Alex Massie

The View from the Cocoon of Denial and Epistemic Closure - Spectator Blogs

The View from the Cocoon of Denial and Epistemic Closure - Spectator Blogs
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William F Buckley has, alas, gone the way of all flesh but his National Review lives on and arguably remains the flagship journal of contemporary American conservatism. It certainly considers itself such. As the Republican inquest into last night's election disaster begins, National Review offers a useful - and perhaps telling - glimpse into the contemporary conservative soul (American edition).

Here's what its contributors have been writing today:

Mary Matalin:

What happened? A political narcissistic sociopath leveraged fear and ignorance with a campaign marked by mendacity and malice rather than a mandate for resurgence and reform. Instead of using his high office to articulate a vision for our future, Obama used it as a vehicle for character assassination, replete with unrelenting and destructive distortion, derision, and division.

[…] Unfortunately and unfortuitously, forces of nature bookended the general election: Our convention was compromised by one weather disaster and our momentum stalled by another. Two human hurricanes also radically altered the political atmosphere: Bill Clinton’s unique windbaggery constituted a campaign updraft, while Chris Christie’s deplorable and gratuitous gas-baggery infused the campaign with a toxic political pollution.

Grover Norquist:


Mark Steyn:

New Hampshire is overwhelmingly white — and the GOP still blew it. The fact is a lot of pasty, Caucasian, non-immigrant Americans have also “shifted,” and are very comfortable with Big Government, entitlements, micro-regulation, Obamacare and all the rest — and not much concerned with how or if it’s paid for.

If this is the way America wants to go off the cliff, so be it. But I wish we’d at least had a Big Picture election. The motto of the British SAS is “Who dares wins.” The Republicans chose a different path. A play-it-safe don’t-frighten-the-horses strategy may have had a certain logic, but it’s unworthy of the times.

Jeffrey Bell:

It would be surprising if the Obama administration did not interpret its victory as a mandate to complete the Europeanizing of American government.

Stanley Kurtz:

The college educated professionals at the heart of Obama’s coalition are products of an academic culture that not only leans far-left, but is dedicated to producing precisely the national political outcome that Obama represents. Obama himself was both a product and a member of the elite leftist university faculty.

In contrast to Reagan’s appointees Bill Bennett and Lynne Cheney, the Bush administration avoided public battles with the academy. Republicans nowadays tend to write off academia as silly and irrelevant. Meanwhile, our colleges and universities have been quietly churning out left-leaning voters for some time. Not all graduates go along, of course, but many do.

Higher education is also connected to the demographic roots of Obama’s victory. Prior to World War II, college was still the path less traveled. By the sixties, it had become common. Now years of post-graduate professional education for a large percentage of Americans have pushed back the age of marriage, increasing the numbers of single women so crucial to Obama’s coalition. The phenomenon of extended singlehood is at the root of the new social liberalism as well, not to mention the demographic bust driving our entitlement crisis.

Peter Kirsanow:

The electorate may well have shifted politically, and perhaps culturally. That will happen when we cede our institutions to the minions of  ”progress,” when our media is biased and political elites cowardly. But human nature has not changed and neither have the principles conservatives — Americans — hold dear.

Obama and the Left will be emboldened. They will continue their effort to “fundamentally transform” America. Indeed, now that Obamacare will go into effect in full, the transformation will take several giant, worrisome steps forward.

That’s why we must fight. Harder, smarter, relentlessly. While we must shrewdly assess what went wrong politically, we don’t have time for finger-pointing and recriminations. Those inclined can do so later.There are too many perils at our doorstep.

Kathryn Jean Lopez:

It’s hard to hold back a tsunami of secularism in a single election.

Politically, culturally, economically, this may, in fact, be exactly what some of us saw it as: a paradigm-shifting election. For those of us concerned about freedom as we have understood it, it only gets harder now. I’m not happy about the results of this presidential election, but is it all that surprising when one side marches confidently forward in the arenas of politics, in media, in culture, embracing, celebrating, insisting on, mandating a “new normal”?

