A Fair Question: Is Governor Scott Walker a Conservative Without Conscience?

Posted in: Politics

This is the first of a two-part series of columns by Mr. Dean.  The second column in this series will appear here on Justia’s Verdict on April 6th.

By way of preface, a few years ago, when I wrote Conservatives Without Conscience (2006), I relied on a half-century of empirical studies by social scientists to better understand political figures who evidence little concern for anyone and anything other than themselves, their tribe, and their goal of imposing their worldview on others.  That science on authoritarianism remains valid and unchallenged.

Actually, when publishing my book, I hoped that the conservatives I targeted might explain how and why that science was wrong, if that was indeed the case.  Not one has done so.  On the other hand, many self-proclaimed conservatives, men and women who do appear to have consciences, have sought me out to thank me for this work because, for them, it helps explain the stances and personalities of some of their fellow conservatives with whom they have trouble identifying.

For those interested in this science, the leading expert whose work I relied upon, Professor Robert Altemeyer, has shared his work publicly and in non-scientific language. (Almost a half-million people have visited his website, which is wonderful, for this information also helps to explain the mindset of the Republicans who are dominating the political debate in this presidential election year, e.g., Rick Santorum and Newt Gingrich.)

But my focus here is on Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker, who strikes some who have written to me as a distinctively prototypical authoritarian politician; what social science has labeled as a “double high” authoritarian; and the type of person which I described in my book as a conservative without conscience.

Understanding Authoritarian Dominators and Followers

Most of the early empirical testing of authoritarian personalities explored why large numbers of people could (and still can) be taken in by likes of a Hitler or Mussolini, and why people submit to, and often willingly follow, such authoritarian leaders.  More recently, however, social scientists and political psychologists had been examining not merely those who follow authoritarian leaders, but also the types of people who seek to become leaders, with personalities that testing shows have a “social domination orientation.”

This testing reveals, in varying degrees, that social dominators (authoritarian leaders) have the following recurring traits: They’re typically men; they are dominating; they oppose equality; they are desirous of personal power; they are amoral, intimidating and bullying, faintly hedonistic, vengeful, pitiless, exploitive, manipulative, and dishonest; they will cheat to win; they are highly prejudiced (racist, sexist, and/or homophobic), mean-spirited, militant, and nationalistic; they tell others what they want to hear, take advantage of “suckers,” and specialize in creating false images to sell themselves.

They may or may not be religious, but usually they are both political and economic conservatives and/or Republicans.

In turn, recurring traits that, in varying degrees, are found in authoritarian followers—a group that includes both men and women—are as follows:  They are submissive to authority but aggressive on that authority’s behalf.  They are conventional and highly religious, with moderate to little education. They trust untrustworthy authorities, exhibit prejudice (particularly against homosexuals, women and followers of religions other than their own), and are mean-spirited, narrow-minded, intolerant, bullying, zealous, dogmatic, and uncritical toward chosen authority.  Moreover, they are hypocritical, inconsistent and contradictory, prone to panic easily, highly self-righteous, and moralistic.  They are strict disciplinarians, and are severely punitive; they demand loyalty and return it; they exhibit little self-awareness, and they, too, are usually political and economic conservatives and/or Republicans.

There is, however, another—and exceptional—type of authoritarian.  When testing social dominators, scientists noticed an incomparable situation: They occasionally found persons who garnered high scores for their cold, calculating dominance, yet also gained high scores on the tests for submissive followers.  How, it was asked, could the same person test high on both scales, since these traits are seemingly inconsistent?  Social scientists labeled these people “Double Highs” because of their high scores on both testing scales.

Altemeyer solved this conundrum when he found that these Double Highs relate to the questions regarding submission not by considering how they themselves submit to others, but rather how others submit to them.  They simply see the world as a place where they are always in charge.

