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“Wallowing In Ignorance”: Epistemic Closure Comes Back To Haunt The GOP

Five years ago Julian Sanchez did us the favor of defining a pattern among conservatives that he called “epistemic closure.”

One of the more striking features of the contemporary conservative movement is the extent to which it has been moving toward epistemic closure. Reality is defined by a multimedia array of interconnected and cross promoting conservative blogs, radio programs, magazines, and of course, Fox News. Whatever conflicts with that reality can be dismissed out of hand because it comes from the liberal media, and is therefore ipso facto not to be trusted. (How do you know they’re liberal? Well, they disagree with the conservative media!) This epistemic closure can be a source of solidarity and energy, but it also renders the conservative media ecosystem fragile…If disagreement is not in itself evidence of malign intent or moral degeneracy, people start feeling an obligation to engage it sincerely…And there is nothing more potentially fatal to the momentum of an insurgency fueled by anger than a conversation.

The entire basis for the existence of Rupert Murdoch’s Fox News is the belief that the “mainstream media” cannot be trusted to tell the truth because they are all “liberals.” This fed something that we as human beings already tend to do anyway – reject information that doesn’t conform to our already-established beliefs. It feels good to not have to grapple with the cognitive dissonance that comes with consideration of conflicting facts. But the end result is that it kills curiosity and we wallow in ignorance.

The disastrous results of epistemic closure for conservatives have been on display for some time now. It explains how they continue to deny the science of climate change, assume that the Bureau of Labor Statistics is “cooking the books” on unemployment data and led to a whole movement during the 2012 election to unskew the polls. But for everyone from Murdoch to GOP leaders, it worked to keep the base angry and engaged.

And then…it got out of control. Take a look at the results of Frank Lunz’s focus group with Trump supporters.

“They’re mad as hell and not going to take it anymore,'” Luntz said. “And (Trump) personifies it: Each sees in him what they want for the country. They want him to fix what makes them mad, and they believe he will.”

It is Trump’s ability to reflect back to voters their most fervent wishes for the nation, Luntz said, that makes the political outsider so dangerous to the rest of the 16 other GOP 2016 hopefuls. The main reason for this, Luntz found, was what he termed a willingness of Trump supporters to live in “an alternative universe” in which any attempt by the media to point out inconsistencies in Trump’s record or position was seen as a politically motivated conspiracy.

“When the media challenges the veracity of his statements, you take his side,” Luntz asked of his focus group. Only one person sat quietly, her hands in her lap, as 28 other arms shot up in agreement.

For these participants, the Republican establishment (and perhaps even Fox News itself) have now joined the liberal New York Times in peddling a politically motivated conspiracy when they challenge Donald Trump. That should come as no surprise when these same people have been told for years that they can pick and chose their facts based on how they make you feel. Stephen Colbert was positively prophetic when he coined the term “truthiness.” And now it’s all coming back to haunt the GOP.

 

By: Nancy LeTourneau, Political Animal Blog, The Washington Monthly, August 26, 2015

August 26, 2015 Posted by | Conservative Media, Donald Trump, GOP Presidential Candidates | , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

“Outsourcing Of Jobs”: Scott Walker’s Secret Love For Red China

Just before the 2012 presidential election, a prominent Republican governor appeared on Chinese state television wearing a lapel pin on his dark blazer that depicted that country’s hammer-and-sickle flag.

In an interview, he brushed off his party’s concerns about trade with China, downplayed citizens’ worries about outsourcing, and called the country’s trade practices “good and fair.”

That governor was Scott Walker—the same governor who, on Tuesday, confused just about everyone by saying Obama should make the Chinese president cancel his upcoming state visit. Same guy.

Walker has a record as being extraordinarily comfortable with China and its leaders, even going so far as to praise the country’s trade practices on government TV.

China and international trade issues have become central to the 2016 presidential campaign, especially given that the country’s economic struggles precipitated Monday’s stock market dive. As he’s done with immigration, Walker fast moved to be the furthest right on China, releasing a statement calling for Obama to cancel Chinese president Xi Jinping’s upcoming state visit.

“Given China’s massive cyberattacks against America, its militarization of the South China Sea, continued state interference with its economy, and persistent persecution of Christians and human rights activists, President Obama needs to cancel the state visit,” Walker said in the statement.