The lesson is not to be less conservative. The lesson is not to be found in purging social conservatives. The lesson is in taking a look at how the radicals won: Yes, there was the fear element. There was the devil-you-know element. But there is also the fact that all of what they say seems plausible and even not all that radical, because it has been in our cultural milk. Because while they may obscure some of the details and make it all sound mainstream, at the same time they are bold and confident about the extreme positions they believe in. That’s what we’ve got to be.

Charles A Donovan:

We may be on the verge of a new Babylonian captivity for religious conservatives. As we know, the story does not end there.

And, saving the best until last, David Gelernter:

We’ve seen an important (though far from decisive) battle in the slow-motion civil war the nation is undergoing: The blue states want to secede not from America but from Americanism. They reject the American republic of God-fearing individuals in favor of the European ideal, which has only been government by aristocracy: either an aristocracy of birth or, nowadays, of ruling know-it-alls — of post-religious, globalist intellectuals (a.k.a. PORGIs). As I’ve said before — many others have too — you can’t graduate class after class after class of left-indoctrinated ignoramuses without paying the price.  Last night was a down payment.

But we’ve won civil wars and preserved the Union before. We’ll do it again — if we face up to the fact that we need to replace our schools and colleges now; the grace period has lasted a generation, but it’s over. I know we can do it and I’m pretty sure we will do it. Americanism is too strong and brilliant and young to die.

Now, sure, this is a selective cull from today's posts at the Corner. It ignores more thoughtful contributions from the likes of Jonah Goldberg and, actually, Victor Davis Hanson to say nothing of the always excellent Ramesh Ponnuru and Reihan Salam or Spectator-contributor John O'Sullivan. Nor, of course, does National Review speak for conservatism. Nevertheless, it's hardly a marginal voice screaming from the fringe either.

And what these eight responses demonstrate is the extent to which too many conservatives believed their own propaganda. This is what it's like to live in a cocoon. The apparent inability to appreciate why any sane person might contemplate voting for Barack Obama is evidence of, well, of the closing of the conservative mind.

Hence the recourse to fantasies of the sort that leave the average, sober-minded voter wondering just what kind of crazy juice you're hooked on. Obama wants to make the United States a kind of France? Check. Obama wants to crush religious liberty in America? Check. Our colleges are indoctrinating yet another generation of sadly-impressionable young American minds? Check. (Bonus: perhaps it would be better and certainly safer if fewer Americans risked going to college!) There is a War Against Americanism and Barack Obama is the enemy general? Check. The media are hoodwinking poor, gullible Americans? Check. Universal healthcare is the road to serfdom? Check. The people, damn them, are too stupid to know any better and deserve what they get? The fools. Check.

If this were just emotional over-reactions spawned in the immediate aftermath of a shattering defeat too many conservatives had persuaded themselves just could not happen then it would be one thing and understandable. But it's not that. Or not just that. This is what a large number of conservatives - including conservatives in elite positions such as those privileged to write for National Review enjoy - really do believe. And we're supposed to be surprised that many ordinary Americans hear this stuff and wonder just what the hell it is these people are talking about? Give me a break.

When your rhetoric collides with voters' sense of their own reality then you cannot or should not be surprised that voters prefer their reality to your imagination.

Note too amidst all this howling and wailing and gnashing of teeth how there's no attempt to understand why Americans voted the way they did. No attempt to wonder why the Republican party offered such a paltry economic message. No attempt to ask why the GOP had no healthcare policy that would actually soothe justified concerns about both Obamacare and how an ordinary family on $50,000 a year might have better, more affordable healthcare.

Demographics are certainly a problem for the GOP. Everyone has known this date was likely coming for many years now. Nevertheless demographics are not destiny. At least they do not have to be. Demographics may be the new sexy but the answer to the GOP's problems lies in policy, not just "targeting" chosen demographic groups with new and shinier baubles.

Fixing that is a tough and rock-strewn road but it's a better place to start along the road to recovery than maintaining this kind of epistemic closure or the conviction that the United States is now hurtling along a road to some kind of socialist perdition.