Editore"s Note
Tilting at Windmills

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January 15, 2011

THE DANGERS OF EPISTEMIC CLOSURE.... About a week after the midterm elections, David Frum, a former Bush speechwriter, had a very strong piece, explaining how important it is for his fellow Republicans to learn the appropriate lessons from what had transpired over the last two years. At the top of Frum's list: recognizing the "danger of closed information systems."

Too often, Frum said, conservatives "wrap themselves in closed information systems based upon pretend information. In this closed information system, banks can collapse without injuring the rest of the economy, tax cuts always pay for themselves and Congressional earmarks cause the federal budget deficit.... As corporate profits soar, the closed information system insists that the free-enterprise system is under assault. As prices slump, we are warned of imminent hyperinflation. As black Americans are crushed under Depression-level unemployment, the administration's policies are condemned by some conservatives as an outburst of Kenyan racial revenge against the white overlord."

For poli-sci-minded news observers, this isn't new -- the problem of "epistemic closure" on the right has been a hallmark of recent years. It's especially common with Glenn Beck acolytes -- Beck, Frum noted, offers "an alternative history of the United States and the world, an alternative system of economics, an alternative reality" -- but it's also come to dominate even mainstream conservative thinking.

Much of the right is convinced of their version of reality, because they only interact with media that reinforces that version, giving them a sort of tunnel vision when it comes to reality. Early last year, Jonathan Chait labeled it the "Conservative Misinformation Feedback Loop."

Jonathan Bernstein had a terrific item yesterday, noting how epistemic closure affected the right's response to last week's shootings in Tucson.

...I think we've seen an excellent example of this kind of loop over the last week, leading logically to Sarah Palin's much-maligned address to the nation in which she placed herself front and center as the chief victim of the Tuscon massacre. The truth is that if all Palin knew of the world was what she read on at least one highly prominent conservative Web site, her reaction, and her outrage, would be perfectly understandable.

Here's what I looked at: I went through every post at National Review Online's The Corner blog from the first news of the shootings through this morning. That's a lot of stuff; numerous bloggers post quite a lot of items there, for those of you not familiar with it (and you should be! Read things from all over the place!).

What did I find? First, I should say, a fair amount of shock, grief for the victims, and celebration of the heroic stories of those who saved lives in Tucson. Two reasonable posts about "tone," one from Heather Mac Donald and one from Kathryn Jean Lopez and Seth Leibsohn.

But beginning very soon after the shootings, and continuing all week, the major theme has been resistance to what was presented as a systematic effort by liberals and the press to pin the attack on conservatives, and on Sarah Palin in particular. It is not presented as a story about specific politicians or pundits who made poor judgments. Nor is it presented as a reasoned discussion of whether extreme rhetoric can have unintended consequences. No; if you read just The Corner, what you're left with is the impression that a monolithic, capitalized "Left" has been literally accusing Palin of murder.

Jonathan went through several examples, with National Review writers pushing back against arguments and rhetoric that they perceived to be real and outrageous, but couldn't actually point to.

The point isn't that NRO is unique. For that matter, there probably were some on the left making unreasonable arguments, though if they were part of some systemic progressive push, they probably should have been easier to identify.

Rather, the key takeaway here is that the right's reliance on closed information systems -- its epistemic closure -- once again fueled a skewed vision of real-world developments. Conservatives watched Fox News; they heard Limbaugh; and they read National Review the editorial page of the Wall Street Journal, and RedState; and they started drawing conclusions. The left was blaming Palin and the right for the tragedy, or so they convinced themselves to believe.

As Jonathan explained, "[A]nyone reading just the Corner, or getting their news from such sources, would wind up with a massively distorted sense of what liberals were saying, and what the press was reporting. The conclusions that they would draw from that version of reality might be internally consistent, but would be radically wrong."

Steve Benen 11:00 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (68)

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Posted by: c u n d gulag on January 15, 2011 at 11:03 AM | PERMALINK

It's not just epistemic closure, it's tribal closure. Frum will not be hailed by his comrades as a wise counselor, instead he will be vilified as a traitor to the tribe.

"Fine minds make fine distinctions."

Posted by: neil b on January 15, 2011 at 11:07 AM | PERMALINK

It is a bit easy to spot an ill-informed individual - he is the one who banters about the third person pronoun, they, with at best a nebulously implied antecedent.

As one watches FOX & FIENDS, one finds the water-cooler discussions on this particular cable station descend into rapid fire "they" usages, which is passed on to an ill-read audience, reinforcing the ill-informed nature of said participants in such madness!

Damn you Rupert Murdoch! (Fist shaking toward the heavens!) -Kevo

Posted by: kevo on January 15, 2011 at 11:08 AM | PERMALINK

I'm not so sure that the right is all wrong on this. In my leftie corner of liberal-ville, I've become increasingly concerned about right-wing extremist rhetoric that reached its first high water mark during the nearly-riotous town hall meeting season of the health care bill. Sarah "death panels" Palin is the front-and-center teaparty extremist rhetoric leader, so it's logical she should take the brunt of the criticism (and her surveyor-symbol-studded map is just gravy).

