In the wake of the recent signing of the health care bill Democratic members of Congress who supported the bill have been subject to death threats and their offices and homes have been vandalized. Some blame public figures of the conservative movement like Sarah Palin and Glenn Beck for the frenzy over health care reform. Sarah Palin published the names of Democrats who voted for the bill from former Republican districts and told her followers “Commonsense Conservatives & lovers of America: ‘Don’t Retreat, Instead – RELOAD!” Glenn Beck spent months bashing the bill on his show saying it [the bill] “is the end of America as you know it.” The attitudes Palin and Beck hold about reform and the current President are shared by others and seem to be held with strong moral conviction.
Of the many facets of attitudes, level of moral conviction is thought to be highly influential in both our social and political environments. In a review of the literature about these so-called ‘moral mandates’ Skitka (2010) highlighted the consequences associated with moral convictions showing that they are associated with intolerance for dissent, trouble resolving conflicts, strong positive and negative emotion, believing that valued ends justify violent means, and interestingly greater involvement in politics. Skitka argues that moral conviction isn’t necessarily a bad thing as it can be a protective force against “malevolent authorities.” However, there are still extreme negative consequences including the rejection of the rule of law and use of violent protest and terrorism. Skitka’s review applies quite well to the conservative backlash against American health care reform although conservatives are certainly not the only group to hold these types of attitudes or act on them. What is clear is that having strong moral convictions involves walking a dangerous line in which one’s beliefs and working towards them come very close to threatening others and the democratic process itself. In the end we are all responsible for our own actions; however, it is imperative that those in the public eye recognize the power they have and use it responsibly to ensure that freedom of speech is preserved and the rule of law is respected. Dissent, debate, thoughtful argument, and compromise are powerful tools with which to maintain a healthy, safe, and effective political climate.
The Psychology of Moral Conviction