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Is Our Conservatives Learning?

[ 113 ] November 10, 2012 |

With some conservatives figuring out that being constantly lied to by their media sources isn’t actually helpful, it’s fun to see what happens after the popping of the bubble on election day. Dean “Unskewed” Chambers is actually relatively gracious, straightforwardly admitting his error.

Then there’s the Weekly Standard‘s Jay Cost, who hilariously dressed up his hack predictions (Pennsyvania’s going Republican!) as a manifestation of his superior knowledge of American history compared to those who actually try to learn things from data. No acknowledgment of error from these quarters! Instead, we get a belligerent series of non-sequiturs about how it’s “identity politics” and (even more cynically) “vote suppression” to accurately describe conservative policies and support moderately progressive ones. (In case you’re wondering, he still completely ignores data that falsifies his ridiculous claims, in this case “rich people vote Democratic.”) And he follows this up by demonstrating what he considers his learning by asserting that liberal historians all have a teleological view of history and love Woodrow Wilson.

I’m guessing that in this respect, Cost will be rather more representative.

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  1. There is a possibility this failure could generate the same type of awakening among some conservatives that we saw circa 2006, when Terry Schiavo and WMD denial drove some of them of them off the reservation and opened their eyes about how that side deals with the truth.

    Maybe some of them will realize that Republican opinion leaders are running the same scam with climate data that they ran with polling data.

    • Davis says:

      Davis Frum has said as much, but he’s the only one so far, and he was already off the reservation.

      • NBarnes says:

        I find Frum an interesting case. He’s clearly a fairly hard right conservative. Or, would be, in a world where that description meant ‘non-pathologically reactionary and not a monster’. And this is the guy that wrote Dead Right(*), which has some really horrible elements in it.

        On the other hand, he gives every indication that he is, in fact, reality-based, and was openly and publically anti-Bush at a time when it cost him a lot, professionally.

        I don’t know what to make of that. It seems to me that someone as constitutionally reactionary as Frum is shouldn’t be so… flexible in his thinking. Or that someone so flexible shouldn’t be so reactionary.

        * – http://examinedlife.typepad.com/johnbelle/2003/11/dead_right.html for John Holbo’s essential takedown of Frum’s Dead Right and certain classes of reactionary thought in general. I am dead serious when I say that it is one of the very finest blog posts the internet has given us.

        • dan says:

          I think Frum’s problem with the tea partiers and the Fox news/ AM radio crowd is that he finds them uncouth and vulgar. He believes the same repugnant crap they do, he just has better manners and cleaner fingernails.

    • Craigo says:

      I think the low-hanging fruit has been pretty well-picked.

    • JoyfulA says:

      That’s what made former Republican John Cole of Balloon Juice become a Democrat, as well as the owner of Little Green Footballs.

      • efgoldman says:

        John Cole owns Little Green Footballs? I wonder if anyone’s told him.
        [/antecedent pedant]

      • Wido Incognitus says:

        as well as the owner of Little Green Footballs.

        Am I allowed to point out (or would it be a non sequitur) that Little Green Footballs role in the scandal where CBS News ended up using probably forged documents (I’m not saying they did the forging, just that they should have asked more questions) in the story about G. W. Bush in the National Guard is quite possibly the only time that the conservative alternative media has been right about anything compared to the mainstream media, but that Little Green Footballs, as I understand it, now spends a lot of time engaging with the far-right in America and its various conspiracies? I think that’s interesting, but maybe it’s obvious and it’s certainly a tangent.

        • Major Kong says:

          I got banned over at LGF after one post that was mildly critical of Israel.

          They lean left on a lot of topics but apparently not that one.

        • JoyfulA says:

          So LGF used to be a right-wing reality-based site? I didn’t know that–or anything else about it except the conversion story.

          • John says:

            It was mostly known as a cesspool of anti-Islamic bigotry before Johnson’s conversion, iirc.

            My other memory is that Johnson was actually relatively liberal before 9/11, then swung hard right for a while, and has now ended up back more or less where he started.

