The Ted Cruz Show (Epistemic Closure Loop Mix)

Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, during the Iowa Agriculture Summit, Saturday, March 7, 2015, in Des Moines, Iowa. (Photo by Mark Peterson/Redux for MSNBC)

It would be wrong to start with, “One of the comforts of life …”. After all, that’s a low standard for comfort. Still, though, we can rest assured that in today’s political climate, time is on … uh … the side of … er … well, I guess reality, but that is so self-evident as to be anti-climactic.


Let us start, then, with Dave Weigel for Bloomberg:

After Texas Senator Ted Cruz addressed the First in the Nation summit in Nashua, New Hampshire, on Saturday, he headed to a basement conference room for a conversation with young Republicans. There was no filming of the speech, but reporters were allowed to sit in as Cruz fielded questions about Iran, millennials, and his own fitness for president. When one audience member asked Cruz what executive experience he could bring to the job, Cruz lambasted the “greybeards” in Washington for coming up with the “senator versus governor” framework in the first place.

“Obama is not a disaster because he was a senator,” said Cruz. “Obama is a disaster because he’s an unmitigated socialist, what he believes is profoundly dangerous, and he’s undermined the Constitution and the role of America in the world.”

Remember, this is Sen. Cruz’s response to a question about executive experience, and his answer was to reframe the issue as one of Republican moderates versus hardliners:

According to Cruz, the only reason that pundits were saying the GOP needed to run a governor, not a senator, was that “most of the establishment moderates” in the field were governors. “In 1980, the strong conservative running in the race was Ronald Reagan,” Cruz said. “You didn’t hear ‘we need a governor’ then, because he was a governor. So none of those voices said, ‘We need a governor.’ They said, ‘You know what? We need a former congressman, named George Herbert Walker Bush. Likewise, in 2008, the moderate choice was a senator, John McCain. Go back and look at the TV discussions to find any of these voices going on television, saying ‘we need a governor’ in 2008. Then, the choice of those voices was that candidate, so that argument didn’t get used.”

Still, in the middle of it all, Cruz needs to take a moment to beat a dead horse.

Thus, something completely different―a backstory.

There are any number of hazards about dating one might offer advice upon in the twenty-first century, but in truth the symbolism is what counts, as that is what we respond to. As such, yes, it is significant that on what some measures might count as my first date in nineteen years I found myself sitting across the table from a Republican. And, you know, it is not so much a matter of political segregation in social spheres; nor is this really about the question of a dealbreaker when that prerogative is more effectively exercised from the other side of the table. Still, though, it wasn’t the fact of one simply being a Republican that so complicated the moment; rather, it was the style of Republican politics. ⓒ2013 B.D. HillingThat is, all else aside, even if there was something about this potential that could work, what would life be like a year down the road listening to someone determined to blame the securities scandals that wrecked the economy on minorities? (Hint for conservatives: The Glass-Steagal repeal is a much better way to pin it on Clinton than the housing bill, since the former had much influence and the latter isn’t really what was happening.)

But in the middle of all this was a curious complaint about how no Democrat can resist mentioning the stock market when we all know the stock market is an unreliable indicator. And this is a weird behavior we have all witnessed over time; history suddenly disappears.

There are three reasons the stock market remains a Democratic talking point. First is the obvious; the stock market had fallen apart under Bush and its dismal state was often held as a complaint against Obama. Second is the “jobless” phase of our economic recovery, when the stock market and corporate profits surged but companies hired relatively few people. And third, well, this is where time and reality provide: The soaring stock market is one of the indicators that President Obama is among the worst socialists everα.

Yet on this particular occasion, none of that mattered. It is so basic a trap one feels lazy for pointing it out. Yet the people reciting these lines are not always simplistic or lazy.

