The Projectionist: Times Columnist Claims Right Wins With Psychology, Not Values

September 29th, 2006 6:54 AM

Rejection is painful. Spurned suitors often-if-contradictorily condemn the very object of their affection, while reserving a good measure of bile for their successful rivals. Democrats have suffered lots of unrequited political desire in recent years, and the strain is really starting to show. We all know about Bush Derangement Syndrome. Yesterday I described a new strain, Gas Price Derangement Syndrome, and mentioned an even more insidious disease afflicting many on the left - Controlled Demolition Dementia.

Today comes more evidence of the left's painful struggle to deal with its diminished standing and repeated rejection at the polls. In the subscription-required Why Voters Like Values, Times columnist Judith Warner claims that "the Christian right's ability to stir voter passions is based not on values, but on psychology." Warner describes having bravely gone inside the belly of the conservative beast, recently attending a Values Voters Summit in DC, and declaring it "imbued with so much intolerance and hate." This is presumably in contrast with liberal love-ins at Daily Kos, Moveon, etc., where Bush & Co. are regularly depicted as liars, murderers, Hitlers, etc.  For that matter, Warner herself doesn't adumbrate many shades of gray in painting those on the right as filled with hatred.

She later describes a schadenfreude-provoking scene of the day after Kerry's 2004 defeat, picking through the rubble with Harvard psychology professor emeritus, Jerome Kagan, who tried to console Warner and presumably himself. As she describes it:

"Our conversation drifted to the Republicans’ 'values' [note scare quotes] agenda, and Kagan’s belief that values sell because they’re an antidote to the endemic mental health problem of our time: depression.

"'Humans demand that there be a clear right and wrong,' he said. 'You’ve got to believe that the track you’ve taken is the right track. You get depressed if you’re not certain as to what it is you’re supposed to be doing or what’s right and wrong in the world.”

"People need to divide the world into good and evil, us and them, Kagan continued. To do otherwise – to entertain the possibility that life is not black and white, but variously shaded in gray – is perhaps more honest, rational and decent. But it’s also, psychically, a recipe for disaster."

Got it? While liberalism is "more honest, rational and decent" than conservatism, it's sadly just not what the benighted public wants. They're looking for political Prozac, a Manichean worldview they can cling to, and that's what conservatism cunningly offers.

Warner accuses the right of engaging in "witch-hunting, puritanical intolerance and hatred." She explains this by asserting "people will engage in all kinds of mental acrobatics to stave off depression." Too true. Warner is surely familiar with another term from the world of psychology. It's called "projection."

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Finkelstein lives in the liberal haven of Ithaca, NY. View webcasts of Mark's award-winning TV show 'Right Angle' here. Contact Mark at