Cognitive Dissonance and the Republican Denial of Reality

paulryan-1There’s not a day that goes by where I don’t walk away from reading some of the comments I get on Forward Progressives  or Right Off A Cliff and wonder to myself, “What must reality be like on whatever planet Republicans seem to live on?”

Because it damn sure isn’t the same planet, or in the same reality, where I live.

These are the people who claim to be the party for “fiscal responsibility,” yet haven’t had a president from their own party balance the budget since President Eisenhower who served over a half-century ago.  Hell, Ronald Reagan (the man many of them champion as the epitome of conservatism) drastically grew our deficits and our national debt during his time in the White House.

Tell me again how that’s being “fiscally responsible?”  I still don’t get that.

These are also the people who call themselves “Christians” while condemning the poor, vilifying the needy then supporting policies that perpetuate greed and selfishness.  All things which are direct contradictions to the values for which Jesus Christ lived and ultimately died for.  Yet millions of these people still continue to believe themselves to be “Christians” basically because they oppose abortion, same-sex marriage and attend church frequently.  Two things which Jesus Christ never even spoke about, and church being something he did warn people to be wary of as often times people speak of God to benefit their own selfish ambitions.

And don’t even get me started on their stance as the party for “small government.”  They love government.  They constantly support big government when it benefits something they support or oppose.  They only really oppose government when it goes against their ideological beliefs.

Now we have this government shutdown, where somewhere in the delusional minds of Republicans they believe they’ve been given some kind of mandate that allows them to shut down our government in a pointless attempt to stop “Obamacare.”

Never mind the fact that President Obama was overwhelmingly re-elected or that Democrats were given more seats in both the House and the Senate — somehow, Republicans think the “American people have spoken” and have given them a mandate.

Well, the American people did speak.  They re-elected the man who signed the health care bill into law and gave more seats back to the party which supports the law.

Then as John Boehner sits there, refusing to let the House vote on a clean version of the Senate’s resolution which would reopen the government (he’s simply saying there aren’t enough votes—though refuses to prove it) they still blame the shutdown on President Obama and Democrats.

Yet they really can’t answer how it’s their fault if Boehner won’t let the House vote.

But none of this really matters to Republicans, and there’s an easy answer as to why.  See, most of them suffer from what’s known as cognitive dissonance.  To put it simply, cognitive dissonance is the brain’s inability to handle two conflicting realities, so it creates an alternate one which often defies actual reality.

The first time I heard this term was in reference to abusive relationships and how individuals somehow convince themselves that abuse equates to love.  While to an outsider the abusive behavior is a complete contradiction to love, the person being abused creates some alternative form of reality in their minds where they deserve the abuse.  They feel it’s justified.  They love the person abusing them, want to believe that they love them back, but the abuse completely contradicts these feelings.  Therefore, their mind simply creates some delusional reality where “abuse” and “love” seemingly go together.

That’s how I view most Republicans.  What they want to be real doesn’t correspond to what is real, therefore instead of facing the stark reality that their whole political ideology is wrong, they’ve simply concocted some alternate form of reality where facts, science and history don’t matter.

They’ll scream at the top of their lungs that “Obama is the worst president in history!” yet can’t tell you any factual reasons why.  Sure, they can spout off a bunch of right-wing talking points taken directly from Fox News or Rush Limbaugh, but they can’t actually recite much of anything factual.

Many will stare you straight in the face and tell you that President Obama made the economy worse, while ignoring the fact we’ve created around 7 million jobs in the last 3 1/2 years.

Republicans will blast President Obama for his spending, while ignoring the fact that year to year deficits have been reduced by their largest margins since WWII.

They’ll talk about how “Obamacare” is a failure, yet can’t list 5 factual statements about the health care law.

Patriotism is a word they often use, just before they talk of secession whenever they don’t get their way.

They’re simply suffering from a severe case of cognitive dissonance.  The reality they wished existed doesn’t, therefore they’ve simply created an alternate reality where their rhetoric makes sense.


  • You’re fiscally conservative—while running up giant deficits.
  • You’re for small government—except all the times when you want government to support your side of the argument.
  • You’re a patriot—while talking of secession and revolution whenever the Constitution doesn’t support your ideology.
  • You’re for the Constitution—yet that same Constitution rarely supports your policies.
  • You’re against the government shutdown—even though many members of your party had been calling for one.
  • You’re a Christian—while supporting policies which contradict the teachings of Jesus Christ.
  • You’re for the middle class—by supporting policies which screw them over for the benefit of the rich.
  • You’re against government programs—while living off government programs.
  • You’re against people on welfare—while you live in a state that takes in more federal dollars than it pays out.

The list could honestly go on and on.  The absolute hypocrisy within the Republican party is rampant and seemingly endless.

And the simple explanation is that many of then suffer from cognitive dissonance.  What they want to be real isn’t, therefore the only way their brains can handle such conflicting events is by creating a version of “reality” that doesn’t make sense or exist.

Which is exactly what many of them have done.

