Conservative Consensus-- How Would Paul Ryan Respond To Chris Mooney?
We've urged everyone to check out Chris Mooney's latest book, The Republican Brain" The Science Of Why They Deny Science-- And Reality. Paul Rosenberg did the ultimate review of the book for Al Jazeera and he started with the inability of the Beltway media to adequately deal with early Bush Administration policies that negated scientific findings in the battles over ergonomics, arsenic levels and carbon dioxide emissions. "America's political media," he wrote, "usually finds it difficult to write outside of the partisan framework or some near variant of it (liberals versus conservatives, say) whenever explicitly political actors are involved... [S]cientists' critique repeatedly struggled to escape the he said/she said Republican-vs-Democrat framework, as if letting scientists have too much sway would have "biased" the reporting in favour of the Democrats."
And so it remained for science journalist Chris Mooney to tell that story and much more in his 2005 New York Times bestseller, The Republican War on Science. At the time, Mooney now says, he naively believed that getting these facts out would have a substantial political impact. But that's not how things have played out since then, and Mooney's new book-- The Republican Brain-- is devoted to exploring why. Its subtitle is "The Science of Why They Deny Science-- and Reality," and that is a fascinating story to be told. But perhaps an even more important message of Mooney's book is that liberals and Democrats are also deep in denial-- particularly about the limits of reason and the need to rethink how to respond effectively to Republican's science denial.
Perhaps most centrally, Mooney argues, liberals inspired by the Enlightenment vision of ever-growing knowledge about the world appear to be fundamentally mistaken about the nature of human reason. When it comes to framing and articulating seemingly rational arguments, our brains are shaped more by the need to make persuasive arguments than to arrive at objective truth. (After all, that's the evolutionary reality in which our brains evolved.) If we take the Enlightenment imperative seriously, and turn it back on ourselves, then we need to change how we think about how we think. We are practiced rhetoricians all, and practicing scientists only some, at best.
This is why it's quite mistaken to confuse conservatives' hostility to science with a more general lack of intelligence. They are, if anything, clearer than liberals about what's really at stake. In arguing for their worldview, therefore, it is hardly surprising that the more educated, sophisticated and "informed" conservatives are more wrong about the science than their fellow conservatives-- a phenomena that's particularly evident in the escalating denial of global warming over the past few years.
...Mooney's primary focus throughout most of the book is on reality-orientation, thus stressing the lack-of-openness aspect of conservatism regarding information processing. After all, that's primarily what the book is all about. First off, building on his earlier book, Mooney both reprises and provides new evidence about conservative bias, misinformation and disinformation out in the world-- as for example, when he rolls out a series of seven studies showing how Fox News misleads its viewers, directly refuting a mistaken PolitiFact "fact check" on Jon Stewart. This sort of misguided "balance" is a relatively under-developed theme in Mooney's book, which typifies one of its semi-hidden strengths-- the creation of a fertile field for further discussion. (Indeed, a brand new guest post at Mooney's blog takes up this theme: "The Paradoxical Centrist Bias of the Political Left.")
That guest post delves into Paul Krugman's exasperation with what he calls the Beltway's Cult of Centism but what we refer to here at DWT as the Beltway's Conservative Consensus. Krugman, who's done the best mainstream analysis of Paul Ryan's frightening one-percent-oriented vision for America doesn't even mention-- at least not by name-- Paul Ryan in his column about the dangers of this cult that is chipping away at the efficacy of the Democratic Party as a vehicle for working families to defend themselves from the powerful and wealthy. "We have a crisis in which the right is making insane demands," writes Krugman, "while the president and Democrats in Congress are bending over backward to be accommodating-- offering plans that are all spending cuts and no taxes, plans that are far to the right of public opinion."
So what do most news reports say? They portray it as a situation in which both sides are equally partisan, equally intransigent-- because news reports always do that. And we have influential pundits calling out for a new centrist party, a new centrist president, to get us away from the evils of partisanship.
The reality, of course, is that we already have a centrist president-- actually a moderate conservative president. Once again, health reform-- his only major change to government-- was modeled on Republican plans, indeed plans coming from the Heritage Foundation. And everything else-- including the wrongheaded emphasis on austerity in the face of high unemployment-- is according to the conservative playbook.
