Tea Party Authoritarians

Filed in National by on August 1, 2011

While we’re all wringing our hands over the details of the debt ceiling deal, let’s think about how we got here. I know people think Obama has a lot of power, and he does, but in our system Congress also has a lot of power. We are at this point because voters put in office an unusually large number of hard-core authoritarian conservatives. John Dean wrote a book called Conservatives Without Conscience which explained authoritarian personalities and their relationship with political conservatism (recommended read). He explains the Tea Party is the same group of conservatives under a new brand name.

Bob Altemeyer explained in his Comment on the Tea Party Movement that he was “amazed” by what he discovered in the Tea Party movement: “It seemed as if [the Tea Party followers] had read the [social science] research findings on authoritarianism and then said, ‘Let’s go out and prove all those things are true.’ Whatever else the Tea Party movement has accomplished, it has certainly made the research [by social scientists] on authoritarianism look good.”

Authoritarians can be divided into leaders and followers. Because there are more followers than leaders, much of the research has focused on them. Although Bob Altemeyer has done a good bit of work on authoritarian leaders, his observations on the Tea Party address the followers. (Tea Party leaders like Mark Meckler, co-founder of the Tea Party Patriots, and Congresswoman Michelle Bachman, like all authoritarian leaders, raise a host of additional issues.)

Allow me to summarize Bob Altemeyer’s core findings. For purposes of illustration, he highlighted a dozen conspicuous authoritarian traits in the Tea Party: (1) they are more submissive than most to their leaders, and they take direction without question; (2) they are easily frightened and their leaders keep them that way; (3) they wear their self-righteousness on their sleeves, e.g., with their assertion that they are “the true Americans;” (4) they are highly aggressive, so they lash out at those with whom they do not agree; (5) critical thinking and logic escapes them, and they rely upon simplistic slogans to answer complex questions; (6) they inflate problems, and they find an endless supply of our “biggest problems”; (7) they hold conflicting and contradictory beliefs, which does not trouble them, because their thinking is compartmentalized; (8) double standards are totally acceptable to them, so they can be highly critical of others who do exactly what they do, or have done; (9) they feel empowered when in groups, and gain strength by remaining together with like-minded others; (10) they are highly dogmatic, since they do not know why they believe what they do, and they do not question themselves; (11) they are ethnocentric and constantly judge others and events from an “us versus them” point of view; and (12) they are prejudiced, and often racist, although some do not realize it or believe it when confronted.

Sound familiar? In the article he says the Tea Party is delighted with the chaos they’re causing. (Indeed, many would be very happy if the US government defaulted because the US government has been identified as the enemy.) As Jason says, they believe chaos will lead to their Conservatopia.

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Comments (13)

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  1. puck says:

    voters put in office an unusually large number of hard-core authoritarian conservatives.

    True, but voters put into office an even larger number of progressives.

    (1) they are more submissive than most to their leaders

    Keep your eye on Nancy Pelosi. When Obama asks for her vote against her principles, he gets her vote.

    (2) they are easily frightened and their leaders keep them that way

    See #1

  2. Dana says:

    A pure crock of bovine feces. Perhaps you hadn’t noticed, but the Republicans, greatly aided by the TEA Party faction, didn’t take firearms and overthrow the Democrats and shoot President Obama, but marshaled their forces and won an election! And over the course of the next fifteen months, they are going to try to do the same thing again, and win an election. That, in a democratic representative republic, is how democracy works.

    Of course, y’all will be trying to do the very same thing, and maybe you’ll get lucky and the people will forget what an utter failure President Obama has been, and maybe the TEA Partiers will be urinated off enough at the Republicans for accepting a deal that the White House is actually bragging throws out the 2001-2003 tax cuts that they stay home, and the Democrats will win the 2012 elections. That, too, would be democracy in action.

  3. Dana says:

    The third quoted paragraph isn’t an accurate reflection of reality, but it is an accurate reflection of liberal prejudices. With the election of the first (half) black president, my good friends on the left simply assume that disagreement with President Obama — at least, disagreement from the right; y’all are allowed to disagree from the left — must be raaaacist (see point 12), but forget that: we don’t like the white half of him, either! It has nothing to do with the color of his skin, but the content of his policies: conservatives believe that President Obama simply has the wrong ideas about what is best for our country, and how to achieve our goals.