But up until yesterday, concerns about Chinese currency manipulation and human rights violations seemed far from Walker’s mind. (Of note: human rights leaders also called for Obama to cancel Xi’s visit.)  Throughout his governorship, Walker adopted rhetoric and policies that sought to build bridges and deepen relationships between China and Wisconsin—even though, according to one analysis, the Badger State lost more than 600,000 jobs during his tenure because of the growing Chinese trade deficit and the country’s currency manipulation. Let’s take a look, shall we?

Walker has criticized Xi Jinping’s upcoming state visit for being mere “pomp and circumstance.” But pomp and circumstance didn’t bother him in 2011, when he attended an official dinner in Chicago for then-Chinese president Hu Jintao. The city’s mayor at the time, Richard Daley, hosted the dinner on Jan. 21, 2011—a little more than a week before Walker’s inauguration. Valerie Jarrett, Sen. Mark Kirk, and Sen. Dick Durbin also attended, according to a press release from the city. Walker and the other guests savored “a traditional Midwestern menu with Asian accents,” and listened to Daley discuss his efforts to promote the study of Chinese language and culture in city public schools.

Over the course of his governorship, Walker didn’t exactly try to put daylight between the Badger State and China. Shortly before the 2012 presidential election, Walker made an appearance on CCTV—a Chinese state television broadcaster—sporting a lapel pin that depicted the American and Chinese flags side by side, waving over Wisconsin (Wisconsin blogger Jud Lounsbury flagged the video on YouTube in 2013).

The conversation was pegged to the criticism that the Republican presidential ticket had leveled at China’s trade practices.

“Despite all the criticism on China from the Romney/Ryan campaign, Gov. Walker has been an advocate of bringing more Chinese investment to his state and increasing trade with China,” said the host, introducing the segment by contrasting him with fellow Wisconsinite Paul Ryan.

Walker said state leaders needed to communicate with Chinese investors about the benefits of trade with Wisconsin.

“[I]t’s our responsibility to show them good investments that will ultimately help put people to work in our state, that will provide a return on investment to those Chinese investors,” Walker said. “It’s not only good for our state, good for our employees, good for the investors, but also good for the people of China.”

He also called the trade status quo “good and fair.”

“The best way for us to show that there’s a good and fair trading system is to do what we’re doing right here. We’re living!” Walker said. “We’re not just talking about — we’re living it this week, we’re putting in place something that’s a mutually beneficial scenario, and I think that’s what most people and most voters ultimately want out of their leaders.”

And he said Wisconsin’s trade with China didn’t result in outsourcing.

“You look at that almost $1.4 billion worth of exports from Wisconsin to China—that’s not exporting jobs, that’s exporting products,” he said. “That’s a win-win.”

Walker backed up that rhetoric with action. A few months after appearing on Chinese state TV, he led a trade mission to China that included representatives from a variety of companies, as well as from the now-troubled Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation and the state government. They visited Beijing, Shanghai, and Harbin, according to a press release.

While he was there, Walker attended the U.S.-China Governors Forum. Terry Branstad, the Republican governor of Iowa, led the American governors’ delegation there.Branstad took those two to visit Xi during the trip, according to the Des Moines Register. The paper noted that Xi rarely meets visiting foreign dignitaries, and that Walker benefited from Branstad’s ability to make the introduction.

Walker also opened a Wisconsin/China trade center in Shanghai on the trip.

“This trade center strengthens our relationship with China and provides Wisconsin businesses the resources and assistance to pursue export opportunities in this growing market,” he said, according to a press release. “Through the years, Wisconsin has built a strong trade relationship with China, and the opening of the Wisconsin Center China will help Wisconsin businesses continue to strengthen our trade relationships and grow export opportunities.”

(Note: Nothing on persecution of Christians or human rights abuses.)

Back home in Wisconsin, concerns about China got him in a bit of trouble. Walker’s 2013-2015 biennial budget proposal included a provision that would have foreign individuals and corporations own unlimited amounts of land in the state, even if they didn’t live there.

“[T]here’s no question that this would allow the Chinese government to buy a big chunk of land in northwest Wisconsin if it wanted to,” said then Republican state Sen. Dale Schultz at the time, according to the Wisconsin State Journal.

Republicans yanked that provision from the budget after it drew outrage.

But that didn’t constrain the governor’s energy for improving relations with China. On his trade trip, he oversaw the finalization of a handful of trade deals, including one in which one of the country’s biggest medicine companies promised it would only sell ginseng in its stores if it was from Wisconsin. According to WBNS-10TV, the Chinese prize Wisconsin ginseng, but the market is riddled with counterfeit products that claiming to be from Wisconsin but aren’t. Walker estimated the deal could be worth up to $200 million to businesses in the state.

