Yes, Dan Mitchell, There Are Conservatives Worth Following on Twitter

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An outbreak of epistemic closure in SF Weekly prompts emergency medical treatment.

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Keoki Seu / Flickr

Writing in SF Weekly, Dan Mitchell argues that there are no conservatives or libertarians worth following on Twitter or other social-media platforms. "I've always been open to all sane, honest opinions, including from the right," he assures his readers, noting that he frequently read William Safire, William F. Buckley, George Will, James Kilpatrick, and Robert Novak in print, but that this new era just hasn't produced anyone on the right that isn't "nearly all nonsense" or "outright insane."

I'm afraid I've seen these symptoms before: Mitchell is infected with an advanced case of epistemic closure, a condition described in the peer-reviewed Web journal JulianSanchez.com in 2010. Its spread to San Francisco is no surprise, given the conditions in which it thrives. Upon closer examination, it's clear that Mitchell himself was engaging in some very high risk behavior.

As he put it:

I see a lot more different kinds of stuff now than I did when all I had was print and broadcast news. That includes conservative opinion journalism. I see a lot more of it than I used to. The difference is that now, it's nearly all nonsense -- and that's when it's not outright insane. I don't see it by seeking it out, it just makes its way into my feed, usually when it's being made fun of by one of the normal, smart people I follow.

Would you believe that I've conducted some research on this very subject? The conclusion I've reached is that liberals who tweet the most inane things conservatives say in order to highlight and ridicule them are not in fact disseminating a representative sample of conservative thought.

Said Mitchell a bit farther on: "You might think someone like Erick Erickson might offer something of substance, at least sometimes, given that CNN decided he was worth that network's money and airtime." Yikes. Outsourcing your judgment about substance in political commentary to U.S. cable news executives is another major risk factor for acute epistemic closure.

There's more.

"I tried some libertarians such as the once-very-good Reason magazine and its writers and editors, but among their many other problems, they have allied themselves with the likes of John Stossel, who is about as big a buffoon as a person can be without actually putting on a clown suit," Mitchell writes. Perhaps its a mistake to write off the entire staff of a magazine whose work you respect because they're friendly with the only broadcaster in America friendly to their ideas?

And finally, there's this:

I tried David Frum, who to his credit is willing to disagree with his ideological cohorts -- even to the point of being labeled an apostate and cast out. But when it comes to it, he's just as much of a witless propagandist as any of them. The New York Times today published an astonishing report by Kurt Eichenwald revealing that the Bush administration was warned far more before 9/11 about an impending attack by al Qaeda than had been previously known. Frum responded with an appalling bit of hackwork that doesn't even really acknowledge Eichenwald's revelations -- whereupon I dumped Frum from my Facebook feed. 

Again, perhaps it's a mistake to cease reading a writer whose work you generally found worthwhile on the basis of any single blog post, even if it is actually flawed. On a wide array of subjects, David Frum writes with valuable insight. And while I have no opinion about the merits of the post linked above, surely his whole body of work isn't rendered valueless if he is biased in favor of the proposition that the president for whom he was formerly employed wasn't culpable for 9/11. There is hackery, and there is understandable bias. That is an example of the latter.

Suppose for a moment that I'm wrong about Reason, its entire staff, and David Frum too*. I am nevertheless prepared to cure Mitchell of his epistemic closure. The medicine I hereby prescribe is disseminated via time-release capsules called Google Reader and TweetDeck, and includes conservatives, libertarians, and classical liberals who don't all consider themselves conservatives, though my sharp diagnostic eye discerns that patient Mitchell would. I'll exclude folks who made their name in print, though George Will and David Brooks and Heather MacDonald and Peggy Noonan and Matt Labash and Andy Ferguson (despite his latest!) are all worth reading.

Who else?  

Take a weekly dose of Ross Douthat with occasional supplements

Draw on Virginia Postrel's glamorous archive as needed.

Don't miss Daniel Larison on foreign policy and domestic politics. Or Rod Dreher on culture, broadly construed. Or Michael Brendan Dougherty. Or Daniel McCarthy. Or much of the AmCon group blog. Noah Millman is stretching my loose definition of conservative or libertarian, but still.

No one site can contain Reihan Salam, whose bandwidth surpasses us all, so go here, here, here, and for the old stuff, here.

James Poulos can be enjoyed here and here

The whole gang at Outside the Beltway is recommended.

Tim Carney's work on corporate cronyism is vital.

David Boaz, Julian Sanchez, Gene Healy, and many others at Cato do important work.

Radley Balko writes with impact on police and the criminal justice system.

Megan McArdle has a new home.  

Alan Jacobs is a national treasure.

Add Matt Lewis to the RSS.

And if you don't think Eugene Volokh and Tyler Cowen are worth following you're a terminal case.

I'm leaving out a lot of excellent writers whose work I enjoy tremendously. I know because my method was to scroll down through the people I follow on Google Reader and Twitter -- but here I am, only halfway through my lists, realizing that neither you nor I have the patience for an exhaustive accounting. And, of course, the conservatives and libertarians I follow aren't themselves an exhaustive list of quality, non-hackish commentary from a right-leaning perspective.

Unfortunately, none of the people I've mentioned is as influential as, for example, Rush Limbaugh. That's a problem for the right, and especially for the conservative movement. But it in no way excuses liberals who erroneously conclude that folks outside their ideological camp are bereft of good arguments or valuable ideas.


The Twitter handles of conservatives and libertarians mentioned above: @DouthatNYT, @vpostrel, @jamespoulos, @DanielLarison, @reihan, @roddreher, @ayjay, @tylercowen, @volokhc, @jbarro, @radleybalko, @mattklewis, @asymetricinfo, @david_boaz, @normative, @genehealy, @tpcarney, @drjjoyner, @michaelbd

* I'm not. All are worth following.
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Conor Friedersdorf is a staff writer at The Atlantic, where he focuses on politics and national affairs. He lives in Venice, California, and is the founding editor of The Best of Journalism, a newsletter devoted to exceptional nonfiction.

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