Talking to Themselves

Mitt Romney and his Republican allies thought they had a way to diffuse the fallout from his now-legendary secretly-recorded fundraising video when somebody unearthed a tape of President Obama saying he favored "redistribution." Sure, the tape is 14 years old. And sure, as Jamelle pointed out yesterday, pretty much everybody favors redistribution in some form, even Mitt Romney (if he didn't, he'd be advocating removing all progressivity from the tax code). Romney is bringing it up whenever he can, as is Paul Ryan, and the Obama tape has been shown on Fox News approximately three million times in the last 24 hours. Are they a little desperate? Of course. But the fact that they think such a thing will have even the remotest impact on what people think of Barack Obama shows that they are existing within an ideological cocoon that makes it almost impossible for them to figure out what they're doing wrong.

It isn't just that the tape is 14 years old (and man, has Obama aged in that time), or that what he's saying is pretty innocuous. It's that they think there's any statement of Obama's that they can unearth that will change how voters think of him. As though some significant number of voters are going to say, "I've been watching this guy on television every day for the last four years, but this 14-year-old videotape that contains the word "redistribution" has finally made me realize that he's a dangerous socialist. I was undecided before, but now you've got my vote, Mitt."

A couple of years ago, bloggers had a discussion about "epistemic closure," the tendency of many on the right to barricade themselves within a self-reinforcing informational bunker. The danger is that you wind up with a skewed view not only of the facts but of what other people believe as well. This can be deadly for a campaign, whose goal, after all, is to persuade people, some of whom don't already see the world as they do. And it sure seems like Romney and his people are falling prey to it. The temptation is strong, because everyone who works on the campaign is a partisan who was probably getting much of their information from partisan news sources before they got there.

So when Romney comes out and says triumphantly "I don't believe in redistribution!" he probably thinks voters will respond with, "Me neither, Mitt! Screw those freeloaders! Viva job creators!" But the more likely response among people who aren't already committed Republicans is that once again, this rich guy who disdains everyone who isn't as rich as him is saying, "I got mine, Jack, and the rest of you can go to hell." In other words, he's not countering the attacks the Democrats are making on him, he's reinforcing them.


I think the 47% is a great example of the epistemic closure on the right. The broader public hadn't heard much of that argument before and found it pretty repugnant, but this was common within the closed-off worlds of the online right-wing blogs for a very long time. They even had a "We are the 53%" tumblr to counter the famous "we are the 99%" tumblr at the height of the Occupy movement:

It's such old news among them that it hasn't even been updated since January. Then, lo and behold, the rest of the public finally catches on to this argument and rather than send in pictures of support, they're disgusted...

Another is the strange obsession with Saul Alinksy. He, Rev. Wright, and Bill Ayers were the sort of holy trinity of evil that guided Pres. Obama. These were the evil Demons that liberals worshiped. (sometimes literally demons among the crazier breed of wingnuts who think that Obama is quite literally the anti-Christ), Mentioning him was akin to mentioning Pol Pot, Marx, Mao, Stalin, etc. if not Lucifer himself. Funny thing is, few on the left even knew who this guy was, much less worshiped at his alter. Of course, that was just further proof at hoe "duped" liberals were. Then, somehow that name, Alinsky, got out of their bubble to the masses as a whole. And you know what? People didn't really see why he mattered much, because he didn't. That seemed crazy to those in the right-wing bubble because in they're strange mythology of Obama, he was as crucial as Jean the Baptist is to Christianity.

These are very crucial and important facts withing that right-wing bubble. They just haven't seemed to catch on to the fact that the rest of America doesn't, and won't, care about these things so much as they do actual issues like foreign policy, disaster relief, the economy, etc. And from that lens, no new wars, no absolutely devastating major terrorist attacks on US soil, no Katrina's, no collapse of the banking industry...things are somewhat ok. Not terribly great, in fact, kinda bad, but by the very extremely low bar set by the GOP from 2000-2008, it's paradise.

Anyone who doesn't realize "epistemic closure" is equally prevalent in all ideological camps (and particularly within the White House echo chamber) simply is not paying attention. I used to think "political correctness" (so 1990's a description) was simply a grown-up version of playground peer pressure. Now I'm convinced it is a more serious affliction, akin to brainwashing or mass hallucination. If one is more comfortable with the term "epistemic closure," let's go with that.

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