In this case, it's not epistemic closure driving the right's reaction to reasonable criticism, it's how the right always reacts to reasonable criticism -- paranoia and over reaction.

On another level as well, conservatives have a particularly difficult time understanding that environment produces behavior. Poor people are poor because they are lazy, not because of consistent structural impediments to their progress. Rich people are rich because they work hard. Drug addicts are weak. Iraqis don't want freedom. Muslims (especially palestinians) are just evil. The free market always works.

Considering the environment itself as an actor in social affairs is something only liberals do; in fact, I think the entire liberal project can be defined as conditioning the environment to produce the best outcome. To even acknowledge environment as influential is anti-conservative.

Posted by: inkadu on January 15, 2011 at 11:18 AM | PERMALINK

c u n d gulag, where did you find that shot of Glen Beck?

Posted by: DAY on January 15, 2011 at 11:18 AM | PERMALINK

I've known that they've been acting "loopy" for years. Now I know why.

Posted by: c u n d gulag on January 15, 2011 at 11:19 AM | PERMALINK

Their epistemic closure continues by design, don't you think? The cons can't afford to have open-minded followers because the error of their ways would became apparent. And to say on message, the head cons must close out the rest of the world, or they might trip up.

Posted by: CDW on January 15, 2011 at 11:23 AM | PERMALINK

Kevo nailed it. I have a boss at work who is a CPA an intelligent woman and a Faux NOOZE watcher . It has poisoned her mind . During the election I had her tell me that she really doesn't trust Obama because he "Pals around with terrorists" a totally made up story that was a gospel talking point on Faux. I gave up trying to exchange ideas because all I would get is Faux talking points.

Posted by: John R on January 15, 2011 at 11:32 AM | PERMALINK

getting their news from such sources, would wind up with a massively distorted sense of what liberals were saying, and what the press was reporting.

Not a bug, a feature - probably the defining feature of the right-wing media.

Posted by: Jay C on January 15, 2011 at 11:33 AM | PERMALINK

I don't think the religious aspect can be discounted. Most of these people are extremely religious, and their politics are just another manifestation of their religion. Have you ever tried to have a reasonable, measured, conversation about politics with any right winger? Their immediate response is to start screaming. These people don't go to church to be challenged, and for them, listening to Limbaugh, watching FOX News and following Sarah Palin is the same as going to church.

Posted by: SaintZak on January 15, 2011 at 11:37 AM | PERMALINK

The problem is when the political discussion gets dragged off track by their rage at something that they made up for themselves to get angry at. When the crazy person starts talking about the red gorilla in the corner, it's important to keep asserting that there is no gorilla in the corner, not get dragged into talking about how gorillas are usually black and brown, not red, except older males who get silver on their backs, etc.

I hope that finally they may have gone too far, and that many regular people will feel revulsion at their using terms like "blood libel" and "pogrom" to defend themselves from mild criticisms. They seem to believe that they, and not people who were ACTUALLY SHOT, KILLED OR WOUNDED, were the most important victims last week, and that (I hope) seems pretty odd to your average American.

Posted by: biggerbox on January 15, 2011 at 11:38 AM | PERMALINK

K street realized this epistemic closure some time ago:

>Our mission is to get specifically selected groups of individuals to the polls to speak out AGAINST something. To that end, your money is best spent finding them and communicating with them on using the modes that they are most likely to respond to. Simply put, we want to bring out the wackos to vote against something and make sure the rest of the public lets the whole thing slip past them. The wackos get their information form [sic] the Christian right, Christian radio, mail, the internet, and telephone trees -Scanlon

I doubt they want to break up this epistemic closure as it serves the hidden agendas well.

Posted by: Kill Bill on January 15, 2011 at 11:42 AM | PERMALINK

Boys and girls, we have to always guard against falling into the same trap. Our edge is being reality based. If we on the left ever lose that edge we will have no chance of solving our problems. America will become a Hutu/Tutsi mess.

Posted by: Ron Byers on January 15, 2011 at 11:51 AM | PERMALINK

Remember also, many on the Right proceed from beliefs to information and not the other way around. Facts are used to verify beliefs, not to shape them, and most certainly not to test them. Quite the contrary: if a fact appears to challenge a belief, then the fact is suspect -- even hostile -- and must itself be challenged. Thus the myth of the monolithic and all-powerful Left (which if you think about it must indeed seem huge and powerful, since these false facts keep popping up everywhere).

People who reason from fact to belief -- like scientists and other rational folk -- may consider that to be the only correct way of cognition. But to many on the Right, it is alien. Arguments based on that process, then, are likewise alien and extremely unlikely to convince.

Posted by: bleh on January 15, 2011 at 11:51 AM | PERMALINK

Their intransigence and epistemic closure wouldn't bother me so much if it was confined to their little corner of the world, but invariably the talking points/lies always make their way into the national media and ultimately part of the national conversation, regardless of their veracity. Consequently, we spend days, even months, arguing about demonstrably false things like 'death panels', instead of the problems with out heath care system.

The mainstream media has to get off the fence and start reporting right and wrong, as opposed to desperately trying to find a false balance. Because that contrived objectivity is facilitating, intentionally or otherwise, the right's narratives.

