Are conservatives mean, greedy, and stupid? Or just different? A response to Lakoff

In a recent article The “New Centrism” and Its Discontents, George Lakoff wrote

Progressives have to get over the idea that conservatives are either stupid, or mean, or greedy – or all three. Conservatives are mostly people who have a different moral system from progressives.

That statement irked me, because it seems to me that there are plenty of powerful, mean, and greedy conservatives, and plenty of uninformed and gullible — if not stupid — voters.

For example, how about the infamous Koch brothers? Aren’t they greedy? And how about wealthy Senators pushing for tax cuts for the rich? (See this page.) Plenty of rich corporations and individuals (e.g., insurance company executives and even doctors) donate handsomely to conservative causes partly in hope of keeping taxes and regulations low. Surely, that’s based largely on greed. Military contractors who support (neo)conservative policies are another example.

Whether these people are mean is harder to say. I’m sure many conservatives are loving parents. George Bush is probably a likable fellow in person. And the vast majority of middle and lower class conservatives are good people too, I’m sure.

But, damn, it sure seems that sending young men to fight and die for lies is mean. Actively deceiving the populace and the Congress about the evidence for going to war is about as mean as you can get. Same with supporting torture. (See Defenders of Torture Unite.) Cutting taxes for the super-rich when millions of people are struggling to survive and the country is in debt sure seems mean. Conservative corruption, privatization, and indifference to corporate malfeasance (e.g., toxic pollution) are also mean. Perhaps the meanness is impersonal and bureaucratic — banal, in Hannah Arendt’s verbiage. But it’s still mean.

So, it’s a gross simplification to say that conservatives aren’t greedy and mean, in my opinion.

Perhaps some conservatives actually think they’re doing the right thing for the nation and the world. No excuse. They’re still mean.

As for the whether conservatives are stupid, I admit: rich conservatives aren’t usually stupid. They’re smart enough to protect their own interests. Karl Rove wasn’t stupid.

The conservatives who appear to be stupid are the middle and lower class people who vote against their own (economic) self-interest by supporting candidates who will ship their jobs overseas, send their sons off to immoral wars, slash government services, defund their pensions (including Social Security), and cut taxes and regulations on the rich.

It’s unwise and elitist to call such voters “stupid”. (In fact, calling people whose support we need “stupid” is pretty darn stupid.) But the point remains, why are people voting against their own self-interest? Are they dupes?

Perhaps some of them sincerely value the wedge issues (guns, gays, abortion, and religion) more than they value their economic well-being. In that case, they’re not stupid, they just have different values, right?


But perhaps some of these people need to be trained to have the right values and beliefs. (Yeah, call me elitist.) Like valuing peace and empathy and non-violence. And believing in more science and less superstition.

On this issue, Lakoff argues that conservatives’ values are based on a strict paternal morality, while progressives’ values are based on a morality of ethics (“maternal morality”, I presume, though Lakoff didn’t use that phrase). In fact, I think it’s a sexist to say that men are inherently and significantly less empathetic than women, but it’s an informative generalization nonetheless.

Lakoff states his standard case about not using conservative language and talking points. “If you start adopting conservative language and/or positions, you become conservative-lite, or worse. ” Lakoff criticizes President Obama for often using conservative language, and (implicitly) for being too centrist:

Obama’s message in his warm-up video to his supporters said that the economy can be rebuilt only if we put aside our differences, work together, find common ground, and so on. It’s the E Pluribus Unum message – no red states or blue states, just red, white, and blue states message. It’s a message that resonates with a majority of Americans. And so his poll numbers have risen.

Such centrism will be the death of the New Deal.

As Lakoff says, “A well funded and tightly organized right wing has been pulling American politics to the right for three decades now. And with a few instructive exceptions, Democrats who respond by calling for a new centrism are just acting as the right’s enablers.”

I think that by insisting that conservatives are neither mean, greedy, or stupid, Lakoff too is enabling the right.

If Democrats and progressives don’t fight the right, we’re screwed. The best defense is a good offense. Right now, the right is kicking our butts.



3 Replies to “Are conservatives mean, greedy, and stupid? Or just different? A response to Lakoff

  1. I have a different take on Conservatives. I think they act selfish and greedy because they are insecure.

    I’m not convinced that Conservatives believe in individual (or personal) responsibility as their moral compass.

