The Right’s Closed Information Loop May Set Up the Next Shut Down

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This photo provided by Fox News Channel shows Sean Hannity interviewing former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin in New York. (AP Photo/Fox News Channel, Shealah Craighead)

It’s impossible to say whether we’ll face another crisis of governance in three months, when the stopgap budget resolution passed on Wednesday expires, but it’s clear that the 40 or 50 hardcore, tea party-backed members of Congress who precipitated the shutdown want another crack at it. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConell (R-KY) may have told The National Review that another shutdown “is off the table,” but Rep. John Fleming (R-LA), a member of the tea party caucus, told reporters to get ready for “round two” because in January, “we’re going to start this all over again.”

On its face, the desire to reprise a tactical maneuver that was politically disastrous for the Republican Party – one that’s damaged its brand so badly that there’s now a remote chance that control of the House might be up for grabs next November – appears to be completely irrational. But it’s perfectly reasonable for those on the right who mostly speak to other true believers and get their information primarily from the conservative media.

As Mitch McConnell was reporting the details of the agreement he’d struck with Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (R-NV), Ted Cruz (R-TX) told reporters that the shutdown had been “a great victory” for Republicans. That kind of disconnect was common throughout the standoff. Senator Lindsay Graham (R-SC), a moderate, said on Wednesday that public opinion had played a major role in Republicans’ decision to fold their tent. But even as the GOP sank to depths of approval never before seen in either the Gallup or the NBC/Wall Street Journal polls, Breitbart published a piece titled, “Polls Show Obama, Dems Losing Public Opinion Battle Over Shutdown, Obamacare,” and The Weekly Standard offered “eight reasons the shutdown won’t hurt Republicans.” Rep. David Schweikert (R-AZ) told one reporter that the sampling in those devastating polls was skewed.

And while the economic damage caused by shutting down the government and playing chicken with the debt limit was undeniable, Fox News dismissed it as a government “slimdown,” and an estimate by a Republican Budget Committee that only 17 percent of government had shut down quickly spread through the conservative media. “Debt ceiling deniers” – people who believed that the consequences of breaching the limit were exaggerated or imaginary – were easy to find among movement politicians and their allies in the conservative media.

And then there’s Obamacare. For many on the right, it’s not a law with a number of popular measures, one of which, the insurance exchanges, has had a very rocky rollout – it’s an unmitigated disaster that, as Ted Cruz put it, has already cost millions of Americans their jobs and their health care. And as Dylan Scott reported for Talking Points Memo, “The firm belief that the American public shares the same view of Obamacare that they do… remains omnipresent among hard-line conservatives.” So while Senator John McCain (R-AZ) said the shutdown was “one of the more shameful chapters I have seen in the years I have spent here in the Senate,” Sean Hannity’s message for Republicans was that this was “the hill to die on.”

What all of this means is that those hardcore conservatives who pushed their leadership to shut down the government aren’t only insulated from public opinion because they represent overwhelmingly white, heavily Republican districts. It’s also a result of “epistemic closure” — the tendency, universal but especially pronounced on the right – to seek out like-minded views and ignore information that contradicts one’s previously held beliefs. To the degree that we risk replaying this entire fiasco in a few short months, the alternative universe created day in and day out by a dedicated conservative media ecosystem is at least partially to blame.

Nowhere is this more evident than in the narrative of the party’s defeat that has gelled within the tea party. In their view, it wasn’t a result of the conservative wing pushing for a strategy that polls showed to be highly unpopular before it began. Rather, they were “betrayed by chicken-hearted RINOS” (Republicans in Name Only), as Fox News’ Todd Starnes put it, and, even worse, their otherwise highly popular message was the victim of “liberal media bias” among the mainstream press corps.

There was a telling moment during a press briefing by several House conservatives on Wednesday, when Rep. Mick Mulvaney (R-SC) told reporters, “We’ve been talking amongst this group for the last four weeks about fairness, about whether or not it’s fair to give extensions to people who have political connections and make our families live under a different law.” He assailed the media for not carrying that message to the American people. Of the prospect of another showdown in the future, he added, “if we can figure out a way to drive that message home, that this is about fairness … then the outcome may well be different.”

But “fairness” is such a transparently false talking point that no serious journalist would ever embrace it. It originated with the Obama administration’s decision to delay the mandate forcing large corporations to insure their workers because businesses needed more time to comply with the measure’s reporting requirements. They weren’t exempted from the law, and the consequence of the year-long delay is insignificant.

