Parallel universe collapsing?

Over the last few months, a string of seemingly solid pillars of the rightwing ideological establishment have crashed, or at least wobbled. The typical case has been one of over-reach followed by public exposure and then a rush of sponsors and other supporters for the exit. Examples include

* Rush Limbaugh’s attack on Sandra Fluke and subsequent abandonment by sponsors

* The failed attempt by rightwing operatives at the Komen Foundation to blacklist Planned Parenthood

* The exposure of ALEC’s responsibility for the “stand your ground” laws that played a critical role in the Trayvon Martin case

* Most recently, the  Heartland Institute has seen sponsors bail and its entire Washington team (mostly focused on insurance issues) decamp, promising that their new operation will have nothing to do with climate “scepticism”

In addition to this, but arguably sui generis are

* the attempt (which looks like succeeding) by the Koch Brothers to take control of Cato, easily the most credible thinktank on the right of politics

* the denunciation of the Republican party by Norman Ornstein, long presented as the intellectually respectable face of the American Enterprise Institute

It’s striking that these things are happening at a time when Mitt Romney is running neck and neck with Obama and there is a serious chance that the Repubs will control all three branches of government. So, the intellectual apparatus of the Republican seems to be collapsing of its own accord, rather than because the poltiical tide is running against it.

I don’t have a fully satisfactory analysis of this, but the simple proposition that “truth will out” seems to be working at some level. As long as things are going well, these organizations and pundits benefit from the reflexive assumptions of balance, two sides to every story and so on. But they’ve lied so often and so blatantly that this requires a lot of cognitive dissonance. When they overreach and screw up in the process, the cognitive dissonance is resolved against them. And (subject to the same cognitive dissonance) people now understand that the whole Repub apparatus is like this, so that the obscurity of a group like ALEC isn’t much of a defence when they are caught redhanded.

That’s probably overoptimistic, but its good to have a few wins on this front, after years of successful Swiftboating by the other side.

56 thoughts on “Parallel universe collapsing?

  1. I did not know that the Heartland Institute was even in the 1st division? Is it even in DC?

    The Cato Institute is far from influential because it is a libertarian think tank. Cato’s head sees neoconservatism as a “particular threat to liberty perhaps greater than the ideologically spent ideas of left-liberalism”!

    Influential Washington think tanks first must be war-mongers. others need not apply.

    I agree that there is a serious chance that the Republicans will win white house and congress in 2012. the comings and goings at far right and libertarian fringes will not affect these chances.

    the political junkies who might know who these people, apart from Limbaugh, never vote GOP anyway nor do they have the insight marketing skills to influence those that might or might not vote GOP.

  2. Crazy people do crazy things. It’s notoriously difficult coordinating crazy people. I wouldn’t read too much into it. These crazies do pride themselves on being individuals.

  3. @Freelander

    LOL, for once I agree 75% with you, Freelander. Crazy people do crazy things, indeed! The 25% (1 sentence of 4) where I disagree with you is “I wouldn’t read too much into it”.

    I think Prof. J.Q. is right in sensing there might be something in it. The spirit of the times might be changing, even in America. People will follow lunatic demagogues right to the edge of the precipice. When they see the imminent and obvious fall they pull back and let the lunatic plunge over if he will.

  4. If as seems likely Abbott becomes PM at the end of 2013 we can speculate on how it may affect Australia’s strong AGW position. For example we now have a government department rebutting a denialist book
    I would suppose under PM Abbott that would be retracted and the authors moved to back room jobs.

    In the UK any likely change of government still brings AGW acceptance. A Republican win in the US will emasculate the EPA which might then remove proposed emissions standards for vehicles and power stations. We may soon see a world wide denial of physical reality. Interesting times.

  5. This can’t be let go without consequence

    “Most recently, the Heartland Institute has seen sponsors bail and its entire Washington team (mostly focused on insurance issues) decamp, promising that their new operation will have nothing to do with climate “scepticism””

    So what is meant to happen here? Having done as much damage as they possibly could do to Climate Action Initiatives these people just move on quietly to new occupations, and everything is meant to be forgotten? These people and all like them need to be pilloried, and that includes Howard, Abbott and his cohort of political crooks. These “people” would no doubt think of their actions as being standard political argey bargey, but the world is learning all too well that Climate Change has very real consequences that currently brings death to thousands, and in future years many millions of people.

