A few months before the election I began reading George Lakoff. He does an amazing job of clarifying the conservative world view and how it underlies their arguments and positions. I remember feeling physically ill reading about this toxic ideology. But I think it's very helpful to see where these folks are coming from and, as Lakoff would say, how to reframe the issues to highlight our own values.
On the conservative world view:
The world is a dangerous place, and it always will be, because there is evil out there in the world. The world is also difficult because it is competitive. There will always be winners and losers. There is an absolute right and an absolute wrong. Children are born bad, in the sense that they just want to do what feels good, not what is right. Therefore, they have to be made good.
What is needed in this kind of a world is a strong, strict father who can:
Protect the family in the dangerous wourld
Support the family in the difficult world, and
Teach his children right from wrong.
What is required of the child is obedience, because the strict father is a moral authority who knows right from wrong. It is further assumed that the only way to teach kids obedience—that is, right from wrong—is through punishment, painful punishment, when they do wrong. This includes hitting them, and some authors on conservative child rearing recommend sticks, belts and wooden paddles on the bare bottom. Some authors suggest this start at birth, but Dobson is more liberal. “There is no excuse for spanking babies younger than fifteen or eighteen months of age”.
The rationale behind physical punishment is this: When children do something wrong, if they are physically disciplined they learn not to do it again. That means that they will develop internal discipline to keep themselves from doing wrong, so that in the future they will be obedient and act morally. Without such punishment, the world will go to hell. There will be no morality.
Such internal discipline has a secondary effect. It is what is required for success in the difficult, competitive world. That is, if people are disciplined and pursue their self-interest in this land of opportunity, they will become prosperous and self-reliant. Thus, the strict father model links morality with prosperity. The same discipline you need to be moral is what allows you to prosper.
Applying this metaphor to Adam Smith’s “law of nature,” if everyone pursues her own self-interest, then by the invisible hand, by nature, the self-interest of all will be maximized. That is, it is moral to pursue your self-interest, and there is a name for those people who do not do it. The name is do-gooder. A do-gooder is someone who is trying to help someone else rather than herself and is getting in the way of those who are pursuing their self-interest. Do-gooders screw up the system.
In this model there is also a definition of what it means to become a good person. A good person—a moral person—is someone who is disciplined enough to be obedient, to learn what is right, do what is right and not do what is wrong, and to pursue her self-interest to prosper and become self-reliant. A good child grows up to be like that. A bad child is one who does not learn discipline, does not function morally, does not do what is right, and therefore s not disciplined enough to become prosperous. She cannot take care of herself and thus becomes dependent.
When the good children are mature, they either have learned discipline and can prosper, or have failed to learn it. From this point on the strict father is not to meddle in their lives. This translates politically into no government meddling.
Consider what all this means for social programs. It is immoral to give people things they have not earned, because then they will not develop discipline and will become both dependent and immoral. This theory says that social programs are immoral because they make people dependent. Promoting social programs is immoral.
And what does this say about budgets? What you have to do is reward the good people—the ones whose prosperity reveals their discipline and hence their capacity for morality—with a tax cut, and make it big enough so that there is not enough money left for social programs. By this logic, the deficit is a good thing. As Grover Norquist says, it “starves the beast”.
Think for a minute about what this says about foreign policy. Suppose you are a moral authority. As a moral authority, how do you deal with your children? Do you ask them what they should do or what you should do? No. You tell them. If you are a moral authority you know what is right, you have power, and you use it. You would be immoral yourself if you abandoned your moral authority.
And who is in the United Nations? Most of the United Nations consists of developing and underdeveloped countries. That means they are metaphorical children. Should the United States have consulted the United Nations and gotten its permission to invade Iraq? An adult does not “ask for a permission slip”! You do not need to ask for a permission slip if you are the teacher, if you are the principal, if you are the person in power, the moral authority. The others should be asking you for permission.