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.

 

  • Daughter

    Fred, can you document that conservative fundraising dollars and ratings are higher with Obama in office? I don’t doubt that the differences between the hucksters and true believers are valid: the formerscares more about ratings and dollars than results.

    However, my local progressive radio station, AM 1090 Seattle, went off the air as of Jan. 1, and in the days before the change, the various on-air personalities were arguing that in recent years their ratings had been going up, while Limbaugh’s had been going down. It may be that, as with the Republican women you met during GOTV, he’s turned off other listeners as well.

    Likewise, I remember emails I was sent during the Bush years, championing having “one of our own” (i.e., evangelical) in the White House. That may have been as effective a fundraising tool as the kenyanmuslimsocialist threat.

    I’m not saying you’re wrong about right-wing ratings and fundraising dollars being higher with Obama in office, I’d just like to see some data that proves that’s the case.

  • Gorgias

    I entirely agree with your assessment of Akin as a true believer.  Just by watching the notorious “legitimate rape” interview, you can see the casual, straight-faced manner in which he makes it; he’s not trying to be inflammatory, he’s just using an argument that he and his numerous religious right allies use among themselves, without any awareness of how much it might damage him.  And the truth is, he’d made so many other stupid yet sincere statements in the past that were he running for his old seat in the House rather than the Senate seat, he probably might have gotten away with this one as well.

    Speaking of hucksters and true believers, I’ve been wondering: which category does Glenn Beck fall into?  I’ve been bouncing back and forth for years; the stuff that comes out of his mouth is insane, but it often seems like a sincere insanity.  On the other hand, I know for a fact that he went through a fairly sudden, radical transformation around 2008.  During the Bush years, he projected a happy-go-lucky morning radio jockey turned conservative pundit who didn’t seem to take himself or politics very seriously.  Then, after Obama was elected, he became all serious, making these grand, sweeping speeches about the “Real America” as if he were one of the Founding Fathers (or at least, the larger-than-life semi-saints that the Right constantly portrays.)  What do y’all think?  A calculated effort to appeal to the Right-wing nostalgia for the “good ol’ days,” or did Beck just lose his mind?

  • Magic_Cracker

    I wonder about Glenn Beck too … he could be one of those occasional hucksters who falls for his own shtick and becomes a true believer.

  • http://lliira.dreamwidth.org/ Lliira

    Trying to figure out what anyone Really Truly Believes doesn’t make any sense to me, unless you’re their psychologist. You are what you do. People who Really Truly Believe I exist to be an incubator are no better than people who claim to Really Truly Believe it in order to make money. Besides, when something makes you money, it becomes easy to Really Truly Believe it, even if you didn’t at the outset.

  • http://twitter.com/FearlessSon FearlessSon

    (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.)

    Something Bob Altemeyer* observed is that authoritarian followers tend to be “true believers” but generally only get mobilized when they are surrounded by people who reinforce their beliefs and in service to some source of authority that endorses the actions that they already want to take.  In contrast, there are a smaller number of people who are “social dominators” who see society as a ladder that they want to climb, and are quite willing (and sometimes eager) to kick the people on the rung below them to keep those other people from usurping their place, or the place that they want to get to and control.  Such people will often ape the values of the authoritarian followers to manipulate them because such people are an easier “sell” than anti-authoritarian personalities.  

    Then there are the double-rares, the people who have both authoritarian follower personalities and social dominator drives.  These ones tend to be the most inconsistent .. and also the most driven and dangerous because of it.  They come pre-packaged with a built-in set of followers because of their community, but at the same time think that by submitting to something higher than themselves (usually “God”) they will be elevated in temporal success.  

    The results of them getting more widespread power are… not pretty.  

    * Sorry for the repeated references, I only just finished reading “The Authoritarians” this weekend and the ideas are still bouncing around in my mind.

  • http://jesustheram.blogspot.com/ Mr. Heartland

    The ultimate scam has always been the implied promise that political victory for conservatives could bring a halt to the forces of social integration and cultural modernity.   As this has proven to not be the case I think that both right-wing media shepherds and flock alike are honestly happy to be rightous outsiders; deliberately straining to interpret 21st century America to be as evil as they are able to perceive it to be. 