            • Richard says:

              Thats correct. He’s an interesting guy. Formerly a professional musician. And as pointed out above, one of the first to demonstrate that Rather’s story on Bush’s avoidance of service in the reserve was based on phony documents

  2. Davis says:

    I admit I can’t get enough of this. The conservative believe in a Romney win was universal, extending even into the campaign itself, where the professionals normally know better. They were all shocked at the results. And they’re still in denial, but some have passed into rage. They’re not blaming Romney, though, and I haven’t seen much about the media. The rage is directed at the American people.

    • Joseph Slater says:

      If the campaign really believed a Romney victory was the most likely result — not “OK, if a lot of things break our way, this could still work,” which would would have been understandable and arguably reasonable — but that Romney was really the probable victor — doesn’t that mean they were employing incompetents as internal pollsters? Or, if the pollsters were competent, ignoring what their own numbers guys were telling them?

      And if either of those things are true, what does that say about Romney’s alleged administrative / managerial competence?

      • Kyle says:

        This kind of organizational rot starts the top. When you have a vain and shallow CEO who clearly only wants yes-men, then happytalk magical fairy-tale telling will predominate the organization.

    • Uncle Kvetch says:

      They’re not blaming Romney

      True…and I find that very surprising. I firmly believed we’d be seeing accusations of RINO-ism directed at Mittens if he lost, with vows to nominate a “REAL conservative” next time. What are we to make of that?

    • Hogan says:

      After they went all in predicting a massive Romney victory, they may have decided to give people a few weeks to forget all that before they start saying, “We knew all along that Romney was a RINO loser.”

    • dan says:

      I just don’t buy the idea that the Romney people were truly “shellshocked” by the loss. It’s a matter of not wanting the donors and voters to know that they’re getting fleeced.

  3. Reasonable 4ce says:

    Apparently not learning. Fred Siegel’s descent into neocon hackery is complete.

  4. mark f says:

    The problem with citing Friedersdorf’s piece isn’t that it’s wrong, which it isn’t, but that he’s been on this beat for years. Off the top of my head I can think of similar items he’s written about Breitbart, Limbaugh, Jonah Goldberg and John Hinderaker. For his efforts he’s been alternately battled and ignored by everyone on the right not named Larison or Frum. In that sense he’s the pundit equivalent of Jon Huntsman, who’s with the movement on most everything but tone but finds himself placed outside the movement for that reason. I won’t believe that any of them are learning anything until pieces like Friedersdorf’s are highlighted within the hive.

    • mark f says:

      Here’s an amusing item: Paid-up “global warming is a Commie hoax” propagandist and Reagan hagiographer Steve Hayward calls out the “charlatans” promoted by Fox.

      • commie atheist says:

        We deserve better from “our” news network.

        Fair and balanced…fair and balanced…fair and balanced…

        • Sev says:

          Couldn’t they just report in the details of romney’s victory, and the liberals apparent inability to accept the result? This may be a fairly unbalanced proposal, which may depend on how deep it is at the deep end.

    • Bill Murray says:

      Frum on Morning Hoe

      And it is maybe a symptom of a broader problem, not just the Republican problem, that the economic anxieties of so many Americans are just not part of the national discussion at all. I mean, we have not yet emerged from the greatest national catastrophe, the greatest economic catastrophe since the Great Depression. And what are we talking about? The deficit and the debt. And these are important problems, but they’re a lot easier to worry about if you are wealthier than you were in 2008, which most of the people on television now are again, if you are securely employed, which most of the people on television now are. But that’s not true for 80% of America. And the Republican Party, the opposition party, needed to find some way to give voice to real urgent economic concerns held by middle class Americans. Latinos, yes, but Americans of all ethnicities.

      http://digbysblog.blogspot.com/2012/11/frum-on-morning-joe-remarkable-15.html

      • Ian says:

        He’s been talking this way for a few years at least. I think the Great Recession actually got through to him in some way.

        • I think it is more that Frum was one of those Republicans who were fully aware that what they have been selling for the last three decades is bullshit, but justified it because it was necessary (in their minds) to win elections.

          He is a practical Republican. He remembers that the Kool-Aid is for other people to drink.

          • commie atheist says:

            He voted for Romney. And his reasons for doing so amount to believing that Romney actually has core beliefs (proof of which can be found…in Romney’s own book!), and expecting Republicans to impeach Obama at some point. He’s not that far off the reservation.

