Friday, August 31, 2012

Epistemic Closure Watch (GOP Convention Edition)

Do Republicans have a problem of living in closed information feedback loop? Does it make it difficult for them to communicate with the rest of the nation?

Let me ask you this: remember when Solyndra was a monster scandal and a household word? I suspect that if you listen to Rush Limbaugh regularly, you do -- but if not, and believe it or not it's not only a handful of extreme left-wingers who don't -- then no, you probably don't know anything about Solyndra. There's an excellent chance, in fact, that you've never even heard of it. So if you're a typical low-information undecided voter who tunes in to Paul Ryan's speech, what do you make of this:
It went to companies like Solyndra, with their gold-plated connections, subsidized jobs and make believe markets.
My guess is: huh?

It wasn't just Ryan, either; I'm sure I heard Solyndra name-dropped half a dozen times at least throughout the convention, as if it meant something. And yet, while I certainly could have missed something, I think Ryan's explanation was the most thorough one given.

Granted: you have to throw something to the rabid fans, too. But if Solyndra is really something worth talking about, you would think it's worth a paragraph or four -- even an entire speech, really -- explaining. Obviously I have no way of knowing this, but my strong guess would be that it isn't that Republicans thought that more on Solyndra would weaken the point or wouldn't appeal to independents; it's that Republicans assumed that more wasn't needed. And if so, it's exactly the kind of damaging effect of epistemic closure that I and others have been harping on for some time now.

22 comments:

  1. I see it as sort of the "code word club." If you're part of the conservative code word club, you know about how inflation is the worst thing that could happen to the economy and being forced to buy health insurance is socialistic. If you're part of the liberal code word club, trans-vaginal ultrasounds have the same sort of punch.

    Eastwooding is the greatest danger our economy has ever faced. People just talking to empty chairs instead of other people with responsibility for the country.

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  2. it's exactly the kind of damaging effect of epistemic closure that I and others have been harping on for some time now

    But how much damage was done, really? Non-Rush-listeners surely didn't know what Solyndra was prior to watching Ryan's speech, but it's not like any voter is going to hold that against him. Plus, he gave them a nice, succinct explanation right there in the quote you cited.

    My guess is that the GOP really did think that a detailed review of the Solyndra affair would be counter-productive, because (to non-Rush-listeners) it would reveal it to be what it really is: a nothing-burger.

    So, by saying Solyndra is a company with "gold-plated connections, subsidized jobs and make believe markets" Ryan is giving the non-Rush-listeners all he thinks they need to know. As for the Rushies, they already know that Solyndra is the worst example of government malfeasance since Teapot Dome. So just mentioning the word is enough to rile them up.

    Undecideds get (mis)informed, base gets placated. Mission accomplished. So where's the damage?

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    1. I think the danger for them is that it wastes time, misses opportunities, and muddles their messages and narratives.

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    2. (1) Foregoing a detailed review of the factual background of the Solyndra case saves time; doesn't waste it.

      (2) It's not a missed opportunity, unless you think that a detailed recap of Solyndra would bolster the case rather than weaken it (and if that were true it wouldn't be a waste of time anyway)

      (3) I guess I just disagree that mentioning Solyndra without explaining the background serves to muddle the GOP's message or narrative. Especially in the case of Ryan, who actually did explain what he thinks Solyndra means, and connected it to his broader critique of Obama.

      By the way, I agree that epistemic closure is dangerous for a party; I just don't think this is an example where any real damage has been done because of it.

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    3. But most of that is assuming that they had to talk about Solyndra at all. Why bother?

      I'd need a whole lot to convince me that it's such a great point for them that it's worth making. (Admittedly I know nothing at all about this whole thing, despite being a political junkie. But that's sort of the point.)

      There's probably some marginal cost to spending a minute talking about Solyndra instead of anything else. And I don't think this one thing damaged them, but I got the sense that much more of the convention was about this kind of insular red meat than was necessary or useful for them. If so, that just amplifies the marginal cost.

      However, I watched on C-Span, and it might have been less true if we limited our scope to what was on the big broadcast networks.

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    4. Andrew, I think JB sees it as a lost opportunity for them rather than something that people would hold against Ryan. Ryan may have summed up what Solyndra means for him, but a passing phrase of less than a dozen words isn't going to stick in anyone's mind, certainly not in the mind of a casual listener. To make it effective, they would have to devote considerably more attention to it. And as long as they're writing the script, there shouldn't be any concern about the details not supporting their position. The fact-checkers might not agree, but they don't seem terribly concerned about the fact-checkers.