Authoritarian Double Highs Are Scary People, Indeed

Double Highs are endowed with a host of negative personality traits, and, it seems such traits, in Double Highs, are always present in excess.  For example, Double Highs are not merely prejudiced, they are doubly so.  Their orders are to be followed, but not by them.  They are not merely dogmatic, but defiantly insistent upon their dogmas.  They are not only manipulative of others, but talented at their manipulation.  As you go through various authoritarian traits, if you view the trait in its more extreme form, then you are usually talking about a trait that is likely to be possessed by a Double High authoritarian.

Altemeyer, who has been testing and observing Double Highs’ behavior for decades, says that these people are truly scary.  On several occasions, Altemeyer has run Global Change Games with large groups of university students, whom he selected because they had all tested as authoritarians. He found that those students with Double High personalities took charge of their respective groups, while the others followed.  More striking, however, was the behavior of the Double Highs: They engaged in nuclear blackmail, made themselves wealthy by dubious means, provoked a worldwide crisis by destroying the ozone layer, allowed 1.9 billion people to die of starvation and disease, and cast the poor regions of the world asunder.  Not pretty.

Of course, simulations are not the real world, even when played seriously, and students who participate in such simulations are well aware of that.  Nonetheless, when you observe Double Highs in real-life situations, you will find that they are very disquieting people.  I worked for and with a number of Double Highs at the Nixon White House, from the president on down through his senior staff.  There is no doubt in my mind that it was the interplay of these Double High personalities that produced that power- abusing presidency.

Moreover, when writing Conservatives Without Conscience, I examined a number of prominent Double Highs in action in Washington during the years of the Bush II Administration: former Speaker Newt Gingrich, House Majority Leader Tom DeLay, lobbyist Jack Abramoff, Senate Majority Leader William Frist, and Vice President Dick Cheney.  Strikingly, the damage done by these Double Highs was not too far from that found in Altemeyer’s student simulation.

Is Scott Walker a Conservative Without Conscience?

Because of my writings on this topic, I have received a number of inquiries asking whether I think that Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker is a Double High authoritarian, or as I describe these personalities in my book, a conservative without conscience.

Needless to say, no public official is going to submit to actual testing to determine his or her personality type.  But if you take the test questions, and match them to conspicuous conduct by a public official, the conclusion as to what personality type that official possesses is often conspicuously obvious.

I have had (and continue to have) conversations with a number of Wisconsinites, who have told me about the political chaos Walker has created with his radical conservative policies and union-busting laws, since becoming governor.  Others have told me about the tactics he is now employing to fight the recall election that he is confronting on June 5th, as a large number of voters have rejected him and his policies.  And I have been reading about how he is lawyering up to deal with a criminal investigation from his days as the Milwaukee Country Executive, as his present and former aides have been charged with criminal conduct.

For Wisconsin voters, the question whether Walker is one of these unique authoritarian personalities, is not an unimportant one, given the way those with such personalities characteristically govern.  So I’ve not rushed to judgment.  To the contrary, I continue to gather information, and I will devote a full column to my conclusion, and to any implications it may have for Wisconsin’s government.  Stay tuned.

Posted in: Politics

  • boats80

    Spoken like a true liberal, YOUR theory, YOUR opinion, YOUR test questions are the only source of information. I find it interesting (since you seem to think your highly intellegent) that you never offered a solution as to how to keep the state from going bankrupt. Scott Walker did. Nobody died because of his very difficult decisions. The economy sucks people are unemployed and are over taxed because of the high cost of public sector labor which we can no longer afford. I’m very grateful that I have a govenor that supports a majority of people instead of the union minority.

    • Just because Gov Walker had a “solution” doesn’t mean it’s right, let alone that’s it’s good for Wisconsin. We’ve had 30+ years of GOP social engineering, small government that’s just big enough to clog a uterus, and the insane idea that cutting revenue can balance a budget. But don’t let reality impede your opinions.

    • John Dean is and was a Republican, and is reporting on actual research, which is neither liberal nor conservative. Take a break and yell along with Fox. 

