Wednesday, May 13, 2020

Ideological versus partisan -- pandemic edition


There has been a ton of research (some of it good, most of it not) on the question of what makes one person ideologically inclined to be conservative and another to be liberal. Lots of issues here, particularly with tying political leanings to some innate trait (never understood why most people with the conservative gene just happened to cluster around areas with agricultural or extraction-based economies), but that’s a topic for another post. Instead, I want to step back and ask is the question meaningful at all..

Many of the best indicators of a person's political position, quite possibly the majority of the best indicators, make  no sense if you approach them in terms of either conservative/liberal ideology or psychology. They fall into place perfectly, however, when you start making the distinction between the partisan and the ideological, particularly when you add a layer of Straussian disinformation and cult of personality dynamics.

We’ve discussed this before, but the pandemic has given us a wealth of new examples.

What possible ideological basis is there for arguing for the relative contagiousness of one virus over another? Or of insisting on the efficacy of a particular drug? And yet, how one answers questions like these have become arguably the defining political positions of the day, particularly in conservative media and the far right.

I’m certain someone out there is working on a painfully epicyclic model to explain this (does R have a spirograph package?), but the picture becomes remarkably straightforward if you approach it in partisan terms.

From a conservative/Republican standpoint, when it comes to a potential collapse in support for President Trump, timing matters more than magnitude. A bad Q3 is worse for them than a terrible 2021 would be. Prematurely lifting lock downs is unlikely to buy them more than a dead cat bounce, but might be enough to avert a GOP bloodbath.

Add to that the constraint of not infuriating Trump. The base is (for the moment at least) personally loyal to him, not to the party, and temperamentally he is more than willing to bring the temple down with him.

Obviously, the memes and narratives of Fox et al. are often ideological and partisan, but when you look at the odd quadrants, you see lots of stories that advance a partisan aim with no significant ideological component, relatively few that go the other way.

This isn't to say that ideology -- it's what keeps the money flowing -- but much of what we talk when we talk politics , particularly in 2020, are non-ideological means to ideological ends, and if we want to keep our thinking clear, we have to know when to make the distinction.


  1. When we were kids, my big sister had a spirograph. It was so cool! I always wanted one. All I had was a "spirotot," which didn't do so much.

  2. I rediscovered the spirograph of my youth last Christmas when I bought one for a tween family member. You don't know how close I came to keeping it for myself.