    The fundamental failure of the Republican movement is in their total lack of appreciation of the real problem for America, which is that the core beliefs of Republican, the right to profit unhindered, is the primary driving force of the US’s decline. Agressive and sustained externalising of national production has impoverished their subjects while consecutively depleting their resources and ill considered wars have exhausted their fiscal strength.

    From what I can see the Republicans haven’t got a single policy, other than to squeeze every last drop of oil out of US soil, to address the fundamental problems facing the US. And worse, their blatant obstructionist actions blocking Climate Change Action have put their entire country, economy..infrastructure..and people, in harms way.

  6. So is the “parallel universe”collapsing? Just like super novas the substance is collapsing but the influence will expand rapidly in a final flash. It is not in the nature of extremist movements to become more liberal. Quite the opposite. And the reason is simple human nature, it is difficult for avericious people to give up that which they have, or believe that they have, gained. It has to be taken from them…by force of nature.

  7. Well, the Republican is pushing for a bill to eliminate the American Community Survey. The survey result, according to New York Times, is used to determine the distribution of $400 billion government funds. What’s more surprising is that the bill actually passed the House of Reps and it is now going to the Senate. Talk about war on intelligence.

  8. statistics are the eyes and ears of big government: ammunition for those who want more government intervention.

    Sir John Cowperthwaite was Financial Secretary of Hong Kong throughout the 1960s; his laissez-faire policies created conditions for very rapid growth, laying the foundations of the colony’s prosperity as an international business centre

    asked what is the key thing poor countries should do, Cowperthwaite remarked: “They should abolish the Office of National Statistics.”

    In Hong Kong, he refused to collect all but the most superficial statistics, believing that statistics led the state to to fiddle about remedying perceived ills, hindering the ability of the market economy to work.

    In his first budget speech he said: “In the long run, the aggregate of decisions of individual businessmen, exercising individual judgment in a free economy, even if often mistaken, is less likely to do harm than the centralised decisions of

    HT: government, and certainly the harm is likely to be counteracted faster”

  9. Not for publication

    Just wanted to query your use of “sui generis” which means – in a category of its own – ie unique. I think you needed to say “simul generis” to mean in the same category – but I can’t locate my Latin dictionary to confirm.

  10. Hi Robyn, no I meant “sui generis”, though I did say “arguably”. The Cato story is very complex, and involves personality clashes as well as politics.

  11. Jim @9, your statement that:

    “The precautionary principle was developed to allow left activists to reject best available science-based risk management in public policy”

    is not correct.

    The precautionary principle was developed from the German socio-legal tradition in the 1930s, expressed in the German term Vorsorgeprinzip which translates into English as “precaution principle”

    It began to be widely applied by governments and in international treaties from the 1980s onwards, informing pollution prevention policies by European governments (notably the Christian Democrat government of the Federal Republic of Germany) in the 1980s. One of its earliest applications in an international treaty was in the 1987 Montreal Protocol on ozone-depleting substances, a treaty whose prime mover was the United States under the Reagan Republican administration in the 1980s. It has since been included with no or minimal dissent in international treaties and protocols signed and ratified by governments of all political persuasions.

    QED your statement is not correct – at least not in this universe.

  12. Jim @11, why should we stop at Offices of National Statistics? Why not abolish bureaus of meteorology, national academies of sciences, national scientific and research organisations, etc? Then we’d have no more of those annoying facts and figures about the climate, the state of the environment, etc., which the left uses to promote environmental alarmism.

  13. Deleting this thread derailment. I’m going to post on the precautionary principle soon, but in the meantime, please stay on topic. Paul N and others, no further replies please – JQ

  14. see is it common for self-identified centrists such as Ornstein to speak well of republicans? you cannot defect for what you never joined.

    to quote him: “I’m one of those Jurassic-era Washingtonians who believes in the virtues of centrism and bipartisanship. I have worked closely with both John McCain and Russ Feingold on campaign finance reform and with Barack Obama and Fred Thompson on congressional and civil service reform. As for my enemies, they span the spectrum …

    … Ten years ago, my association with AEI was either ignored by people who were only dimly familiar with think tanks, or seen as a reasonable linkage: a centrist at a center-right organization”

    he then goes on to say:

    “For a large swath of the left, whether bloggers or journalists, AEI has become known as the enemy’s cave–and anyone associated with it must be a part of the enemy team. This isn’t just the fault of highly ideological bloggers.

