Saturday, April 24, 2010

"another liberal plant"

A.L. is back with a barnburner of a post (see bottom of this thread):
From my perch back in the empirical world, I'm just not sure know to deal with this. How do you begin to make your case when there aren't any mutually accepted facts? How do you convince someone that the people they trust are liars and charlatans? Writing posts trying to correct the record and dispel misinformation can at times feel about as pointless as trying to bail water out of the ocean.
Kurtz: The Year of the Chicken

From TPM Reader LM:

I just went to my doctor's office for a sinus/ear infection. I had never seen this particular physician before and certainly didn't bring up politics with him, but as I was about to pay my bill, he volunteered, "We take cash, check, credit or debit card. No chickens." I'm in Indiana, mind you. I think Sue Lowden is in real trouble if even random doctors in Indiana are mocking her to near-total strangers.
Marshall: This is Their Messaging?

I find this completely bewildering. The Republican Governors Association is embracing the mantle of a 17th century radical who tried but failed to pull off a mass casualty terrorist attack to kill the King of England and all of Parliament. Only now Obama plays the role of James I. Guy Fawkes is their new hero?

Nothing shocks me anymore. But this shocks me.

Kurtz (TPM): In The Crucible
When your mettle is truly tested, you don't get any do-overs. In her declining years, will Gov. Janice Brewer (R-AZ) look back on today with pride? Or will she feel the pangs of conscience that Earl Warren later expressed over his role in the internment of Japanese-Americans?
DougJ: Constitutional rights

This sounds more like some kind of Biblical right to me:

The Arizona cops are hot on the trail of the man who threatened to kill Raul Grijalva’s staff over immigration, Tucson police spokesman Fabian Pacheco tells me. They have the number of the cell he used to make the threats and are looking to make an arrest.

Intriguing detail: The man allegedly told Grijalva’s staff that he was going to exercise his “constitutional right” to go kill Mexicans at the border, Pacheco says.

Probably another liberal plant anyway.

It was fairly amusing earlier this week when Glenn Beck told his radio audience that God is communicating with him directly and giving him "a plan ... that is not really a plan." As Beck explained it, "What He is asking us to do is to stand peacefully, quietly with anger, loudly with truth."

As a rule, when strange men with a history of substance abuse start claiming that they're passing along messages from above, it's a strong hint that the audience might want to change the channel. What's that old joke? "When you talk to God, it's prayer; when God talks to you, it's schizophrenia"?

Nevertheless, it was even more striking to hear Beck go a little further today.

"We are entering a dark, dark period of man. Um, I was, um, I was in the Vatican, and I was surprised that the individual I was speaking to knew who I was. And they said: 'Of course we know who you are. What you're doing is wildly important. We're entering a period of great darkness, and if good people don't stand up, we could enter a period unlike we have seen in a very long time.'"

Ben Dimiero summarized this nicely:

Of course, Beck doesn't clarify whether the "individual" he talked to was a Vatican official or a tourist from Omaha, but the impression he wants to give his listeners is clear: the Vatican itself has identified Beck as "wildly important" in the coming "dark, dark period of man."

You may see the ongoing debate in our country about health care reform, financial reform, and a variety of other issues in terms of how they will affect our policy decisions. Glenn Beck envisions things on a slightly larger scale - with himself at the center of it all.

Two things. First, given the support the Roman Catholic church has shown for social justice -- a concept Beck believes is "code" for Marxism -- I'm not sure why he would consider the Vatican a source for wisdom anyway. Just last month Beck implored his minions to "run as fast as you can" away from churches that value social justice. So, why'd he go to the Vatican in the first place?

And second, I know the phrase "delusions of grandeur" gets thrown around casually sometimes, but when someone who claims to receive messages from God, and characterizes himself as "wildly important" in some kind of global scenario to prevent a dark period for humanity, doesn't the phrase take on a more literal, clinical meaning?


Long-time readers may recall a discussion we had back in December, about the quality of the debate over health care reform. It was obvious at the time that the meaningful, interesting disputes weren't between conservatives and liberals, but between liberals and other liberals.

