My former Rodale colleague and I also shared our astonishment at the huge blocs of Americans who continue to vote against their own practical interests because of their obsession with some overarching pseudo-ideology that often reduces to an "-ism" or "-obia." The other day as I was driving around, I got on the air with one of the more rabid right-wing radio hosts in Philly, and he actually let me make a few good points before (a) labeling me a liberal crank and (b) cutting me off. I told him that at one time I did a lot of writing for the Wall Street Journal (which is not at all where I am politically today, of course). My Journal period can be explained in terms of my Dad, who raised me in the tradition of William Buckley's philosophical/intellectual conservatism. I admired Buckley, and his writings, enormously. His was a conservatism based on a libertarian world-view and a sense of what best motivates Mankind to excel. I still agree with a lot of what Buckley had to say, in theory.
Then one day I looked around me and noticed that an awful lot of the people who'd crawled inside the tent with me were not exactly philosophical/intellectual conservatives in the Buckley tradition; they were racists and homophobes and xenophobes in the redneck tradition. They'd surveyed the political landscape in order to assess which party was a better fit with hurting niggers and faggots and gooks and bitches (I'm using their vocab here, not mine), and decided they were conservatives. Even if it took away the food stamps that their family desperately needed, they were gonna vote Republican as long as they knew that lots of blacks were getting hurt in the bargain. On top of that you had the Karl Rove-engineered influx of single-issue Christian zealots, who didn't give a shit what happened to America as long as we "upheld family values" and tried to prevent women from having abortions.
But did they then want any part of caring for all those extra babies? No effin way! In America you stand on your own two feet!!
Right before the radio host cut me off, I'd asked him, "Tell me honestly, if you subtracted the racists and the homophobes and the misogynists and the lunatic-fringe evangelists, what percent of the vote do you think you and your conservative pals would get in the next national election? 10 percent? 20?" He never did answer.
We would also do well to remember that in the most extreme cases, these are the folks stockpiling AKs, and food, and installing wall safes and building backyard bunkers as they await the Revolution (the one that's gonna try to take away their guns, for starters). They are faithful fans of the Glenn Becks and (slightly more literate) Mark Levins, talking heads who foment paranoia and rage in the guise of exposing "suppressed information." Have you listened to Beck's show of late, and cataloged the advertisers? It is remarkable, and a bit scary, how many of his ads seem targeted to the militia mentality. I can't say whether this is in fact a Beck advertiser, but it speaks to the genre.