by John Hawkins | November 14, 2003 1:38 am
As a pysch major, I find it to be particularly entertaining when liberal psychologists try to paint conservatism as some sort of mental condition. The latest professor to pull this little trick is Paul Ginnetty, a professor of psychology at St. Joseph’s College in Patchogue. I was so underwhelmed by his preposterous op-ed in Newsday that I decided it was worth taking the time to fisk the whole thing. Ginnetty’s comments are in italics, mine follow in parentheses…
The coming return of Rush Limbaugh to the famed “golden microphone” of his national bully pulpit invites us to ponder the reasons for the remarkable success of his kind of radio programming. Liberals have made numerous unsuccessful attempts to create an equally popular propaganda vehicle for the other side of the ideological spectrum. What they may lack is the element of simplicity.
(…Or they may just have opinions that don’t resonate with people who live somewhere other than upper Manhattan or San Francisco.)
Limbaugh’s message is usually resoundingly and blessedly simple. (One should not assume that simplicity and truth are synonymous here.) His genius lies in reducing rather complex issues into deceptively straightforward terms. For example, the challenge of crafting environmental policies that balance legitimate economic considerations with a responsible awareness of the finitude of natural resources is dismissed as the neurotic hand wringing of tree hugging “environmentalist whackos.”
(Whereas the message of a group like PETA — animals should have the same rights as people — is incredibly deep and complex, right?)
Any examination of gender inequities is spurned as the fascist agenda of “Feminazis.” And so forth with every potentially thorny issue with which his listeners might otherwise have to wrestle.
(Indeed, I have often heard Rush say “Augusta National Golf Club — Feminazis, WNBA — Feminazis, Abortion — Feminazis” and leave it at that. Certainly Rush NEVER actually EXPLAINS his opinions in his 3 hour long show about his opinion.)
Such concreteness and black-and-white certitude is psychologically appealing to a number of people. In an increasingly complicated world that presents the richness but also the challenges of all kinds of diversity, such a clear-cut gospel can seem like good news indeed. Limbaugh’s listeners are only too glad to circle their electronic wagons, protected by unequivocal truths, insulated from pesky nuances and grayish shades of meaning. They’ve got it totally right.
(Unlike liberals who have deep discussions, explore every nuance, talk for hours, days, weeks, sometimes even months, and then proceed to go with the most knee-jerk liberal solution that the voters will let them get away with.)
They live in the right country whose perpetually pure motives and universally good intentions are obvious to everyone, except for a handful of “limousine-liberal” whiners. They are even righter than right if they happen to be the correct kind of American – Republican, Caucasian and preferably male.
(Yes, Rush’s listeners obviously wouldn’t want to hear from a black man — which is why Walter Williams is a fill-in host on Rush’s show. And a woman with strong opinions like say…Ann Coulter? Don’t even go there, right Ginnetty?)
Their certitude consigns them to what psychoanalyst Erik Erikson called the state of psychic foreclosure. Foreclosed persons are easily attracted to the beguilingly simple, one-size-fits-all belief systems of powerful others that they adopt as their own so as to avoid the sometimes lonely rigors of personal searching. The foreclosed are the ready disciples of demagogues in every age. Social psychologists also point to the normal, near-universal need for “social comparison,” the tendency to check out our impressions – say, of a movie or, better yet, an ambiguous scene such as a bar fight or car accident – by instinctively comparing notes with other observers. Our hope is to confirm our own impressions and opinions in an effort to make the world feel more stable, less random. It’s reassuring to be reading from the same page as others.
(See? Conservatives “are easily attracted to the beguilingly simple, one-size-fits-all belief systems of powerful others” like the Fascists and Nazis in the 1930s. Put a strong leader in front of them and they just follow right along which is why you never, ever, ever, hear people on the right disagreeing with their “leader,” George W. Bush, over things like steel tariffs, affirmative action, government spending, going to the UN, the “New Tone”, the prescription drug plan, amnesty for illegal aliens, and countless other things.)
Limbaugh’s brand of talk radio provides a pathologically intense version of this wish to be singing from the same hymnal. Crucial to this phenomenon is the absence of any real controversy during the broadcast. There are constant sparks of apparent conflict that make for engaging entertainment as he shadowboxes (with one hand tied behind his back, of course) with select sound bites of Hillary Rodham Clinton or Ted Kennedy. Note that there are never any actual guests on the program; guests, even conservative ones, risk obscuring simple truths with inconvenient facts or alternative hypotheses. There are seldom any real disagreements between the host and the already converted choir to which he bombastically preaches. Their collective nickname says it all – they are the well-scrubbed ranks of “ditto-heads” – people who can be counted on to shout “amen,” who have little to add but a grateful and admiring “ditto.”