    • CheeseLander

      Two things:  learn to spell, and learn that the state was NEVER “in danger of going bankrupt”.  You are entitled to your own opinion, but not to your oiwn facts.

    • James

      Walker cut the budget strictly according to his ideological agenda, and only balanced the budget to the same degree that Doyle and every other governor has done – in the accounting method he called Doyle a liar for using. The state still has a deficit by Walker’s accounting standards, lost more jobs than any other state in 2011, and is not enjoying the national recovery as much as other states have been because Walker’s austerity agenda has stifled economic growth. So really the question isn’t “why don’t Walker’s opponents propose a better budget?”, but rather, “why don’t Walker’s supporters admit that his approach really didn’t help us fiscally, and only served to carry out his ideological agenda through selective cuts?”

    • Simp29

      YOURE an idiot. Thats the dumbest thing ive ever heard. People are unemployed because of unions?? More like people are unemployed because governor dipshit continues to lie to the public and morons like you believe every word he says, and every pathetic commercial he puts out. Do some actual research for yourself and see how misleading and pathetic he is. Go ahead stand with Scott Walker, its just like standing with liars, felons, and child molesters.

    • Cynthia071

      Oh yes, that wonderful Governor of ours just sparkles and shines!  From being the State with the highest job losses this past year, the 2nd highest in cuts to education, he decided to make teachers, prison guards, social workers and so forth his scapegoats!  They are asked to sacrifice while corporations are given big tax cuts.  
      He is a dishonest and evil man and I so look forward to him being thrown out of office.

    • dingobully

      His highly intelligent what? What’s a govenor? Nobody died? With the changes in gun laws and dropping people’s health care, how do you know this?

    • calme

      His theory, opinion, and tests… based of of decades of research, science, and statistics.

      Did you read this segment of the article, boats80?

      “They are submissive to authority but aggressive on that authority’s behalf.  They are conventional and highly religious, with moderate to little education. They trust untrustworthy authorities, exhibit prejudice (particularly against homosexuals, women and followers of religions other than their own), and are mean-spirited, narrow-minded, intolerant, bullying, zealous, dogmatic, and uncritical toward chosen authority.  Moreover, they are hypocritical, inconsistent and contradictory, prone to panic easily, highly self-righteous, and moralistic.  They are strict disciplinarians, and are severely punitive; they demand loyalty and return it; they exhibit little self-awareness.”

      …because you are fitting the bulk of these criteria to a “T” and I wouldn’t be much surprised if the remaining criteria struck a chord with your approach to life.

    • Nanatukee

      The state wasn’t going bankrupt. Walker created the deficit to carry out his agenda.

    • Anonymous

       It’s hilarious!

      You ask the same questions and observe the behaviours of different people, and you can tell where they fall on the personality type spectrum.

      When you ask the same questions of a progressive and an authoritarian, and make an evaluation on the different answers that they give, and observe their different behaviour, and then boats80 informs you that their differences are because of the questions, coffee squirts out of your nose.

      Try not to be such an easy target.

    • Jayne

      do you live here n earth? i think you and your opions are juvenile at best your choice of words clearly suggests that you are one of the 1% just sayin……………. grow up pull your head out mmmkkkkkkkkkkkk

    • Stellaluna

      Silly Boat! First you should double check your numbers; the Walker administration did not keep the state from going bankrupt though the new policies are going to bankrupt our state’s education system. The other number you might want to check is your notion of majority; the  number who signed the recall petition significantly is significantly over the number of people in public unions – especially when you consider many government employees were fearful of signing but WILL vote. And finally, I think you might want to reread the article as you seemed to have missed the whole point.

    • Steve Recallyes

      Umm…Dean is a lifelong repub who is challenging his fellow party-mates to start questioning what is happening to the GOP. Walker has consistently followed his “my way or the highway” approach instead of looking for consensus. The Fitz Bros have fallen in line. If the people of Wisconsin really think this is the way to go, why  do hundreds of thousands of them show up to protest at the capitol? Why do many of my republican friends say, “This isn’t the guy I voted for!”?