Posted by: Holmes on January 15, 2011 at 11:52 AM | PERMALINK

One notable dimension of their insulated environment is that it doesn't subscribe to journalistic practices of retractions and corrections. Bad enough that they're spoon-fed allegations, conspiracies, lies, and wildly misleading interpretations of events, but there's no practice whatsoever of correcting prior misinformation.

Posted by: jTh on January 15, 2011 at 11:53 AM | PERMALINK

They seem to believe that they, and not people who were ACTUALLY SHOT, KILLED OR WOUNDED, were the most important victims last week, and that (I hope) seems pretty odd to your average American.
Posted by: biggerbox on January 15, 2011 at 11:38 AM

They seem to believe? no they actually believe. The attack by Gifford (that video clip) on Palin hurt her 2012 chances. Palin and Palinites were the real victims. What do the lives of half a dozen matter against the chance to be President?

Narcissism and paranoia, we have seen you, and you're not very attractive.

Posted by: Johnny Canuck on January 15, 2011 at 11:54 AM | PERMALINK

That first post wasn't mine. I never put that up there. I did the one just below yours commenting on the first one. I wish I did.

Has someone taken my monicker? At least it wasn't something totally atrociously right wing. Maybe I shouldn't give anyone any idea's.

Posted by: c u n d gulag on January 15, 2011 at 11:54 AM | PERMALINK

BTW If you have any teabagger friends , point them to this Matt Tiabbi article http://www.rollingstone.com/politics/news/matt-taibbi-the-crying-shame-of-john-boehner-20110105
He shows how the baggers have been duped by the Republican mainstream.

Posted by: John R on January 15, 2011 at 11:56 AM | PERMALINK

"These people don't go to church to be challenged, and for them, listening to Limbaugh, watching FOX News and following Sarah Palin is the same as going to church..."

I was recently in a car with a church leader who dutifully turned the radio to Rush and nodded in affirmation to the things Rush was saying. My problem with that is: the things that Rush says are in direct contradiction to what I would consider to be "Christian". And yet they are accepted as if they were gospel, because Rush is always right, and confirms what his audience holds as truth, even though it might be "wrong".

While riding in that car I said nothing, when maybe I should have spoken up. My defense: arguing with Dittoheads, for the most part, is as productive as banging your head against a wall. I would simply have been branded a brain-washed liberal bound for hell, if not to my face, surely behind my back.

Posted by: delNorte on January 15, 2011 at 12:09 PM | PERMALINK

Your not funny doodie.

Posted by: Kill Bill on January 15, 2011 at 12:13 PM | PERMALINK

c u n d gulag

Your "type" in your moniker in the thread "downstairs" was offensive.

Please don't be such a sexist pig.

[Please try to keep up, Molly. The real poster is not a "sexist pig" he made an honest typo. Because there is a troll who makes offensive comments by spoofing gulag's handle with that letter changed intentionally, we removed the comment and investigated. When we knew who had, in fact, posted the comment, we edited that field to remove the offense and republished it. Both times you have been outraged this morning, you went off in the wrong direction. Maybe some reflection or fresh air is in order? --Mods]

Posted by: molly on January 15, 2011 at 12:16 PM | PERMALINK

"type" = "TYPO"

And it is demeaning to women.

Posted by: molly on January 15, 2011 at 12:18 PM | PERMALINK

Sorry to go off the subject of this post, but just reading about Boehner refusing Obama's invitation to the state dinner on Wednesday for the Chinese, and after he did not go to Tuscon, I think I have the answer, he is afraid!!!
Whether afraid of talking with the grown ups, or afraid of being targeted by the tea baggers for socializing with Obama, or something sadder like the dinner is at 8.30 and he probably usually starts drinking at 5.00pm,Just wonder what others think! Boehner does not like to be out of his bubble.

Posted by: js on January 15, 2011 at 12:21 PM | PERMALINK

The entire Epistemic Closure issue has made me wonder just how far the entire Republican/Conservative machine has gone. Not just the politicians, but the donors, kingmakers, and the rest.

There's often the idea that the Koch brothers and their ilk are pulling the strings as if from a distance, but frankly people like them seem to have drank the Kool-Aid as well. It seems like the entire Conservative machine, from the money men to the Tea Partiers are lost in their own delusions. There's just a lot of money to fund this.

I can't see how any rational, long-term planning and intelligent decisions can come from this. We wonder how incredibly stupid decisions can get made, as if there should be some rational element in this, if only those at the top. Maybe there is no rational element left.

Posted by: Fang on January 15, 2011 at 12:22 PM | PERMALINK

They in the right rarely take a peek at the view from 20,000 feet - - the big picture - - and that is THE MAIN REASON why their contributions to the discourse are so unhelpful to its purpose - - illuminating what is in the national interest. Ultimately their contributions wind up being corrosive to the debate. E.G.-If you always look from your narrow point of view about tax levels/cuts, you'll never see the FACTS about job-creation, Laffer curve BS and trickle down economics BS.

