biblical worldview.” They are also counting the votes, and working on mobilizing millions – not just thousands, millions – of voters to support their increasingly hateful and vile agendas.

This is about a lot more than “poisonous language.” It’s about a toxic and addictive mix of hatred and politics. As Pratchett wrote, “Poison goes where poison’s welcome.” All the candidates who attended the Values Voter Summit showed that to them, this poison’s welcome. If the hit comes with a rush of voters, they’ll take it and be jonesing for more.

More importantly, the significant numbers of voters actively engaging with the conservative movement as it grows ever more radical are showing that they continue to welcome the poison, too. And there are plenty of people – like Jeffress – working to push it to them, to get them hooked on ever-higher doses of hatred so that they’re willing to take increasingly extreme actions to get their next fix.

And although the pushers may themselves be high from taking offense one too many times, they have calculated the angles and are running their racket shrewdly to expand their market.

Objective fear, Part I

In trying to understand the Objectivist mindset and related worldviews, I’ve come to a surprising awareness of the amount of fear that drives these people. When people who subscribe to the Just World fallacy are faced with the unrelenting evidence of their own experience that bad things do happen to good people, a suppressed fear of something like that happening to them can provide fuel for the fire of their anger at others who are needy. If they know, deep down, that the homeless beggar is a vision of themselves, of who they could be with a few accidents and disadvantages, their anger can be a kind of self-protection mechanism that is trying to eliminate their own fear. It’s self-hate turned outwards.¬† I think something similar can happen on a society-wide level, where the reasonably secure people express a near-hatred of those less fortunate. Deep down, I think that hate is often a defensive anger driven by fear.

One of the hallmarks of this response is that the answer doesn’t match the question. The anger isn’t a reasonable response to the problem presented; it’s a response to an entirely different problem which is brought up by the mental interpretation of the angry person. The defensive mechanism gets triggered by something related to the deep problem within the person’s mind and worldview, and the defense is a defense against the problem they experience, not a defense against the question or issue that was raised.

Slacktivist expressed something like this as a situation where I see a child drowning, and say to another bystander, “Look! That kid’s drowning!” and the bystander responds with an angry scream: “But I didn’t throw her in! It’s not my fault she’s drowning! I didn’t do it!” The answer doesn’t match the question. In this case, the answer entirely bypasses a question, because in the bystander’s mind, me pointing out that the kid is drowning triggers a whole sequence, and what the bystander hears is some imaginary version of me. I might say, “Look! That kid’s drowning!” but what the bystander hears is Imaginary Literata saying, “That kid’s drowning! Jump in and save her! I don’t care if you can’t swim! If you drown too, that’s your own fault for not learning how to swim! I’m going to throw you in too if you don’t go help her!” The bystander’s response makes more sense if he’s responding to Imaginary Literata, whose observation has morphed not just into a question but into a threat.

The anger that Objectivists and similar-minded people express towards those less fortunate than them is actually a response to a perceived threat. It’s not about the “fairness” of who benefits from whose labor, and it’s not about the suppression of the heroic by the moochers. When people like this, individually or in political groups, respond to the needs of others with an anger that misses the point of the need, it’s not just victim blaming. It’s a response to the imaginary threat that Objectivists will be hurt just as badly or worse than those who are in need. When what I do is point out those who are in need, or ask for help myself, I’m not making that threat. The perceived threat is a projection of the very real fear that the Objectivist himself could end up in need or asking for help.

This worldview makes the existence of those less fortunate into something to be perceived as an active threat and responded to with anger, a defensive posture caused by fear. In the end, that fear is the most objective thing about the so-called Objectivist response.