          • Sly says:

            It’s actually due to Frum’s neoconservativism being more consistent than many of his colleagues within the movement. It’s guys like Podhoretz and Kristol that have abandoned domestic neoconservatism as a practical strategy of maintaining their political capital within conservatism at large.

            Neoconservatism is as reactionary and counterrevolutionary as the rest of the conservative alliance, such as it is, but it approaches it by adopting a veneer of domestic liberalism. It privileges a weak form of middle-class expansion under the rubric that stakeholders in the national endeavor are less likely to become radicalized and join movements that will, in their view, inevitably burn civilization to the ground.

            So when Frum voices concerns about 80% of Americans being ignored by the mainstream discourse, he’s worried about the political ramifications of that going forward. You see it in a lot of his writing, particularly in his critiques of paleoconservatives like Charles Murray who blame every problem on the welfare state.

            • LeeEsq says:

              Basically, David Frum is taking his cues from Otto von Bismarch, who while generally reactionary, believed that the masses needed to be given something to show that their country cares about them and they have a stake in the system.

              • John says:

                This is a pretty standard model of conservatism outside the United States – German Christian Democracy is in this model. So was “One Nation Toryism” in the pre-Thatcher era. And, of course, Frum is Canadian, and this kind of ideology is probably a pretty good descriptor of the Tories there, as well.

                • LeeEsq says:

                  The closest America ever came to this version of conservatism were the moderate post-WWII conservatives like Eisenhower and Ford. Otherwise, American conservatism always was distrustful of the state and firm believers in rampant individualism.

        • TT says:

          If I had to guess, the calamity in Iraq (which he passionately and, at the start at least, viciously supported) combined with the spectacularly undeniable failure of conservative economic ideology which culminated in the financial crisis and Great Recession/Lesser Depression, forced Frum into a bout of serious reassessment and reflection. He’s now more of a Canadian, English, or Western European-style Tory than an American conservative.

          And honestly, if a Democrat talked about poverty and the fallout of the financial crisis as bracingly as Frum does, they’d be laughed offing TV. Which is why they don’t do it.

          • catclub says:

            Digby had this at the end: “And to think that the guy who coined the phrase “axis of evil” is now the moral conscience of the Republican Party.”

            Except he is not the moral conscience of the GOP. He has explicitly been thrown out (even if he does not think so).
            Karl Rove is the moral conscience of the GOP,
            maybe Huckabee, maybe Lindsey Graham.

  5. owlbear1 says:

    What is best in life? Watching your enemy hiss at a mirror like a kitten defending its territory.

  6. c u n d gulag says:

    And we should be surprised that people who can’t learn anything, didn’t learn anything?

    If, as the Conservatives say, ‘Conservatism can’t fail, it can only be failed,’ then I think we non-Conservatives can see why it is failing.

    2+2=4, is not an opinion.
    And 51% defeats 47% is also a fact.

    Btw – how ironic is it that Mitt got less than 48% of the vote?
    Last I looked, he was a 47.9%.
    Now, someone please remind me why that 47% number sticks in my mind…
    Why does 47% ring a bell?

  7. wjts says:

    Cost’s piece on teleology is, um, informative:

    In rare cases, external shocks disrupt the status quo and hand one side or the other a temporary advantage to re-shape the social, economic, or political landscape. Think back to the era prior to the Civil War – almost all members of the political class were happy not to talk about slavery. Their problem was that a series of external shocks forced their hand – the invention of the cotton gin, discovery of gold in California, the growing abolitionist movement, the need for an intercontinental railroad, and so on. Without these events, there would have been no President Abraham Lincoln, no Republican party, no Civil War.

    How any of those things qualify as “external shocks” is a mystery to me. And though I’ll fess up to the fact that the last book I read on the subject was Frederickson’s The Inner Civil War back in my undergrad days, I seem to remember something about a fairly sizable swath of the political class (King, Garrison, Sumner, various Tappans and Beechers) who didn’t want to talk about much of anything besides slavery.

  8. But guess what?

    You haven’t just been misinformed about the horse race. Since the very beginning of the election cycle, conservative media has been failing you. With a few exceptions, they haven’t tried to rigorously tell you the truth, or even to bring you intellectually honest opinion. What they’ve done instead helps to explain why the right failed to triumph in a very winnable election.