That is especially true of Palin, who has grown not-at-all as a leader/commentator since first coming to the national spotlight. She was then and still is a blithering idiot, as was captured in Dahlia Lithwick's posted review of the Palin exit speech 18 months ago - the post was July 8, 2009:

When America is finally ready to reckon with the phenomenon that was Sarah Palin, I suspect we will discover that whatever she represents actually had less to do with her gender, class, or ideology than we now believe. It's easy to look at the soon-to-be-former governor of Alaska as an iconic feminist, a path-breaking working mother, or noble rabble-rousing populist. But when the dust settles, the lesson may be that she was simply a woman who made no sense. Her meteoric rise and dubious fall will say less about America than you think, beyond the fact that America likes its politicians to communicate their ideas clearly. We will someday come to realize that while it's all well and good to be mavericky with one's policies, it's never smart to be mavericky with one's message.

Whatever you may think of Sarah Palin, she's widely celebrated as a rare and perhaps raw political talent. She's gorgeous, charismatic, warm, and funny. She has a remarkable ability to connect with her listeners. But—with the exception of a well-scripted performance at the Republican National Convention—it's tough to find an extemporaneous Palin speech, statement, or tweet that contains a coherent message. From her acceptance speech last August in Dayton, Ohio, when McCain first tapped her as a running mate, to her circular and swooping prime-time interviews, Palin's political skill lies in selling a persona but not a message. And in the end, this may explain why she quit.

Palin's completely inscrutable resignation speech last week was only the most recent example of a lengthy political communication from her that explained nothing, clarified nothing, and expounded upon nothing, save for the fact that she speaks in riddles and koans. Watch it as many times as you like; you still come away feeling you've been treated to a cozy chat with the Mad Hatter. The media are bad. Those ethics complaints are expensive. Alaska was a great idea. She is not a dead fish. Put it all together and what do you get? A born fighter who has given us no sense whatsoever of what she's fighting for.

Had Palin simply quit without giving a press conference, there might have been a lesson in this exercise. Feminists would be free to say there are double standards for women, and conservatives could argue she was too visionary for her time. But Palin's act of explaining her resignation to us in a torrent of unconnected sentence fragments left everyone wondering, What was the point of Sarah Palin? If she cannot even communicate a simple idea ("I'm quitting because …"), why should we care that she's quitting?

That's why the strangest part of the Sarah Palin saga will always be her loathing of the media. She never failed to remind us that she didn't like being "filtered." She only wanted to talk directly to us, her listeners. Yet the reason Sarah Palin continues to have any kind of political force at all in this country is because of the media "filter." The media helped refine and define her Dada statements and arguments into something that briefly sounded like a coherent worldview. Yesterday morning, Gov. Palin excoriated Andrea Mitchell for "not listening to me" in an NBC interview. You have to go back and watch the clip before you can apprehend that Mitchell was indeed listening. It was Palin who was speaking in half-expressed thoughts and internal contradictions.

It's too easy to characterize Sarah Palin as an irrational bundle of bristling grievance. But I think it's more complicated than her simple love for playing the victim all the time. If you think of Palin as someone who never felt herself to be fully heard or understood, not truly politically realized in the eyes of the American public, her rage toward the country, the media, and those of us who fail to love and understand her is easier to comprehend. Think of an American visiting France who believes that if he just speaks louder, he will be speaking French. Palin has done everything in her power to explain herself to us, and still we fail to appreciate what she is all about. I'd be frustrated, too, if I thought I was offering up straight talk and nobody was getting the message. Especially if I held a degree in communications.

Once you understand that Palin's only actual message is the importance of loving and understanding Palin, it becomes easier to understand why she quit. The more Palin tries to explain herself, the more we all fail to get her. Every time she goes off script, she makes less sense. No wonder she didn't want to do debate prep or be coached by the McCain communications team. Instead of thanking those who packaged, explained, and spun her, Palin resents them. And because she believes she has been crystal clear all along, she's come to resent us, too. The enduring political lesson of Sarah Palin may simply be that for most of her political career she's been lost in translation, without fully appreciating that only in translation was she ever, briefly found.

Posted by: SteveADOr on January 15, 2011 at 12:27 PM | PERMALINK

The closed information loop is deliberate. It's called propaganda. The corporate titans who control today's Republican party have no interest in truth or in dialogue. Their sole interest is power. Expecting them to have room for another viewpoint is like expecting a corporation to advertise a competitor's products. Never gonna happen. The sad thing is, the rest of the MSM looks at Fox's ratings and believes if they could have those ratings, too, if they were only more like Fox. So they bend over backwards to accord self-promoters like Palin the same coverage they give to real leaders. That puts the opposition (us) in the position of having to counter unserious people and views that make no sense. While we're busy doing that, the Koch brothers and Murdoch are merrily pursuing their game plan of taking over the country.

Posted by: dalloway on January 15, 2011 at 12:39 PM | PERMALINK

> It's too easy to characterize Sarah Palin as an
> irrational bundle of bristling grievance. But I
> think it's more complicated than her simple love
> for playing the victim all the time. If you think
> of Palin as someone who never felt herself to be
> fully heard or understood, not truly politically
> realized in the eyes of the American public, her
> rage toward the country, the media, and those of
> us who fail to love and understand her is easier
> to comprehend.

