When Politics Becomes Religion

Back in the olden days of the Cold War, I was convinced that Communism was less about economic theory and political reality and more about quasi-religious fervor. By the 1980s, it had become abundantly clear that Adam Smith had been right, and that centrally-planned economies didn’t work, but evidence had long been irrelevant to the true believers. (Maybe the USSR version wasn’t working, but that was because they weren’t doing it right.)

A couple of weeks ago, a colleague made a similar observation about the Tea Party folks. “You can’t talk them out of their positions by pointing to facts, because it’s a religion, and religion is all about faith–not fact.”

Now, noted GOP pollster and consultant Mike Murphy has made much the same point.

“There seem to be two schools of thought in GOP. One group, the Mathematicians, look at the GOP’s losing streak and the changing demography of the country and say the party needs to make real changes to attract voters beyond the old Republican base of white guys. Not just mechanics, but also policy. They want to modernize conservatism and change some of the old dogma on big issues like same sex marriage. I’m one of them. The other group, the Priests, say the problem is we don’t have enough ideological purity. We must have faith, be pure and nominate “real conservatives” (whatever that means; the Priests are a bit slippery about their definitions) who will fight without compromise against liberalism. The Priests are mostly focused on the sins we are against; they say our problem is a lack of intensity; if we are passionate and loud enough, we will alert and win over the rest of the country. The Mathematicians hear all this and think the Priests are totally in a 55-year-old white guy echo chamber of their own creation and disconnected from the reality of today’s electorate. They worry more about what the party should be for, and how we grow our numbers. They think the Priests fail to understand it is not 1980 anymore and votes are not there for the Old Pitch. The Priests hear the Mathematicians and think they are all sell-outs.”

Greenberg Quinlan Rosner Research recently conducted a series of focus groups for a project they titled “Inside the GOP.”  The report included a number of trenchant observations–more on those in a forthcoming post–but the finding most relevant to Murphy’s lament is that the current divisions in the Republican party aren’t only between the Priests and the “Mathematicians” (aka the dwindling number of moderates). There are also two varieties of Priests: Evangelicals and the Tea Party. And while both are faith-based and fervent, their dogmas and doctrines differ.

Religious wars are always the ugliest…..