And if that doesn't conjure up Paul Ryan in your mind, you've been dead to the greatest threat American working families have faced at least in my lifetime. And now Ryan isn't just spouting his avowedly anti-Christian Ayn Rand dogma as "serious" and "centrist" fiscal and economic policy, he's making the absurd claim that it's inspired by Catholicism. That's a little much-- even for Catholic clergy. Catholic principles, he insists, are what led him to demand cutting programs for the poor so as to keep people from becoming “dependent on government.” Something tells me that anyone who ever seriously considered the actual teachings of Jesus, rather than the teachings of Ayn Rand and Satan, might recognize Paul Ryan's agenda for what it actually is and this week the founder of the PICO National Network, the largest national coalition of religious congregations, slammed Ryan’s claim of adherence to Catholic teaching as “the height of hypocrisy:"
“A central moral measure of any budget proposal is how it affects “the least of these” (Matthew 25). The needs of those who are hungry and homeless, without work or in poverty should come first.”
“By these measures,” the release says, “the Ryan budget is a severe failure,” noting that it cuts Medicare, Medicaid, Pell Grants, food stamps, and “other programs that help vulnerable working families make it through tough times and live better lives,” while giving massive tax breaks to the wealthiest Americans and corporations. Overall, 62 percent of Ryan’s budget cuts come from programs that benefit the poor. “The mission of the Church is to ‘bring good news to the poor’ and to protect the vulnerable, not to justify the impoverishment of the very young, the very old and the sick in order to enrich the wealthy,” the release says.
Ryan's opponent in November is a problem-solving progressive who doesn't have an ideological agenda and who wants to serve ordinary working families, not the one-percent who have financed Ryan's disgraceful political career. You can help Rob Zerban's campaign here for many reasons. One of them, at least for some people, is because this is what Paul Ryan's agenda is based on, not Jesus Christ's teachings:
UPDATE: In Mooney's Own Words
Chris Mooney penned an OpEd for the Washington Post today, Liberals and conservatives don't just vote differently. They think differently
“Follow the money.” As a young journalist on the political left, I often heeded this well-worn advice. If conservatives were denying the science of global warming, I figured, big fossil-fuel companies must be behind it. After all, that was the story with the tobacco industry and the dangers of smoking. Why not here?
And so I covered the attacks on the established scientific knowledge on climate change, evolution and many more issues as a kind of search for the wealthy bad guys behind the curtain. Like many in Washington, I tended to assume that political differences are either about contrasting philosophies or, more cynically, about money and special interests.
There’s just one problem: Mounting scientific evidence suggests that this is a pretty limited way of understanding what divides us. And at a time of unprecedented polarization in America, we need a more convincing explanation for the staggering irrationality of our politics. Especially since we’re now split not just over what we ought to do politically but also over what we consider to be true.
Liberals and conservatives have access to the same information, yet they hold wildly incompatible views on issues ranging from global warming to whether the president was born in the United States to whether his stimulus package created any jobs. But it’s not just that: Partisanship creates stunning intellectual contortions and inconsistencies. Republicans today can denounce a health-care reform plan that’s pretty similar to one passed in Massachusetts by a Republican-- and the only apparent reason is that this one came from a Democrat.
None of these things make sense-- unless you view them through the lens of political psychology. There’s now a large body of evidence showing that those who opt for the political left and those who opt for the political right tend to process information in divergent ways and to differ on any number of psychological traits.
Perhaps most important, liberals consistently score higher on a personality measure called “openness to experience,” one of the “Big Five” personality traits, which are easily assessed through standard questionnaires. That means liberals tend to be the kind of people who want to try new things, including new music, books, restaurants and vacation spots-- and new ideas.
“Open people everywhere tend to have more liberal values,” said psychologist Robert McCrae, who conducted voluminous studies on personality while at the National Institute on Aging at the National Institutes of Health.
Conservatives, in contrast, tend to be less open-- less exploratory, less in need of change-- and more “conscientious,” a trait that indicates they appreciate order and structure in their lives. This gels nicely with the standard definition of conservatism as resistance to change-- in the famous words of William F. Buckley Jr., a desire to stand “athwart history, yelling ‘Stop!’?”