Monday, April 26, 2010


Kurtz (TPM): 'What Is With These Guys?'
The RNC continues to send out deceptive mailers designed to look like census documents just weeks after Congress passed a law aimed at making such practices illegal and requiring certain information on the envelope to prevent recipients from being mislead. We have the mailer and the RNC's response: The law doesn't apply to us.
  • TPMMuckraker

    After her office was forwarded a copy of the mailer, Rep. Carolyn Maloney (D-N.Y.), who sponsored the bill passed last month, noted that the mailer "does not appear to meet" the requirements of the new law -- and slammed the RNC.

    "What is with these guys?," she said. "We pass a law in record time, with unanimous bipartisan support in both houses of Congress, to reduce confusion about the real Census-- knowing that every census form that isn't returned costs taxpayers money and hurts accuracy. But there goes the RNC again, right back to trying to make a buck on the Census!"

    She added: "I don't understand why the RNC has so much trouble following the law given the level of bi-partisan support to protect the Census."

    But RNC spokesman Doug Heye told TPMmuckraker: "We simply looked at the new law, saw that it did not apply to our mailer and continued with the mail pieces." Heye did not elaborate on the RNC's view that the new law did not apply to its mailers.

Krugman: Epistemic Closure In Macroeconomics

There’s been a huge outpouring of blogospheric discussion about “epistemic closure” on the right: a complete refusal to look at evidence or arguments that don’t come from the like-minded. I don’t have much to say about all that aside from the fact that it’s obvious, and has been going on for years.

But I think it’s worth pointing out that something similar has long been true in macroeconomics. And like the political version of epistemic closure, it’s not a “both sides do it” issue. It’s a fresh-water phenomenon; salt-water macro isn’t subject to the same problem.

Here’s what I mean: ask a grad student at Princeton or MIT, “How would a new classical macro guy answer this?”, and the student can do it; classes at freshwater departments teach real business cycle theory, and good students can tell you what it says even if their professors have a different view.

But students at freshwater schools — or, alas, many of their professors — can’t return the favor. It’s been painfully obvious since the crisis broke that people at Minnesota, or even many people at Chicago, have no idea what New Keynesian economics is all about. I don’t mean they disagree, or think it’s garbage, they literally have no idea what the concepts are. And that’s why they reinvent 80-year-old fallacies when they try to discuss the subject.

It’s interesting to ask why this sort of cocooning is a feature of the right but not the left. But it’s very real, and has a dire impact on economic as well as political discourse.

Bernstein: More on that Closed Loop
I think we can add "epistemic closure" to the things that Jonah Goldberg either doesn't understand, or pretends not to understand.

In his second post on the subject (here's the first one, and Conor Friedersdorf's reaction; see also Andrew Sullivan and Jonathan Chait), Goldberg fights back against the accusation that conservatives are subject to "political correctness and intellectual taboos." Moreover, he believes that "the larger 'evidence' that seems to be driving the idea that conservatives are brain dead is the fact that the GOP has become the 'Party of No.'" But that's not what Julian Sanchez was actually talking about in his post that set everyone talking. Here's Sanchez:
One of the more striking features of the contemporary conservative movement is the extent to which it has been moving toward epistemic closure. Reality is defined by a multimedia array of interconnected and cross promoting conservative blogs, radio programs, magazines, and of course, Fox News. Whatever conflicts with that reality can be dismissed out of hand because it comes from the liberal media, and is therefore ipso facto not to be trusted. (How do you know they’re liberal? Well, they disagree with the conservative media!).
The accusation isn't that conservatives all reach the same conclusions about everything, nor is it that conservatives are excessively politically correct, nor is it that conservatives demand strict adherence to a set of ideas if one is to remain a conservative in good standing. It's rather about information, and what counts as evidence about the real world. Sanchez's point is that if one only gets information from a narrow set of sources that feed back into each other but do not engage beyond themselves, that one will have a closed mind (not his phrase, by the way) regardless of what one does with that information.

