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The Two Epistemologies

I suppose everyone knows this already at some level, but hanging out at a bunch of Republican events the extent to which conservatives and I inhabit different worlds is pretty astounding. In my political philosophy classes the basic procedure was to stipulate a few different possible factual situations and argue about which one would be preferable from a normative point of view. In the real world, you talk with rightwingers and you see that you basically share the same vague normative goals, but disagree about what's happening in the universe. Over and over again 'lo these past few days I've heard some conservative or another, either in conversation or else from a podium somewhere, complain that liberal bias in the media has gotten so bad that they don't even follow the news anymore. They know that George W. Bush is a good guy, so all this bad stuff that's being reported about him just goes to show what a bunch of lying cretins these reporters are.

"No!" I want to scream, "what they're doing is offering factual descriptions of the world and those facts reflect badly on the president!"

But no. How can you trust what those reporters say when they're obviously out to get the president?

What makes you think they're out to get him?

They keep saying mean things about him!

That's reporting! When his initiatives don't work out, that stuff needs to be reported. That's not bias -- that's objective circumstances.

But John Kerry is a flip-flopper!


And Bush prays!

No, fuck you.

Typical liberal, no room for rational argument with those people.

August 31, 2004 | Permalink


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Conservatives believe. Liberals think.

Posted by: joe | Aug 31, 2004 2:43:34 PM

Everyone keeps saying the left is driven by its hatred of Bush. I don't think that's right, I think its driven by its hatred Bush's policies.

But I think what is true is that the right is focused on Bush the Man (and to a lesser extent Kerry the Man), without regard to policies (and facts?). The left is focused on issues, the right on personalities.

And, while the meme of Bush hating has been driven into the ground, I would like to see some stubstantial write ups on the subject of Bush adoration.

Posted by: pfc | Aug 31, 2004 2:44:31 PM

The media is biased against the Republicans---I know this because Glenn "Instarepublican" Reynolds says so (In fact, that is all he says now).

Posted by: Jarvis (not jeff) | Aug 31, 2004 2:45:22 PM

"But John Kerry is a flip-flopper!


And Bush prays!

No, fuck you."

OK, so half of the country truly believes that George W. Bush has a direct line to God. OK. I'm really not sure HOW to combat this. In fact, I'd be willing to say it scares the ever-loving crap outta me.

Posted by: Brad Reed | Aug 31, 2004 2:49:41 PM

A near perfect deflector shield. The media is obviously out to get Bush because they say bad things about him, and therefore they wouldn't say bad things if they weren't out to get him. I suppose even delusional people deserve their own political party.

Posted by: Tim H. | Aug 31, 2004 2:53:09 PM

The best take on the right wing's hyper-paranoia and blind Bush worship was on the Daily Show:

"Corddry: How does one report the facts in an unbiased way when the facts themselves are biased?

Stewart: I’m sorry, Rob, did you say the facts are biased?

Corddry: That’s right Jon. From the names of our fallen soldiers to the gradual withdrawal of our allies to the growing insurgency, it’s become all too clear that facts in Iraq have an anti-Bush agenda."

Save your breath, Matt.

Posted by: lucienc | Aug 31, 2004 2:57:52 PM

Crosseyed & Republican:

Facts are simple and facts are straight
Facts are lazy and facts are late
Facts all come with points of view
Facts don't do what I want them to
Facts just twist the truth around
Facts are living turned inside out
Facts are getting the best of them
Facts are nothing on the face of things

Posted by: rea | Aug 31, 2004 2:59:40 PM

"I suppose even delusional people deserve their own political party."

Yes, but WE don't deserve their political party, which, in case you haven't noticed, has mopped the floor with us the last four years.

I try to explain the issues to people rationally:

-We have an enormous national debt fuelled in large part by Bush's tax cuts

-We've lost 1.1 million jobs under Bush's watch

-The Iraq War has cost nearly 1,000 American lives, has fanned instability in the region, and has turned world opinion decisively against us

-1.3 million more people are living in poverty this year, 1.4 million more lack health insurance

None of this seems to phase people. And those are the EASY issues to grasp, I don't even bother with the more complex stuff (stem cell research, global warming policies, John Ashcroft's lack of respect for states' rights and civil liberties, etc.)

So I've had it. How can we convince undecided people who seem to be much more affected by the Swift Boat ads?

Posted by: Brad Reed | Aug 31, 2004 3:00:07 PM

The RNC leadership and this adminstration live in a moral universe which contains truth, but not facts. Facts, as you and I might understand them, are merely the raw material which needs to be shaped until it adequately supports the pre-existing truth which they can articulate.