That's a brilliant analysis. But I think a lot of professional political pundits fail to realize (even conservatives, but certainly coastal Democrats) is that there are many people out in "real Murika" who feel exactly the same way, and for whom Palin captures and expresses their social and political feelings. Enough to win a Presidential election? Probably not, depending on the unemployment rate. Enough, and angry and motivated enough, to win enough Republican primaries to get the avalanche rolling unstoppably downhill? Quite possibly.


Posted by: Cranky Observer on January 15, 2011 at 12:42 PM | PERMALINK

Epistemic closure?? How about we just call them "falsehoods"? Or, when it comes to folks like Frum himself, who knows better, "lies"?

Posted by: Paul Papanek on January 15, 2011 at 12:43 PM | PERMALINK

Epistemic closure?? How about we just call them "falsehoods"? Or, when it comes to folks like Frum himself, who knows better, "lies"?

Posted by: Paul Papanek on January 15, 2011 at 12:43 PM | PERMALINK

"To even acknowledge environment as influential is anti-conservative." - inkadu

Yes, but...according to these same folks, sex in movies and videogames, "bad words" in popular music, or even two strangers of the same gender getting married to one another are all going to destroy This Once-Great Nation. Because people have no choice but to be influenced by these bad things.

So it would be more accurate to say that for these folks, people's actions are determined by what they see and hear, except for when they aren't.

About the only thing that might improve this in the future is for Socratic questioning to become a required part of the curriculum. I used it to some probably limited success with a wingnut spouting the death panel nonsense, just by saying, "do you truly believe that all these people in Congress who are supporting this, and all the people who support it, have no elderly friends or relatives they care about? You really believe that we're all so depraved or stupid that we would support something that's going to kill our grandparents? Because that's the only way you can believe the nonsense about death panels. So, that means you think that A)I'm a moral monster who wants to kill off grandma or B)I'm too stupid to read - because I've looked at it, and there's no such thing as "death panels" in there. Have YOU looked at it? Then what makes you so sure it's there?"

The key to shutting down any wingnut argument is to always ask why anyone would do the thing they claim is being done, then link it back to common everyday experience. What I've outlined above doesn't reflect the back-and-forth in true Socratic questioning, but gives the flavor - it is a series of questions that asks people to reach for the logical conclusions suggested by what they believe to be true, and those logical conclusions will either support or cut the feet out from under the original assumption. People can learn Socratic method. It should be taught in every school.

Posted by: Jennifer on January 15, 2011 at 12:48 PM | PERMALINK

Erich Fromm addressed this phenomenon in his 1942 book "Escape from Freedom". Together with Hofstadter's "The Paranoid Style in American Politics", "Escape from Freedom" explains today's right wing.

His major premise is that individuals join an authoritarian movement because it allows them to avoid having to think for themselves. And because reality is complex, the failure to find definitive answers produces anxiety.

A few relevant quotes from Fromm:

"The psychic task which a person can and must set for himself is not to feel secure, but to be able to tolerate insecurity."

"The quest for certainty blocks the search for meaning. Uncertainty is the very condition to impel man to unfold his powers."

Posted by: arkie on January 15, 2011 at 12:54 PM | PERMALINK

An ancient computer programming term comes to mind: GIGO.

Garbage in, garbage out. If the data that you are using for your analysis is nonsense, then the results of your analysis can not be anything more than nonsense as well.

Posted by: Churchyard on January 15, 2011 at 1:03 PM | PERMALINK

I don't know. It sure seems to me that the MSM & the press take the framing that Fox & places like The Corner as being the norm most the time. It seems to me that progressives always have to back up their arguments with examples but conservatives get to skate...And that is the norm I see.

Posted by: kindness on January 15, 2011 at 1:14 PM | PERMALINK

Thanks to all the regulars here for making this best salon in town. Sartre and Camus would agree.

Posted by: DAY on January 15, 2011 at 1:16 PM | PERMALINK

The defensive crouch

Jared Loughner edition

His family saw this video, after the cops from Pima CC came to the home and advise of his suspension (based on the video)

yet, no record of mental health intervention?


Posted by: SteveADor on January 15, 2011 at 1:18 PM | PERMALINK

> I don't think the religious aspect can be
> discounted. Most of these people are extremely
> religious, and their politics are just another
> manifestation of their religion.

From observing my own relatives and reading similar accounts by others, it is just an overall authoritarian culture. Consider also the huge emphasis on organized sports with the attendant concept of the "coach" who is constantly observing/instructing/rewarding & punishing. Their overall lives are structured in such a way that there is /always/ some version of father figure observing and managing their actions, whether it be an actual parent, a pastor, an athletic coach, or some similar figure of authority. And that authority figure isn't just a teacher or guide; he (almost always a he) has the authority to punish (not just discipline) in various unpleasant ways and exercises that authority quite often.


Posted by: Cranky Observer on January 15, 2011 at 1:36 PM | PERMALINK

The 'misinformation loop' is too benignly named. The lies and slander have one purpose: Too poison the well of information, to give cover for those who are directing this country's resources to themselves and their ilk.