    The tendency of the press, especially television, to divide discourse into someone over on the left screaming at someone on the right has sharpened the sense of us versus them–with nobody ever standing in between”

  15. The formulation of the precautionary principle contained in numerous pieces Australian Government legislation enacted by both Labor and non-Labor governments in recent years is as follows:

    “If there are threats of *serious* or *irreversible* environmental damage, lack of *full scientific certainty* should not be used as a reason for postponing measures to prevent environmental degradation.” [emphases mine – PN]

    Doesn’t seem to allow a lot of room for consideration of “speculative or ill-founded hazards”.

    This crossed my post, obviously, and can stand as the last word on this topic, until I do my own post – JQ

  16. @Jim Rose

    ‘Peterson (2006)’ is not an adequate citation. When googled this returns 59,400,000 results. And as is often the case in the world of Rose-coloured glasses, the Cass citation is highly selective. Cass, for instance says in that paper:

    The most cautious and weak versions suggest, quite sensibly, that a lack of decisive evidence of harm should not be a ground for refusing to regulate. Regulation might be justified even if we cannot establish an incontrovertible connection between, say, low-level exposures to certain carcinogens and adverse effects on human health. Thus, the 1992 Rio Declaration states, “Where there are threats of serious or irreversible damage, lack of full scientific certainty shall not be used as a reason for postponing cost-effective measures to prevent environmental degradation.”

    What Rose does, again and again, is ‘cite’ conclusions from papers that are not actually there. Cass then goes on to elaborate a series of perfectly reasonable objections to the ‘strong’ precautionary principle, but almost no-one uses the strong precautionary principle as a guide to decisions.

    It must be hard to see through Rose-coloured glasses with all those straw men in the way.

    The tobacco industry used the same arguments, the lack of absolute certainty, to disparage the link between smoking and cancer. The PR firms who served them in that enterprise then moved on to fabricate identical arguments against climate science.

  17. Nobody said that Norman Ornstein was a neocon, another Jim Rose brush fire. What Ornstein cannot refute is his long association with AEI and AEI is seen as being a major driver of the Iraq War and proposed foray into Iran.

    For Ornstein to come out and dump on the Republicans must be seen as a major policy shift.

  18. Doing away with the systematic collection of data is an excellent idea for those who wish to operate in a fact free zone. Once achieved one lives in a universe where uninformed opinion reigns supreme. Sort of like the Republican party.

  19. rog, Norman Ornstein seems to write rather well, is smart, and as he seems to have enemies across the spectrum, he seems like a good chap.

    I asked “is it common for self-identified centrists such as Ornstein to speak well of republicans? you cannot defect for what you never joined.” I never said he was a neocon.

    I assume that he is a registered independent?

    his reform proposals are dreamy see–and-what-will/2012/05/17/gIQA5jqcWU_story_4.html but I like partisan politics. elections are supposed to change things, not give the losing side a perpetual veto

  20. Jim, the point about Ornstein is that he’s the only person at AEI who isn’t an obvious hack. His presence is supposed to show that AEI is serious and respectable. But if the only reputable person they can find sees the Repubs as the main source of US problems, AEI is in deep trouble, just like the rest of the rightwing thinktanks

  21. @John Quiggin

    is there anyone you strongly disagree whom you respect?

    see are you sure they are all registered republicans?

    isn’t it unkind to Ornstein to suggest that his is some kind of front or beard to make the AEI look serious and respectable?

  22. Pr Q @ #26 said:

    Jim, the point about Ornstein is that he’s the only person at AEI who isn’t an obvious hack.

    Ahem, Charles Murray is still on the AEI’s books and is no ones “obvious hack”. I don’t agree with his politics and there are problems with his intellectual methodology. But he is a monumental scholar – the theory of a hereditary “cognitive elite” is pretty self-evident now but was a generation ahead of its time when it was published – who despises the intellectual cowardice of political correctness.

    Most REPs are uncomfortable with his style of uncompromising honesty and old-fashioned Jeffersonian democracy.

