Monday, March 2, 2009

Nobody Expects the Rush-in Inquisition

Last week, The Neighborhood considered the religious overtones of Mr. Rogers' recent pronouncements on 2010 Congressional races.

This got me thinking about leadership, orthodoxy and control.

The Spanish Inquisition (known to most of us as the basis for a classic Monty Python sketch) was a religious tribunal, established to ensure the orthodoxy of recent converts (i.e., Jews and Muslims) and prevent the advance of heresy.  As time went on, the Inquisition moved into censorship and also went after freemasons, witches, gays, assorted protestants, and Catholics who questioned church doctrine. The secondary benefit of all this terror? A nice financial profit for the Inquisitors, as the fines and property seizures added up.

Fast forward to last weekend, when the Conservative Political Action Committee (CPAC) conference was held in D.C.  It was a busy couple of days: attendees hyperventilated with Rush Limbaugh, Ann Coulter and Joe the Plumber; voted for Mitt Romney in a 2012 presidential straw poll; and cheered on a brainwashed 13-year-old.  Nostalgia for conservative heroes Ronald Reagan and Barry Goldwater comforted those who like to pretend that the November 2008 election never occurred.

Enforcing the conservative line, much like the Inquisition enforced Catholic doctrine, conservative talk radio host Rush Limbaugh took RNC Chairman Michael Steele to task this week, challenging his [Steele's] right to speak for Republicans.  
"So I am an entertainer and I have 20 million listeners because of my great song and dance routine," Limbaugh said. "Michael Steele, you are head of the Republican National Committee. You are not head of the Republican party. Tens of millions of conservatives and Republicans have nothing to do with the Republican National Committee...and when you call them asking for money, they hang up on you."
Yesterday, Michael Steele apologized.
“My intent was not to go after Rush – I have enormous respect for Rush Limbaugh,” Steele said in a telephone interview. “I was maybe a little bit inarticulate. … There was no attempt on my part to diminish his voice or his leadership.” 
Wow.  Guess we know who owns all the red state hearts & minds...

El Rushbo and the Reagan revolution dead-enders out there want to cash in on our country's troubles in a bid to reactivate their political power.  They're taking advantage of all the retro-Repub excitement and dusting off the 1990s playbook.  Just take a look at Bill Kristol's 1993 memo on how to sink universal health care, and note all the media coverage of Newt Gingrich, the on-again conservative darling.

Is resurrecting old GOP orthodoxy really the way to go?

Republican political strategist David Frum is one of the few conservative voices warning his party about the dangers of worshiping the past.
Conservatives live in thrall to a historical myth, and this myth may soon cost us dearly. [skip] The Goldwater myth shuts down all attempts to reform and renew our conservative message for modern times. And it offers a handy justification for nominating a 2012 presidential candidate who might otherwise seem disastrously unelectable. Altogether, the myth invites dangerous and self-destructive behavior by a party that cannot afford either.

In a nutshell, Hirschman looks at how members of an organization respond when the organization begins to decline.  Some choose to exit, simply leaving for another group. Others feel that there aren't better alternatives, so they stay and voice their concerns in an effort to bring the organization "back" to its earlier and better state.  

When loyalty is added in, though, things get interesting.  This "feeling of attachment to an organization" can keep members from exiting, and may actually prevent them from voicing their concerns.  Organizations themselves can enforce loyalty and ensure the status quo by imposing high fees to enter and stiff penalties to exit.  This is bolstered by member "self-deception"
that is, in fighting the realization that the organization he belongs to or the product he has bought are deteriorating or defective. He will particularly tend to repress this sort of awareness if he has invested a great deal in his purchase or membership...  once deterioration is adverted to, members of an organization that requires severe initiation will fight hard to prove that they were right after all in paying that high entrance fee.
Sound like any political organizations you know?

Over the next year or so, we'll see whether the GOP chooses to evolve into a new, competitive entity -- or if it will cling even more tightly to its shrinking base and allow Rush Limbaugh to become the new Grand Inquisitor.  Either way, Democrats will have a lot of interesting opportunities in 2010.

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