We expect politicians to respond to ordinary political incentives, and if that were the case, there would be no chance at all that tea party lawmakers would further sully their image with another disruptive showdown over the budget or debt ceiling. But when they’re mostly exposed to their own spin, those incentives get skewed, and that’s a big reason why we might end up in this mess once again early next year.

Joshua Holland is a senior digital producer for BillMoyers.com. He’s the author of The Fifteen Biggest Lies About the Economy (and Everything Else the Right Doesn’t Want You to Know about Taxes, Jobs and Corporate America) (Wiley: 2010), and host of Politics and Reality Radio. Follow him on Twitter or drop him an email at hollandj [at] moyersmedia [dot] com.
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  • Sunwyn Ravenwood

    This is the time to remember the most intelligent question ever asked by a Fox News Anchor, “Is that some kind of special Republican math you do to make yourself feel better?” Karl Rove couldn’t answer her because he was still unable to come to grips with the fact that Obama won.

  • Anonymous

    Yes, these people live in a Fox News Bubble. Don’t forget in their reality, Romney was going to win by a landslide.

  • Barbara B

    They can try, but it is NOT working. Their numbers are dwindling.

  • RJohn Xerxes

    In addition, if you attempt to contact a member of the suicide caucus. You are unable to email them your thoughts, unless you are actually live in their districts. There is a nasty firewall message where you have to enter your zip code +4. Something that is not easily discoverable. This futher isolates them from the wider view of what “Americans” want.

  • Raymond Calvert

    What a great way for the Tea Party members to begin their bids for re-election. That is the stuff dreams are made of for Democrat campaign managers.

  • islene runningdeer

    If these people pull this again, they should be arrested,held accountable by law. And I hope the President gives them a clear warning to that effect.

  • Jay Compton

    Am I a bad citizen for hoping that they try the shutdown again just because I believe that it would effectively destroy (self-destruct) the Tea Party wing of the GOP and hurt Republican electability nationwide? Is my hope too close to being scorched earth politics?

  • Jay Compton

    That won’t happen, and doing such a thing might very well shift public opinion to their favor. What would be the criminal charges?

  • Jay Compton

    Of course they don’t hear that. You think Tea Partiers would read Bill Moyers for any reason other than to attack him?

  • Anonymous

    I agree, let these anarchists do their bidding and they will self-destruct just as they did in the last election. Hopefully, the miss-informer cable channel Fox News will continue to attempt to try and make fools out of the 99% of Americans who do not watch their nonsense.

  • Anonymous

    No, we’re just seeing the latest step in an agenda that was implemented back with the Reagan administration. Consider how the middle class thinks about the poor, and understand that this is how the rich think about the middle class. The US has maintained steady upward wealth redistribution, and this time, we’re too deeply divided by class to be able to push back.

  • Anonymous

    We’re in a bit of a jam now. The first time Clinton was faced with threats of a shutdown, he easily gave in, ending basic welfare aid to impoverished adults. The second time, he threw poor children and parents off the cliff, wiping out AFDC, and took the first steps toward dismantling Social Security (starting with the disabled). Who should we throw off the cliff this time, to secure a budget agreement? Whomever we choose will impact middle class families, and that would be political poison.

  • Anonymous

    Actually, hasn’t that always been true of both parties? I learned years ago that I could only contact my own representative online.

  • Anonymous

    Temporarily. Step by step, middle class America embraces the right wing ideology. Not so long ago, the idea that Americans would ever turn their backs on children in poverty was considered ludicrous. Who would have imagine that it was a Democrat who tore out the safety net for the poor, or that middle class America would simply turn up its nose in indifference?

  • Anonymous

    It is really sad. When I show some right wing ‘friends’ of mine raw data and invite them to come to their own conclusions, the say the data is false. When I invite them to read the bill (any of the bills) they say they don’t believe the real bill was posted online. When I post what the EOs say and how an EO works, ditto…’he’ wouldn’t put the real one online. When I try to explain the difference between debt and deficit and where it comes from, all I get is babble about either we are broke, or we have enough revenue to pay our bills and either way taxes are violence against people.
    sigh

  • Anonymous

    Sadly, your way of thinking will not help in 2014. We can not take for granted the level of fervor and commitment the Tea Party base has to their own talking points. Ignoring it as ignorance would be folly.