      You may have noticed that the unions quickly acceded to the monetary concessions, which by itself would have been a huge victory for Walker. But instead of thanking them for their efforts, he then went after collective bargaining, revealing his true goal–to kill the unions. Walker’s lasting legacy will be his creation of lifelong activist opponents which will drive his party into submission.

    • Raven

      Boats80, you’re calling the co-author (with Barry Goldwater) of Pure Goldwater a “true liberal.” Great start.

      Using spellings like “your” (for “you’re”), “intellegent,” and “govenor” — impressive.

      But saying no-one but Scott Walker “offered a solution as to how to keep the state from going bankrupt”?? Man, that is backwards and upside down!

      Scott Walker gave away the bank to his Good Buddies, then announced Oh No! There’s A Deficit! However Shall We Fix It? Not by taking back the money he just gave away, but by making the poor and working class give more. This allowed him to give more to his Good Buddies, but then Oh No! There’s Another Deficit! We Must Now Break The Unions! (…repeat a cycle…) Another Deficit! We Must Now Kick Poor People Off Health Insurance! (…repeat a cycle…) Another Deficit! We Must Now Confiscate the Mortgage Settlement! — and somehow Walker’s giveaways that caused the deficits are never at the tiniest risk of getting touched. Walker *created* these deficits to justify doing everything else.

      Walker claimed he’d “Balanced The Budget” on TV ads to Wisconsin while concurrently certifying to DC that the deficit was *so* bad poor people had to be kicked off health insurance. (We couldn’t *possibly* cut his corporate tax rebates instead?)

      He said “Without Raising Taxes” on those same TV ads — but that’s exactly what cutting the Earned Income Tax Credit and Homestead Tax Credit did. PolitiFact: “Walker and Republicans asked certain low-income working poor families, renters and homeowners to shoulder a little more of the state’s tax burden — about $69.8 million over two years.” This while giving those businesses “one of the biggest tax breaks in years.”

    • Ray Indc

      Boats80: The idea that you would call John Dean a LIBTARD is utterly hilarious. Dean was RICHARD NIXON’s lawyer. He was a Republican and is now an Independent. Calling him a liberal is like calling Joe McCarthy a commie. (PS: It sounds like you exactly fit the authoritarian follower characteristics Mr. Dean described. I guess that struck a nerve.)

  • Diogenes’ Lantern

    Living in Arizona, I run into these type of people constantly.  Being liberal, it makes life very difficult.  I used to have a blog on the local newspaper, the Kingman Daily Miner, but because of my politics they tried their best to censor my writing.  I fought back hard and managed to keep my blog up for almost two years, but they radical right-wing Double Highs that run the paper (and the state), they finally won.  Anymore I am not even allowed to comment on the articles in the paper.  If you want to see some really radical DHs, go to kdminer.com and read some of the articles but pay special attention to the comments.  I’d leave here in a flat second if I could but I’m old, poor, disabled and will die here, much to my regret. 

  • Al Campos

    No Moral Compass at all. You would think with him having a pastor for a father would make a difference but, stone cold and sold to the highest bidders.

    • Blammo

      A pastor ? John Azzcroft is a pastor. Understand now ?

  • I’m very thankful for John Dean. If not for he, we’d be left with people like me calling these types “assh*les”. Like I’m about to do for boats80! =D

  • I’d argue that he’s not a conservative either. He simply does the reverse Robin Hood. Happy to take from the less fortunate to have more to offer as corporate welfare. There’s no one too humble to take from, or too rich to help. That’s NOT conservatism. 

  • Anonymous

    Mr. Dean, I live in Wisconsin and you are hitting on exactly what I have been mulling over for over a year now.  In my opinion, there is no doubt whatsoever that Walker is what you call a Double High (I have called him a sociopath).

