When I wrote “Post-Liberalism: The Death of a Dream,” I opened with a vignette about a flying saucer cult. Back in the 1950s, social psychologists engaged in an observational study of a religious group that predicted the end of the world. How, they wondered, would these folks respond when doomsday arrived and there was no doom?
The answer surprised them. Although flustered, these true-believers reaffirmed their faith. While they too could plainly see the saucers supposed to save them from destruction had not appeared, they immediately concocted justifications as to why.
Thus, the sect’s leader explained that Armageddon had been called off precisely because her followers remained constant. Their loyalty convinced the extraterrestrials to spare the earth as a reward for this devotion.
In other words, when people are deeply committed to a belief, counter-evidence is explained away. Denial and rationalization rush into the breach; with those who remain steadfast assuring each other they were right all along.
Barack Obama provided a classic example of this impulse with respect to “climate change.” Hence, during his State of the Union speech, he assured the country the case for global warming was settled. Then he winged his way to California to put down a billion dollar bet on saving us from droughts and floods.
Mind you, there has been almost no global warming for 17 years and the country is gripped by one of the coldest spells in decades, but this did not deter him. Warm or cold, wet or dry, everything proved that what the president said was accurate. The data just had to be interpreted correctly.
More serious for the political welfare of the nation was Obama’s claim that there is not a smidgen of IRS scandal and that Obamacare is finally working as intended. Of course, he also told us that the Benghazi affair was now closed; that we knew all we needed to know.
Worse yet, the president bragged about how he would henceforth go around Congress. He had a pen and a phone, and therefore his mandates had the effect of law. This was not unconstitutional because — gee, everyone else has done it.
Only, as I recall, this was what Richard Nixon’s defenders also said. According to them, everyone played political dirty tricks and they all covered up this unsavory business. So what was the big deal? Time to move on!
Nevertheless, Nixon never used the IRS to suppress opponents on the same scale as Obama. Nor did his fellow Republicans urge him to do so. Neither did he flout the law in the serial manner of our current chief executive. Nor did members of his party suggest he should.
As for cover-ups, in the Watergate days we were told that the cover-up was worse than the deed. If so, what about hiding the facts regarding Benghazi? Or the IRS? Or the true numbers of Obamacare enrollments? Doesn’t any of this count?
During Watergate, Republicans at first rallied around Nixon; then they were appalled. Not surprisingly, Democrats have rallied around Obama, but concerned more with political survival than the nation’s welfare; few show signs of abandoning their leader.
As for the mainstream media, they hated Nixon and were only too happy to tear him down. Obama, in contrast, is their creation; ergo they have a stake in propping him up.
The result: a festival of lies, half-truths, and averted gazes. Forget about transparency; even the New York Times tells us that when Obamacare threatens two and a half million jobs, this is good for the people. They apparently get liberated from “job-lock.”
Now if that isn’t denial and rationalization, I do not know what is.
Melvyn L. Fein Ph.D. is professor of sociology at Kennesaw State University.