  • aunursa

    I’d like to see documentation that conservative TV and radio pundits receive significantly higher ratings when the president is a Democrat.

  • http://twitter.com/FearlessSon FearlessSon

    Actually, that was something else Altemeyer addressed.  One of the characteristics of authoritarian followers is that they desperately want to be seen as “normal” and surround themselves with people who will back that up.  He attributes things like increasing acceptance of homosexuality among authoritarian followers who have traditionally opposed it is precisely because acceptance of homosexuality is becoming more of the social expectation, and overt homophobia is seen more as a deviance.  

    Thus they either surround themselves with only other people who will back up their homophobia, or they relax their homophobia to be more in line with the new social baseline.  Of course, he said that the biggest difference in any individual’s opinion on homosexuality tends to be actually knowing a homosexual person.  The Faceless Other only remains so until a person sees a face attached to it.  

  • http://blog.trenchcoatsoft.com Ross

     If someday, calling women sluts, insulting people with degenerative illnesses, abducting civil rights leaders to your cause and generally being a douchehat  stops paying dividends, then Rush Limbaugh will stop being a problem entirely of his own accord.

    There is nothing that will make folks like Todd Aiken stop trivializing rape.

    That’s the difference between a huckster and a true believer, and that’s why the difference matters. If we want Rush to stop hurting people, all we have to do is stop feeding him. To stop the Real True Believers, we’re gonna need a clownhammer.

  • aunursa

    If we want Rush to stop hurting people, all we have to do is stop feeding him.

    I assume that you’re not one of the ones who is feeding him.  If you want Limbaugh to stop doing what he does, you need to convince those who do feed him to stop doing so.

  • http://kingdomofsharks.wordpress.com/ D Johnston

     I think Beck is a good example of someone who’s both at the same time. Personally, “huckster v. true believer” is a false dichotomy – most figures on the religious right are clearly an admixture of both if you take time to analyze their beliefs. They’re either cons who swallowed their own line, or zealots who view their followers and their wallets as God-ordained blessings.

    But there’s one other thing to remember about Beck in particular. Allegedly, his manic behavior can be traced to some mood disorder he has. People who work with him have said that he goes on and off his meds to manipulate his mood – when he’s not medicated, he becomes hyper and sleeps very little. That also explains why he’s so prolific – it’s easy to write a book every few weeks when you’re only sleeping three hours a night.

  • LL

    RE: “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.”

    This actually makes me feel somewhat better about America. I mean, who’s to say how many of these people actually voted and voted for Obama, but still. When a Republican says she (or he, I’m sure there are a few males out there who just couldn’t vote for the Legitimate Rape Party) will, of course, vote for Obama, maybe America isn’t rushing headlong towards idiocracy after all. 

  • aunursa

    According to CNN exit polls, 6% of Republicans voted for Obama.  But 7% of Democrats voted for Romney.

  • http://twitter.com/FearlessSon FearlessSon

    I assume that you’re not among those who are feeding him.  If you want Limbaugh to stop, you need to convince those who do feed him to stop doing so.

    I think that Ross was using “we” in the general sense.  

    However, I think that to a certain extent, Rush has been undercutting himself, overreaching with his message, and society’s values are shifting.  This is why when he voiced his speculations about Sandra Fluke’s sexual practices, a bunch of advertisers started dropping themselves from his show.  

    It did not end his show, but I would think that it was a bit of a wake up call for him.  A disruption to his profitability is very difficult for him to ignore or dismiss.  

  • http://www.facebook.com/jrandyowens Randy Owens

    If you’re interested in stopping people from making you an incubator, you should be interested in what motivates them to Really Truly Believe that, or pretend to.  Unless you’re planning on genocide or disenfranchisement to keep them from that, you need to reduce that incentive, and to reduce it, you need to identify it.

  • http://blog.trenchcoatsoft.com Ross

     Now now, calling them the “Legitimate Rape Party” is misleading. Even the most outspoken among them is against “legitimate” rape.  It’s their position on illegitimate rape (to wit, “It ain’t so bad” and “There is such a thing”) that’s really objectionable.

