Monday, July 19, 2010

Fall Into That False Embrace

...or, Why the Whole Close-Loop Debate Mattered. What if:

Many senior Republicans actually believe that tax cuts all pay for themselves (and that the Bush tax cuts in particular increased government revenue);

The Republican establishment actually believes that there's a huge Tea Party surge based on dislike of insiders, and that therefore candidates such as Rand Paul and Sharron Angle should be welcomed, not opposed;

The head of the GOP Senate election committee actually believes that George W. Bush is now gaining popularity.

All sorts of Republican leaders actually believe that Tea Party activists are mainly self-starting and self-sustaining former Barack Obama supporters.

The immediate electoral relevance of the big epistemic closure discussion wasn't whatever difficulties it causes for Republicans as far as developing policies for the future; it's that people in a position to make decisions may be removed from reality and make foolish mistakes as a result, costing the GOP seats in Congress.

Do we know if this is true?  Nope.  It could be that Mitch McConnell actually knows the truth about the Bush-era tax cuts, and is just spinning; it could be that national Republicans realized that Angle and Paul were disasters for them, but had various other reasons for going along (yes, they're disasters for the Republicans; even if they win, they're going to drain resources that could have been used elsewhere had mainstream conservatives been nominated and won easily).

Do I think it's true?  Granting that this is basically speculation...yup.  I think the odds are very, very, high that John Cornyn and Mitch McConnell keep Fox News on wherever they're hanging out.  They talk to people who get their news from FNC, from Rush Limbaugh, from conservative blogs.  They, their staff, and the people they talk to read the Weekly Standard; they don't read the New Yorker.  I think that both Cornyn and McConnell are practical politicians, not wild-eyed ideologues, but they're practical politicians living in a world in which people don't read the New York Times, certainly don't watch the network news, and don't seek out neutral sources of information.  It's a world in which one hears over and over again that ACORN and the New Black Panther Party are major scandals, that unemployment benefits cause unemployment, and that the Obama administration made the budget deficit explode.  The truth is, it's pretty hard if you live in that world -- or even if you just depend on those who live in it -- to keep this stuff straight. 

Bill James used to say something about how he wasn't sure that the world was just, but that one thing he did find is that the universe swiftly punishes people who believe things that are not true.  Given the way elections work, that's not always going to be the case; the chair of the NRSC can say all sorts of fool things on the Sunday shows, and it really has no practical effect.  Nominating weak candidates does, however, matter, at least in the aggregate.  Jonathan Chait is exactly right about this.  If Republicans wind up leaving three to five Senate seats, and as many or more House seats, on the table because they're nominating bad candidates who they mistakenly think are exactly what the electorate is demanding, well, that's a pretty significant effect.


  1. leaving three to five Senate seasons...
    typo- Senate seats

    Obama seems to have a knack for "causing" his opponents do crazy things (must be the Kenyan witch doctor)

  2. And when they do go home to the district, it is to speak with people at fund raisers, not the regular Joes.

  3. I agree. President Obama is his own man. He does not compare to other politicians. At the very least he is Clinton new and improved. The Republicans underestimate him at their own peril and that will be the case in November. President Obama is a game changer. Smart conservatives like Frum & Brooks see this in him. On top of this President Obama is a good man and we in America will all be better off because of him. Even if some of my fellow Americans are too blind to see it.

  4. Re: Anonymous said... We can only hope that you're right.

  5. Which Kenyan witch doctor? That Muthee guy that preached at Palin's church? Maybe this is even more self-inflicted than we thought.

  6. The immature individual looks at things in terms of ideology. The mature individual tries to see things as they really are.

    Nuff Said!

  7. Clicked my way here from Andrew Sullivan. Y'all's utter lack of self awareness is stunning. See ya. Gotta run back to the NYT and the network news. I'm low on "neutral" information.

  8. The closed loop rears its ugly head, directly above.

  9. Well said. Add to this that the political debate among Republicans until now has centered on primaries, where blatant falsehoods and unpopular positions are tossed around freely and never challenged. In the fall, they'll have to defend these positions to a wider electorate that will punish them for them. As the craziness is exposed, the "enthusiasm gap" just may narrow.

    At least so we can hope. But I'm much more confident that Democrats have the skills and the guts to exploit this situation than I would have been, say, five years ago.

  10. It may be happening. The Kansas City Star actually asked Sen. Brownback what his ideas are besides more tax cuts. I never thought I'd see the day.

  11. "I'm low on 'neutral' information."

    I wonder, is this person scoffing at the idea that the NYT is nuetral, or is he scoffing at the assertion that nuetrality exists?


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