  • Barbara B

    I think this latest stunt and Cruz coming out of the closet as the crazy person has hurt their agenda. It might play well in the south/texas, but not in the rest of the country. Some of the folks that didn’t get it before had their eyes opened. When it is reported that the Koch’s want it stopped, you know they fear it will impact them negatively in the pocketbook as well as their Bircher agenda.
    That being said, they will likely just regroup and try another tactic.
    And, regardless, we do have a crippling debt and convincing people that the military must be scaled down by at least 50% and taxes raised by at least 50% won’t play well either.

  • Anonymous

    It’s worse than that. I’m a registered Democrat in a Tea Party Republican district. My “representative” won’t even take my emails, responding with an automatic reply to the effect that they have no indication that I’m a real person. Seriously.

  • Anonymous

    We do most certainly NOT have a crippling debt. Read Krugman. As for Cruz, much as I detest him, he’s by no means crazy. He’s saying what a majority of Texans want and expect him to say. And the tea party cretins are pretty widely spread all over the country, though there seem to be more of them in the south.

  • Mike

    Lack of street thugs, but thats about it.

  • Nick

    That won’t happen here in SC. I live in one of the six safely-Republican districts. The only challenges our current Reps & Senators are likely to face for re-election will be in the primaries, and those challenges will be from candidates even further to the right.

    As an example, when he last ran for re-election in 2008, Lindsey Graham faced a challenger running on the slogan “Lindsey’s too liberal for SC.” That challenger received a third of the vote in the primary.

  • george the sceptical

    Yeah, I’m about to send this article to one of them.
    Since he’s not likely to read it, it almost seems like a form of harassment.
    I can live with that….

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  • Jay Compton

    A jam? No we’re not. The GOP is in a bit of a jam, but how are Obama and Dems? , given that the Dems and Obama didn’t budge and called their bluff.
    What makes you think it will be any different if the GOP tries it again? Shoot, now the Dems have proof that it hurts the GOP and Senate Minority Leader McConnell said there wouldn’t be a gov’t shutdown.

    I don’t understand what you’re saying about the shutdown in ’95-96. President Clinton didn’t give in at all. Quite the contrary. Speaker Gingrich wouldn’t let a budget bill pass without cutting gov’t spending on education, the environment, public health and, especially, Medicare. Gingrich sent a bill with those cut and Clinton vetoed it without even blinking.

    A second bill was sent to the White House that would have increased the cost of Medicare Part B premiums. Clinton vetoed it, too. October 1st came, still no budget passed, and so the gov’t operated on a continuing resolution, though this would expire on November 13. If nothing was passed by that date, the gov’t would shutdown all non-essential services. Then, Congress passed a continuing resolution that included a caveat of limiting debt. That pissed Clinton off, saying it was backdoor partisan BS, a Trojan Horse. He vetoed in.

    That bears repeating. We were facing gov’t shutdown and it could have been a disaster for President Clinton, his legacy, the country, and the Dems, but he stood his ground and said, “No.” He refused to raise premiums on the poor or to make the big cuts Gingrich wanted.

    November 13 came with no budget passed, in spite of many meetings and discussion. On November 14 major gov’t services shutdown. Two shutdowns (the second one was 22 days). The shutdowns themselves had lasting negative consequences, but Clinton never gave in as you say. The AFDC (former ADC) was part of FDR’s New Deal and it was outdated and controversial because some said that it encouraged women to have chlidren and not to work. In 1935, when the program started white women did generally stay at home, but black women did not. Black women worked. This institutionalized bigotry seemed unfair and outdated. This cultural difference from 1935 to 1996 was a huge point of contention, so the AFDC was replaced by Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) in 1996.

    TANF was also the replacement for the former welfare federal cash assistance for financially poor citizens. I agree with you that this move was not ideal, but it would’ve happened without any shutdown or standoff. Indeed, it was a Clinton campaign promise in 1992, to “end welfare as we know it.” It is unfortunate, a failure IMHO, that they didn’t address the flip side of that coin, which is low wage pay that people simply cannot live on. A “living wage” provision should’ve been implemented into the bill. You pay people enough to live on, and then they won’t need gov’t assistance, you know?

    I’m no Clintonite, but you’re exceptionally mistaken here. He went nose-to-nose with Gingrich and never blinked. He won, public opinion polls of his presidency soared, he beat Dole in the ’96 election, and Gingrich stepped down as Speaker, defeated. Please correct me if any of this information is wrong.

    Sorry this comment is so long. I think I’m right here. I am a self-loathing political junkie and I get wonkish sometimes. LOL