  • Gorgias

     Huh, I didn’t know he had a (formally diagnosed) mood disorder.  I just assumed that any mental issues he had were related to his former cocaine addiction.  Makes sense in retrospect, though.  If he’s deliberately going off and on his meds, he could very well fall into both categories depending on his mental state.

    You’re probably also right about the icons of the right being a mixture of both, but I think some mixtures are decidedly more uneven than others.  Beck is just an instance where it’s a bit harder to tell.

  • Carstonio

    Since both the hucksters and true believers practice demagoguery, I doubt the  distinction all that relevant, since the overall effect is the same.

  • Gorgias

     Fair enough, but when someone falls under the scrutiny of the public eye, you don’t need to by their psychologist to have enough data to get a general idea of where they’re coming from.  Of course, people can always surprise you.

  • http://profiles.google.com/marc.k.mielke Marc Mielke

    Good book; Read the pdf a while back and then took the trouble to convert it to epub just so I could read it on my tablet (PDF rendering on tablets suck). Can’t help but think it’s on point in this thread. 

    Did you follow up with “Conservatives Without Conscience”? In spite of it being by a totally different person it’s kind of a follow-up to Altemeyer.

  • http://twitter.com/pooserville Dave Pooser

    Right. That’s because anyone who still calls him- or herself a Republican after the last 12 years is pretty hard core, because the more moderate Republicans abandoned that clown show years ago and began new lives as independents or Democrats. The Democratic party is a significantly larger tent– Ronald Reagan’s Secretary of the Navy was a Dem Senator, for heaven’s sake– with correspondingly less idological homogeneity. But larger numbers, as the scoreboard reminds us….

  • MikeJ

    That also explains why he’s so prolific – it’s easy to write a book
    every few weeks when you’re only sleeping three hours a night.

    Trust me, this is not the least bit true.

  • SisterCoyote

    I still haven’t decided whether the worst part of manic energy is the fact that it can’t really be channeled*, or the fact that everyone seems to think it can.

    *By which I mean, more or less, It’s More Complicated Than ThatTM.

  • http://twitter.com/FearlessSon FearlessSon

    Did you follow up with “Conservatives Without Conscience”? In spite of it being by a totally different person it’s kind of a follow-up to Altemeyer.

    No, I only finished reading Altemeyer last weekend.  Besides, I would probably have to pay for the later book, and I am not in a position to do that right now.  I will be taking some books with me on a trip in a couple of weeks, I might get it before then.

  • thebewilderness

    The legitimate rape comment was an example of a person who accepted received wisdom and never questioned it.  They taught him that in seminary and he simply accepted it as fact. That ability to accept and repeat what you are told without question is an indication of authoritarianism.

  • arcseconds

    While I agree that (conscious) hucksters and true believers exist as limiting cases, I wonder whether there’s really any strong dividing line in practice.

    I think quite a lot of people will believe anything it’s convenient for them to believe, and other people don’t really operate with a notion of truth.  These are two different things, but functionally difficult to distinguish, and someone who utters an untruth in either condition isn’t really lying, as it’s classically understood.  In the first case they think they’re telling the truth, and in the second they think that saying things like ‘I’m telling the truth!’ is just an utterance you make on certain occasions, like when you’re trying to get people to do what you say, or give you narcissistic supply, or start a fight, or whatever.

    When you add that to the fact that most people tend to believe in whatever the people ‘around them’ (for some value of ‘around’) believe, and that for most people the emotive impact of their belief is an important aspect of them believing it, it’s pretty hard to tell what the hell’s going on.

  • arcseconds

    I also wonder whether there are many hustlers who are really self-aware enough to know that they have no incentive to win elections.

    And also, how distinguishable is a huckster not assisting in winning elections because they have no incentive to do so from a true believer who’s hurting their party’s ability to perform in elections because they’re insisting on atrocious policies and actions?

    It’s particularly hard to see the difference over the long term, when demographics are against ultra-conservative Christian and tea-party ideologies.