Those on the right who are smart enough to see this join in hoping that, by association, they will be rewarded for their complicity. The rest on the right know there is reason to be concerned about what is happening in current events, but cannot process the conflicting information coming at them 24/7.

The instigators and those who foment the misinformation loop (pack of lies) know what they are doing. The benefits it brings to them personally, outweighs the harm it is doing to the nation.

Posted by: jcricket on January 15, 2011 at 1:38 PM | PERMALINK

Cranky - and, also, too: the one thing authoritarians absolutely cannot abide is the idea that anyone out there is "escaping" punishment for not following the authoritarian programme of their choice.

Posted by: Jennifer on January 15, 2011 at 1:41 PM | PERMALINK

> His family saw this video, after the
> cops from Pima CC came to the home and
> advise of his suspension (based on the video)

Have you ever had to deal with a family member with a serious mental illness? unless you have the resources for a private psychiatric facility (which can run around $250,000/year), or live in the only state in the Union which hasn't terminated 98% of its public mental health support, you run out of things you can do. Particularly if that person is over 18 and goes through periods when he is semi-stable and coherent enough to sound plausibly stable in front of a judge, in which case no matter what resources you may have he will walk out the door of the courthouse in "responsible for himself status".

This is an unbelievably horrible position to be in, and I for one would not like to see any attacks on that family for what others who have not walked in their shoes think they should/should not/could/could not have done.


Posted by: Cranky Observer on January 15, 2011 at 1:43 PM | PERMALINK

Frum sees the obvious dangers for conservatives if they continue down the same path. True, they were rewarded for their ignorance in the last election, but 49 of those House seats the gained were in districts that voted for McCain. The Republican problem is demographics. They are perceived correctly and the party of the old, the white, and the rich, and the enemies of ethnic minorities. As the nation gets younger and more diverse the Republican task of peeling away enough votes to carry statewide and national elections becomes much more difficult. Their more ludicrous positions, such as denying climate change, are being undone by melting icecaps and bizarre swings in the weather; things predicted by most scientists for decades. Their opposition to the ACA is being undermined as various popular provisions are enacted, e.g., insuring children up to age 26 and tax breaks for small businesses. The appearance of uninformed fringe groups like the Tea Party movement and the rising chorus iof noise from the rogues gallery of political extremists like Beck, Krauthammer, Hannity, Limbaugh, Palin, and Bachmann, only makes them appear older, whiter, and more out of touch. To combat demographic change, they have to accelerate their incremental strategy of trying to peel away hardcore Catholics from cafeteria Catholics, rail about imaginary threats to guns and religion, invent foreign threats, and outright lie to fool enough frightened people into voting against their own economic interests, but this is a zero-sum game. They just had their high turnout and it wasn't enough to win in 2012. Frum, I think, is simply saying, cut the BS, be more reasonable, and sell traditional conservative ideas that resonate in the political center, e.g., balancing the budget, limiting foreign entanglements, limiting the role of government, opposing corporate welfare for special interests that undermine free markets, encourage self-reliance, etc. And for that, of course, he'll get another pie in the face from the wingnuts, and they'll get hammered in 2012 as the economy continues to recover and young voters return. I almost feel sorry for him but if he and his allies prevail, and we have another Reopublican high water mark like 2000-2006, we are all toast.

Posted by: max on January 15, 2011 at 1:48 PM | PERMALINK

The amount of hypocrisy in Benen's post is almost unbelievable. The guys is a professional epistemic closure provider!

Is it possible to believe that he is so far gone that this doesn't even occur to him?

Posted by: a on January 15, 2011 at 1:53 PM | PERMALINK

We shouldn't take away ANYTHING from this. Republicans lie. Always. Unless this guy says he's leaving the republican party to join the Democtatic Party. And even then, I wouldn't trust him. They believe everything they say. ou cannot change thier opinions. What we saw them do in the eighties, last year, yesterday will continue tomorrow, next year, until the end of time. They view this as a religious war. Funded by corporate America. They will not be happy until all things Democratic have been trampled and stopped. No amount of giving them this or that will satisfy them. They want it all. And unfortunately I don't see anything coming out of the left to counteract this. We can't rely on the "goodness" of people. Most people are very bright. Our situation will get MUCH worse before the Democratic Party actually starts to do something about it. The occasional Alan Grayson can be put down by the right. We need more Dems that will challenge. Look who just took Steele's job in the RNC. A behind the scene guy who has a background in voter caging and fraud conspiracies. Republicans Lie. Always.

Posted by: ComradeAnon on January 15, 2011 at 2:10 PM | PERMALINK

a, please explain. While Benen does repeat left of center positions, he most of the time he seems to try to refer to identifiable facts as opposed to opinions.

Posted by: Ron Byers on January 15, 2011 at 2:11 PM | PERMALINK

Good piece, Max!

The Teaparty folks are just the most visible of a vast populace who are saying, "I'm mad as hell, and I don't know why!" (I know why: it has to do with stagnant wages over a couple of decades, while prices and taxes have risen) But that answer does not serve Frum's people, so we have Birthers and Tenthers, and xenophobia.

