Over at the new Law & Mind Blog, several Harvard Law students have been blogging about about System Justification Theory. Here is one of those posts, written by first-year student Michael Lieberman.
* * *
In his State of the Union address, President Barack Obama proudly proclaimed: “Starting this year, no American will be forbidden from serving the country they love because of who they love.” Referencing the recent repeal of the U.S. Military’s “Don’t Ask Don’t Tell” Policy (DADT), Obama expressed confidence in a relatively swift timeline for the repeal of the longstanding policy. In the days that followed Obama’s address, multiple government officials have echoed this sentiment, eliciting praise from long-time critics of the policy. Alexander Nicholson, executive director of Servicemembers United, the nation’s largest organization of gay and lesbian troops and veterans, commented: “Generally we are pleased with how swiftly this is moving forward.”
The rate at which repeal is ostensibly progressing is somewhat of a surprise given the strong objections to repeal voiced by members of Congress and the Military throughout the policy’s history. The insights of system justification theory (SJT), as described by Blasi & Jost, can help explain the apparent mismatch between the vehement opposition to repeal and the complicity (and perhaps even vigor) with which it is being implemented. By examining the public comments of one particularly strong critic of repeal, Senator John McCain, I will explain this apparent mismatch by invoking the insights of SJT and other mind science theories.
McCain has been a longtime supporter of DADT, often buttressing his stance by noting that several military leaders had also professed support for the policy. In a 1999 interview that typifies McCain’s historical stance on DADT, McCain told the Boston Globe that he supports the policy because “Gen. Colin Powell, Gen. Norman Schwarzkopf, all of the military leaders that I respect and admire came up with this policy … They thought it was the best way to address a very difficult problem within our military.” However, recent insights from the mind sciences suggest that McCain’s cited rationale for his policy stance may not be the true source of his policy attitude. As Jon Hanson and Mark Yeboah note: “our reasons, far more often than we can perceive, are not connected to our behavior as much as they are rationalizations or confabulations to help make sense of that behavior.” Sure enough, even when Powell changed his own stance on DADT, Senator McCain continued with his opposition.