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Doublethink doubleplusungood

March 3rd, 2012

The news that Republican members of the Wyoming Legislature wanted the state to investigate buying an aircraft carrier[1] as insurance against a possible collapse of the US seems as good an occasion as any to signify the final descent of the party into irredeemable loopiness. Add to that the revival of birtherism, the inability to deal with Rush Limbaugh, and the absence of any coherent economic policy except tax cuts for the rich and you have a party that has seriously lost touch with reality.

As I observed a couple of years ago during the epistemic closure memetime, reality-denial mechanisms have some major political benefits, particularly in mobilising resistance against policy innovations, and tribal solidarity against outsiders of all kinds. But it seems clear at this point that the costs I mentioned then are now bigger than the benefits for the Repubs.

On any standard political calculus, they ought to be cruising towards a clean sweep in November – the economy is still in poor shape, and enthusiasm for Obama has declined massively as a result of policies in areas like civil liberties[2]. Instead, Republican pundits are already giving up on the Presidential election, and even on the Senate, and are starting to focus on whether they can even retain control of the House.[3]

Why is reality-denial turning out so badly, after working so well for so long. There are at several related factors at work here.

First, the parallel universe created by Fox News, the rightwing thinktanks and so on has turned out to be unstable and uncontrollable. Once released, viruses like birtherism cannot easily be recalled, and can mutate into new forms.

Second, there’s what might be called “cafeteria craziness”.  Although no-one on the Repub side of politics can afford to be openly sane on all issues (even Jon Huntsman vacillated on global warming when he thought he had a chance in NH),  only a minority are consistently crazy, and even they don’t all agree. So, it’s easy to get into trouble by saying something crazy that might, in other circumstances get a free pass, or even become a requirement for orthodoxy. This happened to Michelle Bachmann when she pushed the anti-vaccination button, and to Newt Gingrich with his lunar colony.

Third, there’s the requirement for doublethink, most obvious on issues like evolution. Creationists don’t wnat their kids to be told the Bible is wrong, but most are uninterested in changing university-level science courses and would be horrified if Exxon started using flood geology to locate oil. The problem is that there can’t be any honest communication about which parts of the orthodoxy are occasions for doublethink and which are actually supposed to be true. So, when true believers in the base discover that their representatives are merely mouthing shibboleths, there is potential for all kinds of trouble.




fn1. Presumably, this would have provided a basis for demanding a corridor to the Pacific, along with other territorial demands on neighboring states without the foresight to prepare for war. And to forestall killjoy commenters, please don’t bother pointing out that the aircraft carrier was an amendment added as a joke.

fn2. I know that polls show majority support for Obama’s appalling policies, even amomg Dems. But those who are most appalled are precisely those who provided the most enthusiastic support in 2008.

fn3. Of course, anything could happen. But it’s a bad sign when that’s the most promising aspect of the outlook.

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