25 October 2013

The Irrationality Caucus


Erick Erickson of Redstate.com is extremely influential, operating as the guiding hand and ideological head of one of the most prominent grassroots conservative websites in the country. He is also a reliable bellwether for what we might call the irrationality caucus among the Republicans: the group of radical conservatives who prefer doctrine to facts.

Before we look at the latest evidence of Erickson's irrationality, let's look at some background on the irrational caucus.

The irrational caucus is the group that gave us Dean Chambers, creator of Unskewed Polls.  In the months leading up to the 2012 election, Chambers spent his time "unskewing" major political polls by - well, by just adding on points.  Romney would win, Chambers assured us.  After all, he reasoned, how could anyone fail to see how evil Obama had been?  America had to agree with him, and so all the polls had to be wrong.  Pollsters were in the bag for a corrupt President, he claimed, and none of them had fallen to the temptation presented by an opportunity to beat their competitors by being the only one to correctly show a Romney victory.

This is not just wrong, it's irrational.  Dean Chambers found his beliefs and reality in conflict, and he was trying to insist that reality give way.

However, I have sometimes heard this being described as "stupid."  It's not.  That's an easy answer, but it takes a great deal of mental gymnastics and rhetorical tricks to try to do backflips around blatant facts.  Another example: when Senator Ted "Shutdown" Cruz insists that President Obama deserves the blame for shutting down the government because of his refusal to defund the Affordable Care Act ("You made me shoot the hostage!"), it's a very clever sort of sophistry that can honestly believe that.

Whether or not you perform these feats unconsciously, like Chambers, or consciously, like Senator Cruz, it requires a level of mental dexterity and philosophical legerdemain that's quite a different thing from stupidity.  They know the facts, and they understand the facts.  It's not a failure of intelligence or information: it's a failure of rationality.

Thus we get Erickson's column for today: "Follow the Law."  It purports to rebut the claim that Republicans are happy to hurt the country in order to help themselves, by refusing to enact minor changes to Obamacare that might improve its roll-out (which has been, by any measure, pretty lousy).

Not fair, insists Erickson.
Vladimir Lenin is said to have observed, “the worse, the better,” meaning the worse things got for Russians the better it was for the communists.

Lately, the left has taken to calling conservatives “Leninists” for our refusal to fix Obamacare.

The implicit acknowledgement here is that Obamacare is going to make things worse, despite their claims to the contrary.

No conservative wants things to get worse. We just know things will get worse. Obamacare will be deeply destructive. People are already seeing it. The only way Obamacare would ever work is if people behaved irrationally. It is a system that requires the young to go out and by their own insurance, but allows them to stay on their parents’ insurance until they are well into their twenties. The law operates only if people do not behave like people.
In his view, conservatives are just being fair and describing the harm they see.  They don't like it and don't want it to happen, but Obamacare is a bad law that will destroy America.  Conservatives knew this.  Conservatives are smarter and more virtuous than liberals, who dared to pass healthcare reform over the course of a year with only a large majority of both houses of Congress and the Presidency.  And conservatives can see lots of changes to make to Obamacare that would improve it, even if it isn't repealed.

Naturally, you would assume that this means that conservatives would work to fix the law's errors - after all, no giant new program is ever perfect - even if they can't repeal it.

Now watch the magic in the very next paragraph.
Republicans should be opposed to any and all fixes of Obamacare. The GOP should not lift even half a finger to accommodate Democrat demands for changes. The Democrats planned and implemented Obamacare without a single Republican vote. They made clear they did not need the votes. They used a budgetary procedure in the Senate to get around a filibuster after the people of Massachusetts sent a Republican in Ted Kennedy’s steed to try to stop it.

So the Democrats can own it. They can own every deleted application, every delayed entry into the website, every denial of insurance, every decline in full time work, and every denial of care that comes from this horrible law.

The Democrats can own it all.

Republicans who have said forever that the law will crumble on its own (looking at you, Paul Ryan), need to step back and let it collapse. I hope the lawsuit seeking an end to subsidies in states without state run exchanges is a smashing success.
And there's that magnificent flip.  Erickson sees no conflict between the idea that conservatives are unwilling to see harm befall America and his own willingness to let harm befall America.  As long as Democrats "own" the damage, it's just fine with him.  It hurts Democrats, so it's okay if the country suffers - the ends justify the means.

Thankfully, the irrationality caucus present just as much danger to themselves as they do to America.  They pushed the GOP to plunge headlong into a government shutdown, without any real plan, because their beliefs trumped polling and reason.  And in the aftermath, the polling of those elements most associated with this irrationality - individuals like Senator Cruz and movements like the Tea Party - plunged.  This was absolutely predictable to the reality-based community, just like Romney's loss was only a surprise to people like Dean Chambers.

That's the fatal flaw of the irrationality caucus, and the reason why our real fear shouldn't be their goals, but their tantrums: when you go up against reality, reality always wins.

1 comment:

  1. Erickson makes a lot of red-colored arguments about strict procedural justice (huge surprise, I know). In this type of rhetoric, the Republicans assume the role of father and strict disciplinarian for the country. They believe they are tasked with enforcing laws and rules to the letter, even when this causes pain in the short-term.

    It is kind of like when a parent catches their kid smoking one cigarette and forces them to smoke the entire pack as punishment. The parent knows that smoking is harmful and warns against it beforehand, but their teenager doesn't listen. So as a way of making the teenager learn, the parent has them smoke a whole pack and probably vomit. It is painful in the short term, but it helps the kid in the long term. I think this is the justification Republicans are using, because they think that short-term pain caused by the ACA will make the public at large swear off government healthcare programs forever. It is essentially utilitarian, in the same way a parent's authority ultimately aims at the child's well-being.

    Of course it is infuriating and insulting to be infantilized and talked down to like this, but what else is new?

    You are countering this type of rhetoric with a couple different types: assertion of reason over dogmatic faith (yellow), assertion of catastrophic mismanagement (green), assertion of majority poll support (purple), and assertion of a reality-based community (yellow).

    Seriously, once you start classifying arguments into broad groups, it is impossible to stop. And it is turning me into even more of an asshole. :D

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