  • http://blog.trenchcoatsoft.com Ross

     

    I also wonder whether there are many hustlers who are really self-aware
    enough to know that they have no incentive to win elections.

    There are some who believe that the republican primary season consisted of Mitt Romney*  and a bunch of people who weren’t intersted in winning at all, but just wanted to get their “brand” out there so as to ensure a lucrative post-primary season on the punditry circuit.

    (*Exact specs will vary. Lots of people think Rick Perry did seriously think he had a chance of being, essentially, The New Bush, and some believe Michele Bachmann was legitimately reality-immune enough to sincerely think she could pull it off)

  • P J Evans

     The description of mania in my family was, and still is, ‘going at it like killing snakes’. (We had a couple of them.)

  • Baby_Raptor

    It’s probably not true when you’re trying to write a good book, with a coherent and somewhat complicated plot.

    When all you have to do is puke word salad onto a page and millions of devoted fans will buy it because you said it…Not so true. 

    See Sarah Palin for another example. The woman can barely form coherent sentences when she doesn’t have a speech written out in front of her, and openly pays ghost writers for everything from her books to her FB posts, but her minions still wax poetic about how verbose and intelligent she is. 

  • Brad

    “[M]y local progressive radio station, AM 1090 Seattle, went off the air as of Jan. 1, and in the days before the change, the various on-air personalities were arguing that in recent years their ratings had been going up, while Limbaugh’s had been going down. It may be that, as with the Republican women you met during GOTV, he’s turned off other listeners as well.”
    Something I hadn’t considered… Some progressive radio hosts (Stephanie Miller?) were saying they did not support the advertiser boycott of Rush’s sponsors because some of them stayed away from ALL kinds of “political” radio. Rush was big enough to weather the desertions, but they may have sunk some liberal programs — an example of unintended consequences.

  • Shayna

    Rule of Acquisition #34: (Culture) War is good for business.

  • http://twitter.com/FearlessSon FearlessSon

    Rule of Acquisition #35: (Culture) Peace is good for business.

  • http://twitter.com/FearlessSon FearlessSon

    The legitimate rape comment was an example of a person who accepted received wisdom and never questioned it.  They taught him that in seminary and he simply accepted it as fact. That ability to accept and repeat what you are told without question is an indication of authoritarianism.

    The other part of that is the social environment he was in after he learned that never contradicted it.  Presumably all the other people had cause to speak on the subject with agreed with him about it (maybe getting their information from the same sources.)  I think he was genuinely surprised when it offended a lot of people.  He did not understand how someone might be offended by it, it seemed so natural and obvious when everyone was agreeing with him…

  • Sgt. Pepper’s Bleeding Heart

    According to CNN exit polls, 6% of Republicans voted for Obama. But 7% of Democrats voted for Romney.
    EDIT: By comparison, in 2008 about 9% of Republicans voted for Obama and 10% of Democrats voted for McCain.

    So the percentage of people who call themselves Republican yet voted for the Democratic candidate and the percentage of people who call themselves Democrats yet voted for the Republican candidate are…not significantly different. Nor were they in the previous election.

    Wow.

  • Sgt. Pepper’s Bleeding Heart

    Right. That’s because anyone who still calls him- or herself a Republican after the last 12 years is pretty hard core, because the more moderate Republicans abandoned that clown show years ago and began new lives as independents or Democrats.

    No, really, don’t go trying to read much into those polls. A difference of 1 percentage point, especially between figures rounded to whole percentage points, is not anything.

  • Damanoid

    Hucksters and true believers are only working at cross purposes if the true believers’ perceptions significantly correspond to reality.  If true believers continue to imagine that their way of life is in dire jeopardy regardless of external conditions, hucksters will continue to profit.  And what else is a ‘true believer,’ but someone who doesn’t allow the intrusion of facts to impact their beliefs?

    Regardless of who is in the White House, the true believers are going to see evidence of their beliefs where none exists, and that will always provide a fertile breeding ground for hucksters.  If your side is losing, the reason must be a massive conspiracy.  If your side is winning, and things still aren’t perfect, what is the reason?  A massive conspiracy.  If someone can believe that Christians are a persecuted minority in America today, the mere win or loss of an election isn’t going to put a dent in that worldview.

