If you had to pick just one word to characterize the modern conservative movement it would have to be ignorance. To believe the stuff they say it is necessary to be ignorant of history, economics, science, and public policy. The major reason for their ignorance is their rejection of legitimate sources of information while believing the outrageously untrue claims regularly made by Fox, right wing talk-radio, and their chain emails. I’ve pointed out many times that the more you watch Fox, the dumber you are. I had thought that this primarily involved matters related to right wing ideology and policy. This would include the belief that Saddam was responsible for the 9/11 attack, that Saddam had WMD which represented a threat to our national security, that cutting taxes brings in more revenue even during eras of relatively low tax rates, that creationism is a valid alternative to evolution, and that climate change is a hoax. This also includes their bizarre misconceptions about the beliefs of others, the belief that Barack Obama wasn’t born in the United States, or the absurd belief that Barack Obama is a socialist. (Newt Gingrich has now claimed that the Congressional Budget Office is a “reactionary socialist institution,” which conservatives are certain to repeat when the facts contradict their beliefs.)
As bad as all this is, matters are even worse. A Fairleigh Dickinson PublicMind Poll found that readers of newspapers such as The New York Times and USA Today are, as would be expected, more likely to be aware of events which are unrelated to conservative talking points. However, those who watch Fox know less than those who follow no news at all. Taegan Goddard summarized:
A new Fairleigh Dickinson PublicMind Poll finds that the Sunday morning political shows on television “do the most to help people learn about current events, while some outlets, especially Fox News, lead people to be even less informed than those who they don’t watch any news at all.”
“For example, people who watch Fox News, the most popular of the 24-hour cable news networks, are 18-points less likely to know that Egyptians overthrew their government than those who watch no news at all (after controlling for other news sources, partisanship, education and other demographic factors). Fox News watchers are also 6-points less likely to know that Syrians have not yet overthrown their government than those who watch no news.”
These results mirror a University of Maryland study published last year.
The trend towards rejecting reality has led former Bush speech-writer David Frum to write an article asking, “When Did The GOP Lose Touch With Reality?”
The Bush years cannot be repudiated, but the memory of them can be discarded to make way for a new and more radical ideology, assembled from bits of the old GOP platform that were once sublimated by the party elites but now roam the land freely: ultralibertarianism, crank monetary theories, populist fury, and paranoid visions of a Democratic Party controlled by ACORN and the New Black Panthers. For the past three years, the media have praised the enthusiasm and energy the tea party has brought to the GOP. Yet it’s telling that that movement has failed time and again to produce even a remotely credible candidate for president. Sarah Palin, Donald Trump, Michele Bachmann, Rick Perry, Herman Cain, Newt Gingrich: The list of tea-party candidates reads like the early history of the U.S. space program, a series of humiliating fizzles and explosions that never achieved liftoff. A political movement that never took governing seriously was exploited by a succession of political entrepreneurs uninterested in governing—but all too interested in merchandising. Much as viewers tune in to American Idol to laugh at the inept, borderline dysfunctional early auditions, these tea-party champions provide a ghoulish type of news entertainment each time they reveal that they know nothing about public affairs and have never attempted to learn. But Cain’s gaffe on Libya or Perry’s brain freeze on the Department of Energy are not only indicators of bad leadership. They are indicators of a crisis of followership. The tea party never demanded knowledge or concern for governance, and so of course it never got them.
Frum addressed the alternative reality created by talk radio and Fox:
But the thought leaders on talk radio and Fox do more than shape opinion. Backed by their own wing of the book-publishing industry and supported by think tanks that increasingly function as public-relations agencies, conservatives have built a whole alternative knowledge system, with its own facts, its own history, its own laws of economics. Outside this alternative reality, the United States is a country dominated by a strong Christian religiosity. Within it, Christians are a persecuted minority. Outside the system, President Obama—whatever his policy errors—is a figure of imposing intellect and dignity. Within the system, he’s a pitiful nothing, unable to speak without a teleprompter, an affirmative-action phony doomed to inevitable defeat. Outside the system, social scientists worry that the U.S. is hardening into one of the most rigid class societies in the Western world, in which the children of the poor have less chance of escape than in France, Germany, or even England. Inside the system, the U.S. remains (to borrow the words of Senator Marco Rubio) “the only place in the world where it doesn’t matter who your parents were or where you came from.”