Evidence to contradict Sanchez can't be found by comparing how many people your side has exiled with the number of people the other side has exiled (and, you know, I can't help but point out that if your prime example of someone who has been banned for violations of political correctness is the president's current director of the National Economic Council, you might want to look for a better example. Or does Goldberg think that David Frum is likely to get a prominent position in the next Republican White House? How about Bruce Bartlett? Lawrence Wilkerson? Richard Clarke?). No, evidence to contradict Sanchez would involve...well, to start with, Jonah Goldberg could report where he gets his information? Does he always watch Fox News, or does he also turn to CNN? Does he read the New York Times? If so, does he consider news reports in the Times reasonably reliable (subject, of course, to critical thinking and additional evidence) or does he think news reports in the Times can be "dismissed out of hand because it comes from the liberal media, and is therefore ipso facto not to be trusted" (as Sanchez asserts). Does he seek out information from academic sources; does he read, for example, blogging political scientists such as those at the Monkey Cage, or Brendan Nyhan, and Plain Blog (wait, that's me!).

And then Goldberg could self-report other things (and by the way, I don't know the answer to these questions; I read him only occasionally). For example: was he one of the conservatives who was certain, in late January and in February, that health care reform was dead? How often (and I don't know the answer to this) does he find himself repeating things that have long been debunked by neutral fact-check sites such as Ah, there's a good one -- does he believe that all such sites that claim to be neutral are really just liberals in disguise?

Of course, there are hints that Goldberg would stand as an example of the thing he denies. He critiques Noah Mellman's essay, and concludes that perhaps Mellman is just upset with those who are more "consistently conservative" than Mellman. That is: there is conservatism, and if you don't agree with its official positions on the issues, then you're not a consistent conservative. Or, as Goldberg explains, "A lot of this closed-mind talk sounds like tendentious code for why conservatives should change their convictions" (his emphasis). To an outsider, this sounds suspiciously like exactly what Sanchez and others are saying, no? Conservatism, to Goldberg, is constantly under assault from people -- non-conservatives -- who want real conservatives to give up their deepest principles, their capital-C convictions. It appears difficult for him to imagine a situation in which two people are equally conservative, even though they disagree on a number of issues.

I saved the best for last. Goldberg:
And I just don't know what these people are talking about when it comes to the notion that the conservative mind is closed. In a way it smacks of the tendency of losers in foreign policy fights to insist they're the "realists" unlike the winners who are really ensorcelled by ideology or idealism. Just because your preferred position didn't win, doesn't mean the winners have some major intellectual defect or shortcoming.
Look, "realist" and "idealist" are not terms invented post-hoc by people upset that they didn't get their way in Iraq (or any other contemporary policy fight); they are long-settled ideas about international relations. Nothing about the terms implies "major intellectual defect or shortcoming." That's Goldberg's view from the apparently very narrow place he lives. The idea that these types of schools of thought, realists or idealists, could "win," after which conservatives, having settled their convictions in foreign policy, are done with that debate and can safely ridicule the losers (can safely think of them as losers) -- well, that's what we're talking about. That is what one who is closed-minded does.

Obviously, everyone has sources they trust more, sources they are somewhat suspicious of, and sources they dismiss. What Sanchez is talking about is a group of people who all agree on which sources are to be trusted -- and who have narrowed it down to a fraction of all the information out there, a fraction which is both closed and small and suspicious of any outside sources. He's actually not talking at all about ideology or issue positions; he's talking about staying in touch with reality, which as Andrew Sullivan reminds us (quoting Orwell) "needs a constant struggle."

Sanchez, Millman, and Friedersdorf are struggling. Jonah Goldberg doesn't seem to see the point of it.
flory: A little closure

I generally leave discussion of wingnut philosophical debates to Thers -- mostly because he can make them entertaining. And humor is the only safe way to enter the conservative body politic. Sort of a wingnut condom.