    I think they are sick people who are afraid of losing their power. Weather that be a large corporation CEO or a middle class worker … I see them as being insecure and afraid. They don’t know they are but they are. If they really didn’t believe in social responsibility then they should be for no government at all. But it turns out just like all good Libertarians they want government all right… in fact they want just enough government to have their selfish-ass needs met and then after that they want government to stop short of helping the less fortunate. Then they think they deserve the supposed money that would be saved even though more money is lost and wasted when you don’t invest into the people, like giving them Housing, Healthcare, Education etc.

    I think they use personal responsibility or individual responsibility as just another talking point tool which was sent to them from the top greed corporate think tankers which they swallow with eagerness to please. It’s just another lie like “trickle down economics”, “Laissez-Faire Capitalism”, “Liberal Media Bias” (yeah that’s a laugh), The Rich “deserve” every penny, “Tax Cuts Stimulate the Economy” and the list goes on.

    They use “personal responsibility” as a shield or a red hearing to keep the focus on the victims so no one focuses on what they are responsible for doing to society.

    I believe the core of ALL conservatives is INSECURITY and fear and even to the point of paranoia. Tightly coupled with that is the need for power. What is the thing conservatives hate the most? Simple… empowering others. It is so so very important that other people DON’T get things,… and don’t get what they need. You see if we help the sick and poor and lower middle class and even the middle class then people will gain “power”. Nothing scares them more then other people gaining power!

    Also they are afraid of change and losing their simple easy to understand reality and want to feel safe and believe that their leaders are righteous. Their leaders feed them hate and fear because it easily triggers them and since they don’t want to know the truth because they are afraid of it they won’t listen to anyone else.

    You notice that it is not just a disagreement with them. They are extremely threatened by us! It is no where near neutral. They think first of all it’s unfair for “others” to get things “for free” when they didn’t get them for “free” and even worse they will lose their status position of being superior to the sick and poor, disabled disadvantaged, lower middle class etc. because many of those people will are talented and intelligent and will rise to do way better then Conservatives but those people are stuck mainly because of bad circumstances. And notice they feel justified in doing ANYTHING to stop others from getting any help or assistance. They don’t even care if all their money is being distributed to the top because that money at the top is money that can’t be taken and used to help those at the bottom which is their #1 agenda.

    They are also mistaken in thinking that if the government helped others that it would be unfair because they didn’t get “that”. The fact is that they DID get what they needed invisibly like their health and education enough for a marketable job and maybe a well off spouse etc. They got things they don’t count. They need to be shown that they are fortunate not better or more deserving then other people and don’t deserve their basic needs met any more then other people. No one is better or more deserving then anyone else just because they are already more fortunate!

    They selfishly want government tailored to their needs and don’t care about anybody else.

    The power abusers sociopaths at the vey top are also insecure and power needy but they do have tremendous power. However they are also power addicted. There is NEVER enough power for them. First of all if they don’t keep increasing their power others will and they will start moving down their unspiritual power status ladder. And when they are abusing power others are likely to start fighting back and so they need even more power to squelch those who seek to stop them.

    When Conservatives complain about taxes tell them “Pay for the Emergency rooms, the wars and the tax breaks for the rich (you know the people who don’t need, earn or deserve any more wealth) and then get back to me about what you want after that!!!

    The bottom line is that they DO hurt people. Just because it’s indirect and hidden under the party collective doesn’t mean they are not partially responsible for the quality of life lowering, suffering, misery and death that their power abuser sociopath representatives they voted for implement.
    End Of Rant.


  2. Oh I forgot… why do you think they are so afraid of gun control? They are scared of losing their weapons which they need because they are paranoid, and why do you think they want to put all our money into the military because again simple minded brut force power is easy to understand and they perceive that it will make them feel more safe and secure. They have no philosophy,… they have a sickness.

  3. Yes, individual conservatives are sometimes stupid, greedy, or mean – but this doesn’t help. If you assume that someone whom you see as a conservative is exhibiting Strict Father Morality you are more likely to understand his/her words and actions than if you simply call him mean. As with any theory is it perfect – NO!, but is it better than any other theory that I have heard of, YES. Its predictions are not perfect, they are just better.

    I could try to explain Lakoff’s ideas but it would be better to just read his books and really try to understand what he is saying.

    And yes, it is sexist to say that men are … than women. It is also very realistic to say that men have slightly different plumbing than women. There have been two different sexes on this world for about 1-2 billion years. It is distinctly possible that some differences have arisen. It is also sexist to suggest that I share my color blindness with my grandson and not my granddaughters. It’s called a sex linked trait. Before biological pronouncements are made it is good to know the biology.

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