Conor Friedersdorf has some blunt words for conservatives who depend solely on the conservative infosphere for their information: You are being misled by the world as it is, and there are serious consequences for that. More:
In conservative fantasy-land, Richard Nixon was a champion of ideological conservatism, tax cuts are the only way to raise revenue, adding neoconservatives to a foreign-policy team reassures American voters, Benghazi was a winning campaign issue, Clint Eastwood’s convention speech was a brilliant triumph, and Obama’s America is a place where black kids can beat up white kids with impunity. Most conservative pundits know better than this nonsense — not that they speak up against it. They see criticizing their own side as a sign of disloyalty. I see a coalition that has lost all perspective, partly because there’s no cost to broadcasting or publishing inane bullshit. In fact, it’s often very profitable. A lot of cynical people have gotten rich broadcasting and publishing red meat for movement conservative consumption.
On the biggest political story of the year, the conservative media just got its ass handed to it by the mainstream media. And movement conservatives, who believe the MSM is more biased and less rigorous than their alternatives, have no way to explain how their trusted outlets got it wrong, while the New York Times got it right. Hint: The Times hired the most rigorous forecaster it could find.
It ought to be an eye-opening moment.
Regular readers of this blog know that I constantly complain about how the liberal MSM distorts and misrepresents, by commission and omission, the world as it is. But Friedersdorf is absolutely right: epistemic closure is a big problem for conservatives too.
This is not a new point, for Friedersdorf or anybody else, but the Romney loss does cast fresh light on it. I would only add this: the mainstream nonpartisan media, especially cable television, does its part to reinforce these mental habits. When bookers for newstalk shows look for someone to represent the “conservative” point of view, they go to someone from a conservative think tank, or to an established Washington or NYC pundit. It’s easier, and the format reinforces those who state sharp opinions bluntly and colorfully.
A decade ago, when I was working and writing in New York, I would get called by bookers for various cable news shows to come on and offer “the conservative side” on a given issue. Never mind that there might be more than one conservative way to look at an issue. They could put “National Review” under my name on the screen, and that was really all they were interested in. Idiot that I was, I actually tried to listen to what my opponents were saying, and respond to that. I also let them finish before jumping in. I was not very good at that kind of TV. I realized at last that they don’t want people to come on and have a discussion. They want you to take a position and hold it no matter what, and to do so with a tenacity that looks a lot like rudeness.
To be sure, there are conservative pundits who aren’t obnoxious on TV, and who are intelligent and a pleasure to watch. But how many of them ever offer an opinion or an analysis that goes against the conservative conventional wisdom? As I wrote the other day on the BBC, there is a considerable cost to be paid for the “disloyalty” of taking a contrarian opinion. And as Friedersdorf points out, this kind of thing is costly to the Right, in part because it misleads them (us) about where the country really is.
A conservative writer I read and respect posted the other day that we social conservatives had clearly not made our case against SSM well enough. I wish that were the case, because it suggests that all we need to do is find a new and better way to package our message. The truth is that the country no longer believes in what it used to regarding homosexuality and the nature of marriage. That is, however poorly we have made our case, and however biased the mainstream media has been in covering this issue, there’s no getting around that an increasing number of Americans simply don’t agree with us.
It is hard for many conservatives to face the fact that the country isn’t what they thought it was. We have had this narrative on the right for so long that the people are virtuous, and all our problems are caused by the elites — media elites, Hollywood elites, academic elites, Washington elites (by which they mean liberal Democratic and RINO elites) — and the Special Interests they coddle. It’s difficult to conceive how quickly things have changed, and are changing. Maggie Gallagher wrote in a well-known 2006 piece about legal scholars discussing the impact of same-sex marriage on religious liberty:
Reading through these and the other scholars’ papers, I noticed an odd feature. Generally speaking the scholars most opposed to gay marriage were somewhat less likely than others to foresee large conflicts ahead–perhaps because they tended to find it “inconceivable,” as Doug Kmiec of Pepperdine law school put it, that “a successful analogy will be drawn in the public mind between irrational, and morally repugnant, racial discrimination and the rational, and at least morally debatable, differentiation of traditional and same-sex marriage.” That’s a key consideration. For if orientation is like race, then people who oppose gay marriage will be treated under law like bigots who opposed interracial marriage. Sure, we don’t arrest people for being racists, but the law does intervene in powerful ways to punish and discourage racial discrimination, not only by government but also by private entities. Doug Laycock, a religious liberty expert at the University of Texas law school, similarly told me we are a “long way” from equating orientation with race in the law.
By contrast, the scholars who favor gay marriage found it relatively easy to foresee looming legal pressures on faith-based organizations opposed to gay marriage, perhaps because many of these scholars live in social and intellectual circles where the shift Kmiec regards as inconceivable has already happened. They have less trouble imagining that people and groups who oppose gay marriage will soon be treated by society and the law the way we treat racists because that’s pretty close to the world in which they live now.
That was truly prescient. Doesn’t Doug Kmiec’s “inconceivable” seem dangerously antique now? What else are we on the Right going to face in the next decade that seems “inconceivable” even to our cleverest minds now, because we live in a bubble, driven more by our emotional needs, which includes both the craving to live in denial that things are as far gone as they are in certain areas, as well as its opposite, the compulsion to believe crazy things, e.g. birtherism, instead of focusing on reality?
And maybe, just maybe, we will start to understand that culture is more important than politics. Until and unless we do, we’ll keep having days like this good woman had last Wednesday.
Despite what some panicked conservatives think, it’s not the end of the world. But it really is the end of a world. How did so many of us not see it coming?