    My alarm has always been with those that follow and support him.  I live in a suburb outside of Milwaukee, and the vehement, blind support is thick here.  I find these supporters fall into two categories:  the zealous, dogmatic fighters you describe above, and those that fall victim to messaging.    The former is the category that has me the most worried and frustrated.

    The first are predictable, they repeat whatever talking point has been put out there on Fox, Limbaugh, or Charlie Sykes (our local Limbaugh), they care not about facts.  If you talk to them, they shout over you.  They use the predictable tactics of projection and diversion.  My personal experiences in discussions with these people find them enjoying the battle, loving the blood-sport of politics.  I have been warned/bragged to on more than one occasion that they are the side that is “armed”.   Some are religiously motivated, some are just die-hard republicans, and then there are those that love being on the side of the “tough guys”.

    Then there are the rest.  They don’t pay much attention to politics.  They flow with the neighbors.  “Suburbanites are for Walker, therefore I am.”  They are the ones that repeat the tired old bumper sticker lines.  “Job Creators” is an automatic response to Walker handing out millions in tax breaks to corporations.  “Union thugs” are how they describe the people gathered at the Capital.  These are the same who still complain that the Affordable Care Act was “crammed down our throat”, yet find the 14 Senators, who left the state in order to give the public time to look at the Walker budget bill, criminal.  The fact that “Obamacare” was given a year of debates, town halls, and committees escapes them.    They still believe in the “death panel” lie.

    We have a media here that is very submissive to the Walker (ALEC) agenda.  The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel does relatively little investigative journalism, resorting to “republicans say”/ “democrats say”, with no independent fact finding of their own.  That is relegated to the editorial page, which is often dismissed as partisan.  The local news stations are worse, they are clearly shaping the narrative. 

    My mother, a retired public school worker, is living on her public pension, and supports Walker.  She is not an ideologue, she has always been independent.   Loved Kennedy and Reagan, voted for Bush and Obama.   But she is stuck in Walkerland.  Irregardless of the Conceal Carry law that she hated, no matter that Walker made “teacher” a bad word, too bad he stole the money slotted for the foreclosure victims.  Somehow, the messaging system here is too powerful.  I can’t get through.  Part of the problem is she listens to Charlie Sykes every morning.  But the rest is the word of mouth – and fashion. 

    I find that it has become suburban “fashion” to be a Walker supporter – in the “keeping up with the Jones'” way.  That if you go to the salon (not Cost Cutters) if you drive a nice car, if you own a nice home,  then the other must-have accessory to prove you belong in the suburbs  is your support for Scott Walker.    Whether you know a thing about him, or politics, or not.

    THIS is what scares me the most.

    I so look forward to your findings and future article.

  • Too Much

    Name *one* Christanic Republican who isn’t a hate filled racist sh1t pile cult savage who hates everything our country stands for and works for our nation’s enemies. Go ahead. Try to find even one.

    Every Christanic Republican is a corporate traitor and a Christanic terrorist. Every fvcking one of them.

  • Bluehawk7

    Scott Walker fits your description to a “T”. And the Tea Party crowd for the most part  fit your description as typical followers of this type of leader. Rick Santorum, Newt,  Romney, Paul Ryan could also be included.  I find many of the Republican Governors, and other Republican political leaders in Washington to be authoritarian as well. Obama has been vilified by both the authoritarian leaders and their followers because of his race, his education and his concern for the vulnerable in our country. To me both the authoritarian leaders and the followers to fear anyone who is visionary with ideas that challenge the status quo. In short, they are dinosaurs who feel threatened by change for fear of losing control and power.
    I am so glad to see this commentary and I think it should be an Op-ed in the NYT, and WAPO.