But Noah MIllman has a very long post about the whole 'epistemic closure' fandangle over at The American Scene, and this part really struck me:

yet the common perception of those who worry about the “closing of the conservative mind” is that something has changed – certainly since the right’s intellectual heyday of the 1970s and 1980s. (emphasis mine)

I think what struck me was how this has become received wisdom -- on both the right and the left -- that there was some kind of intellectual golden age in conservative thought in the 70s and 80s. And that got me thinking about exactly how the right's political agenda was shaped by Reagan era thought. To wit:

1. Communists are bad. I think communists figured that one out on their own. Not sure how much conservative intelligentsia contributed.

2. Relatedly -- giant shiny missile shields will protect us from scary communists. How's that one working out?

3. Tax cuts for the rich are teh bomb!

4. Deregulation uber alles!

5. Going to war with brown people living in deserts will fix.......pretty much everything.

I'm sure I'm missing a few but that's my not-conservative memory of the intellectual output of movement conservatism from the Reagan-Bush era.

Maybe the fact that this is considered their golden age is the answer to what's wrong with wingnuttia?

David Frum: Groupthink at National Review

How wonderful to return to a free country, I thought as I stepped off the plane from Beijing at Washington Dulles. No more censorship, no more official lies, no more kowtowing to high officials who gained power by their mindless repetition of party dogma…

Then alas I opened my browser and read the dump-on-Manzi comments on NRO’s The Corner. Manzi had deviated from the One Correct Way of Mark Levin Thought, and all his former colleagues had been summoned together to Denounce and Struggle Against Him.

Not one stood up to be counted in Manzi’s defense, not even colleagues whom Manzi might have had reason to regard as close personal friends. (Take a second to notice whose bylines are missing from yesterday’s discussions.)

What makes this episode all the more remarkable is that Manzi is actually a member of NR’s board of trustees – i.e., somebody who might claim a little more scope to speak his mind. But even for trustees, there are limits, and Manzi crossed them.

It’s important to understand what exactly the limit is.

Manzi could have safely disputed Levin’s claims on global warming if he had observed a couple of conditions. First, acknowledge Liberty and Tyranny as a good and important book. Second, acknowledge Levin’s “service” (i.e., leadership) of the conservative cause. Third, isolate criticisms to one particular finite point – avoid drawing any larger conclusions – and be sure to wrap any criticisms in a blanket of compliments. Just because one particular chapter happens to be slovenly, ignorant, and hysterical should not lead you to question the intellectual merit of the book as a whole.

Manzi negligently violated the rules, and the results are as you see.

The episode reminds me of a conversation I had with a friend a year ago, shortly after I published my piece on Rush Limbaugh in Newsweek. I won’t embarrass my friend by mentioning his name, but if I did, you’d certainly recognize it.

My friend: “You aren’t really mad at Rush Limbaugh you know.”

Me: “I’m not? I thought I was.”

My friend: “You’re not even mad at Fox News. You want to win elections, you know that the troops have to be mobilized, somebody has to get them fired up, and you don’t fire them up with Milton Friedman and James Q. Wilson. You are mad at the conservative intellectual elites. They’re the ones who are supposed to uphold intellectual standards, to sift actual facts from what you call ‘pretend information’. Rush Limbaugh isn’t any worse than he was 20 years ago. But 20 years ago, conservatism offered something more than Rush Limbaugh. Since then, the conservative elite has collapsed. Blame them, not talk radio.”

What happened to Manzi is a perfect illustration of this elite collapse.

Reading through the comments in the Corner, there’s no mistaking who’s in charge, who’s subservient. Two Corner contributors complained about Manzi’s “tone.” Levin is the most vituperative radio host this side of Mike Savage – but imagine anyone at The Corner complaining about Levin’s tone!

Conservatism has always had both elite and popular wings, and in the past they worked together productively. Fred Schwarz drew tens of thousands to his Christian Anti-Communist Crusade in the early 1960s, at the same time as Milton Friedman was publishing Capitalism and Freedom; F.A. Hayek, The Constitution of Liberty; and Edward Banfield, The Moral Basis of a Backward Society. Nobody however demanded that Milton Friedman hail Schwarz’s pamphlets as serious contributions to conservative thought, in the way that the Cornerites demand that Manzi kiss Levin’s ring.

