In response to Daniel Larison's meditation, http://www.amconmag.com/larison/2009/09/09//#comments about unscrupulous-ideologues the relationship between party leadership and grass roots, I commented about the influence of cognitive dissonance in that relationship. I wrote:
Cognitive dissonance gets kicked around in popular parlance too much. But I think in the case of the past nine years, it explains a big part in what we see. Time and again in talking with fellow conservatives who defended Bush and his delusional wars, it came down to an emotional refusal to accept that the man they voted for had betrayed them so badly. In their minds, it just couldn’t be! The theory predicts that the worse the underlying discomfort with a choice, the greater the attachment to the choice. It was so much easier to rally to the leader and keep on-side than doubt and accept the sordidness of what was clearly happening. How much easier it is to see one's self as a faithful compatriot of a besieged leader, than his dupe.
In one case only did I manage to break through. In the middle of a Bush defense rant by a close friend, I mentioned how some of Bush’s policies had made his own life difficult. Then, I said “You do know that Bush is an idiot, right”? He paused, eyes scanning the (empty) room as if for some spy, and silently nodded his ascent. Thus are ordinary conservatives rendered into “Good Germans.”
The same thing is going on today. Obama looks us in the eye and emits a long riff of patent falsehoods. Even after Clinton and Bush, middle of the road Americans still can’t bring themselves to believe that the President is capable of such bald-face behavior. I don’t think this is because they are stupid. With the theory, I suggest that the unsettling prospect of living in a country where no one, no one at all, can be trusted is just too much for them to bear.