Since then, Wisconsin’s Lieutenant Governor Rebecca Kleefisch has lavishly praised the state’s relationship with China. On Dec. 8, 2014, her office put out a press release touting the ginseng deal and saying she and Walker were committed to “diplomatic relationships that will position Wisconsin to benefit from Asia’s rise.”

The New York Times reported in July that Walker “met or [spoke] with” Xi Jinpeng at some point in the last few months, as well as other world leaders.

All this is to say that Walker helmed energetic efforts to improve Wisconsin’s trade relationship with China. But he doesn’t appear to have done much to check the nation’s currency manipulation and unfair trade practices.

Robert Scott, the director of trade and manufacturing policy research at the Economic Policy Institute—a labor-affiliated think tank—said Walker could have gone much further in pushing back against China. Scott said Walker could have filed an unfair trade practices complaint with the World Trade Organization or pressured the Treasury to do more about China’s currency manipulation.

“I’ve heard no efforts from the governor or anyone else on that front, until last week,” Scott said.

A spokesperson for the Wisconsin governor’s office didn’t respond to a request for comment on if Walker had (or could have) pursued any of those remedies.

Scott added that canceling Xi’s state visit “could cause China to overreact.”

“The Chinese are very sensitive to saving face,” he said, “and I think if you were just to insult the Chinese president, just for the sake of insulting him, I don’t think it would be useful in improving the relationship.”

“I think it could cause China to dig in his heels,” he added.

And, Scott noted, that could be particularly tough on Wisconsin. Scott’s research indicates that Wisconsin would stand to benefit more than any other state if China and other countries stopped manipulating their currencies because of the state’s sizable durable goods industry.

Scott’s research also tracks how many jobs individual states lose each year because of outsourcing. He estimates that, thus far in Walker’s governorship, Wisconsin has netted 600,000 lost jobs because of outsourcing to China.

 

By: Betsy Woodruff, The Daily Beast, August 26, 2015

August 26, 2015 Posted by | China, Scott Walker | , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

“Incorruptible?”: Trump Hates Lobbyists—Except The Ones Running His Super PAC

Donald Trump says he hates what lobbyists and super PACs are doing to our political system. According to him, his most attractive quality as a candidate—besides, obviously, his terrific looks—is his wealth, because it means Trump will never find himself beholden to anyone but Trump.

At a press conference in Dubuque, Iowa, on Tuesday evening, Trump told reporters, “I know the system better than anybody. The fact is that whether it’s Jeb, or Hillary, or any of ’em—they’re all controlled by these people! And the people that control them are the special interests, the lobbyists and the donors.”

He smiled slightly.

“You know what’s nice about me?” he asked. “I don’t need anybody’s money.”

In practice, however, the candidate seems willing to associate himself with just about anyone offering support—even if that support comes in the form of everything he hates rolled into one: a super PAC run by lobbyists.

On July 1, a pro-Trump super PAC, Make America Great Again PAC, filed with the FEC.

The organization listed on its paperwork a New York City address, which Bloomberg traced to a Midtown FedEx store. The address the PAC provided for supporters to mail their checks to was a Midtown UPS store. Calls to the group’s listed phone number went unanswered, as did an email. The treasurer who submitted the form to the FEC signed it “Les Caldwell,” short for Leslie, and Leslie refused to comment on the record to Politico, while just about every Leslie Caldwell listed in New York chose not to answer or return any of my calls.

Curiously, a closer look at the group’s filing reveals a return address not in New York City but in Colorado.

That address belongs to Jon Anderson, a lobbyist whose “practice is focused on corporate compliance and representing clients before federal, state and local government,” according to the website of his firm, Holland & Hart.

A consultant for the PAC, Mike Ciletti, also from Colorado, is also a lobbyist. He has his own group, New West Public Affairs, which he co-founded in 2009, according to his LinkedIn profile. His clients include the Community Financial Services Association, the trade association for payday lenders, which are often accused of predatory lending.

Anderson didn’t return a call, and Ciletti responded to interview requests with frustration that his activity with the PAC had placed him in the spotlight. “Personally I am waiting to see what other email addresses, phone numbers you can find to try to reach me at. Hats off to you,” he said in an email. “I am not interested in going on the record at this point, perhaps in the future. The focus should be on the candidates.”

