Conservative and Liberal Governing PsychologyBy Kerry J. Sulkowicz
Featured on Business Week
Is the government your daddy? In a way. Our widely different reactions to the idea of Washington as problem-solver, disciplinarian, or caretakeras surrogate parent, in other wordsreflect more than ideology. To some extent they reflect our attitudes toward our real (or wished-for) parents.
George Lakoff, a cognitive linguist at the University of California at Berkeley, identified an aspect of this phenomenon in his groundbreaking work some years ago on the “strict father model” of American conservatism and the “nurturant parent model” of American liberalism. But the effect goes beyond these cultural metaphors (and a historical aversion to Big Government that dates back to our founders). It reaches into the relationships we formed with parents and other authorities. Our early perception of these figuresas benevolent or punitive, welcomed or foisted upon uscan feed into our assessments of government as a fundamentally good force or as basically bad.
Take the issue of dependency. A child who was made to feel ashamed when asking for help may be more likely as an adult to oppose government programs than a kid allowed to feel comfortable in his dependencyor for whom empathy carried a bigger premium at home than self-reliance.
So while nobody relishes paying taxes, those who unconsciously view government as a “good parent” may be more sanguine about forking over money to support federal agencies and programs.
Of course, there’s no psychological formula for determining the political attitudes that might arise from parent-child dynamics. Some people do unto others what was done to them as children. Others react by doing the opposite. Finally, there’s the tendency we all have just to adopt the stated views of our parentspolitical and otherwise.