Just ask John Boehner, the Republican Majority Leader of the U.S. House of Representatives. Refusing to negotiate a reasonable budget with President Obama, Mr. Boehner said that the real issue is "how much more money do we want to steal from the American people to fund more government." In terms of economic history, this makes Boehner and his cohort throwbacks to the dark ages of 18th-century economic theory, when it was believed that the only legitimate things for which central government could tax was national defense, the court system and the police. All other social issues were the responsibility of the individual who was "free" to become rich or to starve to death without government interference.
To say that such a point of view, applied today to a society of 300 million-plus citizens, is disastrous is an understatement. Take away the "safety net" created by the New Deal and expanded by the "welfare state," and replace it with freewheeling, deregulated capitalism and "personal responsibility" alone, and what you have is a formula for widespread suffering and civic unrest.
Yet none of the conservatives I met on board the Seven Seas Mariner had any knowledge of economic history or theory. All they had were their personal experiences and the feelings those had produced: that the federal government was too big, too intrusive in their businesses, and that it pampered too many people, all with their tax dollars. This is one of the consequences of what I call "natural localism." We live our lives locally. This local existence conditions us to see the world in certain limited ways. And then, on the basis of that local conditioning, we interpret the rest of the world. However, our local experience is often a very poor basis for understanding the larger problems that confront our communities.
Part IV -- Conclusion
Neal Boortz is fond of disclaimers. Some of them are potentially useful, as when he tells his listeners "Don't believe anything you . . . hear on The Neal Boortz Show unless it is consistent with what you already know to be true, or unless you have taken the time to research the matter to prove its accuracy to your own satisfaction." The problem is, as with so much of the information media, the audience is self-selected. The reason millions listened to Mr. Boortz in the first place was because what he said was already "consistent" with what they "know" to be true." But was/is it true? Believing something is true does not make it true. As to the suggestion that the listener do research, well, not many will bother if the opinion at issue sounds and feels right.
Boortz also occasionally suggests to his audience that they "take no heed nor place any credence in anything he says" because, in the last analysis, he is just an "entertainer." However, he cannot escape responsibility so easily for the influence he has wielded weekly over an audience of more than 4 million. Ours is an age of "infotainment," and the more entertaining media personalities, politicians, and even government officials are, the more their "info" is received favorably. Just think of Jon Stewart's The Daily Show on the liberal side of the spectrum.
Conservative America is out there in many forms. Some are organized around religion, some around various forms of xenophobia, and some around the fear of government, its taxes and regulations. They are mostly white, mostly middle class, and don't be at all surprised if you run into them on your next vacation.