Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Why I am closer to the left than the right...

There has been some interesting commentary recently about the problems those on the right have had with "epistemic closure" (i.e., closed-mindedness or groupthink). The argument goes that each political group suffers from this idea to a certain extent but the GOP and the right have been exceedingly stifled in this way. Patricia Cohen at the NY Times added to the discussion today. But I (as usual) really enjoyed reading Daniel Larison's take:

Where movement conservatives enable their political leaders to do more or less as they please, progressives seem far more willing to challenge and question “their side.” The siege and persecution mentalities that movement conservatives have long cultivated as coping mechanisms for their long history of domestic policy defeats and losses in the culture wars tend to make them far less willing to break with “their side,” which is why there is such importance placed on conformity and “team” loyalty. That means that movement conservatives typically have had to stifle, mute or otherwise water down any objections they do have to Republican policies under Bush. Then, once Bush is gone, for the sake of “the team” they feel they have to exaggerate their objections to Democratic policies and politicians to the point of absurdity to create sharper contrasts with the dismal record of Republican governance they just spent the last decade making possible.
And on conservative media outlets:

These media are popular because they tell the audience what they want to hear, they reaffirm the audience’s prejudices and assumptions, and they serve as a crutch for a movement that seems mostly incapable of producing superior arguments. Their relative popularity on cable television and radio could just as easily indicate conservative weakness inasmuch as these outlets have become hideaways where a conservative audience can avoid unsettling realities that contradict their ideological commitments. Part of the problem is that these media allow movement conservatives to become “untethered” from reality by actively protecting their audience from unpalatable and unwelcome truths, so it is much harder to learn from past errors when those errors cannot even be acknowledged as having been made. In recent months, movement conservatives have been working hard to try to rehabilitate the Iraq war before it is even over. Even when faced with one of their most grave, terrible errors, most conservatives have responded by becoming what Millman called “minimizers, avoiders, and abandoners.”

More dangerously, being “untethered” means that producing actual evidence for an increasingly bizarre view of the world matters less and less. Assertion becomes more important than proof. We see this in the frequent, virtually unanimous insistence that Obama went on an “apology tour,” or the near-universal conservative assessment that he “betrayed” Poland and the Czech Republic over missile defense, or the common view on the right that Obama undermines allies and treats rivals gently. None of these things is true, but they have become true for a great many movement conservatives through constant repetition. The hysterical over-reaction to the Nuclear Posture Review that basically changed nothing is one of the most recent episodes when the desperate need to reclaim the national security mantle has forced movement conservatives to make the most laughable, unserious arguments. At best, relevant policy experts on the right will pay little attention to these arguments from activists and pundits, but they will hardly ever directly criticize or attack the latter. This permits the activists and pundits to continue on as if their arguments remained valid and had not already been dismissed as nonsense. 

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