It’s different now, to conservatism’s present shame and future detriment.

I'm always (pleased) when Paul Krugman appears on one of the Sunday shows; he tends to say things most guests don't.

Take yesterday, for example. On ABC's "This Week," Sen. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.) spoke at some length about the need for the Wall Street reform bill pending on the Hill to be "bipartisan." Soon after, the roundtable discussion focused on this, and the NYT columnist emphasized a point that often goes overlooked.

"Anyone who says we need to be bipartisan should bear in mind that for the last several weeks, Mitch McConnell, the Senate minority leader, has been trying to stop reform with possibly the most dishonest argument ever made in the history of politics, which is the claim that having regulation of the banks is actually bailing out the banks," Krugman noted. "And basically, the argument boils down to saying that what we really need to do to deal with fires is abolish the fire department. Because then people will know that they can't let their buildings burn in the first place, right? It's incredible. So anyone who says bipartisan, should say, bipartisan doesn't include the Senate minority leader."

Sure, it's a little -- but only a little -- hyperbolic to say McConnell's "institutionalized bailout" lie is "possibly the most dishonest argument ever made in the history of politics," but McConnell's breathtaking dishonesty deserves to be called out in bold terms.

But Krugman's larger point is arguably more important: the conventional wisdom continues to insist the lawmaking process is somehow inadequate, and possibly even illegitimate, if proposals aren't "bipartisan." But we're also dealing with a dispute in which the leadership of a party has no qualms about blatantly, shamelessly lying.

And while it didn't come up, the same dynamic has existed in every other policy debate of the last year and a half -- health care, economic recovery, combating global warming, etc. -- in which Dems are told they must gain Republican support, and the GOP leadership demonstrates its commitment to the process by making things up.

Which is why Krugman's point is worth emphasizing, especially for establishment figures that assume Dems must be doing something wrong if Republican leaders aren't happy.

cliffweathers: NY-19: Candidate says GOP liberated Europe in WWII

This promises to be a bizarre political year, with GOP candidates not only running to the far right, but veering way off track. Earlier this week, Republican Senate candidate Sue Lowden of Nevada grabbed the crazy baton from Rep. Michele Bachman when she suggested that people should barter and haggle with their doctors for health care, rather than rely on insurance. But what she said is nothing compared to what the newly minted challenger to Congressman John Hall said in her candidacy's opening days.

Kristia Cavere is the Tea Party and a Republican candidate for New York's 19th Congressional District seat held by Hall. Cavere thinks that the Democrats have co-opted Republican values and claims, among other things, that:
"The Republicans are the ones who liberated Europe in World War II."

She continued by saying that the Republicans have always initiated "every" advancement of freedom in our history.
"Unfortunately, today there are many Republicans in office who are cowards and who are bad communicators," she said. "We have the right ideas, the right principles, the right philosophy and history on our side."

Her comments appeared in the April 23 edition of the Record-Review, a newspaper that serves Pound Ridge and Bedford, NY. The newspaper has not printed an online version of the article.

Ms. Cavere is only 30, but that does not excuse her for having poor grasp of American history. The last thing I would ever want to do is to politicize something as significant as our victory in World War, or at least the European end of it, as she sees it.

Yes, this is the last argument I would ever want to have with anyone, but this is what it's starting to boil down to: defending our values against lies by the far rightwing when they attempt to discredit and demonize the Democratic Party. There is no honor or logic to making such a partisan claim, no matter what party you're affiliated with. I would be just as ashamed if someone said the Democrats won World War II because FDR and Truman were the presidents during the war-that's just wrong!

Thousands of Democrats died in the Battle of the Bulge right next to the thousands of Republicans who also gave their young lives. This is true for all the battles. It was true in World War II, it was true in Vietnam, and it's true today.


