Will the Sociopaths Go Away Now?

-- Posted by Neil H. Buchanan

The election is over, and tempers have cooled a bit.  Was my decision to call many of the leaders of the Republican Party sociopaths (see my most recent Dorf on Law post on that theme, which contains links to a previous post and a Verdict column) an example of something written in the heat of the moment, best left alone or recanted, now that the votes have been counted?

I guess I can see why one might think so, but the answer is no.  My argument was not, in fact, generated by the heat of partisan battle.  As I said at the time, this is not at all the same thing as those in the Fox News-iverse who call Obama a communist, fascist, socialist, Kenyan, Nazi.  Words have meaning, and none of those words can at all correctly be applied to Obama.  Sadly, the leaders of the Republican Party have, for many years now -- and certainly during this election cycle -- been displaying behavior that fits the definition of sociopathy.  In particular, they have shown on the substance that they are willing (even eager) to enact policies that harm people -- vulnerable people especially, including children -- and that they are willing to engage in tactics that evince the belief that the normal rules of society do not apply to them.

There is no doubt that the label of sociopath does not apply to every Republican leader.  Like the vast majority of rank-and-file Republicans, who are healthy people with differing views on the best path for the country, but who have stuck with their party apparently out of some combination of habit and loyalty, there must be Republican leaders who sit in meetings thinking to themselves: "Who are these nutjobs, and how did they take over my party?"

Therefore, the following exchange between me and a hypothetical reader only partially captures the situation: Reader - "Stop calling people I admire sociopaths!"  Me - "Stop admiring sociopaths!"  The evidence that I have described does not convict every Republican leader, but it does raise the question of why the sane leaders have not come out against their sociopathic compatriots in some meaningful way.  I will, however, leave that question aside for the time being.

One example of a former Republican leader with whom I completely disagreed, but whose motivations seemed unquestionably honorable, was former Congressman and losing 1996 Vice Presidential candidate Jack Kemp (1935-2009).  Kemp was a fierce Republican partisan, which means that any across-the-aisle affection for him was hardly based on some notion that he was a patsy.  Moreover, he advocated policies that, on the merits, I thought were generally quite misguided.

Even so, Kemp was someone whose motivations always seemed to me to be quite noble.  He was one of the few Republican leaders who truly seemed to feel comfortable around non-white people (most likely because of his first career as a professional athlete), and he was not only unwilling to race bait, but he was actually willing to try to get his party to become truly inclusive to racial minorities.  One can think that he was doomed to failure in that regard -- even on a Quixotic quest -- but he was not faking it.

By contrast, consider this year's failed Republican Vice Presidential candidate.  Paul Ryan -- who is, by the way, apparently going to have another "the rules don't apply to me" moment when he insists on a waiver of term limits for committee chairs in the House -- recently explained away his party's major losses in last week's elections by saying that too many "urban" voters turned out.  This is, as a matter of fact, simply not an accurate explanation of the election results, which showed the Republicans losing among key non-"urban" constituencies  But the bigger point is that Ryan, who is supposedly the face of the next generation of Republican leaders, went straight to the racially coded language that people like Kemp hoped would become party of their party's sordid past.

This barely-cloaked racism is, indeed, a big part of the explanation of the anti-social policies that the Republicans have recently pursued.  While the various economic and social policies that I have described in recent posts show an attitude among Republican leaders that is utterly shocking (such as Ryan and his group's insistence on cutting spending programs that help children of the poor), the bigger issue is their efforts to reduce the numbers of non-white citizens who can vote.

Republican voter suppression has been a racially-driven theme for decades, of course, but the lengths to which the party has gone in recent years is mind-numbing.  As soon as Republicans took key governorships in the 2010 elections, they set about redistricting in ways that have gone far beyond anything that we have seen before.  (Yes, both parties do this; but the degree of the effort, and the decisions to do so in ways that had been simply unheard of -- for example, the Texas mid-decade redistricting move several years ago, in another "the rules don't apply to us" move -- exposes only one party as going to such extremes that they will almost literally do anything to win.)  And the efforts to introduce voter ID laws -- even as Republicans were faced with a complete lack of evidence of voter fraud, thus removing their cover story -- took cynicism to new depths.

The broad theme is simply anti-democratic.  No one expects politicians to voluntarily lose elections.  The fact is, however, that a large part of the Republican strategy for years has been to make it so that the "wrong people" do not vote.  It is not a matter of adapting to the voters that we have, but making the electorate look like the sociopaths want it to look.

The good news is that some of the sane people in the Republican Party seem to have woken up to the idea that they need to broaden their appeal beyond angry old white men.  If they do so, and they win elections based on offering policies that people prefer, that will be good for democracy.  As it stands, however, the party has been and continues to be dominated by people who really are anti-social in the way that I have described.  It is good for the country that they lost this time, but that does not guarantee that they will go away or see the light.