Allen Clifton

Allen Clifton is a native Texan who now lives in the Austin area. He has a degree in Political Science from Sam Houston State University. Allen is a co-founder of Forward Progressives and creator of the popular Right Off A Cliff column and Facebook page. Be sure to follow Allen on Twitter and Facebook, and subscribe to his channel on YouTube as well.


Facebook comments

  • Debi Lovell

    Thanks I love reading your articles they tend to put a smile on my face because you hit the nail right on the head

    • strayaway

      Exactly; especially the bullet point list describing how status quo Republicans are hypocrites and sort of like Democrats in sheep’s clothing on many points. At least Democrats are up front about running giant deficits and really imagine their programs help the middle class.

      • nemajordude

        Didn’t really read the article, did ya?

      • strayaway

        That was my take on a specific part of the article. “Your for the Constitution – yet that same Constitution rarely supports your policies”. And how exactly, in your opinion, are the military or corporatist policies of Democrats and most Republicans that much different? No one is helping the middle class. Our per capita income is in decline, jobs keep getting sent out of the Country, and Republicans and President Obama alike are trying to sneak in the TPP which will be a disaster for the middle class.

      • Dave

        Both parties in this country are not serving the best interests of the American people. Not many people see it as they are too obsessed with arguing for whatever their party is rather than taking some time to really look at the issues this country is facing.

      • Drumbum

        When your examples are what one party is for and what one party is prevented from doing, you really loose the old “they are the same” argument. ” “NO one is helping the middle class” is a perfect example.

  • Darrell West

    Thank you for writing this articles I really enjoy it.

  • Amy

    That is the best description of the craziness in today’s GOP that I have ever read. And it explains how crazy their words make me. See, I live in the reality where actions speak louder than words. Thanks for being a voice of sanity in the insane world we live in.

  • Grand1

    Sent a probe to that planet once. No intelligent life.

  • richir

    It’s going to be up to us to make sure they get the 2012 message LOUD AND CLEAR in 2014.

  • DWTV

    People from BOTH sides of philosophical politics are guilty of what you describe. Your argument for “Cognitive Dissonance” would be more accurately defined as “Cognitive Bias”. A cognitive bias is a pattern of deviation in judgment, whereby inferences about other people and situations may be drawn in an illogical fashion.[1] Individuals create their own “subjective social reality” from their perception of the input.[2] An individual’s construction of social reality, not the objective input, may dictate their behavior in the social world.[3] Thus, cognitive biases may sometimes lead to perceptual distortion, inaccurate judgment, illogical interpretation, or what is broadly called irrationality. You are guilty of this as well.

    • Michael Martin

      So let’s hear a list of things that he has Cognitive Dissonance about?
      I’m sure you will be able to find a couple of things, but it won’t be anywhere near as grand a list as what Right-Wingers have!

      • DWTV

        To begin with Mr. Martin, my point is that Mr. Clifton does not have “Cognitive Dissonance” but rather exhibits by his writing (as you have) Cognitive Bias as it is defined. Your taunt is exemplary of a schoolyard, ie: “I know you are… but what am I?”

        Mr. Clifton’s own statements (“That’s how I view most Republicans”) are example of what he takes in from the inputs that he subjects himself to and thereby creates and then disseminates that bias which he has chosen to hold.

    • normbreyfogle

      False equivalence.

  • Patti Ausmus

    You are so right about this. I’ve tried to explain the very same things to many of my family members only to have them scream at me that I’m in denial and in league with the devil. There is no reasoning with a sick mind.

  • OakenTruncheon

    I take your point, but that is really a very lame description of cognitive dissonance. In practice, difficulties arise from the various methods that people employ to escape the discomfort caused by exposure to facts, or assertions, that seem to contradict beliefs they are emotionally invested in. The process of changing such deeply held beliefs is, essentially, a grief process, and should be treated accordingly.

  • Plutodog

    Hi, Allen — I like this article and want to share it but I need to be able to defend it so I need the documentation for the 7 million new jobs in the last 3 1/2 years. Can you provide that, please?

  • Jaques

    Josef Goebbels is really PROUD of you for continuing the grand tradition of propganda (lying and deceiving) the people, Allen Clifton. And the only “denial of reality by Republicans is that too many fail to recognize the complete hypocrisy of the democrats and THEIR Denial of Reality!
    Let’s start with THEIR Trillion Dollar Plus Deficits over the past five years.
    Then everytime you talk about the Constitution, you ignore the fact that you believe it’s a living document to be interpreted (twisted) any way you desire. Can you spell H-Y-P-O-C-R-I-T-E!!

    • Jim

      First of all, the deficit has been cut in half. Learn the difference between deficit and debt. Give an example about the Constitution please.

  • Kathie

    I just love the second amendment freaks, who talk about the “government taking away our guns” but can’t even cite the text of the second amendment. I asked a woman at work the other day what well-regulated militia was she a part of…and she had NO idea that the phrase “well-regulated militia” came from the second amendment!