  • from Balloon Juice:

    According to her bio,

    In May 2009, Kristia received a Masters in Science degree in “Defense and Strategic Studies” from Missouri State University, which is located in Fairfax, Virginia right outside our nation’s Capitol. She graduated summa cum laude and with a 4.0 grade point average.

    I’d like to know what else she learned at MSU. Unfortunately, even though she claimed to be raising $300K, she hasn’t filed a FEC report, so we probably won’t be hearing much more from Ms. Cavere.


    “The Republicans are the ones who liberated Europe in World War II.”

    It’s the Jonah Goldberg formula:

    Liberating Europe = Fighting Fascism
    Fascism = Liberalism
    Liberalism = Democrats
    Fighting Democrats = Republicans

    Q. E. Duh.

    [Either that, or she’s claiming that Stalin was a Republican.]


    If we had promised the Germans a capital gains tax cut, the war would have been over in 1942.

Weigel: How to read New York magazine's big Palin story

Gabriel Sherman's sprawling New York magazine cover story on "Palin, Inc." is actually a fast and breezy read. It being an article about Sarah Palin, there's no policy to slow it down. We get a brief explanation of how bitter Palin was serving as governor of Alaska while journalist Kaylene Johnson got rich ("I can’t believe that woman is making so much money off my name," said Palin), especially after Palin realized that her gubernatorial duties would complicate her national book tour. So she quit, and we're off.

Read it all, but take note of these points.

- According to Sherman, Palin writes her own Facebook posts. That shouldn't be news, but Palin hired a ghostwriter to finish "Going Rogue"-- and some of her early posts, festooned with footnotes, don't sound like her. According to Sherman, said ghostwriter considered suing Palin over an article by Max Blumenthal that made hay of her collaboration with conservative reporter Robert Stacy McCain.

- Discovery Communications bought Palin's TV show as the "centerpiece of a strategy that TLC executives see as positioning the network as the anti-Bravo, whose shows like Top Chef, the Real Housewives franchise, and America’s Next Top Model are programmed to a liberal urban audience." Bodes poorly for boycotters.

- The backstory on Palin's speech to the National Tea Party Convention is as seedy as we might have guessed.

To help pay Palin’s fee, [Tea Party Nation's] Judson Phillips turned to Bill Hemrick, the founder of Upper Deck baseball cards, for a seed investment of $25,000. With Phillips, Palin struck a hard bargain. Her contract stipulated that for almost any reason she could back out and send a surrogate. “If we fart wrong, she is gonna back out on us,” Phillips declared in one planning meeting, according to a participant. “That’s how detailed this contract is.”

And I can't let this part go without comment.

Online, right-wing sites like the Drudge Report frequently plug Palin headlines, while Palin’s presence at liberal outlets like the Huffington Post and Talking Points Memo routinely sparks hundreds of reader comments.

As with the tea parties, Palin benefits from an intense partisan interest in news about her. To be fair, however, many of the comments that accompany stories on Palin's newest blog posts plaintively ask the editors of those liberal web sites why they're giving her so much attention.

Neiwert (C&L): Yes, the American Right really has gone insane

A couple of weeks ago, when I was about to appear on-air with Rachel Maddow, her producer warned me that one of the questions might be: "You and John Amato have a new book coming out this spring titled Over the Cliff: How Obama's Election Drove the American Right Insane. Insane?"

Easy reply: A-yup.

Unfortunately, she never actually asked it. Now, of course the title is a bit of hyperbole in that it's hard to say whether one could accurately call this a clinical insanity (more on that in a bit). But what John and I and the rest of the C&L team have been observing over the past year, and have compiled into a coherent and (we hope) thought-provoking study, is simply the descent into madness of an entire political bloc. It's a verdict that, in the past couple of weeks, has been not just vindicated but manifested in news events.