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  3. Yes, you lefties have long been harping within your epistemic closure about others' epistemic closure. ;-)

    Don't worry, lefties. In those battleground states, Independent voters are gonna know chapter and verse about Obama's Solyndra scam, before it's all over. Wonderful things, those StuporPacs. How would I have ever found out that Willard is a lying racist without them? ;-)

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    1. Not to mention... he killed that guy's wife! ;-)

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    2. But just to give you lefties a little lesson about politics (and you do need it, judging from this blogger's trite take on this), the Solyndra issue is a secondary hammer, that the Willardbots will only break out to come over the top of the Obamabots' greenie preening, if and when and where it shows its preening self.

      See, it's sorta like winter wheat. You plant it, and it goes dormant for a period of time, but then eventually the proper growing conditions arise and it takes off. If they never arise, it'll never take off.

      But as Obama can't help but preen, somewhere, in those battleground states, I'd guess we're gonna have a winter wheat harvest somewhere before it's over. ;-)

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  4. Jonathan, you deserve a better caliber of trolls than this.

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    1. Yes, things seem to be going downhill.

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    2. I think I had a comment deleted by the moderator here because I did a little troll-feeding (though the comment could well have disappeared for other reasons), but I'm not doing it any more. It is weird that the troll feels the need to bust in here, of all places, but to me, the weirdest troll-sodden place is the CJR where Brendan Nyhan posts now. I would have thought it was pretty far off the beaten path, but maybe the combination of Ivy League and media criticism is too much to resist.

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    3. I'm always amused at the way the Left whimpers at the slightest, mildest challenge. Clint Eastwood has them in conniptions today. ;-)

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  5. Hey other Anonymous dude, are those winks ;-) supposed to remind of us of Sarah Palin?

    (Can't believe I've lurked here for months enjoying the insights, and this is the first thing I comment on.)

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  6. Yelling about Solyndra is a great example of epistemological closure! And yes most people don't know what that company is or what they did or what "connections" Ryan was referring to or why its bad and why this particular proper noun means they should vote for Romney. I follow politics enough to read Plain Blog but I still don't know much about what Solyndra was or why there is some sort of big deal about it more than its something Republicans carp about when criticizing the President. You could also see a bit of this is Eastwood's routine as well, where he essentially called Joe Biden a moron and the crowd har-hared along. Yes Joe Biden can shoot from the hip at times, but stupid is never a word you would want to label him with. No more than Dick Chenney is "stupid." After all Biden did outsmart Robert Bork, whose contemporaries considered to be one of the great legal minds of his generation, on national TV.

    The problems with epistemological closure is more than just muddling messages or wasting time on national TV, although it certainly does that. It creates a political world where an obscure 20 year old international agreement about not slash-and-burning the entire Amazon Rainforest becomes a huge political issue that results in real changes in the transportation policies of metro-Atlanta for the worse. It results in the Senate not following the advice of the United States Navy and ratifying the Law of the Sea Treaty, because that treaty will obviously result in a UN invasion. It results in lots of smart people people thinking Iraqis will "welcome us with open arms." It results in Senator Lamar Alexander being able to say with a straight face that he didn't support the bi-partisan health care plan because it had no bi-partisan support (including his own). It results in a candidate for the presidency saying he will close deficits by closing "loop holes" and then categorically refusing to name a single one while naming a list of ones he promises not to touch.

    You can build on this list if you'd like.

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    1. To be fair, no one accuses Cheney of being stupid. Evil, on the other hand....

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    2. Don't know about stupid, but incompetent? Yes, people do accuse him of that.

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  7. Longwalkdownlyndale:

    I think the problem for the new trolls is that word "epistemological."

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  8. I think the problem for you lefties is that your epistemic closure is very soon gonna have Obama out preening about all the greenie goodness he's brought about, resulting in the Solyndra hammer whacking him over the head in the battleground states he preens. ;-)

    It's called politics, kids. You leverage the other guy, and his message. And you leverage the other guy's character defects, like if he's a messianic preener, for example. ;-)

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  9. Wow. DNFTT is quickly becoming the order of the day.

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  10. Word count: Afghanistan vs. Solyndra?

    Look, the convention is free TV but also a chance for the party to talk to itself.

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  11. I thought my epistemic had closed one time, but then I upped my fiber intake and was "regular" in no time! Romney just needs to eat a nice big old salad.

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