For what it matters, I'll concede a fair amount of personal distaste for Mr. Bush, and an even greater amount of disagreement with his policies, but my so-called "Bush-hatred" grows out of their process. There are simply no rules in their moral or political universe. Tell administration officials to lie to members of Congress. OK. Hold votes open forever until the leadership can threaten/twist/bribe the votes it wants. OK. Exploit Olympic symbols in express contravention of U.S. law. Ok. Define executive privilege so broadly only the Soviets could recognize it. Ok. It is their refusal to acknowledge the rules of political process at every level that I find the most alarming aspect of this cabal.

Posted by: Pudentilla | Aug 31, 2004 3:06:30 PM

I'm always entertained by asking Republicans the question "Are you better off now than you were four years ago?" Go ahead, get in a debate with one. The answer will always be "YES! I'm much better off!" You could be talking to someone who had lost their job, been divorced by their wife, sick with no health insurance, in the reserves serving indefinitely in some hellhole and losing their business because of it. The blind allegiance to Dubya is scary. Rouse some hungry, sick, unemployed homeless person under a bridge and pose the question. If he's a Republican he'll tell you he's never had it so good. The need to defend "Our Fearless Leader" trumps all need for honesty. Now, should any wingnuts respond to this thread just watch. To a person they'll all be better off. Dependable as the spinning of the planet. Any willing to confess they're not will surely qualify it by claiming "Yea, I might not be better off, but I'd be in even worse shape if a Democrat were president!" Lemmings one and all................

Posted by: STEVE DUNCAN | Aug 31, 2004 3:08:45 PM

>OK, so half of the country truly believes that George W. Bush has a direct line to God. OK. I'm really not sure HOW to combat this.

Point out that the devil can quote scripture very well?

Was it Al Gore or John Kerry who used the refrain "By their works shall you know them" in a speech, which then pointed out the works that took place in Abu Ghraib. Does that sound like a Godly thing to have done?

Or deceiving the American people in order to go to war. Does that seem like a Godly thing to have done?

Posted by: dm | Aug 31, 2004 3:10:30 PM

Steve Duncan:

Two thoughts on your post, which I largely agree with by the way:

1) Some Republicans do view themselves as much better off than they were four years ago - because they got sizeable tax cuts and don't have to think about Al Gore fighting global warming and appointing "activist" judges.

2) Some Republicans don't view themselves as better off than they were four years ago, but they don't care because they don't have to think about Al Gore fighting global warming and appointing "activist" judges.

It's not always that people are living in a "dreamland" but sometimes just that people have radically different priorities.

Posted by: SoCalJustice | Aug 31, 2004 3:13:29 PM

Somebody upthread nailed what is to me the scariest thing about modern movement conservatism: the closed epistemological loop they've constructed for themselves. That's what "liberal bias" in the news comes to: if they say bad things about the president, they are ipso facto biased. Thus only flattering portraits of the president can be accepted.

They've put themselves in a position where countervailing facts are, by definition, excluded. That's a very dangerous place to be -- and it makes for very dangerous people.

Posted by: Realish | Aug 31, 2004 3:19:43 PM

I think your wrong. The strongly (R)s that I know seem to think that Al Gore would have done something similar to surrendering to Al Quaeda, or to waffle, or start crying, or to have acted much like GWBush did right after the attacks, but for a longer time. Sure that is a possibility, but there is precious little evidence to support it. Of course, this is anecdotal stuff, but I think it has become a standard (R) point to say something like aren't you glad Al Gore was not POTUS when 9-11 happened? Which, I think, implies some delusional ideas about how Al Gore would have reacted. Perhaps showing my bias, I think the most likely bad outcome would have been Republican congress-people blaming Gore for not preventing 9-11.

Posted by: theCoach | Aug 31, 2004 3:22:03 PM

what they're doing is offering factual descriptions of the world

Wow. You really do live in a fantasy world, don't you Matthew.

I mean, just take for example Elisabeth Bumiller's piece on the front page of the New York Times: "Bush Cites Doubt America Can Win War on Terror". If you think that was simply "offering a factual description of the world" you must be completely loony-toons.

The press is so in the tank for Kerry it is simply embarrassing. But what's more embarrassing is that a supposedly smart person like yourself doesn't see it.

Posted by: Al | Aug 31, 2004 3:23:24 PM


You could be right.

But, for argument's sake (don't laugh), let's say the general perception was that most American people happened to be better off now than they were 4 years ago (no Iraq war, standing in the world not lowered dramatically, good economy with no huge job losses, etc...), how many Democrats would want to vote to re-elect Bush if they felt that, in his next term, Rehnquist, O'Connor and Stevens might retire, to be replaced by a couple judges from the 4th Circuit and Ken Starr?

