Lots of people have been referencing this Democracy Corps report on focus-group meetings with Republicans, and with good reason: Greenberg has basically provided a unified theory of the craziness that has enveloped American politics in the last few years.
What the report makes clear is that the current Republican obsession with attacking programs that benefit Americans in need, ranging from food stamps to Obamacare, isn't about some philosophical commitment to small government, still less worries about incentive effects and implicit marginal tax rates. It's about anxiety over a changing America — the multiracial, multicultural society we're becoming — and anger that Democrats are taking Their Money and giving it to Those People. In other words, it's still race after all these years.
One irony here is that at this point it's the liberals who believe in America, while the conservatives don't. I believe in our ability to change while retaining our essential nature; I believe that today's immigrants will be incorporated into the fabric of our society, just as Italian and Jewish immigrants — once regarded as fundamentally incompatible with American ways — became "white" by the middle of the 20th century.
Another irony is that the great right-wing fear — that social insurance programs will in effect buy minority votes for Democrats, leading to further change — is becoming a self-fulfilling prophecy. The GOP could have tried to reach out to immigrants, moderate its stances on Obamacare, and stake out a position as the restrained, sensible party. Instead, it's alienating all the people it needs to win over, and quite possibly setting the stage for the very liberal dominance it fears.
Meanwhile, a key takeaway for us wonks is that none of the ostensible debates we're having — say, the debate over rising disability rolls — can be taken at face value. Yes, we need to crunch the numbers, but in the end the other side doesn't care about the evidence.