  • Well, guess where we can look for one of the staunchg followers of authoritarians. Really hard for me to understand why some people just hate thinking for themselves. We all tend to project our own beliefs and perspectives, and I am evidently just too fond of this freedom thing. I’m willing to consider any reasonable suggestions, but I’ve never been so big on following orders, and it was even something of a strain for me to earn my honorable discharge… Real freedom is not about taking away other people’s freedoms. It has to do with meaningful and unconstrained choice. To make it meaningful, you have to start by understanding the facts, and to be unconstrained, you have to THINK about those facts and make your own decisions about the options.

  • Upeppermint

    Could you please, using the same principles of social science, do a generalized profile on the pedantic, condescending, highly-impractical liberal mindset that is the counterpart of the profile detailed in this article?  Thank you.

  • Anonymous

    Gov. Walker once wrote an op-ed piece that the NYTimes rejected.  He then posted it on the state website with the title “The One Opinion Piece the New York Times Doesn’t Want You to Read.”  It has now been scrubbed from the state site but I’m sure it exists elsewhere.  I found that it very insightful in terms of how he views himself and his place in the world; perhaps it would be helpful for your research.  I look forward to reading your findings!

  • Carmeldog1

    I thought the author was discussing Obama because if there ever was a “Double High” it is Obama.  He is attempting to grab power with every breath he breathes.

  • Joe Simmons

    Mr. Dean, I have some answers for you. It is based on academic studies. They were recently discussed in the New York Times:


    Mostly, your innate psychology is standing in the way of understanding conservatives. You suffer from a deficit of understanding, or as Kristof put it:

    “Another way of putting it is this: Americans speak about values in six
    languages, from care to sanctity. Conservatives speak all six, but
    liberals are fluent in only three. And some (me included) mostly use
    just one, care for victims.”

    You appear at the more extreme end of this political-psychological spectrum. Unable to understand competing and worthy values, you merely declare people evil.

  • Anonymous

    With all due respect Mr. Dean, I have known Scott personally for over 15 years.  The only “social dominator”  trait Scott exhibits is that he is male. He is actually a man of great coscience and empathy. I am reminded of a college classmate who was dismayed when he got a C on a paper in which he tried to psychoanalyze Adolf Hitler.  If you wish to analyze Scott’s personality, talk to him and those who know him.

  • gerald spezio

    John Dean has delivered a precise definition of LAWYERING.

    This testing reveals, in varying degrees, that social
    dominators (authoritarian leaders) have the following recurring traits:
    They’re typically men; they are dominating; they oppose equality; they
    are desirous of personal power; they are amoral, intimidating and
    bullying, faintly hedonistic, vengeful, pitiless, exploitive,
    manipulative, and dishonest; they will cheat to win; they are highly
    prejudiced (racist, sexist, and/or homophobic), mean-spirited, militant,
    and nationalistic; they tell others what they want to hear, take
    advantage of “suckers,” and specialize in creating false images to sell

  • MilwaukeeMOM

    John Dean was a traditional Republican. 
    If you consider anyone who can objectively look at someone in power and question his/her motives and they counter YOUR opinion, then why is it always considered “liberal”? Or is this simply questions that all of us should consider when someone is in power and they have divided our state this way?

  • slozt

    Funny how you manage to fit most and ” conservative/Republican” in every mention of Authoritarian. Then you mention Hitler and Mussolini. Mussolini might have been conservative, but Hitler was a socialist. So the two biggest and terrorizing Authoritarians of the past 100 years have been from the left; Stalin and Hitler . While in America the two historically greatest dictatorial presidents were progressives;  Roosevelt and Lincoln. I know you must believe that there are exceptions to every rule, but why does your research neglect the historical authoritarians of the left?

  • Pingback: Why Scott Walker is a Classic Authoritarian » Counterpunch: Tells the Facts, Names the Names()

  • Pingback: A Federal Court Looks at Wisconsin’s Political War | John Dean | Verdict | Legal Analysis and Commentary from Justia()

  • wifather2000

    Here Walker testifies, under oath, that Act 10 did not save Wisconsin any money and was done as a political thrust to benefit Scott Walker! Here is the video:https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xqhtUTyqVOY#action=share