Talk Radio And The Conservative Fantasy World

I’ve had a number of posts on how the Republicans lost due to being out of touch with reality and making arguments which making voting for them unpalatable to many educated voters. This includes some of the following recent posts:

The Republican Ship of Fools

Republicans and Meshugeneh Jewish Voters

Charlie Cook On The Republican Party’s Loss of Upscale Voters

Christine Todd Whitman Calls for Freeing the GOP From The Social Fundamentalists

Republicans Lost By Fighting the Wrong Battles

The GOP: Celebrating Ignorance

The Onion Has Serious Ideas On Meaning Of Obama’s Victory

The Reality-Based Argument for Barack Obama

These posts have two common  ideas. The Republicans base their arguments on religious dogma and on misinformation spread by the right wing noise machine. Nate Silver looks at this from the perspective of the harm done by talk radio. He begins with an interview with John Ziegler who conducted the rather strange poll I discussed here in which those who did not repeat conservative talking points as fact, even when totally incorrect, were considered to be ignorant. He highlighted a response where Ziegler considered the false conservative claim that Obama “launched his career” in the living room of Bill Ayers:

This might be the key passage of my interview with John Ziegler on Tuesday, for it is, in a nutshell, why conservatives don’t win elections anymore. It is not that conservatism generally permits less nuance than liberalism (in terms of political messaging, that is probably one of conservatism’s strengths). Rather, the key lies in the second passage that I highlighted. There are a certain segment of conservatives who literally cannot believe that anybody would see the world differently than the way they do. They have not just forgotten how to persuade; they have forgotten about the necessity of persuasion.

John Ziegler is a shining example of such a conservative. During my interview with him, Ziegler made absolutely no effort to persuade me about the veracity of any of his viewpoints. He simply asserted them — and then became frustrated, paranoid, or vulgar when I rebutted them.

This mindset of believing the right wing talking points and ignoring all evidence that their claims are untrue is common among conservatives. Nate moves into a lengthy discussion of talk radio which is better read in its entirety. A key point is that talk radio concentrates on stimulation to capture the attention of those who are also engaged in other activities while the radio is on as opposed to pursuasion.

Invariably, the times when Ziegler became really, really angry with me during the interview was when I was not permitting him to be stimulating, but instead asking him specific, banal questions that required specific, banal answers. Those questions would have made for terrible radio! And Ziegler had no idea how to answer them.

Stimulation, however, is somewhat the opposite of persuasion. You’re not going to persuade someone of something when you’re (literally, in Ziegler’s case) yelling in their ear.

The McCain campaign was all about stimulation. The Britney Spears ads weren’t persuasive, but they sure were stimulating! “Drill, baby, drill” wasn’t persuasive, but it sure was stimulating! Sarah Palin wasn’t persuasive, but she sure was (literally, in Rich Lowry’s case) stimulating!

Talk radio is only one portion of the right wing noise machine, but it does contribute to the disconnect between conservatives and reality. Talking points which are repeatedly yelled on talk radio are reinforced on Fox, in conservative publications, and blogs. Such repetition replaces any serious attempts at persuasion as well as consideration of the actual facts. Any news outlet which fails to repeat their misconceptions is labeled as part of the liberal media and ignored. This leads to a dwindling number of true believers among conservatives, who are no longer able to meaningfully engage in meaninful discussion of the issues. While they are convinced that their arguments are true, they increasingly lose the support of educated voters who gradually begin to see though them.

Can Republicans Get Back In The Game?

The fate of the Republican Party in recent elections has been closely related to the Republicans failing to address the issues which matter to most voters. Not only are they on the wrong side of the issues, they are so brainwashed by their own echo chamber that they no longer know what the issues even are. They attack Democrats for policies they imagine they have as opposed to their actual positions. Thus we have seen the Republicans become irrelevant in public debate as they take their economic policy from Joe the Plumber and falsely accused Democrats of desiring redistribution of the wealth in a Marxist sense, or for supporting a government takeover of health care. Now they dwell on the Fairness Doctrine, despite the fact that Barack Obama and most liberal oppose this.  When only one political party has actually been discussing the real issues, they are bound to win even if they don’t always have the right solution.

Many conservatives have no concept that their support for teaching creationism, denial of the scientific consensus on climate change, failure to respect the rights of women to control their own bodies, opposition to embryonic stem cell research, and support for intrusion of the government in personal decisions such as in the Schiavo case eliminate the Republicans from consideration as a serious political party by many educated voters.

Ross Douthat seems to be catching on to the fact that the problem is not only that conservatives are on the wrong side of so many issues but that they are not even engaging in the real issues:

On too many issues, conservatives have simply avoided the most important emerging debates, changing the subject whenever possible and leaving liberals to argue against liberals when it isn’t. This is true, too often, in transportation and infrastructure policy; it’s been true for some time in the climate change debate (though I’m hopeful that this changing); and it’s often true in education, where the most interesting arguments are between liberal reformers and liberal interest groups, with conservatives sitting on the sideline talking about vouchers and occasionally praising the Michelle Rhees and Corey Bookers of the world.

This problem is not, repeat not, a matter of conservatives needing to abandon their core convictions in order to win elections, as right-of-center reformers are often accused of doing. Rather, it’s a matter of conservatives needing to apply their core convictions to questions like “how do we mitigate the worst effects of climate change?” and “how do we modernize our infrastructure?” and “how do we encourage excellence and competition within our public school bureaucracy?” instead of just letting liberals completely monopolize these debates, while the Right talks about porkbusting and not much else.