It's not that the right remained silent; it's that they offered arguments that no serious person could find credible. Consider, just off the top of your head, the most prominent concerns raised by opponents of the Affordable Care Act. What comes to mind? "Death panels." "Socialism." "Government takeover."

It was the biggest domestic policy fight in a generation, but most of the policy debate was spent debunking transparent, child-like nonsense. The left approached the debate with vibrancy, energy, and seriousness. The right thought it was fascinating to talk about the number of pages in the legislation.

Making matters worse, the quality of the discourse on health care wasn't especially unusual. We endured a mind-numbing debate over economic recovery efforts because Republicans weren't prepared for a serious argument. We can't discuss Wall Street reform because Republicans keep saying "bailout" for no reason. We can't discuss a climate bill because Republicans reflexively reject the science.

Every major issue has strengths and weaknesses, and every major piece of legislation is subject to legitimate criticism. In 2010, however, the right seems fundamentally unprepared to even have the conversation.

Given all of this, Marc Ambinder asks today whether the right has "gone mad."

Can anyone deny that the most trenchant and effective criticism of President Obama today comes not from the right but from the left? Rachel Maddow's grilling of administration economic officials. Keith Olbermann's hectoring Democratic leaders on the public option. Glenn Greenwald's criticisms of Elena Kagan. Ezra Klein and Jonathan Cohn's keepin'-them-honest perspectives on health care, the civil libertarian left on detainees and Gitmo. The Huffington Post on derivatives.

I want to find Republicans to take seriously, but it is hard. Not because they don't exist -- serious Republicans -- but because, as [Julian] Sanchez and others seem to recognize, they are marginalized, even self-marginalizing and the base itself seems to have developed a notion that bromides are equivalent to policy-thinking, and that therapy is a substitute for thinking.

Ambinder ponders various explanations -- the habit of conservatives to take entertainers seriously as political actors, the "incentive structures exist to stomp on dissent and nuance," the epistemic closure problem in which conservatives ignore news outlets that might tell them what they don't want to hear -- but doesn't draw a clear conclusion.

In a way, that's a shame. I was really hoping he'd help me understand how one of the nation's dominant political parties and the ideology it embraces chose intellectual bankruptcy.

Anonymous Liberal: An Army of Trumans
This is the first post I've written since last November. Part of what drove me to take a break from writing about politics was a growing realization that the Great Conversation in this country had completely ceased, that the various sides were no longer speaking the same language, like dialects that have--over time--drifted so far apart that they are no longer mutually intelligible. Watching Fox News and Tea Party rallies, it became apparent to me that the right wing in this country had severed the few remaining ties it had to the world I live in, the empirical world.

In its place, the Right has constructed its own Bubble World, a sort of political Truman Show complete with its own facts and rules (albeit facts and rules that are constantly changing based on political expediency). The writers, directors, and actors in this conservative version of Seahaven are the legions of GOP politicians, operatives, and conservative media outlets that relentlessly push this politically expedient alternative reality, and the Trumans are the millions of regular Americans who don't realize the joke is on them.

In this Bubble World, it is an accepted truth that our President is a bumbling ignoramus who can only string together a coherent sentence if he uses a teleprompter (which, apparently, other politicians don't use). I can understand a world in which Obama's political opponents mock him as a being too professorial or out-of-touch or arrogant. But unintelligent? Inarticulate? I don't know how to deal with that. It's like mocking John Boehner for being pale.

Similarly, it is an accepted fact in the Bubble World that Obama is an extreme liberal, if not an outright socialist or communist. According to Newt Gingrich, Obama is "the most radical president in American history." Again, I just don't know how to deal with that. This is a guy who, at every point in his political career, has gone out of his way to position himself as a moderate, as a pragmatic technocrat. Since taking office, he has not, as far as I can tell, made a single policy decision that can fairly be described as liberal, much less radical. The only significant pieces of legislation he's passed are a stimulus package that nearly every economist endorsed and a health care reform bill modeled on Romney-care (which, while better than nothing, is nowhere close to the kind of bill most liberals--much less a communists or socialists--would have crafted).

