The Grand Ol’ Punditry: Delusion, Despair, and Self-Justification

Republican leaders and pundits lost this presidential election, and now they’re losing their grip on reality. Yes, I admit, this may be assuming too much in the first place, but hey, I’m a charitable guy.

Self-delusion could be documented on many levels, but the most disturbing one to me is the proliferation of this excuse: Obama won because. . . .

“The demographics are changing. It’s not a traditional America anymore. There are fifty percent of the voting public who want stuff. They want things. And who is gong to give them things? President Obama. . . . Twenty years ago President Obama would have been roundly defeated by an establishment candidate like Governor Romney. The white establishment is now the minority.”

If this were true, it would only mean Republicans are twenty years behind the game. So what have their brilliant forecasters and strategists (including the pundits) been doing all this time? Were they ignoring the demographic creep for two whole decades, and then wham! It just sneaked up on them, and, poor Romney. We never saw it coming.

Considering the prowess of the Republican pundits forecasting Romney victories and even landslides, such an error is not implausible.

Not only would this be a forecasting blunder, it is also historically askew. “Twenty years ago” was 1992. Remember how the Republican establishment candidate roundly defeated the welfarist liberal? Oops! Sorry. That was when establishment Republican candidate Bush lost in a landslide to “our first black president,” Clinton. (Even without Perot, Bush would have lost.)[product id=”1507″ align=”right” size=”small”]

Seems our pundits have a problem understanding both the future and the past. But they don’t fare any better with the present:

The focus is on the growth of the welfare vote. O’Reilly’s lament is simply a version of the “tipping point” fallacy popularized by Paul Ryan. It sounds like this:

We’re coming close to a tipping point in America where we might have a net majority of takers versus makers in society and that could become very dangerous if it sets in as a permanent condition.

Romney popularized this idea even more with his “47 percent” gaffe, now widely debunked by both liberals and conservatives.

This lament was repeated even by some Christian culturists who used it as the ultimate excuse for why Romney lost: we’ve just lost the cultural battle, because more than half of voters are net takers instead of makers. (Which, of course, implies that it’s all down-hill from here. Our only hope is for the welfare state to crash and then pick up what pieces we can. But these guys won’t say that much.)

In the meantime, they say “we lost the cultural battle,” and “politics follows culture.” Then they speak of little more than top-down political ways they can fix the culture. And they want you to be patient until they can get busy doing all this hard work we’ve got to do—which means until they parade the next unacceptable establishment candidate as the lesser evil for which Christians must necessarily vote once again.

The real problem is that the “tipping point” problem is really not so simple. As much as the dependence vote is a reality with which we have to deal, there are a few fallacious assumptions inherent in the oversimplified excuse version.

First, the number of people whose tax-credits actually nullify fully all the federal taxes—that is, both their income tax and payroll taxes—and thus who could more truly be said to have “no skin in the game,” is far less than 47 percent. It’s closer to 28, although this is still eye-opening.

Second, the number of people who are receive significant net gains from the federal government includes many conservative voters. The tax policy center noted:

Let’s take low-income and elderly households, which are particularly likely to pay no federal income taxes. Low-income households do tend to vote Democratic — when they vote. But fewer than half of individuals in households with incomes below $30,000 voted in 2008, according to the census, compared with about 60 percent of people with higher incomes. On the other hand, Romney appears to hold a lead over Obama among elderly voters, a group that votes enthusiastically.

Third, the tax-credit programs which cause several of these “takers” cases were created by and smiled heavily upon by conservatives. The New York Times related,

For a long time, cutting taxes for the poor was a major emphasis of the Republican Party. One reason that many poor people no longer pay federal income taxes is that they qualify for credits such as the earned-income tax credit, which has its roots in conservative thinking and has long been supported by members of both parties as a way to help the poor without increasing welfare payments or raising the minimum wage. The credit was added to the tax code when Gerald Ford was president, and was expanded by Republicans and Democrats, including President Ronald Reagan, who called it “one of the best anti-poverty programs this country has ever seen” in 1986.

President George W. Bush, for his part, doubled the child tax credit, and his tax cuts erased the federal income tax liability for millions of households.

But let’s not let the liberal NYT be our only reference. A researcher for the conservative think-tank, the American Enterprise Institute, says even more. Not only did Republicans back the programs, but actual spending through these programs goes up on Republican watches:

From a purely statistical standpoint, the growth of entitlement spending over the past half-century has been distinctly greater under Republican administrations than Democratic ones. Between 1960 and 2010, the growth of entitlement spending was exponential, but in any given year, it was on the whole roughly 8% higher if the president happened to be a Republican rather than a Democrat.

