Do Republicans Have A Death Wish?

by Bob Schwartz

Sigmund Freud
In the first episode of Mad Men, psychologist Dr. Greta Guttman explains how the health dangers of cigarettes might be used to the advertiser’s advantage:

“I believe my most recent surveys have provided a solution. We can still suggest that cigarettes are “part of American life,” or “Too good to give up,” and most appealing “an assertion of independence”….Before the war, when I studied with Adler in Vienna, we postulated that what Freud called “the Death Wish” is as powerful a drive as those for sexual reproduction and physical sustenance.”

Even though this seems preposterous, account executive Pete Campbell tries it out later at a client meeting:

“At Sterling Cooper, we’ve been pioneering the burgeoning field of research. And our analysis shows that the health risks associated with your products is not the end of the world. People get in their cars everyday to go to work, and some of them die. Cars are dangerous. There’s nothing you can do about it. You still have to get where you’re going. Cigarettes are exactly the same. Why don’t we simply say, “So what if cigarettes are dangerous?” You’re a man. The world is dangerous. Smoke your cigarette—You still have to get where you’re going.”

To which the patriarch of the tobacco company replies:

“Is that your slogan? “You’re going to die anyway. Die with us.””

The Republican Party does not, as far as we know, have a psychoanalyst. And Freud’s so-called “death drive” remains one of his most controversial principles.

But there is no question that individuals and institutions exhibit behavior that surpasses our understanding of what is rational and adaptive. From the outside, it looks like a path that leads nowhere good. Sometimes it is our own shortcoming in not being able to see the complex and sophisticated strategy underneath. Sometimes people are too clever for their own good. And sometimes, there is no conclusion left other than a Freudian one, that there is an instinct not just to fail or epic fail, but to go all the way down. “You’re going to die anyway. Die with us.”

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