    There will always be money to be made hunting witches, even if there are no witches.  All that matters is that people believe in witches.

  • fraser

     It reminds me of one election supervisor who observed in passing that when you come out of the voting booth, you can assure your spouse that you voted 100 percent for all those politicians the two of you agree so completely about.

  • fraser

     All rape apologists invariably explain that rape is a terrible crime and they oppose it. It’s the same logic as “I’m not anti-semitic/racist–some of my best friends are Jews/blacks!”

  • fraser

     Agreed. Just like we still have people warning of the terrible threat of inter-racial marriage and Communist subversion. Or the NRA can constantly come up with new issues to promote fund-raising (like the Florida law protecting the vital right of employees to keep guns in their car when parked at the workplace, even if the company doesn’t approve). Short of a Constitutional right-to-life amendment, hucksters can either play “they want to re-legalize abortion” or run even further to the right (like the Virginia state bill some years back proposing that women not reporting miscarriages would be guilty of a felony).
     I don’t doubt that the NRA and gun manufacturers have benefited from Obama, but as the first black president he’s an outlier. It seemed to be conservatives shrieked just as loudly about the terrible liberal threat under W as they do under Obama (though the shrieks are a little more extreme now). So like others, I’d like some solid proof the contributions flow more freely when conservatives are out of power.

  • Carstonio

    What’s missing are the percentages of voters who are party members or who are independents, and whether those percentages have changed.

  • Andrea

    Made my morning, thanks.

  • Lliira

    you should be interested in what motivates them to Really Truly Believe that

    Sure, I’m interested in what motivates people to believe these things. I am not interested in trying to figure out which people “really” believe these things and which don’t. Because, beyond anything else, it’s a literally impossible task unless we develop mental telepathy.

    It is also completely useless. As Carstonio says, the effect is the same — except actually, I think the so-called hucksters believe harder than their marks do. I do not understand why Fred seems to think “making money” is incompatible with “believing in what you sell”. I know from experience that, in fact, it is more than compatible: that when one makes money from something, one tends to start believing in that thing more than one did at the outset. L. Ron Hubbard didn’t believe in thetans when he first made them up, but at the end of his life, he thought he was covered in them.

    I didn’t think Gamestop was the best place to buy and trade video games before I started working there, but being paid by them and talking to customers about it and defending my job and liking my co-workers — well, I started to believe it. (It’s not, btw.) I got really enamored of products at stores that actually treated me well, and that I approved of before I even worked there.

    The stuff I’ve most recently sold, I believed in before I sold it. But I *cared* so much more when there was money attached to it, and when I was in a social milieu where there was money attached to it for everyone.

  • Jenny E

    I’m one of the “converted” Democrats.  I was leaning in  a more liberal direction, but the rape rhetoric of the Right was the nail in the coffin of my Republican voting record.  This past election was the first time I have ever voted Democrat, and I went whole hog and did straight-ticket.  Of course, here in suburban Texas, that still left a lot of races where I had to choose between Republican and Libertarian…

  • http://apocalypsereview.wordpress.com/ Invisible Neutrino

     The thing that just boggles my mind is when Shrub had the Presidency and the Repubs had complete control over the House and the Senate, they still acted like everything was under siege by those ‘orrible liberals.

    What fantasyland do you have to be in when your own folks run everything and you still shriek at the metaphorical mouse in the corner?

  • Consumer Unit 5012

     They can never control everything ENOUGH.

    And apparently, feeling oppressed is the greatest drug known to humanity. 

  • EllieMurasaki

    apparently, feeling oppressed without actually being oppressed is the greatest drug known to humanity
    Fixed.

  • Consumer Unit 5012
  • Sgt. Pepper’s Bleeding Heart

    I don’t give the “independent” label much credence. It’s self-described, and given that a whole bunch of so-called “independents” consistently vote for the same party, it seems to be more about self-image than an actual, useful political category.

  • PatBannon

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


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