Liberals struggle to understand how financially struggling struggling conservative voters can support the party of plutocrats and corporate interests. Maybe the answer is not so baffling.
September 24, 2013

The Republican Party is acting out one of those dreary murder ballads with America. You know the ones, where the rejected suitor declares, “If I can’t have you, then no one can!” Then he murders the woman to put her out of his misery.

America, how we loved ye!

The Republican-led U.S. House voted last week to throw 4 million Americans off the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (food stamps), largely on party lines. Then it voted 230-to-189 to shut down the government if Obamcare isn't defunded. Then Republicans threw a party.

At the National Review, Henry Olsen threw up his hands:

The conservative war on food stamps is the most baffling political move of the year. Conservatives have suffered for years from the stereotype that they are heartless Scrooge McDucks more concerned with our money than other people’s lives. Yet in this case, conservatives make the taking of food from the mouths of the genuinely hungry a top priority. What gives? And why are conservatives overlooking a far more egregious abuse of taxpayer dollars in the farm bill? [Emphasis by Jonathan Chait]

"It’s not baffling," writes Chait, nor a stereotype. "Indeed, it’s the only analysis that persuasively explains the facts."

On that note, a recent Facebook posting linked to yet another article attempting to explain how poor, conservative, white voters can vote Republican against their best interests. It’s a common complaint on the left and bad messaging. As if liberals seriously want Americans to vote what's best for No. 1.

Conservative voters don't vote against their best interests anyway. Because they don’t vote their interests. They vote their identities. (Lakoff’s Second Law.) The problem for the left is that many poor, white, red-state voters don't identify with Democrats.

There are plenty of reasons why on the Democratic side of the aisle, many rooted in social rather than economic issues. Still, it baffles the liberal mind that struggling red-state voters don't see how the Republican Party and its policies are screwing them and destroying the American middle class. Besides, how can working-class voters possibly identify more with plutocrats and corporate interests?

Perhaps because at heart some are simply royalists?

Historian Robert Calhoon explained the proportions of loyalists and rebels during the American Revolution: "Historians' best estimates put the proportion of adult white male loyalists somewhere between 15 and 20 percent." As many as 500,000 loyalists among a population of 2.5 million colonists. They were particularly numerous in the South.

More militant tea party types promote the idea popularized by Mike Vanderboegh that only three percent of colonists actually fought against British tyranny. This makes self-styled patriots feel special. They even have Three Percenter arm patches and t-shirts to display along with their AR-15s.

Yet there are signs in the tea party movement that the royalists are still with us – both on the streets and in our legislatures.

Ironically, the Tea Party Patriots and other corporate-sponsored tea party groups take their name from a famous act of vandalism against the assets of the largest corporation of its day. The British East India Company ran whole British colonies and raised its own troops. It was so in bed with Parliament that it got tax subsidies that allowed the East India Company to undercut the price smugglers of Dutch tea offered to American colonists. The Tea Act protected the East India Company monopoly and Parliament's investments. This ticked off smugglers and, combined with a nifty anti-tax slogan, colonists too. It resulted in a memorable destruction of company property.

Now try to imagine the contemporary tea party participating in anything like that against the East India Company’s modern-day equivalents. Nouveau tea party members carry signs like, “Got a job? Thank a rich person.” They suggest that only landowners should get to vote. They advocate the elimination of corporate taxes. Like their East India Company forebears, today's elites have raised their own army – no oath of fealty needed. Among its members you’ll find some of the staunchest defenders of a business model crafted to shield Wall Street barons and corporate princes from personal responsibility for their business dealings. Because personal responsibility is for little people, not financial royalty.

For all their patriotic bluster, the tea party dresses like colonists and acts like royalists. They’re more Tory than tea party. And they vote that way.

Historians estimate that perhaps only 20 percent of the King’s loyal supporters emigrated from the United States after the British lost the war. The rest stayed.

Two hundred-plus years later, their children are still with us. They have found a home in the Republican Party. It’s where corporations can order custom-tailored legislation and where a tradesman can dream that if he emulates his betters – or wins the lottery – he might find acceptance among them. Or failing that, maybe touch the hem of their garments as they pass. (Just last week. Pope Francis warned about the worship of money.)

Conservatives don’t vote against their best interests. They vote their identities, and some identify most with moneyed royalty. Perhaps that's not so baffling.

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