What will it take to get us in the streets, like the Brits and the French and the Greeks?

Posted by: DAY on January 15, 2011 at 2:12 PM | PERMALINK

Should read "Most people aren't very bright". I guess including me.

Posted by: ComradeAnon on January 15, 2011 at 2:17 PM | PERMALINK


I work with Republicans. They don't believe they are lying. The people I work with are pretty honest in the rest of their lives.

That said, it is pretty clear they do want to hear what they are hearing from Fox and hate radio. It is possible many of the people at Fox and hate radio believe a lot of what they are saying. It is entirely possible that many of the right wing pundits are caught in the same misinformation loop.

Posted by: Ron Byers on January 15, 2011 at 2:20 PM | PERMALINK

Thanks for taking care of that for me. It was offensive. I only looked at if for a second. I would never post something like that. God knows my comments can be crazy enough without any idiot's help.

Posted by: c u n d gulag on January 15, 2011 at 2:37 PM | PERMALINK

Seems to me that this is a rather verbose way of saying that "conservatives" are brainwashed dupes of corporate propaganda.

Posted by: SecularAnimist on January 15, 2011 at 2:40 PM | PERMALINK

There was an interesting moment on Warren Olney's NPR program a couple of days ago. He had on a right-winger whose message was that Democratic leaders are even worse than Republicans when it comes to inflammatory speech. Olney invited him to give examples. The man blithered, "Nancy Pelosi...Nancy Pelosi..." as if the name itself were inflammatory. Finally, he came up with "Alan Grayson, who was rejected by his own constituents." True, but a leader of the Democratic Party by no stretch of the imagination. And no inflammatory examples even from Alan Grayson were forthcoming. Finally, he said, "Give me a week and I'll come up with plenty of them." Olney took him up on it. A week will be Wednesday or Thursday, 1/19 or 1/20. It will be interesting to see what he comes up with.

Posted by: rong on January 15, 2011 at 2:54 PM | PERMALINK

It wasn't me. I would NEVER use that word. PERIOD! I am not a sexist. I may call Sarah "The Whore of Babblin' On" not to be sexist, but for the play on words.
And this is the real me, not whoever's decided to take my name and make something obscene out of it. I have a drop-down so that I don't have to type my name in every time, so there's NO, ZIP, ZERO, ZILCH, chance of my ever typing a 't' instead of a 'd.'
And I further wish Mod's would delete those comments because the bogus ones now carry my actual blog commenter monicker.
I'd apologize for any inconvenience, but I had nothing to do with some thuggish troll trying to steal my identity and make me look bad.

And actually, I need to change the e-mail address associated with this site, since I have had problems accessing that account for the last few weeks. So if Mods were trying to contact me, I couldn't even pick up that e-mail.
What a mess!

Posted by: c u n d gulag on January 15, 2011 at 3:02 PM | PERMALINK

Wow, isn't this one of the most usefully analytic threads that we've ever seen? Lot of truth and valuable observations up there.

Jennifer, three cheers for your point. I've been on the same angle with my sister, who's a global warming denier. She keeps explaining that it's all a grand conspiracy to hoodwink us, and I explain, Okay, so we've got big oil money on one side (she wouldn't argue that), but where did the big money get this rolling on the other side? Not NOW, when perhaps renewable energy concerns have marshalled their forces, but to begin with, before renewable energy had any economic clout whatsoever? With big oil money already in play, who could have paid off vast percentages of scientists to buy into this? Who was "the prime mover?"

And she really stumbles at this point, because her conspiracy theory can't add up without that foundation. So yes, in individual discusions, Socrates can often help point the way.

Posted by: jTh on January 15, 2011 at 3:30 PM | PERMALINK

Thanks, Day. Frum is one of the few voices of sanity on the right and they aren't paying any attention to him, which works for me because Republicans in Congress and God forbid, the WH, will ruin the nation the next time they get into power. Frum is simply saying, sell the stuff that sells and end the madness. Good luck with that, considering his audience. They're goin' down in 2012. Obama will easily raise over $1 billion, Hispanics and young voters will bury the wingnuts, and even their Citizens United fundraising scam won't save them. I also predict someone will find a way to identify the corporations donating to these right wing PACS and we will see boycotts that will scare the crap out of them.

Posted by: max on January 15, 2011 at 3:32 PM | PERMALINK

I find it ironic that the people yelling the loudest that the shooting was the lone-wolf act of a severely delusional individual are themselves severely delusional, but mostly voluntarily so. At least they choose to believe the people who delude and inflame them on an hourly basis. Ms Palin.

Posted by: Roger the Cabin Boy on January 15, 2011 at 3:42 PM | PERMALINK

[Sockpuppetry deleted. Nice try "molly." --Mods]

Posted by: dr p on January 15, 2011 at 3:52 PM | PERMALINK

Nice to see that this saloon, er 'salon' has a bouncer still on duty, long after Steve Benen has left us to our discussions.

I say we buy Mods a beer!

Posted by: DAY on January 15, 2011 at 5:00 PM | PERMALINK

They've been "Limbaughtomized."

