Jonathan Chait: Conservatives’ Hatred for Obamacare Is Part of Their Overall 'Cleanliness Fetish'

Breaking news: next year’s CPAC will be sponsored exclusively by Ivory soap, Purell, Lysol, Pine-Sol, and Mr. Clean.

OK, not really, but the joke is based on New York magazine blogger Jonathan Chait’s assertion in a Thursday post that the “hygenic impulse” -- or, as the post’s headline puts it, the “cleanliness fetish” -- of conservatives “helps explain the primal character of the right’s Obamacare hate — its obsession with ‘full repeal,’ a way of conceiving the issue that transcends any specific analysis of policy and instead calls to mind the expunging of a toxin.”

From Chait’s post (emphasis added):

The right’s pathological hatred of Obamacare is a phenomenon liberals have struggled to grasp...

Linda Greenhouse unearthed a finding that adds to our understanding of this peculiar phenomenon. She finds Michael Greve, chairman of the Competitive Enterprise Institute, speaking at the American Enterprise Institute, a fellow conservative think tank, in 2010. Greve declared:

[Obamacare] has to be killed as a matter of political hygiene...

…[T]he interesting phrase here is “political hygiene.” It’s a somewhat unusual formulation. George Will used versions of it twice to justify impeachment, another conservative crusade that seemed to defy rational understanding…


...As John Hibbing points out, “Conservatives are more likely to have a physiological response and to devote more attention to disgusting things (which can carry pathogens) and to threatening things.” People more sensitive to disgust are more likely to have right-wing views, and triggering reactions of disgust makes people more right wing. The bedrooms of conservative college students are more likely to contain cleaning supplies.

The connection between impeachment and the hygenic impulse is fairly straightforward. The impulse also helps explain the primal character of the right’s Obamacare hate — its obsession with “full repeal,” a way of conceiving the issue that transcends any specific analysis of policy and instead calls to mind the expunging of a toxin…

…Obamacare…has triggered a deep-seated revulsion, lodged itself in the right-wing brain as something unclear and impure, in a way that no set of metrics can heal.

Tom Johnson
Tom Johnson
Tom Johnson is a contributing writer for NewsBusters