American republicans (AmReps) are often something of a mystery. Suspicious to a fault, they will nonetheless willingly swallow the most blatant contradictions as long as they seem to come from an authoritative source. Despite being excessively conscious of the power of appearances, they will listen with uncritical and almost childlike innocence to anyone with the right suit, while using poor appearance as sufficient basis for condemning others.
The following tenets of the American republican philosophy most clearly illustrate where it is at odds with a rational worldview.
- Politics is a sporting event: In an election, it is the job of each candidate's "team" to present their side's case to the voters in a way that is as convincing as possible. If a candidate is able to make a more convincing case by distorting the facts or even lying about their opponents, that is perfectly acceptable and part of the game; it is the other candidate's job to defend himself against false accusation, and to correct errors where they affect his credibility. The only real sin is being a whiner. It is not the job of any voter to do fact-checking, as this is akin to "interference" and makes the game less fair. (This has a lot in common with the idea of carrot-and-stick negotiation.)
- Accusing one's opponent of "unfairness" may even be seen as "crying to mommy"; it seems to be presumed that the game is fair (perhaps as long as none of the participants is actually killed; illegal arrests and other violations of law seem to be considered fair play, as they demonstrate the acting party's superior powers and authority).
- Democracy works because of selfishness: A free society can only function through the sum action of individuals who are each looking out for their own interests. If everyone does this equally, then everyone's interests are represented fairly. If, on the other hand, individuals or organizations get involved with defending the interests of others, this is seen as "ganging up" to unbalance and corrupt the system; it is unfair because those interests are then being over-represented.
Both of these would seem to imply that AmReps are willing to accept a level of dishonesty in their government for which they would never stand when, for example, buying a car.
Another (related) mechanism seems to be coming into play in the 2008 race, consisting of the following beliefs:
- All politicians are innately corrupt, so campaign promises don't mean anything
- On the other hand, true evil doesn't exist within the political sphere (or, for some AmRep voters, is entirely determined by how divergent a candidate's religious affiliation is from one's own)
- All political claims are fundamentally rhetorical, i.e. not verifiably true or false
The combination of these beliefs leads to the conclusion that one might as well choose a candidate based solely on their perception of how affable/friendly/confident that candidate seems to be (as long as the candidate falls within the sphere of some power-group whose boundaries you are comfortable with), as this is the only reasonable way to evaluate whether the candidate is likely to act as you would act.
On the subject of promises, and related to the idea that "all claims are rhetorical": AmReps seem to equate proposals made during a campaign ("If elected, I will fix the economy by doing X") with promises of a specific outcome ("If elected, I will improve the economy"). The fact that only one candidate has a plan whose workability can be examined and analyzed doesn't seem to make any difference; the credibility of a plan is judged based on how credible-sounding the candidate is – i.e. is accepted (or rejected) based on the perceived authority of the candidate. This explains why AmReps prefer a candidate who sounds authoritative over one who has the facts to back up her/his claims but sounds less authoritative.
It may even be that AmReps fall into the incantatory mindset of thinking that "doing X" is intended as a ritualized magic phrase rather than a description of actual steps to take. If they're not familiar with that particular incantation, it means nothing to them and leaves them cold (even if the "incantation" includes particulars which can be researched for validity) -- as if the candidate had just uttered a nonsense phrase, or even said something vaguely hostile (if it's not one of "our" incantations, then this candidate is openly expressing his allegiance to another group). This may explain why AmReps seem to have a strong preference for the failed-but-familiar over the proven-but-unfamiliar.