  23. Gee, never ever read such kind words for Charles Murray. Even in the alternative universe. Monumental, indeed.

  24. We have Jim to thank for raising Ornstein’s long association with the AEI and as Jim appears to be unable or unwilling to counter claims of AEI’s deep association with neocons, the Bush government and the Iraq War we are left with the rather limp observation that Ornstein

    seems like a good chap

    All this dithering goes to further prove the point that the right of politics is becoming distinctly wobbly.

  25. Pr Q said:

    It’s striking that these things are happening at a time when Mitt Romney is running neck and neck with Obama and there is a serious chance that the Repubs will control all three branches of government. So, the intellectual apparatus of the Republican seems to be collapsing of its own accord, rather than because the poltiical tide is running against it.

    It just shows how irrelevant ideological chatter is to immediate party political fortunes. Most REP right-wingers could not give a hoot for intellectual coherence or credence. They just want to win.

    Like Abbott their dream may come true. My prediction that the ALP and DEMs would win their next national election is heading for the “I was wrong” treatment. It appears that the GFC has triggered “cranky voter” syndrome and there is a big wave of “kick the bums out” feeling sweeping the Occidental world, irrespective of how unappealing are the alternatives.

    In the longer run the collapse of the REP “right-wing echo chamber” will be important in shifting the Overton Window for the Emerging Democratic Majority to peep through. Although this creeping Leftward process has not really gone through the formality of actually occurring and could be stalled, stopped or reversed by underlying changes in demography (immigration, natalisation and matrimonialisation).

    Contrary to that is a leaping Right-ward process as the EU and the US the ethnic far-Right are now in the process of becoming the Centre-Right. Also, the victory of Citizens United which effectively gives Big Money the vote. The War on Terror and the GFC have changed underlying public sentiment, possibly causing a shift of the political demand curve to the Right.

    Meanwhile in AUS what I called “the Great Convergence’ towards the reasonable median voters appears to have stalled with Minchins Martyrdom Operation brought down the Twin Towers of AUS politics – Turnbull and Rudd. We now appear to be heading for, what I called in mid-JUNE 2010, a “Great Divergence”.

    Psephological models will need to be adjusted, sometimes drastically. Stay tuned for further developments.

  26. @Jack Strocchi

    I suspect we are heading for a collapse of the ALP as a viable alternative government. If federal labor matches NSW performance they will hold around 30 seats in the house and lose the senate. If they match Queensland performance they will hold under 20 seats in the house. Rudd, if he survives, and the ALP senators from Queensland and the NT may be the only federal labor politicians north of the Tweed. There would not be a whole lot more between the Tweed and the Murray. No-one has ever formed a federal government without winning a majority of seats in NSW and Labor will not be doing that for some time, if ever.

    What follows I do not know, although I do not think the Abbot electoral dominance will last very long. His economic policies involve such huge and unachievable savings that I expect him to achieve Gillard levels of unpopularity, and for broadly the same reason, promises that should not have been made and cannot be kept, in a relatively short time after becoming prime minister.

    What happens then? Who knows but I doubt it will be pretty.

  27. A wipe-out in one state is not quite the same thing as a wipe-out in Queensland and NSW and a loss in Victoria. South Australia will join the funeral march next year according to the polls. Tasmania itself is looking pretty grim although the Green vote there is surging. Losing so many state and federal MPs seriously restricts your ability to deliver effective opposition or to recover quickly.

    Although 1975 was a federal landslide NSW elected a Labor government within 12 months. That is extremely unlikely to happen this time.

  28. the ALP split in 1916, 1931, 1955 and 1957 and still bounced back.

    there is much ruin in both nations and political parties.

  29. @Jim Rose
    @Jim “is there anyone you strongly disagree whom you respect?” Well, not you, given your evasive and dishonest performance here. But I certainly respect John Howard, much more so than either of the current contenders for the top job.

    As regards the AEI, I don’t have access to voter registration records, but it shouldn’t be too hard for you to identify some Democrats among their scholars, if any exist. I’ll leave it to you.

    On Ornstein, I assume that, as a committed centrist, he judged it worthwhile to work with AEI (a reasonable judgement when he started there) and, for the same kinds of reasons, hasn’t wanted to make a public break with them until now. I expect he’ll be gone soon.

