Examining some of the things written by those who Josh Painter generously terms the “MittWitts,” what becomes clear is that some people are motivated solely by a form of reflexive tribalism. Consider how so many choose their sports teams. Many do so on the basis of geography. A person from New York might well like the Yankees, while a person from Dallas might well like the Texas Rangers. Most often, once those preferences are determined, fans of those teams will support them no matter the quality of their play, the conduct of their players, or any other characteristic one might wish to examine. This is all well and good when we’re talking about sports that have no real consequence in the lives of most people, but when applied to politics, it becomes a more severe hazard, but it’s a hazard every major political party does its best to engender amongst its supporters. The result of this approach to politics is what I term “Mushism,” the vague, noncommittal, unprincipled stance of he who wants to win and is willing to reject all ideas to do so.
The problem is that such thinking(or the lack thereof) doesn’t actually solve anything, or offer a path forward. It results in a popularity contest that requires the dumbing-down of all participants. You might wonder why this happens, but I’m afraid I’ve come to understand it, and I believe it really comes down to this: By this form of choosing sides, one needn’t go through the trouble of examining any details. One needn’t bother with records or those messy principles. One needn’t know anything at all. This is the realm of anti-ideology, wherein one’s support for an idea’s purveyor has nothing whatever to do with the character or quality of the idea. Consider how so many come to support the presumptive nominee, Mitt Romney. It’s not that he’s actually good, or that any significant number of them have read his fifty-nine point plan for the American economy, never mind reading up on his record. No, it’s all about the perception of him as having won, as having beat back all challengers, and that’s all that’s really necessary for a crowd of people known for simply following the herd. I refer here to the muddled, mushy middle.
These are the same people who in 2008, followed Colin Powell’s lead and abandoned John McCain. These are the same people who so easily bought the hype of Obama, and will now quietly change their vote, never speaking of their last one because of how it has come out. They don’t really believe in anything. They aren’t conservative, they aren’t liberal. They simply aren’t much of anything, and yet this is the foolish segment of the electorate to which most politicians panders, and whose support many political analysts seem inclined to see as some sort of golden egg-laying goose.
For those who make their living by shifting this segment to-and-fro, I suppose it represents an opportunity, and one can almost understand why some politicians so frantically seek the support of this crowd. The problem I have with those of this description is that they seldom learn anything, or having managed to learn something new, misapply the lesson in a helter-skelter fashion that evinces no intellectual consistency whatever. These are the people who can at once denounce socialism, but at the same time extol the virtues of Obama-care, perhaps amended, but with the core program intact. This is why “Mr. Repeal-and-Replace” is so thoroughly endearing to them: They get to say they are opposed to socialism while actually supporting its implementation.
I’ve always been troubled by those who exhibit the symptoms of a mush-mouthed moderate. It means they’re willing to choose, but only so long as they believe they will be able to avoid the consequences of those choices. An oft-repeated example of this is in the realm of economics. I listen to some of the purveyors of Mushism, and they allow that the free market system is absolutely the only system in which free men and women can obtain true independence and self-sufficiency, but in the next breath explain why it must be curtailed or somehow regulated in order to obtain the results they seek. The problem is that they don’t see liberty as an end in itself, but merely as a tool that will help many obtain prosperity, and they are willing to suborn it to their master plans in order to, well, “spread the wealth around” [some.]
One might well wonder how a person could intentionally make such a mockery of logic, and such a fool of himself in public, but there is an answer, and it comes down to seeking popularity within the tribe. Everybody’s tribe is a bit different, because each one includes different people. These overlapping social circles mean that many people will say one thing while among one set of friends, while when with another group, say different things entirely. This flexible persona requires flexible, fungible principles. In fact, what it really requires is that all principles save one be set aside indefinitely: “Be popular, and say or do whatever it takes to remain that way.” It may also be related to the fact that some people ignore epistemic rationality, instead preferring an instrumental rationality. In this sense, they follow no principles, but will do whatever it takes to obtain their desired end. It’s the difference between following evidence where it leads, and choosing one’s course according to where one has decided to arrive.
Let’s be blunt for a moment and consider what this means in terms of our elections. It means that once a politician becomes popular within his party, his candidacy at some point is nearly assured if he or she can obtain a critical mass of support. Mitt Romney has demonstrated this in 2012. People did not swell to the polls for Romney so much as others were discouraged from voting for alternatives. The air of “inevitability” helped to maintain an illusion, and his support in decidedly blue[r] states elevated him to the top of the heap, along with some nifty advertising done on his behalf, furiously tamping down the others. Having arrived with this “presumptive nominee,” who shall now tell me he is the best candidate to take on Barack Obama, lead the repeal of Obama-care, and extend long coat-tails deep down the ballot?
This is the inevitable result of permitting the non-ideological to drive one’s party. This is how a party goes about making the worst possible choice. It’s why I’ve left the GOP behind. I simply cannot be part of this ideology of fuzz, this new Mushism that pervades the party since Romney’s apparent “presumptive” nomination. This is another reason why I see the “anybody but Obama” theorem as somewhat dangerous. Is it really so impossible to imagine outcomes worse than a second term of Barack Obama? Admittedly, it would be awful in every dimension, but I can think of worse. One of those possibilities is the term of a candidate who effectively permits most of the Obama agenda to stand, and who would replace embarrassingly few of Obama’s henchmen, doing as little as possible to rock the boat in Washington DC. Where does that leave the country?
Mush is the order of the day, and for those who like it, I suppose that makes of it a good day. Mush permits one to obscure the details of one’s vision, the facts of one’s record, and the motive driving either. Mush relies on purely tribal thinking among one’s supporters, and it is this sort of intellectual laziness that characterizes the whole of the middle. Perhaps that’s the part that troubles me most: If one hasn’t any ideas whatever, or perhaps worse, holds contradictory ideas with no attending effort to reconcile the intellectual chasm, how does one make the claim to have acted responsibly? How does one make the claim that one’s candidate is the superior? I don’t believe it’s possible to do so with any sort of credibility. I believe ideas matter, but the absence of clear ones is not enough to overcome bad ones. The evidence will come in the Fall.