Now begins the final phase of this cognitive dissonance campaign. America’s 57th presidential election is the first devoted to calling the nation’s bluff. When Mitt Romneyselected Paul Ryan, Republicans undertook the perilous but commendable project of forcing voters to face the fact that they fervently hold flatly incompatible beliefs.
Twice as many Americans identify themselves as conservative as opposed to liberal. On Nov. 6 we will know if they mean it. If they are ideologically conservative but operationally liberal. If they talk like Jeffersonians but want to be governed by Hamiltonians. If their commitment to limited government is rhetorical or actual. If it is, as Daniel Patrick Moynihan suspected, a “civic religion, avowed but not constraining.”
This is the problem for uneasy Republicans. The Democrats’ problem is worse because they are not uneasy about their dissonance, being blissfully unaware of it.
In “Spoiled Rotten: How the Politics of Patronage Corrupted the Once Noble Democratic Party and Now Threatens the American Republic” — a book more measured and scholarly than its overwrought title — Jay Cost of the Weekly Standard says that the party has succumbed to “clientelism,” the process of purchasing cohorts of voters with federal favors. This has turned the party into the servant of the strong.