    Why do you keep putting up with it?

    Because Even The Reasonable Conor Friedersdorf can’t remember what life was like prior to the election cycle?

    • BigHank53 says:

      Exactly whose name is on the bottom of those big, fat paychecks over at Fox News? I don’t think it’s yours, Conor, so don’t go around expecting them to say anything except what Roger Ailes likes to hear.

  9. Bitter Scribe says:

    From Jay Cost’s…postmortem or apologia or whatever that thing was:

    Oftentimes, you cannot understand what is really happening until it has already occurred.

    I want everyone to file out quietly, now, without any wisecracks.

  10. efgoldman says:

    The question is, why are we progressives surprised? Aren’t we just seeing the natural evolution (ha!) of the epistemic closure on the right that we were talking about in the last election?
    In a way, we’re making the same mistake that the President made in 2009-2010: expecting them to look at a quantifiable result and act in a reasonable way.
    Ain’t gonna’ happen.

    • efgoldman says:

      And if I had an edit function, I’d add: fundamentalist faith doesn’t work that way.

    • Scott Lemieux says:

      why are we progressives surprised?

      Are we?

      • Davis X. Machina says:

        Well, I am. Betting against the fundamental depravity of mankind, and the political party predicated on appeals to it, isn’t what you do by default.

        Take the better angels of our nature, sure, but be sure the Hippo Bishop is also giving at least a touchdown.

        St. Augustine usually covers the spread, at the very least.

      • CD says:

        I am, FWIW. I assumed these folks were rational and wanted to win.

        • efgoldman says:

          I assumed these folks were rational and wanted to win.
          Well, you’re half right. They certainly wanted to win. And its natural (and rational) that they are disappointed, even bereft.
          But that still doesn’t explain how their reactions, and their whole politics, is devoid of fact and reason. Friend gulag nailed it up near the top.
          The one single thing that any barely competent political campaign manager or consultant must understand is how to fucking count.

      • Dana Houle says:

        I’m sorta surprised. Republicans have had a lot of good operatives over the years, and you don’t win as many elections at every level as they have over the years by living in electoral Fantasyland. Sure, their policy stuff has long been stupid, but they used to at least be electorally effective.

    • DrDick says:

      The Republican Party is striving their utmost for a Darwin Award.

  11. Hogan says:

    I especially like that after Cost brags about outgrowing his juvenile reverence for “statistics” and “polling,” his first claim for why Romney will win–he’s more trusted on the economy–depends entirely on “statistics” and “polling.” There’s a special kind of incoherence when you can get to the end of a sentence and not remember what you said at the beginning of the sentence.

    • Scott Lemieux says:

      This is straight of old fart sport pundit school. Rants about how nerds in the basement are ruining the game with stats and their slide rules are inevitably followed up with arguments about how the win leader should automatically receive the Cy Young.

      • Another Halocene Human says:

        I thought old fart sports pundit school was to use sport as a metaphor for life, which of course was a struggle to the death between the sainted, too-good-for-this-earth whites and the animalistic, depraved jungle bunnies who would ruin everything if given the chance. Or maybe that was just the Boston Globe.

    • Jeremy says:

      You can’t trust the polls. You need to look deep into the internals of the polls to find the data that supports your self-serving assertions.

      • Dana Houle says:

        You can trust “polls,” but only if you do what you say, look at the demographics (and ideally know it’s a reputable pollster). I was looking at the demographics of the polls, seeing where they were with too few minorities and African-American performance usually no higher than 85%, and that’s one of the reasons I predicted Obama would win 347 electoral votes (everything he won plus NC, which was close) and 52% in the popular vote (once all the votes are counted he’ll probably top 51%).

    • Ken says:

      These contradictions are not accidental, nor do they result from ordinary hypocrisy; they are deliberate exercises in doublethink. For it is only by reconciling contradictions that power can be retained indefinitely.

      (Boy, I’m really hitting the Nineteen-Eighty-Four wikiquote page hard today.)

  12. Wido Incognitus says:

    1.

    Dean “Unskewed” Chambers is actually relatively gracious, straightforwardly admitting his error.