  30. @Jack Strocchi Jack, you’re surely joking. “I disagree with his methodology” is a very pussyfooting way of saying that he exhibits consistent intellectual dishonesty. He is, simply, a Very Bad Scientist.

    And I’m not even basing that on The Bell Curve (though even a real Chicago boy like James Heckman reckons its methodology is indeed shite). It’s the way that Murray shamelessly rewrote history and wrote outright falsehoods in “Losing Ground” to “demonstrate” that modern US poverty was created by LBJ’s Great society program that really shitted me off.

    The only thing is he can’t seem to make up his mind whether to run the line that the poor are poor because they’re morally debased and therefore not worthy of support, or the poor are poor because they’re genetically dumb and therefore can’t benefit from support. Of course the policy prescription is the same in both cases – ie don’t take tax dollars from my friends to spend on these untermenschen.

  31. In our own minds we are all committed centrists; not our fault if there’s more traffic flowing on one side than t’other.

  32. thanks John, the tread you linked was about whether anything more than error, mistake, imperfect recall, or a lack of information/skill should be attributed to another.
    • I declined to give a yes-no answer is your question ‘is X a liar’.

    I respect and question Howard the reasons much like you in your link on him.

    Howard was amazing on East Timor. he broke the prime directive of Australian national security:
    • Never, never, never put the Australian military anywhere near a situation where they might exchange fire with TNI – the Indonesia army
    • Howard was deft enough to manage the consequences and risks

    I admire Whitlam too except for his inept response when sacked. Going to lunch rather than using his control of the house and of the senate presidency to outwit Kerr. was easy to do.

    Fraser was boring. Hawke had great political, administrative and strategic skills. fastest man with paper in canberra; knew exactly what he need to be briefed on.

  33. Actually, I see they had Moynihan back when they were still making some sort of show of respectability, and Paul McCracken is listed as Emeritus, but he’s 97. The current list consists exclusively of Repubs, and almost exclusively of Repub hacks, as far as I can see.

  34. John, you are far more of a U.S. political junkie than me.

    I do not know most of those names. which side of 100 are there on your link’s list?

  35. Great, Jim, I assume then you’ll take my word for it that the AEI consists almost entirely of Republican hacks.

  36. The Republicans refute the allegation of extremism saying that Republican voters are not extremists and there are a lot of Republican voters.

  37. John, I just noticed cass sunstein’s Why Groups Go to Extremes was published by AEI press in 2008! he makes these points:

    In the course of exchanging opinions, like-minded people frequently develop more extreme versions of their original views on such issues as climate change, labor policy, same-sex relationships, and affirmative action.

    Groups ranging from citizens’ forums to judicial panels tend to squelch diversity and polarize opinion.

    With the Internet facilitating the formation of like-minded groups, this phenomenon may help account for the intensity and division of contemporary social and political debate.

    p.s Bhagwati is a Democrat and an AEI adjunct scholar (1993-present);

    p.p.s. According to his wife, Samuel Huntington was a life-long Democrat; he was in the carter white house. he was a member of the AEI Council of Academic Advisers (-2008)

    p.p.p.s was James Q. Wilson a republican hack or the best political scientist of the past half-century,? chairman of the AEI Council of Academic Advisers (1991-2012?)

    p.p.p.p.s. Seymour Martin Lipset, adjunct scholar (1973-2007) was the only person to have been president of both the American Sociological Association (1992–93) and the American Political Science Association (1979–80).

  38. found this at

    “A political hack is a negative term ascribed to a person who is part of the political party apparatus, but whose intentions are more aligned with victory than personal conviction.

    The term “hired gun” is often used in tandem to further describe the moral bankruptcy of the “hack”.

    Political hack may also be used by a political opponent in order to erode confidence or credentials of an opponent or his hired campaign help. Often used to demean well credentialed individuals for political purposes”

  39. Bhagwati is neither a Republican nor a hack, but his involvement with AEI looks pretty peripheral to me.

    Otherwise, your list of eminent and deceased scholars confirms the point I made wrt Moynihan and McCracken: AEI used to have serious scholars, at least some of whom were centrist in their views, but those people are mostly dead now, and their replacements are mostly Republican hacks.

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