This is in keeping with the basic facts of the time: Notwithstanding the criticisms of “big government” that emanated from their Oval Offices from time to time, the administrations of Richard Nixon, Gerald Ford and George W. Bush presided over especially lavish expansions of the American entitlement state. Irrespective of the reputations and the rhetoric of the Democratic and Republican parties today, the empirical correspondence between Republican presidencies and turbocharged entitlement expenditures should underscore the unsettling truth that both political parties have, on the whole, been working together in an often unspoken consensus to fuel the explosion of entitlement spending.

The “tipping point” fallacy suffers further from the fact that there has been little change in the percentages of said “takers” over last several years. The sudden recognition of a “tipping point” would seem to require a quick escalation to a crucial point. But instead the large percentages were rather steady since 2004 until now.[product id=”1512″ align=”left” size=”small”]

But this means that the “tipping point” levels were about the same when Bush beat Kerry as when Obama beat Romney. How come conservative pundits weren’t crying foul over Bush’s victory? And yes, Bush then further increased the child tax credit. Class warfare! White establishment crusher, that Bush!

Acknowledging such facts as these, the conservative National Review openly exploded this “Freeloader Myth” already last year. Senior editor Ramesh Ponnuru concluded the ultimate demise of the tipping point fallacy: there’s simply no evidence of the phenomenon. He writes,

There is a certain plausibility to the claim that the more people fall off the income-tax rolls, the more will support federal activism. But there is a series of evidentiary hurdles that this claim cannot begin to overcome. There is no evidence that changes in the percentage of people who pay income tax has had any effect on public opinion, let alone a large one. The U.S. that began the Democrats’ 40-year reign in the House of Representatives in 1954 had roughly the same percentage of non-payers of income tax (24.9) as the U.S. that ended it in 1994 (24.4). A relatively large proportion of the citizenry paid income taxes in the early 1960s. It didn’t stop the Great Society from being enacted. The number of people who pay no income taxes moved up fast between 2006 and 2010, which has helped set off conservative alarms. But voters turned sharply right between the elections of those two years.

So you see that the tipping point excuse is an utter fallacy. It is unsupported by the evidence, and even if it were a problem, it should be laid politically at Republican’s feet just as much as the left’s.

But the conservative pundits need some excuse to maintain some credibility after their disastrous endorsements and predictions about Romney. The can’t say they were wrong about the man, or any other excuse that would expose their own poor judgment. So, they point to some factor that, were it true, is entirely out of their hands. “People just want stuff.”

Yeah, like like they did in 1940. And in every election since then, and many before. There’s little new here.

Of course this excuse attends other self-delusions. For example, Ann Coulter supported Mitt Romney strongly since before the primaries. (It was more time than she’s devoted to promoting anyone besides herself, although a distant second.) But as I’ve noted before, step back a few years to the McCain loss. The day after that defeat, Ann said, “How many times do we have to run this experiment before Republican primary voters learn that ‘moderate,’ ‘independent,’ ‘maverick’ Republicans never win, and right-wing Republicans never lose?”

Hear that emphasis on the primaries and the need to screen out moderates and choose candidates to the hard right? Now fast-forward to her post-Romney defeat lamentation:

Obama started running anti-Romney ads in Ohio before the Republican primaries were even over. . . . Meanwhile, Romney didn’t wrap up the primaries until the end of May. A little less time beating up our candidate in the primaries so that he could have started campaigning earlier would have helped.

Gee, I thought. Hmm. Maybe I’m just confused.

If so, it could be because of whom I choose to listen to.

Ann warns, “Blaming the candidate may be fun, but it’s delusional and won’t help us avoid making the same mistakes in the future.”

I read a lot about learning from mistakes after this Romney defeat. Several pundits have pointed to this or that problem, including Romney himself, and conclude asking, “Will the GOP learn from its mistakes?”

Indeed. But one wonders how we can learn from any mistakes if we don’t admit them to begin with. “Delusional” comes in many shapes and sizes, and sometimes a black dress.

But Ann’s argument “Don’t blame Romney” is exactly the kind of self-justifying rationalization I’m talking about. And sure enough, part of her escapism is the tipping point fallacy. She repeats the “tipping point” excuse and crowns it with utter despair:

People are suffering. The country is in disarray. If Mitt Romney cannot win in this economy, then the tipping point has been reached. We have more takers than makers and it’s over. There is no hope.