    As I understand, he was not part of any campaign or any right-of-center propaganda outlet. Therefore, he probably feels like other people led him along. Also, he may really have felt bad about the weird and nasty things he wrote about Silver.

    2. A tangential issue is the mainstream media pundits who suggested that polls are not so important for whatever reason. You may be letting these guys off too easily, but I undersstand that you cannot be comprehensive and that those guys are wrong so often it is foolish to expect consequences. I still think there is enough failure in mathematical models (in terms of both models that are incorrect and models that are accurate but have a lot of uncertainty) to think that some people, even if not on this blog, are too confident whenever somebody says something that they like with numbers and charts.

    • Craigo says:

      “to think that some people, even if not on this blog, are too confident whenever somebody says something that they like with numbers and charts.”

      I think the difference is that when Nate Silver was using numbers and charts to say something we very much didn’t like 2010, nobody on the center-left was trying to burn him as a witch.

  13. Derelict says:

    There is a certain mental processing defect that many conservatives seem to evince. Information that doesn’t conform to the preconceptions about the world is either ignored or tortured into a more palatable shape. This election was just the most recent and largest manifestation of that. But consider how long we’ve been told that Sarah Palin really is a genius when even her Fox News handlers can be seen recoiling at the nonsequitors she spouts on the air.

    So I am convinced that what conservatives will “learn” from this election is pretty much new ways to rationalize their loss into terms that comport with their pre-exiting worldview. It’s the media’s fault. It’s Chris Christie’s fault. It’s Democratic vote suppression. It’s anything and everything EXCEPT problems with the electorate’s rejecting their message and policies.

    • UserGoogol says:

      It’s not really a uniquely conservative pathology. Confirmation bias is something everyone does from time to time. The world is full of things that don’t make sense, and a natural reaction to that is to ignore them. The problem is that conservatism has seemed to gotten into habits which strongly exacerbate their confirmation bias.

      • BigHank53 says:

        I think they caught it from the evangelicals they invited into the tent back in the eighties. There’s nobody better at believing one thing and doing another as a suburban American fundamentalist.

    • Uncle Kvetch says:

      It’s the media’s fault. It’s Chris Christie’s fault. It’s Democratic vote suppression.

      And also too, from what I’ve been seeing, there’s a lot of support for “It’s the fault of those damn Hispanics, who are moochers and parasites by nature, but whom we’ll win over next time by throwing Marco Rubio at them.”

      Is our wingnuts learning? Hells no. And that’s all to the good.

    • catclub says:

      Before you fix the problem, fix the blame.

    • Eric says:

      Democrat vote suppression.

      Fixed that for you.

  14. Craigo says:

    Adventures in conservative mythmaking:

    Today Florida announced that Allen West lost by several thousand votes. The second Google News result for “allen west” is this headline from a wingnut blog:

    “Allen West Wins Congressional Race”

  15. Barry Freed says:

    I hope they never learn. The less they know, the more we win.

  16. mb says:

    “Dean “Unskewed” Chambers is actually relatively gracious, straightforwardly admitting his error.”

    I think “gracious” (even “relatively”) would have included an apology for his gratuitous slurs against Nate Silver’s sexual identity. I’ve read a couple of articles on this — including the one linked above — and I didn’t see an apology mentioned.

  17. cpinva says:

    i have a big problem with the whole “gosh, if only we’d paid attention to actual poll data, instead of poll data we made up ourselves, the results on tuesday would have been different, or we’d have seen it coming from a mile away!” bullshit

    first, i have yet to hear one person, who voted for obama, say that, “hey, if i had just seen one more romney/ryan ad, i’d have voted republican”.

    second, so what if they ignored the real polls, paying attention to the real ones wasn’t going to change anything. the republican/tea party platform, and the republican/tea party candidates, would still have been odious, it’s what they do. in fact, to change to a more generally palatable platform/candidate, would require the republican/tea party to transform the very essence of its being. to become, in fact, the democratic party. we already have one of those.

    if the become even more odious (hard, but not impossible), their demographic will shrink even more. maybe they could advocate torture and burning at the stake, for non-christians, to capture the elusive “Spanish Inquistion” vote. my guess is, that’s a pretty small group. they could, as well, support the death penalty for LGBT’s, to go after the “Conservative Christian African Despot” vote. again, a small group, one i’m not even certain can actually vote in this country.

