The confirmation bias and hypocrisy in critique of conservative group think

Burying the Republican Party, or at least throwing a handful of dirt on it, has become en vogue following Mitt Romney’s loss in the 2012 Presidential Election.

If they don’t adapt, they’ll die, etc.

But that was always true. Every political party has to adapt to the people it governs. Democracy is, after all, about following the will of the people.

Bruce Bartlett wrote a sizable treatise on the state of the American Conservative on the appropriately named

His position is not new, but rather an in-depth deconstruction of the GOP echo-chamber thesis being put forth by plenty of people both left and right in the political spectrum.

Bartlett, for his part, is a credentialed conservative, having worked with Jack Kemp, the Reagan administration and most recently George W. Bush.

His main criticism of the Republican Party is that they’ve become closed-minded. He cites an example of criticism he offered in a New York Times Magazine article that none of his conservative friends had even read. Some offered disdain that he would even suggest they’d believe something from a “liberal rag.”

One of the architects and champions of supply-side economics, Bartlett had more recently found love with Keynesian theory. Furthermore, he felt the right’s attack of this theory to be misguided and unfair.

But what Bartlett’s criticism, and by proxy any political criticism, of economic policy is missing is the truism that theory is theory. It exists in a vacuum.

Policy exists in the world. It has actual impacts on markets and those markets are never as cookie cutter as the cute, nice examples in such pieces of turn-of-the-century economic diatribes.

No one can argue the Keynesian notion that government spending levels do have an impact on business cycles in an economy, but they were more important in 1930 when the United States didn’t have to compete with China’s currency manipulations, the Euro-zone falling apart, or really any global competition.

Furthermore, spending levels are one thing – FDR spent a ton to help get us out of a recession – but he didn’t run up massive deficits or debt to do it. In fact, his spending as it relates to GDP was a fraction of what President Obama has done and is proposing in the future.

Debt levels have buried Greece and are threatening to bury Italy, Spain and soon yes, the United States.

Bartlett is correct to criticize the heinous perversion of conservatism by George W. Bush, a man who was driven by craven megalomania (an influence Karl Rove must take a considerable responsibility in) and not a conservative ideologies.

Bush 43 spent about as responsibly as a Hilton trust fund baby, but modern conservatives do criticize Bush for that.

Part of the problem, perhaps, for Bartlett and probably for the left who agree with him, is that they just don’t know enough modern conservatives. They don’t know people who believe in the conservative policies that are working in states like Wisconsin, Indiana and Ohio.

That’s because the loudest conservative voices are, and probably always have been, the most closed-minded and ignorant. That, however, is not a GOP-only issue.

The left, hardened by two straight presidential victories, has become the most closed-minded group of people on planet Earth. Al-Qaeda has more wiggle room on their extremist positions than any pundit on MSNBC or NPR.

Just like Bartlett had friends who were shocked to find he’d think they would read the New York Times, I have friends who are equally shocked that I might think they would watch Fox News or read the Wall Street Journal.

What Bartlett and the Cato Institute have called “epistemic closure” is not something that only takes place on the right. As MSNBC and surrogates like Mother Jones, Daily Kos and others, move further left, the same sort of group think which pervades many circles of conservatives will create its own similar echo-chamber if one doesn’t already exist (and I think it does).

Plenty of GOPers convinced themselves that Gallup and Rasmussen had the party ID breakdown right and no one else did. Conservatives, particularly modern ones, are used to being underdogs. But if Gallup had been right, what would the echo-chamber criticism look like?

This critique is easy to make now because the GOP lost, but it wasn’t the landslide people pretend it was. Mitt Romney, an admittedly weak candidate who was never a strong conservative, nor a sufficiently appealing moderate, lost by less than 2% in the national vote and if half a million votes in swing states go for Romney, he wins in the landslide instead of Obama.

We don’t need to re-write reality in order to conform it to the way we want it. That kind of confirmation bias is evident in the ironically-named Bartlett article, “Revenge of the reality-based community.”

The mandate in 2008 was obvious: a rejection of Bush-era policies. In 2012, that mandate, if there is one, is less obvious, but Bush-era policies are decidedly not conservative. You can’t, in one breath, say the world is now anti-conservative because they’re anti-Bush, and yet say that means they’re now center left, when 60% of voters believe our economic problems are Bush’s fault.

The inherent implication there is that our dire economic straights are from a president spending like a maniac on programs we couldn’t afford and wars we didn’t really want to fight.

Obama’s policies have been no different. In that way, Bartlett’s characterization of Obama as a center-right politician is fitting: if Bush is what we might call a neo-conservative, Obama isn’t much different.

But there’s no evidence that either is the so-called ‘mandated path’ that this country wants to be on. Just about any critique for an echo-chamber or group think effect you can label on the right, you can do the same with the left.

Going off the deep end and decrying the end of the GOP is an unnecessary and unsupported claim. Critiques are right about one thing, the GOP must adapt or die.

But that was true even 10 years ago when Republicans had a strangle-hold on American politics. It’s a truism. It just is. All political parties, ideologies, and theories must adapt or be rendered irrelevant.

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One thought on “The confirmation bias and hypocrisy in critique of conservative group think

  1. The real debate is to what do we adapt?

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