The conflicting agendas of hucksters and true believers

I’ve written before about a distinction between the true believers of the religious right and the hucksters. These two groups seem to share a common agenda — they have similar “stances” on just about everything, and they advocate for the same policies, politics and cultural goals.

But they’re actually working at cross-purposes. Atrios had a good post recently describing the way the agenda of the true believers is often actually opposed by the agenda of the hucksters they think of as their allies:

I imagine that there’s more money to be made when the Rs are mostly out of power than there is when Rs are in power, so there isn’t much incentive for the grifters to actually win elections.

Nothing motivates donors like a picture of the kenyan muslim socialist behind a podium with a presidential seal on it.

He’s talking about the incompatible goals of Republican true believers and the grifters of the conservative entertainment complex, but I think the same thing applies to true-believer social conservatives and their supposed allies among the hucksters of the religious right.

Most of that 78 percent of white evangelicals who voted for Mitt Romney in the last election did so because they’ve bought the whole social-conservative package deal. They were voting to stop abortion and gay marriage and health care and progressive taxation and all of those other evils because they truly believe (somehow) that is what Jesus wants.

But a Romney win would have been bad news for someone like Tony Perkins. His fundraising depends on the imminent liberal menace of President Barack Hussein Abortion and his Big Gay FEMA workcamps.

Or think of another illustration from the world of politics. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell and Rush Limbaugh seem to share a set of common goals. On any given item of policy or legislation or foreign policy, they’re sure to agree. But McConnell is trying to achieve those goals, and to do that, he wants to be a Senate majority leader, with a Republican president who will sign his agenda into law. Limbaugh, on the other hand, is trying to boost his ratings and make more money next month than he made last month. Limbaugh knows that his ratings were higher during the Clinton years than they were during the Bush years, and that Obama’s election — and re-election — would be good for his ratings. As Atrios said, “there isn’t much incentive” for Limbaugh to help his party “actually win elections.”

That word “incentive” is the key. That’s the main difference between the true believers and the hucksters. My referring to them with those terms may seem like I’m suggesting the biggest difference between the two groups is their sincerity. That is a difference. Most — but not all — “true believers” are utterly sincere. And most — but not all — hucksters are either wholly insincere or simply unconcerned with sincerity at all.

But what really matters is not the sincerity or insincerity they bring with them to their respective tasks, what really matters is whether or those tasks, and success at those tasks, rewards or punishes sincerity.

Neither Rush Limbaugh nor Tony Perkins has any incentive to be sincere. Limbaugh is after ratings and ad sales. Perkins is in the direct-mail fundraising racket. Both of them, daily, condemn President Obama in the harshest terms they can muster. His re-election means they get to keep doing that — and that’s good news for both of them.

That’s not to say that either Limbaugh or Perkins deliberately sabotaged the efforts of their true-believer allies/victims to defeat Obama, only that neither of them had any incentive to work for that defeat. I think both Limbaugh and Perkins did sabotage the true believers’ efforts to defeat Obama, but it was probably not intentional, just an unavoidable consequence of their usual business of chasing ratings and direct-mail donations.

I spent a day in late October knocking on doors doing GOTV for Obama for America. About half the names on my list were Republican women. Yes, they said, they would be voting on Election Day. For Obama, of course, they said. I never mentioned Rush Limbaugh or Todd Akin, but several of them did, citing Limbaugh’s attacks on women who use birth control and Akin’s comments on “legitimate rape” as reasons they were fired up to vote against their own party’s candidates.

(Akin is an interesting case in terms of these categories of true believers and hucksters. I think he was a true believer, but one who was so fecklessly sincere that he swallowed and adopted all of the rhetoric and tactics employed by the hucksters.)

Socially conservative evangelical true believers imagine they’re in a “culture war” and they think the professional hucksters of the religious right are their allies in this war. But the hucksters are not their allies. The true believers are trying to “win,” but the hucksters have no incentive to try to win. Their only incentives are to keep the true believers convinced that A) they’re in a “culture war,” and B) they’re in imminent danger of losing. What the true believers think of as “victory” or “success” is not part of the hucksters business model.


""You know they're not putting this money in a box and tossing it in the ..."

LBCF, No. 186: ‘Lone Gunmen’
"And I am still astonished by that."

LBCF, No. 186: ‘Lone Gunmen’
"They don't want to pay taxes for schools because they don't have kids in school. ..."

LBCF, No. 186: ‘Lone Gunmen’
""Basic research is what I am doing when I don't know what I'm doing." - ..."

LBCF, No. 186: ‘Lone Gunmen’

Browse Our Archives

Follow Us!

What Are Your Thoughts?leave a comment
  • Tricksterson

    Or vice versa for that matter because I wouldn’t be surprised if that is true as well.

  • Aww, I thought you were referring to Iain Banks’ The Culture, not Star Trek. I could have believed either.

    It was a Star Trek reference, but it could also easily apply to The Culture.  I like the idea of progressive hippies who wield really big sticks.  In the words of one character:

    “You might call them soft, because they’re very reluctant to kill, and they might agree with you, but they’re soft the way the ocean is soft, and, well; ask any sea captain how harmless and puny the ocean can be.”

    Which of course leads to the common galactic saying, “Don’t fuck with the Culture.”