    the fact is, the only avenue of change, open to the GOP, that enables them to keep their id intact, results in even fewer people supporting them, in any election. being realistic, the 1% isn’t going to grow all that much either, so it isn’t like that increase will make up for the loss of possibly sane people, from their base.

    so, aside from “wow, hard to believe the campaign didn’t realize they were well and truly fucked, even though they kept telling the prolls otherwise (and, more importantly, their big donors), you’d think they were smarter than that.” even if they were, it would have made zero difference to the actual outcome.

    someone on kos posits a different theory, one i’m inclined to believe makes a lot more sense: romney is falling on his sword, and pretending to be shocked, just shocked, i tell you! so as to keep those big donors doning, for 2014 & 2016, because the campaign was lying to them too.

    • Derelict says:

      I think you underestimate the power of GOP misinformation. Two of my employees–both of whom live in trailers–have been convinced by GOP messaging that the Federal government is going to take half of everything they own when they die. Never mind that the closest either one of these guys will get to $5 million is walking past the bank. They are true believers in repealing the Estate Tax.

      And that is where much of the GOP’s rank-and-file support comes from. The enormous volume of mis- and malinformation that the party and its media operation cranks out keeps the followers outraged and in line.

      • Davis X. Machina says:

        Team Red. No one entering Fenway — no one who hasn’t made an irresponsible choice of pre-game mushrooms — expects to ever play in front of the Wall.

        But the Sox had better win, or no one’s happy or safe at home tonight.

      • cpinva says:

        true enough:

        And that is where much of the GOP’s rank-and-file support comes from. The enormous volume of mis- and malinformation that the party and its media operation cranks out keeps the followers outraged and in line.

        which is exactly my point, these guys were already in the fold, no additional pushing was required. it’s those who aren’t, that the GOP is trying to attract (by essentially telling them, “hey, we hate your guts, get lost you pikers! oh, btw, could you please vote for us, on your way out?”), that they can’t figure out. either those people are even more insane than your average (not wealthy) republican/tea partier, so the GOP needs to become even more insane to attract them, or they’re less insane, which means that the GOP will need to become less insane to attract them. either way, they’re fucked. if they go big time insane, they lose the only moderately insane crowd. if they go more moderately insane, they risk becoming democrats, and losing your two guys. it’s a lose-lose proposition.

        they literally are hoist on their own petard. by utilizing the “Southern Strategy”, they set the course for their ultimate irrelevancy, as that demographic shrinks. that’s why they’ve fought tooth and nail, to cut down or eliminate immigration, they know it waters down their influence, at an exponentally increasing rate.

        i give them, at best, one more congress, with a majority in the house. then they’re done, for a long, long time.

    • Informant says:

      so what if they ignored the real polls, paying attention to the real ones wasn’t going to change anything.

      Paying attention to the real presidential polling data probably wouldn’t have changed anything in the presidential race, yes, but there’s a strong likelihood that if GOP donors had understood how poor Romney’s chances were, they would have sunk more of their money into Senate and House races, where it could have made more of a difference.

      • cpinva says:

        there is no tangible evidence that more money, sunk into aiken’s campaign, would have made any difference to the eventual outcome. he was toast, as soon as he opened his big mouth.

        yes, but there’s a strong likelihood that if GOP donors had understood how poor Romney’s chances were, they would have sunk more of their money into Senate and House races, where it could have made more of a difference.

        pretty much the same with the rest of them. brown’s campaign outspent warren’s significantly. more ads would have simply become white noise, to the average voter. i remain unconvinced, that more funds would have altered the outcomes, of any of the GOP candidates who lost. the problem is, it wouldn’t have changed who they are, and who they are is why people didn’t vote for them.

  18. Jesse Levine says:

    They will learn to do election mechanics better, because that’s in their vital interests. They will learn to camouflage their real beliefs better. They will never learn the substance of the issues their core beliefs address, because they don’t want to. And they view any attempt at reasonable bargaining on issues that affect the body politic as a whole as a sign of weakness.

    • cpinva says:

      then what are they going to campaign on?

      They will learn to camouflage their real beliefs better.

      good looks and charm? if that’s the case, they might just as well concede the mid-terms now.

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