Serious thinkers on the right have finally gotten around to a full and open debate on the epistemic closure problem that's plaguing the conservative movement. The issue, to put it in terms that even I can understand, because I didn't study philosophy much in college: has the conservative base gone mad?
This matters to journalists, because I really do want to take Republicans seriously. Mainstream conservative voices are embracing theories that are, to use Julian Sanchez's phrase,
"untethered" to the real world.
Can anyone deny that the most trenchant and effective criticism of President Obama today comes not from the right but from the left? Rachel Maddow's grilling of administration economic officials. Keith Olbermann's hectoring of Democratic leaders on the public option. Glenn Greenwald's criticisms of Elena Kagan. Ezra Klein and Jonathan Cohn's keepin'-them-honest perspectives on health care. The civil libertarian left on detainees and Gitmo. The Huffington Post on derivatives.
I want to find Republicans to take seriously, but it is hard. Not because they don't exist -- serious Republicans -- but because, as Sanchez and others seem to recognize, they are marginalized, even self-marginalizing, and the base itself seems to have developed a notion that bromides are equivalent to policy-thinking, and that therapy is a substitute for thinking.
It is absolutely a condition of the age of the triumph of conservative personality politics, where entertainers shouting slogans are taken seriously as political actors, and where the incentive structures exist to stomp on dissent and nuance, causing experimental voices to retrench and allowing a lot of people to pretend that the world around them is not changing. The obsession with ACORN, Climategate, death panels, the militarization of rhetoric, Saul Alinsky, Chicago-style politics, that TAXPAYERS will fund the bailout of banks -- these aren't meaningful or interesting or even relevant things to focus on. (The banks will fund their own bailouts.)
Conor Friedersdorf thinks
the problem lies with the conservative movement's major spokespeople -- its radio/net news nexus -- and the "overwhelming evidence that their very existence as popular entertainers hinges on an ability to persuade listeners that they are "'worth taking seriously as political and intellectual actors.'" That is why the constant failures of these men to live up to their billing is so offensive, destructive, and ruinous to conservatives. There are plenty of women, too, is all I'll say.
I think this sensibility is pervasive throughout the smart media -- old and new. I think it's one reason why, say, Jake Tapper and other good reporters are very keen about direct fact-challenging -- why the media is reasserting itself as gatekeepers. (CNN might want to think about branding themselves
here, even at the risk -- well, the reality -- of calling out Republicans more.) I think it's because there's so much misinformation out there -- most of it spread by the conservative echo-chamber. With the advent of Fox News and the power of that echo-chamber, complaints about liberal media bias are quite irrelevant -- the reaction to it being like lupus's reaction to the body, as Jon Stewart correctly noted.
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is a former contributing editor at The Atlantic