    Of course, y’all love points like #5 (critical thinking and logic escapes them, and they rely upon simplistic slogans to answer complex questions), because it lets you feel intellectually superior, and allows you to dismiss, rather than actually debate, conservative ideas. But we now have the evidence of a highly intelligent, Harvard-educated, liberal-thinking President of the United States, who has gotten almost everything wrong, who has failed in most of what he has attempted. With the aid of plenty of other highly-educated economists, he told us that if we just passed the stimulus plan — and his original plan called for a slightly smaller plan — we’d hold unemployment down to a maximum of 8% in mid 2009, and it would be down to 7.7% in December of 2009; it was 9.9% that month. In addition we would have over 3% real growth in GDP if we passed his plan; we had 0.4% GDP growth in the first quarter and a provisional 1.3% GDP growth rate in the second. By his own stated criteria, the President’s plans have failed!

  4. Geezer says:

    “By his own stated criteria, the President’s plans have failed!”

    I’m sure you pointed out the same thing after the Bush tax cuts failed to pay for themselves.

    The “stimulus” plan grew because Republicans insisted on tax cuts, which of course increased the bill while yet again failing to provide enough economic stimulus to pay for themselves.

    We don’t criticize Republican economics to feel intellectually superior. We criticize it because it does not perform as advertised, and you folks refuse to acknowledge that reality.

    BTW, I agree with Dana about paragraph 5. That’s a liberal fantasy, not a description of reality.

  5. puck says:

    OK, great. So John “Captain Obvious” Dean has got the teabaggers pegged as authoritarians. I hope nobody paid too much for that insight.

    Now what do we do with that knowledge?

    Obama knew what to do to turn teabagger strengths into weaknesses. To make a zealot doctrinaire authoritarian’s head explode, all you have to do is tell them “No.”

    Obama did tell them “No,” and it worked. Right up until he told them Yes.

    The more Democrats follow Republicans to the right, the more Republicans have to invent new fringe groups that are even farther right. It’s not easy getting to the right of a Democrat these days.

    We are actually pulling Republicans to the right, and we don’t have the courage to stop it. And every time they win a majority they make the new right position into law, and it sticks. It’s like a ratchet tightening down on the middle class and working classes.

  6. delbert says:

    You guys dismissed the Teapers as ineffective rable rousers after the Coons election. Now you’re scared to death of them…again.

  7. Jason330 says:

    That tends to happen when the entire media establishment, The President of the United States and both parties in congress pretend that teabags are not ineffective rabble rousers, but an unstoppable machine.

  8. Dana says:

    Geezer wrote:

    The “stimulus” plan grew because Republicans insisted on tax cuts, which of course increased the bill while yet again failing to provide enough economic stimulus to pay for themselves.

    Sorry, wrong answer: the President’s plan, published even before he took office, included tax cuts as part of the stimulus package.

  9. Dana says:

    Jason wrote:

    That tends to happen when the entire media establishment, The President of the United States and both parties in congress pretend that teabags are not ineffective rabble rousers, but an unstoppable machine.

    Ineffective? I guess that means that the Democrats still control the House of Representatives, and didn’t lose six seats in the Senate, right?

  10. Jason330 says:

    You already got your tribute response. I’m back to ignoring you. Sorry.

  11. Geezer says:

    More like ineffective in that fewer than 50 people showed up last week on the Mall. You folks are legends in your own minds.

  12. Geezer says:

    Dana: Wrong answer yourself. Yes, the tax cuts were always there, but not because liberals or Obama though they were such a great idea. Here’s what was written the day the plan was presented:

    “While these cuts may be able to give the economy a kick-start right away, they are also meant to assuage skeptical conservatives.”

    Obama’s basic flaw is he thinks he can somehow, some way get Republicans to agree with him.

  13. Jason330 says:

    That is the very crux of it. Obama believes Republicans can be reasonable partners in governing. No matter how hard Republicans works to disabuse him of that notion, he clings fast to it.

    Yes it defies reason. That’s the point. It is an article of faith for Obama that Congressional Republicans are good patriots at heart. He can no more change his approach to Republicans than a committed Christian could disavow the miracles of the new testament.

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