Climate change provides a perfect example of the failure of conservatives to apply their views to problems that matter. There is a clear scientific consensus that there is a human role in climate change. Those who deny this, and think their ideologically based opinion holds up over all the scientists in the field who disagree with them,  have taken themselves outside of serious discussion of the issue. While there is a scientific consensus on the problem, science does not provide a single political solution. Rather than complaining that global warming represents a conspiracy to end the free market economy as many conservatives claim, they should be participating in the debate over solutions with free market ideas.

Republicans will not be able to get back in the game as long as they allow ideology to blind them to reality.

Speculation on Council of Economic Advisers Disappointing

It is certainly premature to predict how an Obama administration will turn out based upon appointments to date and rumors regarding future appointments. Still, this is all we have to go on and such speculation is irresistible to bloggers. I agree with  Megan McArdle in regretting the news that Austan Goolsbee is no longer front runner to become chairman of the Council of Economic Advisers in order to have greater diversity in his appointments. The National Journal reports:

The Obama transition team is interviewing to find a woman, perhaps a minority woman, to fill the CEA chair — a Senate-confirmed position. Informed sources suggest the candidates on the CEA list now include Princeton University economics and public affairs professor Cecilia Elena Rouse, whose specialty is labor economics. The hunt for a woman, explained several sources close to the transition deliberations, is aimed at broadening the white-male cast of the White House team assembled to date (the current tally of announced picks is 3 women, 9 men).

Goolsbee, a respected University of Chicago professor, remains in contention for other administration posts, the sources added.

Megan responds:

I take nothing away from Professor Rouse.  But she’s a labor economist with a heavy, heavy specialty in returns to education.  Goolsbee, by contrast, focuses on taxation and capital formation.  Right now, I’d say the latter is our bigger concern.

More to the point, the worst financial crisis in seventy years is really not the time to see if you can brighten up the CEA offices with a nice, decorative matched set of X chromosomes.  Goolsbee has been advising Obama since the beginning; presumably, this is some sort of testimony to the esteem in which Obama holds his competence.

I wouldn’t go as far to describe this as “throwing him overboard” as Megan later does considering that he remains in contention for other posts, but I do hope that this is not a sign of the direction of the Obama administration. I primarily voted for Obama over McCain due to foreign policy (along with associated restrictions on civil liberties which come from the warfare state) and on social issues, but I had hoped that an Obama administration would present a change from traditional Democratic economic thought. Of course even if I had to choose between the Democrats and Republicans on economics, the economy and stock market still do better under the Democrats than Republicans.

It is premature to give up hope that the Chicago School will influence Obama’s economic thought, but this news is disappointing to libertarians and fiscal conservatives who have backed Obama. While some libertarians have had their views of Democrats totally warped by their overly close relationship to the right wing, a sensible interpretation can be seen at Swords Crossed:

Like Megan and other libertarians, I took solace in Goolsbee’s involvement and influence in the Obama economic team. He’s good economist in the correct sense of the term…meaning having a grasp of and respect for market fundamentals. YES! Believe it not (if you don’t waste time on Daily Kos and the like) Democratic-leaning economists can indeed be a respectful adherent to markets and all that such adherence entails…capital, tax feedback, regulations, incentive structure, behavioral concerns and so on. Goolsbee is an excellent economist in the U of Chicago tradition…just a different twist on that tradition from Milton Friedman. And if the range of our economic paradigm was between Goolsbee on the Left and Friedman on the Right, it would be a much, much better world economically speaking and I would much less cynical. Moreover, I find the politics of finding a women (and minority women at that) simply for its own sake on both counts (gender and race) to be beneath the message it seemed Obama was trying to convey.

Governing based upon sound economic policies, as opposed to identity politics, would be change that we could believe in, but as I don’t know very much about Rouse I also will not assume that because she provides diversity she necessarily won’t be a good choice.

Update: Looking at additional libertarian views, Arnold Kling does not necessarily see this as bad:

Megan knows Prof. Goolsbee better than I do, but my instinct about him is that he may lack a talent for the lateral relationship-building that is necessary to be effective in non-academic organizations.

Ms. Rouse appears to have dedicated much of her scholarly work to studying the returns to schooling. Not surprisingly (were you expecting Obama to name a Charles Murray disciple?), her research supports the proposition that the apparent returns to schooling are not due to ability alone, and that schooling itself has a significant return across all ability levels.

I see no reason to doubt her qualifications for CEA chair. Her work has not focused on macro, but when it comes to dealing with the current crisis, do we really care that she does not have a track record of producing Euler equations or calibrating general equilibrium models?

Tyler Cowen adds some information on her:

Alex posted earlier this year about Rouse’s important paper finding that education vouchers increase the quality of public schools.  Rouse was also an adviser for Kerry.

Brad Delong, a deputy assistant secretary of the Treasury under Clinton, was still predicting Goolsbee will receive the post yesterday.

Typealyzer Finds This To Be A Blog For Thinkers

Analyze your blog at Typealyzer. Their evaluation of Liberal Values:

INTP – The Thinkers

The logical and analytical type. They are especially attuned to difficult creative and intellectual challenges and always look for something more complex to dig into. They are great at finding subtle connections between things and imagine far-reaching implications. They enjoy working with complex things using a lot of concepts and imaginative models of reality. Since they are not very good at seeing and understanding the needs of other people, they might come across as arrogant, impatient and insensitive to people that need some time to understand what they are talking about.

Update: Before anyone gets too upset about how this characterizes their blog, besides other limitations in any program I suspect it only analyzes the top page. Playing around I found that changing what is on the top page analyzed can give very different evaluations. The title of the post below this (with Ship of Fools) has considerable bearing as to whether the analysis includes arrogance.