Who do people "most identify as the voice of the Republican Party?"
Last Thursday, Gallup released a survey showing that among all respondents - as well as subsets of admiring Republicans and scornful Democrats - the answer to that question was: Rush Limbaugh.
At one point during his show the next day, the conservative radio host explained to his audience that the reason President Barack Obama is so popular - and, for that matter, the reason liberalism will always be popular with American majorities - is that conservatism is tough and requires thinking, while liberalism is easy because it merely requires "feelings."
Mr. Limbaugh has the formula backward, for the foundation of his type of anti-intellectual, reactionary conservatism is reducing complex problems and issues to easily digestible phrases and emotionally rewarding invectives.
Shall we catalog the facility with which the conservatives of Mr. Limbaugh's ilk traffic in unthinking and highly visceral responses to serious and complex problems?
We can start with one of the first responsibilities of citizenship: namely, understanding the nature of citizenship itself. It's easy to call for walls to be built, English to be mandated, services to be denied and people to be rounded up. It's hard to situate today's Latino immigration problem within a broader context of lawless immigration that brought to our shores the ancestors of some of the very people who tune into Mr. Limbaugh each week.
Then there's the "tea party" rhetoric comparing taxes to serfdom or slavery, which infantilizes a serious discussion about who pays what in a country where work is taxed twice (as both income and labor) but asset-based sources of income are usually taxed just once, and where the marginal tax rate on capital gains is lower than that for savings.
Nor can debates about the size of government be reduced to socialist slogans. For the better part of the conservative era that began in the mid-1960s, government spending as a share of the gross domestic product has hovered consistently between 19 percent and 22 percent. And while the president's proposal to raise this ratio is one conservatives should rightly call attention to, few can identify a government anywhere else on the planet that as effectively and efficiency does what Washington does for less than 22 cents on a dollar, or does more with 22 cents.
It's easy to depict American women who want equal rights as "feminazis." It's much harder to recognize that the primary reason household incomes are higher today than two generations ago, despite stagnating wages and greater worker productivity, is that more and more households include a second, female earner. It's particularly challenging to realize that what distinguishes us from the undemocratic countries we sometimes scorn and sometimes cheerily buy oil from is how we treat half our citizens relative to how they treat half of theirs, and that American feminism ought therefore to be something we try to export rather than trivialize.
And it's easy to define and divine human conception as God's starting point for "life," but much harder to grapple with the biological reality that, of every 100 conceptions, 40 or more end naturally and before a woman usually knows she is pregnant, but only about 10 of the remaining 60 result in abortions by the woman's choice. Which means that either God takes at least four "lives" for every one that American women do, or that we need a more suitable moment for constitutionalizing the rights of the unborn.
A final irony: Thoughtful liberalism and conservatism alike require seriousness, thinking and, perhaps most of all, the realization that solutions to complex problems are (surprise!) equally complex and sometimes elusive.
Asserting that the capacity to think critically exists on only one side of the ideological spectrum? That's easy.
Thomas F. Schaller teaches political science at UMBC. His column appears regularly in The Baltimore Sun. His e-mail is email@example.com.