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This morning, Ezra Klein addressed something we've talked about a bit-- that allegiance to the Republican Party carries no apparent policy beliefs.

Klein focuses on the Republican Party's 180-degree flip-flop on the effectiveness of stimulus spending in a down economy. (He doesn't mention, but could, of course, the GOP's corresponding flip-flops on cap and trade, on a health insurance mandate, on Section 8 housing vouchers, on the Earned Income Tax Credit, on industry bailouts, etc.)

Klein (wisely, in my view) rejects the sabotage hypothesis for a more learned explanation of the psychology of people who feel an emotional attachment to the word "Republican":

Psychologists and political scientists talk often of a phenomenon known as motivated skepticism. The idea, basically, is that we believe the evidence and arguments we want to believe, and reject ideas and information that undercut our preferences.

My favorite study (pdf) in this space was by Yale’s Geoffrey Cohen. He had a control group of liberals and conservatives look at a generous welfare reform proposal and a harsh welfare reform proposal. As expected, liberals preferred the generous plan and conservatives favored the more stringent option. Then he had another group of liberals and conservatives look at the same plans, but this time, the plans were associated with parties.

Both liberals and conservatives followed their parties, even when their parties disagreed with their preferences. So when Democrats were said to favor the stringent welfare reform, for example, liberals went right along. Three scary sentences from the piece: “When reference group information was available, participants gave no weight to objective policy content, and instead assumed the position of their group as their own. This effect was as strong among people who were knowledgeable about welfare as it was among people who were not. Finally, participants persisted in the belief that they had formed their attitude autonomously even in the two group information conditions where they had not.”

I tend to think there’s much more motivated skepticism in politics than outright cynicism, much less economic sabotage. But it’s a distinction without a difference, at least so far as policy outcomes go.

It's disheartening indeed that human nature seemingly tends toward evaluating policies by tribal affiliation of the the perceived proposer, rather than the merits of the proposal.

It's catastrophic for the country that the entirety of the GOP, at all levels from top to bottom, has given itself over entirely to this base instinct.

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What Is The Best Motto For Today's Republican/Tea Party?

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