Demonology in America: Reflections on the Primary Debate Transcripts
By Bryan Caplan
One insight I’ve gleaned from reading a lot of presidential debate transcripts (see here, here, and here): Democrats and Republicans have radically different demonologies. Both sides see evil forces behind the world’s troubles, but their lists have only one overlap.
In Republican demonology, the evil forces are almost invariably foreigners. Muslim extremists of all kinds (al Qaeda, Iraqi insurgents, Iran, etc.) top the list; illegal immigrants come in second.
In Democratic demonology, the evil forces are largely domestic. Republicans top the list, with Bush playing the lead role of Satan. Next come what Democrats call “special interests” – oil companies, health insurance companies, and pharmaceutical companies above all. Muslim extremists – the only demon Democrats share with Republicans – come in third.
To repeat, these judgments come purely from reading debate transcripts. I readily admit that there could be something special about primaries, or this particular election. Nevertheless, these patterns stand out quite strongly.
What’s remarkable to me is that despite their conflicting demonologies, Republicans and Democrats spend almost no time arguing that the other party’s demons are actually angels. Republicans spend little time defending their party from Democratic attacks, and almost no time arguing that the Democrats’ “special interests” are scapegoats for scarcity. Democrats, for their part, spend little time defending illegal immigrants as unfairly maligned contributors to our economy and society.
I suspect that these observations will aggravate supporters of both parties. All I can say is that I’m not playing favorites. Reading the transcripts painfully reminded me that both parties are pits of demagoguery. What strikes me is that while these two teams of demagogues are often seen as “polarized,” the real story is that they largely talk past each other.