(Is it not more than a bit ironic for a professor to have written this last paragraph since you’d have to guess that almost everything in it could be applied to his classes? Do his students “sing from the same hymnal” that he does? If they want good grades, you bet they do. And how many guests does the professor have in to speak during each of his lectures? Does he consider his classes to be a “converted choir to which he bombastically preaches”? In many ways Limbaugh’s program is like a class in conservatism — except that he has 20 million students who show up each week for his lectures even though attendance isn’t mandatory.)
Sadly, the tradeoff seems to be worth it for them. What they sacrifice in terms of individuality and intellectual integrity is seemingly more than offset by the potent narcotic of reassuring simplicity. Many of them probably also derive a sense of inclusion and pseudo-intimacy via this electronic fraternity of kindred spirits. Consider the somewhat pathetic character, Marty, who checks in daily with his radio “buddy,” Sean Hannity, a Limbaugh clone. There are plenty of other Martys out there who regularly light up the call boards of right-wing talk jocks – among them G. Gordon Liddy, Matt Drudge and Laura Ingraham – who unabashedly mimic the Limbaugh formula of ideological simplicity.
(Isn’t it amazing to hear a professor of psychology sneering at the idea of simplifying complex concepts so that people who aren’t experts on the topic can understand what’s being discussed? His classes must be a blast to attend huh?
Student: Professor Ginnetty, I’m not sure I understand what Freud meant by…
Professor Ginnetty: Dumbing down Freud so idiots like you can understand what he was talking about isn’t exactly my job is it? Read all of Freud’s books and then you’ll understand.
Student: Uh…Ok, I guess. Thank you for your time professor.
Professor Ginnetty: Don’t try to achieve pseudo-intimacy with me you pathetic simpleton!)
What’s more, callers may get a sense of derivative celebrity and charisma from seeming to hang out – if only for a minute or two – with a mega-rich and politically powerful figure like Limbaugh. They get a chance to feel real smart when the master seems to agree with them, failing to see that it is actually they who are agreeing with him. Further, they are mindlessly agreeing with the powerful economic interests he insidiously represents.
(Again, we get this from a professor who undoubtedly has students “hang(ing) out – if only for a minute or two” with him after class so they can ask him questions and “get a chance to feel real smart when the master seems to agree with them”. Projection anyone?)
That’s perhaps the most maddening, diabolically clever thing about his show, the faux populism that persuasively claims to be looking out for the little guy, all the while touting policies that tilt tax codes and regulatory policies further in favor of him and his kind.
(He’s not for the little guy, we liberals are for the little guys…well for any little guys who happen to be trial lawyers, in unions, the NAACP, PETA, the ACLU, or Greenpeace!)
To cite but one example, the privileged need not fear any thoughtful scrutiny of the conceivable wisdom of maintaining some kind of inheritance tax as long as Limbaugh can keep referring to it as an unnatural “death tax.” With such an engaging apologist, the rich are home free. As Limbaugh is wont to say, “Now listen, you people, it’s really quite simple.”
(Yes, we certainly wouldn’t want to call the tax our government imposes after death, a “death tax”. Speaking of euphemisms, when are we going to stop referring to people who are pro-abortion as “pro-choice”, asking if the government can “afford” to “give” people a tax cut, and when are we going to stop referring to discrimination against white people as “Affirmative Action”?
Do you want to know what all of this is REALLY about? With apologies to professor Ginnetty, let me simplify it for you. In the movie “The Rock,” Sean Connery mouths a rather crude line,
“Losers always whine about their best, winners go home and (screw) the prom queen!
It works the same way in politics, except that when Republican winners go to Capitol Hill, Democratic losers have a tendency to explain their side’s losses by saying the voters were — A) Stupid B) Racist C) Anti-Intellectuals D) Have psychological issues — take your pick. Professor Ginnetty is just choosing option D…
***Update #1***: Cam Edwards is going to be talking to professor Ginnetty at 8:15 CST and you’ll be able to listen to it on streaming audio. I’m looking forward to hearing it…
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