Serious thinkers on the right have finally gotten around to a full and open debate on the epistemic closure problem that’s plaguing the conservative movement. The issue, to put it in terms that even I can understand, because I didn’t study philosophy much in college: has the conservative base gone mad?
This matters to journalists, because I really do want to take Republicans seriously. Mainstream conservative voices are embracing theories that are, to use Julian Sanchez’s phrase, “untethered” to the real world.
Can anyone deny that the most trenchant and effective criticism of President Obama today comes not from the right but from the left? Rachel Maddow’s grilling of administration economic officials. Keith Olbermann’s hectoring of Democratic leaders on the public option. Glenn Greenwald’s criticisms of Elena Kagan. Ezra Klein and Jonathan Cohn’s keepin’-them-honest perspectives on health care. The civil libertarian left on detainees and Gitmo. The Huffington Post on derivatives.
I want to find Republicans to take seriously, but it is hard. Not because they don’t exist — serious Republicans — but because, as Sanchez and others seem to recognize, they are marginalized, even self-marginalizing, and the base itself seems to have developed a notion that bromides are equivalent to policy-thinking, and that therapy is a substitute for thinking.
Not far below Ambinder’s piece on Memeorandum, Jonah Goldberg unwittingly (pun fully intended) demonstrates that Ambinder’s analysis is worth taking seriously. In a long article at Commentary, in which Goldberg’s main point is to prove that the Obama administration and the Democratic Party and the Democratic liberal base really are a bunch of socialists, he gives us a bunch of media quotes that provide, as he feels, the proverbial smoking gun. Among them are “left-liberal” Washington Post columnists E.J. Dionne and Harold Meyerson, and “left-wing activist- blogger Matthew Yglesias“:
The left-wing activist-blogger Matthew Yglesias, echoing the Obama White House view that a crisis is a terrible thing to waste, said the Wall Street meltdown offered a “real opportunity” for “massive socialism.”
If you read the post in question, which was written in September of 2008, you’ll see two things. One is that the phrase “massive socialism” was used ironically. The other is that in the intervening 18 months, Barack Obama quite clearly has chosen not to attempt to seize the opportunity I was outlining. When faced with this kind of thing, one is initially tempted to ascribe to the dishonesty of one’s opponents but it’s pretty clear if you follow the Goldberg ouvre over the years that he really is this dumb.
And if you read Matthew’s opening paragraph, you’ll see that Goldberg isn’t the only one.
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