Myriad manners of superstitious postulation might purport to explain how this comes about, but the essential mystery lies in comprehending the arrangement of neurotic obstacles, both mundane and potentially extraordinary, prohibiting certain self-recognition. How does the increasingly absurd rhetoric maintain its integrity in the eyes of the beholders? How are they beholden? Many others know from experience having come up in or near such circles that there is an aspect of professional respect that sounds like naïveté―“But he’s a doctor, what reason would he have to lie?”, or some such, be it about a preacher or politician, the bad guys who motivate proper cynicism are always somewhere else―to the point that what was once unacceptable is now laudable merely because it wears a different label. This is insufficient; while it functions as a component the idea cannot possibly explain the whole phenomenon. Democrats continue to pay a price for Cold War-era leftists and a scurrilous association to liberalism that is decades past obsolete; what makes conservative insurrectionist paranoia respectable? No, really, if racism wasn’t enough to require complete societal reconstruction, what do we owe fearful superstitions about health insurance and gay marriage? Seriously, we won’t overhaul our basic thinking about women, but we ought to revolt over health insurance and gay marriage?

And this weird assertion of “socialism”?

And therein lies the mystery. Just how do these ideas find and maintain credibility among believers? One might go so far as to wonder at what point we might start considering this behavior dysfunctional, but that only begs the particular question. How does this work?

These are the days. This is the riddle.


α Steve Benen is known to make the point, as he did in October, 2012, and May, 2013; Derek Thompson considered the question for The Atlantic in December, 2011; Ezra Klein made the point for the Washington Post in May, 2012; Mark Gongloff managed to work it in for Huffington Post during the hiring phase of the economic recovery, in April, 2014; Melanie Hunter of the Conservative News Service noted the argument coming from Jared Bernstein in November, 2011; a year later, conservative columnist Michael Schaus decided to revive the comment for a truly amusing … tantrum? … comedy bit? … parody of right-wing delusion? … something for Townhall. Seriously, that last is an amazing example of what epistemic closure brings. Which returns us to Mr. Cruz and the question of President Obama as an “unmitigated socialist”. Of this latest episode featuring Ted Cruz, a familiar refrain from Benen’s office:

Look, there’s no reason for “socialism” to serve as a synonym for “stuff Republicans don’t like.” It’s an actual word with a fairly specific meaning, involving public ownership of the means of production.

And it in no way reflects the Obama era. After corporate profits reached all-time highs, the stock markets reached all-time highs, and the sharp drop in the unemployment rate was based almost entirely on private-sector job growth, I thought to myself, “Well, at least they’ll stop calling Obama a ‘socialist.'” But here we are anyway, hearing the same nonsense.

Have we considered the possibility that Republicans literally don’t know what “socialism” means? Isn’t it plausible that knee-jerk partisans have relied so heavily on the word for so long that they simply have lost track of its definition?

Image note: Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, during the Iowa Agriculture Summit, Saturday, March 7, 2015, in Des Moines, Iowa. (Photo by Mark Peterson/Redux for MSNBC)

Weigel, David. “Ted Cruz Says President Obama Is an ‘Unmitigated Socialist'”. Bloomberg Politics. 21 April 2015.

Benen, Steve. “Leading Republicans differ over armed ‘insurrection’”. msnbc. 17 April 2015.

—————. “Worst. Socialist. Ever.” msnbc. 22 October 2012.

—————. “Obama is clearly the worst socialist ever”. msnbc. 28 May 2013.

—————. “An opportunity to break free of epistemic closure”. msnbc. 8 November 2012.

—————. “Epistemic closure and poll denialism”. 25 September 2012.

—————. “That’s not what ‘socialism’ means”. msnbc. 22 April 2015.

Thompson, Derek. “President Obama: History’s Worst Socialist?” The Atlantic. 15 December 2011.

Klein, Ezra. “Barack Obama: Worst. Socialist. Ever.” The Washington Post. 7 May 2012.

Gongloff, Mark. “Here’s Even More Evidence Obama Is The World’s Worst Socialist”. The Huffington Post. 4 April 2014.

Hunter, Melanie. “Biden’s Former Economic Adviser: ‘If Obama’s a Socialist, He’s the Worst Socialist Ever’”. Conservative News Service. 11 November 2013.

Schaus, Michael. “The Incompetent Socialist: Barack Obama”. Townhall Finance. 10 November 2014.

Cohen, Patricia. “‘Epistemic Closure’? Those Are Fighting Words”. The New York Times. 27 April 2010.

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