Sometimes the insanity turns up anecdotally, as in this e-mail I was forwarded from a friend:

I got a call from my daughter that the whole family went out to dinner. While eating dinner my granddaughter gets a text message from one of her classmates. The text is: "It's God's responsibility to forgive Obama but it's our responsibility to arrange the meeting between God & Obama." My granddaughter is 12 years old, black and in the sixth grade at an elementary school [near Atlanta]. The classmate who sent the text is also twelve years old but white. When my daughter saw this message, she texted this 12-year-old back and asked her what she meant by arranging the meeting between God and Obama. The 12-year-old essentially said it meant to kill Obama.

Or it turns up in the Facebook page with a "joke" wishing for God to take Obama:

A recently created Facebook page reads, "Dear Lord, this year you took my favorite actor, Patrick Swayzie (sic). You took my favorite actress, Farah (sic) Fawcett. You took my favorite singer, Michael Jackson. I just wanted to let you know, my favorite president is Barack Obama. Amen."

Most often these days, it turns up at Tea Parties and related right-wing events, such as the April 19 D.C. armed march, featuring gun-nut rhetoric like that from Media Matters Action Network in the video above.

Some of this, as the Violence Policy Center recently explored in a study titled "Lessons Unlearned: The Gun Lobby and the Siren Song of Anti-Government Rhetoric" [PDF file] is being deliberately whipped up by right-wing organizations, notably the gun lobby.

And some of it is merely free-floating right-wing angst, stirred up by sources ranging from Glenn Beck to Ron Paul to FreedomWorks. I especially enjoyed this video from the April 15 Tea Party protest in D.C., compiled by the fine folks at NewLeftMedia:

I especially loved the woman who informed us that President Obama plans to ban fishing, didn't you?

The insanity also manifests itself in Republican governors' new fondness for Guy Fawkes as a model for Tea Partiers to follow. As Josh Marshall put it, "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.... Nothing shocks me anymore. But this shocks me."

Adds Steve Benen:

It's a reminder that the Republican mainstream made a right turn at scary, and have arrived right at stark raving mad.

Even for Beltway folks like Marc Ambinder are wondering: "Have Conservatives Gone Mad?" Ambinder's answer: A-yup.

I want to find Republicans to take seriously, but it is hard. Not because they don't exist -- serious Republicans -- but because, as 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.

It is absolutely a condition of the age of the triumph of conservative personality politics, where entertainers shouting slogans are taken seriously as political actors, and where the incentive structures exist to stomp on dissent and nuance, causing experimental voices to retrench and allowing a lot of people to pretend that the world around them is not changing. The obsession with ACORN, Climategate, death panels, the militarization of rhetoric, Saul Alinsky, Chicago-style politics, that TAXPAYERS will fund the bailout of banks -- these aren't meaningful or interesting or even relevant things to focus on. (The banks will fund their own bailouts.)

This disconnect from reality is occurring because the American Right is insistent on it. Indeed, one of the reasons that I'm perfectly comfortable calling the American Right "insane" -- even if you couldn't call them "insane" in the legal or clinical sense -- is that one of conservatives' outstanding characteristics is their perfervid insistence on believing things that are provably untrue, even when presented with insurmountable and indisputable evidence.

If, per Einstein, doing something repeatedly and expecting different results defines "insanity," then similarly, insisting on believing in things that are provably untrue is also a definable sign of it. Which is, in fact, what I was going to tell Maddow.

Here, just for starters, are the Top 10 Provably Untrue Things Tea Partiers Believe In:

1. The Birth-Certificate Conspiracy.

2. Death Panels.

3. Obama Is A Muslim/Socialist/Fascist.

4. Obama Is Going To Take Away Our Guns.

5. Obama Is Raising Our Taxes.

6. Fascism Is A Left-Wing Phenomenon.

7. Global Warming Is A Hoax.

8. Two Million People Were at 9/12 March.

9. 16,000 New IRS Agents.

10. The Tea Parties Are a Non-Partisan, Broad Grassroots Movement.

That really is the definition of insanity.

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