I think the "are you better off" argument is largely a swing voter thing, maybe shaving off some "moderates" on the margins - or at best can rally the opposition base if we're clearly not better off.

Posted by: SoCalJustice | Aug 31, 2004 3:28:31 PM

Matt, I have experienced this same thing, but I don't agree that right-wingers share our normative goals. Right-wingers want inequality and rigid hierarchies. They are opposed to freedom. This is not what the left wants at all. I don't see how the right can be said to share our values unless we use terms like "freedom" or "justice" in such a way that the terms become meaningless -- because even these terms don't mean the same thing to them as they do to us.

Posted by: Mark Golden | Aug 31, 2004 3:33:27 PM

Well, duh. What did you think "culture war" meant, deep-dish vs thin-crust?

From what appears to be MY's real confusion on, for instance, the Right's opposition to gay rights, the biggest problem I see is Matt's ( and many other intellectual's) dismissive contempt of this ancient and extremely powerful way of thinking.

Posted by: bob mcmanus | Aug 31, 2004 4:06:44 PM

The press is so in the tank for Kerry it is simply embarrassing.

case in point...

Posted by: cleek | Aug 31, 2004 4:12:25 PM

Democrat: Are you better off than you were 4 years ago?
Republican: No, but how can you be? We're at war, you traitor.

Posted by: The Fixer | Aug 31, 2004 4:41:34 PM

When Bush said "I don't think you can win it," he was quite clearly referring to Matt Lauer. What he really said was, "I don't think Matt Lauer can win the War on Terror." A more accurate, and credible, headline would say, "Bush Cites Doubts Lauer Can Win War on Terror."

Posted by: minor pagan | Aug 31, 2004 4:43:11 PM

You are correct. It is fustrating, it is a belief in a man. And this is precisely where they will fail, because as a man Bush is all marketing. All that is necessary is to present raw unmanaged unfiltered Bush to them and they will see through the deception, ala Murrow and McCarthy.

Case in point Bush has created the biggest entitlement, (drugs) a new cabinet position and accompanying department (homeland security) and been financially dishonest (CBO). These issues would normally insense a republican. Bush gets a pass from these guys. Any real reporting on any of these issues say by the Times or the Post on a consistent basis would set the tone that would change opinions. The editors of said pubs are firmly in bush camp. It's the same way Fox news questionable call election night 2000 brought all the majors back to uncalling the election. Fox was in the circle of influence, the rest followed based on association.

Hence no reporting about bush except by stars like Krugman and Woodward. And woodward only after vigorously towing the party line for 24 months and two cheerleading books.

The repubs really are living in a media bubble. They really don't want to know what their boy is doing. And they are really benefitting from his policies. Investment bankers everywhere are tickled pink with tax cuts, especially dividend tax cuts. These are the same guys that pick CEO's based on pedigree. Fox news is making money hand over fist, pledging moral support to the president while running sleazy reality TV that contradict those morals. Is it any coincidence that Disney/ABC is starting to do the same?

Keep the faith Matt. Team Bush is about to stumble and you will be there to break the story to the world.

Posted by: patience | Aug 31, 2004 4:54:16 PM

We can probably can all agree a more accurate headline would be:
Strong and Resolute Leader Bush Says War on Terror Cannot Be Won: Bush Makes Difficult Choice To Win Anyway

Posted by: theCoach | Aug 31, 2004 4:55:24 PM

Yes, Elisabeth Bumiller. The Darling of the Liberals.

*snicker* [/Al]

Posted by: JP | Aug 31, 2004 5:28:19 PM

HEADLINE: Over There. Over There. Send the word, send the word to be beware.

Our moral, resolute, leader has decided that the war on terror ought to be fought 'over there' rather than 'over here.' However, he sniffs at the idea of carefully identifying who the terrorists are, can't keep all the acronyms straight, and is bored with determining where they are located.

The solution, according to the president, is to declare that the nation of Iraq is now a free fire zone. The US will now take on all comers.

In order to entice terrorists into Iraq, the OSP has spread the word through the Chalabi/Iranian arms dealer pipeline that there is nothing in place to prevent terrorists from crossing into Iraq. The Iraqi border guards haven't been paid for months. In addition, Ambassador Negroponte has assured the president that water stations will be provided. "Yep," the president is quoted as saying to the American Legion assembly, "better over there than over here."

note: This offer extends only to those wishing to engage in ground warfare. The US retains the right to unilaterally control the skies. In addition, any terrorists wishing to engage the US troops are asked to refrain from using the cowardly strategy of urban guerilla-type fighting.

Posted by: lansing | Aug 31, 2004 5:31:09 PM

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