We used to say “You’re entitled to your own opinion, but not to your own facts.” Now we are all entitled to our own facts, and conservative media use this right to immerse their audience in a total environment of pseudo-facts and pretend information.
One terrifying example of the alternate reality promoted by the far right was seen at the Religious Right’s “Thanksgiving Family Forum” which six candidates for the Republican nomination attended. They support a warped version of the Constitution which exists only in their heads, containing views which are the opposite of what the framers intended. Rob Boston tried to correct a small number of their mistaken beliefs:
I can’t dissect the entire event. I don’t have that much time or patience. But I did take a few notes and want today to explain a few basic things to the Religious Right:
Thomas Jefferson and James Madison don’t agree with you. You hate the separation of church and state; Jefferson and Madison loved it. Jefferson and Madison worked together to end the government-established church in Virginia and guarantee religious liberty for all. Jefferson coined the metaphor of a “wall of separation between church and state.” Madison spoke of the “total separation of the church from the state.” Neither favored an officially Christian government. They are not on your side; stop invoking them.
The Declaration of Independence and the Constitution are two different documents designed to do different things. There’s no doubt that the Declaration of Independence is an important historical document. It was a bold statement of our nation’s desire to be free from British control. But it does not list our rights. The rights of Americans are outlined in the Constitution, not the Declaration. I realize that it bothers you that the Constitution is secular and that you place great stock in the fact that the Declaration contains a deistic reference to the “Creator,” but that does not change this simple fact: The foundational governing document of the nation is the Constitution – and it does not state that we are an official Christian nation.
We have three co-equal branches of government. It’s discouraging to hear you cheer when candidates vow to stop the courts from handing down decisions that you don’t like. Our system grants the president no such powers – and for good reason. We’re not a dictatorship, after all. An independent judiciary is essential to the maintenance of a free society. When you applaud a man who promises to fire, harass and intimidate judges and turn the courts into a rubber-stamp body, you are advocating for autocracy. Aside from the separation of church and state, there is another important type of separation in our Constitution: the separation of powers. You might want to read up on it.
When you advocate denying public office to people on the basis of what they believe (or don’t believe) about God, you are being bigots. Article VI of the Constitution states that there shall be no religious test for federal office. People are free to reject political hopefuls on the basis of their beliefs, of course, but candidates should not promote this type of bigotry. We would have no difficulty labeling a person who says that a Jew is unfit for the presidency an anti-Semite. Likewise, a person who says that an atheist is unfit for that office should be called what he or she is: a bigot. It’s not something to be proud of.
You cannot simultaneously argue that decisions are best left to states and localities and demand federal control when states and localities do something you don’t like. Several candidates attacked Washington, D.C., policy-makers and asserted that states and local governments should have more control, much to the delight of the audience. They talked about how people have the freedom to make decisions on the local level. But apparently that freedom does not extend to making decisions that the Religious Right does not like. Moments later, many of these same candidates vowed to stop states from legalizing same-sex marriage or civil unions and demanded to criminalize abortion in all 50 states by federal writ. When you promote this type of intellectual disconnect, you expose yourself as the giant hypocrites that you are.
The day before the event, Americans United Executive Director Barry W. Lynn said in a statement, “It’s a shame that so many candidates see fit to attend this fundamentalist Christian inquisition masquerading as a debate. Our nation faces many serious problems, but a lack of religion in our political system isn’t one of them. In fact, this election has already become deeply entangled with religion, with four candidates now claiming that God told them to run. Enough is enough.”