Wednesday, January 30, 2008

McCain Derangement: Protein Wisdom's Reply

This entry updates my previous post, on Roger Simon's "McCain Derangement Syndrome?"

I wondered if there really is such a thing, psychologically speaking. Well,
Karl over at Protein Wisdom tries to get a handle on it (via Memeorandum):

...Simon manages to start from faulty premises and work his way even further into the weeds in his assessment of those opposed to Sen. John McCain. And I write that as someone who — unlike our esteemed host — has not ruled out voting for McCain if he is the GOP nominee.

Initially, while I have also invoked the “derangement syndrome” to describe certain mindsets, there are at least two things wrong with Simon’s use of it in this context. First, it is a phrase generally applied to blind partisan hatred. McCain is the subject of harsh criticism from within his own party, which suggests something quite different is at issue. Second, Simon seems to have forgotten that “Bush Derangement Syndrome” was initially the humorous description for the Post-Election Stress and Trauma Syndrome that plagued Democrats after losses in 2000 and 2004. AFAIK, McCain’s critics are not pouring into the psych ward with their symptoms.

Moreover, Simon is greatly mistaken in his assertion that the criticism of McCain is a recent phenomenon. Simon might want to ask himself why McCain was not the GOP nominee in 2000.

He will quickly find that the main answer is
McCain’s record in the US Senate. Simon presumes to call McCain’s critics deranged while mentioning only his positions on the “surge,” waterboarding and Gitmo. There is obviously far more to McCain’s record than that. Thus, to address only issues within McCain’s strongest issue bloc is fairly disingenuous.

For example, as a blogger and a principal in Pajamas Media, Simon might have considered that he would be spending much less time blogging and collecting ad revenue — and much more time
justifying his existence to the Federal Election Commission — if John McCain had his way. McCain sued the FEC to force the agency to police bloggers. It took a great deal of bipartisan effort on the part of the blogosphere to get the FEC to ultimately exempt most blogging from government regulation, therby ensuring that people like Simon and I are free to blog on the issues of the day (and for Simon to make money from PJM’s ad network).

Beyond McCain’s less-than-stalwart defense of free speech, Simon might want to consider
“John McCain’s Top 10 Class-Warfare Arguments Against Tax Cuts,” all of which were made long before the current campaign. I will give Simon enough credit to recognize that most GOP voters like tax cuts and dislike class warfare.

These are just two of the many substantive reasons people have for opposing McCain. His proposed legislation on greenhouse gases would be another. His proposed “patients’ bill of rights” would be another. The full list goes on and on.

However, the McCain-Kennedy “immigration reform” bill warrants special attention in the context of Simon’s puzzlement (as well as that of
Glenn Reynolds) that McCain’s critics are so much more forgiving of Mitt Romney, whose record as Governor in Massachusetts was admittedly not that of a doctrinaire conservative (his proposals on heathcare and aid to the auto industry in the current campaign are not either, but I digress).

Mitt Romney has shifted his positions on various issues… to positions that are more conservative and in line with those of the GOP since Reagan was nominated in 1980. Republicans — shockingly — are likely to be forgiving of those who agree to join them. There is some history on this point. Reagan shifted his position on
abortion. George H.W. Bush shifted his positions on abortion and taxes.

However, that acceptance has to be accompanied by a certain level of trust in the candidate. McCain has
shifted position on issues like abortion, yet is rarely called on it, primarily because those positions have been conservative and he has since had a track record of sticking with them. Where McCain insists on being a Maverick, his stubborn temperament (exceeding even that of Pres. Bush) leaves many convinced that much of what McCain says now is simply an expediency.
Note first that Karl suggests, grudgingly, that he'll end up voting for McCain if he's the nominee, a possibility that's looking increasingly likely. (Karl could be attempting the convenient tactic, however, of exempting himself from being diagnosed with the very ailment he's attempting to debunk.)

Besides that, I don't think the essay really tackles the problem adequately.

I mean, what Karl tries to do is suggest that McCain bashers don't qualify for the label of "deranged" because as Karl has used it the "phrase generally applied to blind partisan hatred."

Big problem of logic there: One of the biggest attacks by the Malkinites and the Rush-bots is that McCain's not really a Republican, he's
a Democrat-in-sheep's-clothing. Thus, if we flip Karl's argument around, and base conservatives are right that McCain's really a Republican pretender, then the unhinged right-wing of the party is indeed suffering from some sort of "McCain Derangement Syndrome," whatever that might be according to medical science.

Simon's argument, of course, would be confirmed in that case.

Also, Karl suggests that Democrats were flooding the hospitals after the G.W. Bush victories in 2000 and 2004. Now, I don't know if that's true, but from personal - and non-statistically significant - experience, I can see that many conservatives have been apparently traumatized at the loss of their candidates in the early primaries to McCain (see, for example,
here and here).

Why wasn't McCain the nominee in 2000, Karl asked? Well, for one thing he lost in the primaries, and especially in South Carolina, where the Bush campaign-machine flooded the state with mailers alleging McCain fathered an illegitimate black child (the McCains have an adopted daughter who's originally from Bangladesh).

Beyond this, Karl doesn't delve into psychology at all:
The Protein Wisdom (or partial wisdom) post is mostly about policy disagreement.

Sure, some of the stuff I'm not too thrilled about (what blogger wants to be shut down by the FCC?), but we're not talking about an even-handed content-analysis of McCain's legislative record.

The fact is Karl's just adding grease to the anti-McCain fire here (remember
Mark Levin's policy-related attack last week?).

No one can ignore - no thoughtful, reasonable person - that there are real anger issues boiling up in the conservative base of the GOP. These resentments are being fanned by the conservative kings and queens of talk radio, who're relentlessly bitter at the possibility that a candidate who's sought bipartisan progress on issues such as campaign finance and immigration control might actually win the Republican nomination.

Nah, he's not really winning - it's
voter fraud, right? Why do some states allow crossover voting in the primaries? How dare they?!!

I'm no psychologist, but I can guess what's happened to folks: The hopes and prayers of a beloved candidate's victory are dashed by McCain triumphs. This results in emotional and psychological distress. This loss and emotional bereavement affect the complex chemistry of the brain. Psychological adaptations begin.

How does it work? Who knows? People react differently on the basis of background experiences, maturity, or so forth. Still, some folks would naturally show
symptoms of psychological displacement. That is, unable to cope with their candidate's unelectability, they search for scapegoats. Thus, McCain's not one of us. He's a traitor to the party, etc. etc.

I have no evidence that this is what's happening with McCain bashers, so just note that my reflections are the comments of a layman analyst dabbling at the psychological angle.

I can assess, however - from my social science training - when someone's making a rigorously formed argument, based on some process of inductive/deductive reasoning. Some McCain bashers have attempted to do so, but not that many. Even then, when those arguments are disconfirmed by more compelling counter-arguments, the response is vicious putdowns, slurs, and taunts.

This is frankly irrational (lacking reasoned judgment), which is the point I've made in a couple of posts: "
John McCain, the Irrational Right, and the Politics of Immigration Control" and "John McCain and the Irrational Right."

In any case, at least Karl plans to vote for McCain in the end - that's good thinking!


UPDATE: Some anti-McCainiacs are putting their money where there mouths are. The Citizens United for Victory Fund has released a sleazy anti-McCain ad that attempts to paint the Arizona Senator as Hillary Clinton's evil twin (via YouTube):

Is this getting low enough to save Mitt Romney's presidential bid?