[Paleopsych] Safire: Inside a Republican Brain

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Wed Jul 21 18:27:49 UTC 2004

Inside a Republican Brain
NYT July 21, 2004

[We badly need a counterpart article for Democratic brains.]


What holds the five Republican factions together? To find
out, I depth-polled my own brain.

The economic conservative (I'm in the supply-side division)
opposes the enforced redistribution of wealth, advocating
lower taxes for all to stimulate growth with productivity,
thereby to cut the deficit. Government should downhold
nondefense spending, stop the litigation drain and reduce
regulation but protect consumers from media and other

My social conservative instinct wants to denounce the
movie-and-TV treatment of violence and porno-sadism as
entertainment; repeal state-sponsored gambling; slow the
rush to same-sex marriage; oppose partial-birth abortion;
resist genetic manipulation that goes beyond therapy.
However, this conflicts with -

My libertarian impulse, which is pro-choice and
anti-compulsion, wants to protect the right to counsel of
all suspects and the right to privacy of the rest of us,
likes quiet cars in trains and vouchers for education, and
wants snoops out of bedrooms and fundamentalists out of

The idealistic calling grabs me when it comes to America's
historic mission of extending freedom in the world. This
brand of thinking is often called neoconservative. In
defense against terror, I'm pre-emptive and unilateral
rather than belated and musclebound, and would rather be ad
hoc in forming alliances than permanently in hock to global

Also rattling around my Republican mind is the cultural
conservative. In today's ever-fiercer kulturkampf, I
identify with art forms more traditional than avant-garde,
and language usage more standard than common. I prefer the
canon to the fireworks and a speech that appeals to the
brain's reasoning facilities to a demidocumentary film
arousing the amygdala.

Do these different streams of conservatism flow gently
together to form a grand Republican river inside the head?
"Do I contradict myself?" asked Walt Whitman, singing of
himself and answering, "Very well then I contradict myself.
(I am large, I contain multitudes.)"

If these different strains of thought were held by discrete
groups of single-minded people, we would have a Republican
Party of five warring bands. Social conservatives would
fight libertarians over sex, who in turn would savage
neocons over pre-emption, who in turn would hoot at the
objections of economic conservatives (traditional division)
to huge deficits.

But think of these internecine battles not as tugs of war
among single-minded groups; instead, think of them as
often-conflicting ideas held within the brain of an
individual Republican. What goes on is "cognitive
dissonance," the jangling of competing inclinations, with
the owner of the brain having to work out trade-offs,
suppressions and compromises until he or she achieves a
kind of puzzled tranquillity within.

What helps me work out that continual internal skirmishing
is a mind-set. That brings us to those "values" that every
candidate talks about. My values include self-reliance over
community dependence, intervention over isolation,
self-discipline over society's regulation, finding pleasure
in work rather than working to find pleasure. Principles
like those help me gel a mind-set that reduces the loudest
dissonances among my fistful of clanging conservatisms.

Another aid to resolve the dissonance is every partisan's
need for a political home. Independence is fine for the
occasionally involved, but if influence as a participant or
commentator is desired, one political side or the other
must be taken.

The political brain doesn't have to go all the way to
conform to either side because each side - Republican and
its loyal opposition - contains this conglomeration of
nonconformity. I'm a right-winger who is hot for gun
control, dismaying all but the wishy-washies called
"moderates," but that specific dissent is made inside my
Republican home. And home has been defined as the place
where - when you have to go there - they have to take you

Finally, the dissonance inside my head will be forced into
harmony by the need to choose one leader who reflects the
preponderance of my views and my judgment of his character.

I will take my teeming noggin to both conventions, watch
all the debates and cast my vote - careful, in the
tradition of Times columnists, not to endorse anyone. But
now you know how one Republican mind will be made up. I
presume the liberal brain works the same way.

E-mail: safire at nytimes.com


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