In Bubble World, there is a movement known as the Tea Party, whose members are simultaneously incensed about the size of the deficit and the fact that they have to pay taxes (even though they have the lowest tax rates in the free world and just got significant tax cuts--from Obama--in the past year). Moreover, they're not angry at the party that built the deficit--by starting wars and giving massive tax cuts to people who are much richer than them--or that presided, just recently, over the near collapse of the economy. But they are furious at the party that just recently took the reins, inheriting both a crumbling economy and massive deficit. And if they had their way, they would put back in power a party whose only policy idea is, that's right, cutting taxes; which, of course, would only make the deficit much worse.

But not in Bubble World. In Bubble World, cutting taxes actually raises revenue. In Bubble World, "the market" will magically solve all of our health care problems and true "freedom" is defined by one's ability to be denied health coverage for pre-existing conditions. And in Bubble World, a set of sensible and long-overdue financial regulations designed to prevent another meltdown of the economy and foreclose any future taxpayer bailouts of Wall Street is actually a "permanent bailout bill."

In this alternative universe, the facts are literally whatever the political consultants say they should be. Whatever resonates with the focus group. If you're working on behalf of Wall Street lobbyists to kill a bill that would impose more accountability on Wall Street, you simply accuse those who support the bill of doing Wall Street's bidding. It doesn't matter that this is the opposite of the truth and is, in fact, exactly what you're doing. While these facts might matter to people in the empirical world, the facts in Bubble World are whatever the right wing wants them to be. In Bubble World, Mitch McConnell is bravely protecting the people from the Wall Street bigwigs, not doing the bidding of Wall Street lobbyists.

And that sad reality goes a long way toward explaining why I haven't been blogging lately. We've reached a point where the right wing in this country has achieved complete epistemic closure. Aided by their extensive and growing media apparatus and a traditional media that is uninterested in playing umpire, the Right has managed to escape entirely from the gravitational pull of the empirical world, and in fact, has a created a world of its own, one with a rapidly growing gravitational field that, everyday, pulls in more and more of the unsuspecting and uninformed.

From the comfort of this Bubble World, people like Mitch McConnell can simply say whatever the hell they want to say, no matter how ludicrous, and trust that much of the country will readily accept it as true. As Christof famously says in the Truman Show, "we accept the reality with which we are presented." And that's particularly true when that reality is one that is focus-grouped tested to conform with our pre-existing biases and hammered home repeatedly by the folks we rely on to keep us informed (which, for a scary number of people these days, means Fox News and Rush Limbaugh).

From my perch back in the empirical world, I'm just not sure know to deal with this. How do you begin to make your case when there aren't any mutually accepted facts? How do you convince someone that the people they trust are liars and charlatans? Writing posts trying to correct the record and dispel misinformation can at times feel about as pointless as trying to bail water out of the ocean.

I had high hopes after the thumping the Republicans took in 2006 and 2008 that we had finally turned a corner, that the cracks were beginning to show in Bubble World and the empirical world was slowly re-exerting its influence. I got the feeling that more and more people who had been stuck in the bubble were beginning to sense that something just wasn't right.

But I was wrong. Freed from the burden of any actual governing responsibility, the GOP has been free to devote all of its efforts to reconstructing their Bubble World. And they've been largely successful. An entire movement has formed that is based, almost entirely, on confusion and mis-directed anger, a movement that sees the world only through the lens of Fox News and other right wing outlets. The Tea Party is an army of Trumans, a movement of people who have whole-heartedly embraced the false reality with which they've been presented.

The central dilemma for those us left in the empirical world is how to puncture the bubble. What can we do to make facts once again relevant? What can be done to dis-incentivize the kind of lying and reality denial that has become the hallmark of the modern conservative movement? I can't say that I have answers to these questions, but I'm pretty confident that these are THE questions that we should be asking. Policy debates are great, but only when they take place in the empirical world. If a majority of Americans aren't living in that world, then such debates risk becoming purely academic exercises.

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