Posted by: TCinLA on January 15, 2011 at 5:34 PM | PERMALINK

How many violent acts, terrorist acts, and outright murders have occurred in the past two decades and were the work of so called leftists? Zero.

How many by self-identified righties? Many, too numerous to count. and each time something happens, the right tries to pretend the shooter or maimer had a confused idea of politics; I remember right wingers making some such excuse for the Holocaust museum killer.

Now, until Sarah Palin shows me HER bullet wounds from the Tucson massacre, I repudiate any claim she makes to being a victim.

And until the right wises up and realizes that their violent images grab headlines but give them no leverage in congress or the public mind, we will be saddled with their grotesque theory of politics and of the human being.

Posted by: jjm on January 15, 2011 at 5:54 PM | PERMALINK

I say we buy Mods a beer!
Posted by: DAY


This, (not Bud) beer's for you!!! Thanks.

Posted by: c u n d gulag on January 15, 2011 at 6:11 PM | PERMALINK

arkie, thanks for bringing up Fromm, I remember reading some of his ideas so many years ago...one of the broader minds of that era (and man was there some competition back in those days).

Posted by: H.Finn on January 15, 2011 at 6:12 PM | PERMALINK

One of the reasons, I think, that Fox News and Friends whined so much and tried to find fault in the Tuscon memorial service is because the President, in his speech, was able to crack the "epistemic closure" and directly speak to some of those who've been told he's an evil, bad person. Obama's speech didn't have to go through the propaganda filter that is Fox to connect to everyday Americans - and every time the President is able to bypass Fox and connect directly to hearts and minds, he gains in both sympathy and popularity - and this is precisely what Fox and Friends hate.

And so, even in a moment of national tragedy when they should keep quiet, they continued in their pettiness, which only made the President look better in comparison. Some times it's as if they can't help themselves - like they have some kind of OCD - this time, though, I think it was out of fear that Obama actually broke through with emapathy, clarity, and truth.

Posted by: delNorte on January 15, 2011 at 7:16 PM | PERMALINK

Any chance there may be pictures of Jared Loughner at any of the Tea Party Republican rallies in Arizona, but especially any held in Tucson within the last two years after the Koch brothers and Faux News first organized and promoted the Tea Party?

Loughner attended a 2007 Town Hall meeting hosted by Rep. Giffords, got angry at her response to a question he asked, which apparently led to her being targeted eventually as he obsessed over her. But Loughner might have been equally anti-Democratic and anti-Republican (i.e. anti-government in general), so he might have not been attracted to the Republican Tea Party, and therefore wouldn't have attended any Tea Party rallies, making him a lone wolf. However, I'm curious if there is a video/picture record of him ever having attended one of the Tea Party rallies, probably standing in the background. Just curious.

Posted by: The Oracle on January 15, 2011 at 7:27 PM | PERMALINK

With globalization, the effective units that society operates at have become too large for people to identify with or feel membership in. As a response, there is a move to smaller, closer identities.
In Europe, this can take the form of revived nationalism or regionalism within nations. In America, this takes the form of identification with the conservative tribe/nation.
Also, much conservative discourse is not so much about arguing a position as establishing the group identity through shared emotion.

Posted by: Jessica on January 15, 2011 at 7:49 PM | PERMALINK

[...] conservative discourse is not so much about arguing a position as establishing the group identity through shared emotion.

Posted by: Jessica on January 15, 2011 at 7:49 PM |

Yup. "If you agree with this message, repost on your status". My liberal FaceBook friends just repost if they like something (or I repost their messages); the conservatives - and I do have a few such "friends", due to a shared hobby -- always insist that you do. Had to (verbally) smack one such idiot last night, when she puled the old "guns don't kill people" chestnut, as an argument against regulation of weapons. I might have let it alone, if she hadn't, at the same time, tried to make an argument along the lines of "if you believe that guns kill people and need to be regulated, then you must also think that pencils misspell, cars drunk-drive, spoons give you calories and all should be regulated too".

Posted by: exlibra on January 15, 2011 at 9:08 PM | PERMALINK

You guys just don't get it.

They simply DON'T CARE what's true and what's not.

Posted by: sherifffruitfly on January 16, 2011 at 12:40 AM | PERMALINK

Sarah Palin wasn't making up the nonsense about death panels, she was just accusing the wrong party of favoring them.

Of 98 Arizonans who've been denied transplant coverage by Arizona Republicans, two have already died. Arizona Republicans are poised to strike even more patients from the Medicaid rolls this session.

Posted by: FGS on January 16, 2011 at 2:19 AM | PERMALINK


Sodom, Gomorrah and Right-Wing Media

In Genesis, after Abraham's fairly impressive negotiating, G-d agrees to spare Sodom if 10 righteous are found there, a fairly low bar. I'm curious to know if anyone can identify two, not 10, just two, right-leaning major media outlets that aren't on board the crazy train.

Any aspiring Lots out there?


Posted by: Bob on January 16, 2011 at 8:32 AM | PERMALINK


We need this column re-posted at least once a week, just to remind us of what the right-wing is up to.

Posted by: knightphoenix2 on January 16, 2011 at 3:38 PM | PERMALINK



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