At first glance, Make America Great Again PAC seems like it could be a so-called scam PAC, or a fake political operation intended to do nothing more than help its founders get rich. Scam PACs have been cropping up since the rise of the Tea Party. A Politico investigation in January found that of the $43 million that 33 PACs together raised in the 2014 election cycle, only $3 million was spent on candidates. The rest, well…

But Trump seemed to quash those concerns when in mid-July he attended a 200-person fundraiser organized by Make America Great Again PAC at a private home in Manhattan. “It was a combination of friends that have known Mr. Trump for years while others were meeting with him for the first time,” press-shy Ciletti told the press.

Make America Great Again PAC is one of four PACs supporting Trump’s candidacy, though it is the only one to receive his endorsement in the form of a fundraiser appearance.

It might even be said that, when you really assess the pillars of Trump’s campaign platform, he might be known as the Buddy Roemer of 2016—if Trump weren’t so bombastic and intent on incessant racial insensitivity.

To the extent that he is selling a political philosophy, it’s this: “I’m really rich.” He’s not just bragging when he says that. What he means is that the system is so broken that anyone who is not really rich is at the mercy of their financial backers. “I’m really rich” is Trump’s way of saying he is, by virtue of his terrific wealth, incorruptible.

Trump is a cynic. In his view, the only way to fix the broken process by which candidates are elected using massive sums of money funneled to them by shadow organizations and power-hungry billionaires looking to get favors in return is to evade the process altogether by supporting someone like him—someone with the capacity to be their own biggest donor, and thus to answer to no one but themselves.

 

By: Olivia Nuzzi, The Daily Beast, August 26, 2015

August 26, 2015 Posted by | Campaign Financing, Donald Trump, Super PAC's | , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“A Lack Of Confidence In The American Project”: Sorry, Donald Trump; America Needs Birthright Citizenship

Conservatives usually believe in American exceptionalism, and in upholding the Constitution. Which is why it’s strange to see so much conservative ebullience over Donald Trump’s proposal to end birthright citizenship.

It’s not news that there are a significant number of Americans who are anxious about immigration — illegal and otherwise — and that they exert considerable political clout (though ultimately less than is sometimes breathlessly suggested). And many of those people fret about so-called “anchor babies.” The problem with “anchor babies” is that they’re a myth. (Trust me. As a Frenchman with a fertile wife who often wanted to emigrate to the U.S., I did the research.)

This fight therefore nicely serves to highlight the fact that most (though not all) fears related to immigration belong more to the realm of fantasy than reality.

But it also illustrates something else: how the restrictionist position is all too often born of a lack of confidence in the American project.

After all, the two are inseparable. Birthright citizenship says, quite explicitly, “The American project is so strong, our culture is so strong, our values are so strong, that any baby born on our soil, no matter where his parents come from, will ultimately grow up to be a well-adjusted American, so that we don’t need to wait for him to prove himself to extend citizenship.”

In contrast, the movement to end birthright citizenship says, essentially, “Nope, sorry, that’s not true. We can’t do it. We can’t do it anymore.”

Which, again, goes to highlight the tension between extreme restrictionism in immigration and conservative values. Conservatives typically display above average, not below average, confidence in the American project and in the capacity of judicious applications of American patriotism to solve problems.

There’s another funny intersection between birthright citizenship and the conservative worldview, and I have an unusual window into it. As I said, I’m a Frenchman. France and the United States are unusual in both being nations explicitly founded (or refounded) on Enlightenment values. And one trait they share is that they both instituted birthright citizenship.

One reason was the Enlightenment-driven belief, over and against the feudalism that prevailed in most places in Europe, that citizenship depended on a social contract, not a bloodline, and that your parentage should not therefore change your citizenship status.

But there was another reason (and here lies an entire critique of the Enlightenment, which is a whole ‘nother can of worms), a reason we’re not too comfortable with today: empire. The institution of birthright citizenship in France was enacted by France’s revolutionary government and ratified by Napoleon’s civil code, partly so citizens could be pressed into duty in the army. As France expanded, so did its citizenship rolls, as did its citizen army, as did its military might, all in a virtuous cycle (virtuous, at least, from Napoleon’s perspective).

The U.S. enacted birthright citizenship for different reasons, to ensure the citizenship of freed slaves after the Civil War. But the point is that birthright citizenship is historically associated with confidence in the national project, perhaps even supreme confidence.

Oh, and how did it do in France? Well, we got scared of immigrants, so we got rid of birthright citizenship piecemeal over the past few decades.

So here’s the other odd thing about the birthright citizenship debate: American conservatives saying they want to be more like France. Kudos!

 

By: Pascal-Emmanuel Gobry, The Week, August 24, 2015

August 26, 2015 Posted by | American Exceptionalism, Birthright Citizenship, Donald Trump | , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“No Trust Issues”: Don’t Believe Those Who Say Hillary Clinton Can’t Win Because Voters Find Her Untrustworthy

Is it true, as some pundits claim, that Hillary Clinton is a fundamentally flawed candidate, one whose presidential aspirations are potentially doomed by her lack of likeability and, especially, high levels of voter mistrust?

Consider the following results from this nationwide survey of voters. When asked, only 41 percent of those polled find Clinton “honest and trustworthy,” while fully 54 percent do not. Among those who do not find Clinton trustworthy, fully 67 percent say they are voting for Clinton’s opponent. The results seem to support the contention of political pundits that a candidate who is so widely mistrusted is unlikely to win the presidency. As one analyst puts it, “If you don’t fundamentally trust someone or believe they are, at root, honest then how would you justify putting the controls of the country in their hands for at least four years?”

How indeed? Except that this data comes from 1996 presidential election exit poll – the one taken on the day of the election. That was the election, you will recall, in which the deeply mistrusted candidate Bill Clinton handily defeated his opponent and man of sterling character, World War II veteran Bob Dole, 49.2 percent to 40.7 percent. Nor are the 1996 results a fluke.

As I have discussed previously, studies by political scientists have revealed weak correlation between candidate traits and presidential election outcomes. For example, Morris Fiorina, Sam Abrams and Jeremy Pope compared the public’s evaluation of presidential candidates’ personal qualities (separate from policy stances or experience) based on American National Election Studies surveys with election results in the period 1952-2000. Their conclusion? As Fiorina summarized in this op ed piece: “Over all, in the 13 elections between 1952 and 2000, Republican candidates won four of the six in which they had higher personal ratings than the Democrats, while Democratic candidates lost four of the seven elections in which they had higher ratings than the Republicans. Not much evidence of a big likability effect here.”

This is not to say that a candidate’s personal qualities have no bearing on the vote. All things being equal, it is probably better to be trusted than mistrusted. And candidate character traits may matter more to some voters, such as independents, than to strong partisans. But when it comes to presidential elections, all things are decidedly not equal.

Bill Clinton won re-election in 1996 because, according to the exit polls, 58 percent of poll respondents cited issues as more important than a candidates’ character when it came to deciding their vote, and among this group Clinton beat Dole overwhelmingly, 69 percent  to 20 percent. More generally, when presidential scholars put together their forecasts of the presidential popular vote, they focus exclusively on fundamental factors such as the state of the economy, whether the country is at war, and how long the incumbent party has controlled the White House. Question of candidate character, whether trustworthiness or likeability or any other personal attribute, do not figure into their models. The reason is that we find little evidence that they are determinative. Voters may have viewed Bill Clinton as untrustworthy, but in a time of peace and economic prosperity, most chose in the end to reward the incumbent with a second term in office, his personal peccadillos notwithstanding.

Despite these findings, this won’t stop pundits from incorrectly insisting that, “Candidates matter in close campaigns. That goes double for a presidential race which tends to be more dependent on personality and likability than on any sort of policy prescriptions [italics added].” Yes, I understand that it is August – a very slow news month. The president is on vacation. Congress is out of session. The next Republican debate isn’t until Sept. 15. Pundits – already naturally predisposed to create the perception of a race where none may exist – are deeply fearful that Clinton, who is trouncing the Democratic field by most metrics, will win this nomination without a real fight. And so why not during a slow news period pounce on the latest polls (never mind that they are not very predictive this early in the contest) to find evidence that Clinton’s “lead” is less than we might think and that she is in fact a deeply flawed candidate. So flawed, in fact, that she might as well bow out now! Cue the horse race!

Alas, simply trotting out one more stale variation about the significance of the “beer test” to make the case that Clinton is potentially doomed does not make the reference any more true this election cycle. To a certain extent the same goes for the constant emphasis on Clinton’s relatively high unfavorable ratings. While there’s some evidence that the favorable/unfavorable ratio is correlated with election outcomes, it’s unclear whether these ratings help determine voters’ support for or against a candidate, or are a reflection of that support. In any case, it is far too early in the campaign to put much stock in these numbers.

The bottom line? It may be that “Hillary just isn’t a very good candidate.” But it’s more likely that some pundits just aren’t very good political analysts.

 

By: Matthew Dickinson, Thomas Jefferson Street Blog, U. S. News and World Report, August

August 26, 2015 Posted by | Election 2016, Hillary Clinton, Media | , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

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