To the problem with forceasting, history, and reality, add a real problem with pessimism among conservatives and in the Republican party.

Among party leaders and voices, I am not so sure it’s not part of a conspiracy (I use the term loosely). These people are perennially in favor of big-government candidates and policies disguised with small government lip service. But when they lose, it’s not their fault. They somehow could not have seen it coming, despite having been warned repeatedly by various truly conservative sources. It is not a far stretch to assume the show of “we couldn’t help it,” “America is lost,” “past the tipping point” despair is designed to keep their audience from making the appropriate judgment: these pundits delusionally supported a neo-liberal, proven socialist RINO and predicted he couldn’t lose, all the while debasing, browbeating, and cursing more conservative critics, and yet they were stark wrong just as those critics said all along. Ergo, these brilliant pundits don’t deserve the credibility they’ve been given for so long.[product id=”1513″ align=”right” size=”small”]

And that doesn’t look good on a journalist’s resume.

And the second-tier, would-be talking heads who do little but regurgitate the self-justifying excuses made by the Coulter, O’Reilly, and the Fox-industrial-complex tier deserve even less credibility—that is, none.

Now some of these second- and third-tier arrivistes are perceived to be associated to some degree with the theonomic or Christian Reconstruction movement. Whether they would self-identify or not is beside the point, the public perception requires something of a statement to be made.

Let’s be clear, theonomists believe Mosaic law is a fundamental guide to civic life. Those who take this at all seriously recognize the basic qualifications in public office are in Exodus 18. They are simple: be capable, fear God, love truth, and hate covetousness.

Now, we can definitely say Romney was capable. On the other three factors, most theonomists and Christian reconstructionists—and many other conservatives Christians—drew their own appropriate judgments, and then looked elsewhere. It’s that simple. All further discussion would be to elaborate and defend these points.

Now, some of these writers say nasty things about those of us who took those principles seriously. One condemned the principled conservative position as “immature” and “delusionsal.” A more accurate assessment would have been “Christians with a political memory of more than a few months.”

I would not normally bother, but some writers bear some perception of a connection to R. J. Rushdoony’s legacy. In reality, they have none. Anyone parroting the Fox-complex self-aggrandizing excuses, and blasting conservatives for not supporting a socialist, abortion-funding Mormon would, I safely assume, not gain the approval of Rushdoony or any of his true disciples.

And indeed, I am told, Rushdoony supported ultra-conservative, “third party”-type candidates, even when they had no “viable” chance of winning. In other words, he voted like he answered ultimately to God and not Bill O’Reilly.

The GOP has for decades repeatedly failed true conservative Christians, lied to them, used them, and accomplished nothing for them despite multitudinous grandiose promises. After sixty years (at least) of such treatment, the decision to abandon yet another ringer can hardly be called “immature” or “delusional.” It is a decision educated by seasoned experience, along with much sorrow and pain. The only possible fault that could be found with it is that it was not made sooner. These were the true optimists. They have been fooled one too many times. Dismissing them is the path to further liberalizing the GOP.

These people are the remnant. They are Elijah. They are David. They will survive when society falls to the judgment of Ahab and Jezebel. They will stand when everyone else is quivering in hopeless fear, and yet through these people the giants fall. And they will outlast the Sauls who run our current government and party system. They will stand, sacrifice, and speak their mind. And they will be rewarded for their faithfulness.

Another of these Christian pundits offers the following series of rationalizations. First,

[O]f all the people who ran for President, none was a more qualified contender to beat Obama than Gov. Romney.

This is not as bad as Coulter’s insistence that “Romney was the perfect candidate. . . . Indeed, Romney is one of the best presidential candidates the Republicans have ever fielded,” but it is partaking of the same self-justifying spirit.

Then, there is self-justification on behalf of the first-tier pundits this contributor chose to believe:

The election results do not mean that all those predicting a Romney victory were lying or were stupid. . . . George Will, Michael Barone, Peggy Noonan, and countless others are serious, credible, and trustworthy contributors to the national political dialogue. Their arguments (ones I bought into) were that the country was just not likely to turn out in the way it did in 2008.

How true they were! Not only did Obama get far less support than in 2008, Romney got even less—less than McCain got in 2008.

[product id=”1509″ align=”left” size=”small”]When Romney was touted as the GOP man from day one, I said to myself, “Meet the man who lost to the man who lost to Obama.” While not surprised at the result in general, I was a bit surprised it so clearly paralleled the pattern: Obama > McCain > Romney means Obama > Romney, all else being equal. And apparently, some all elses are more equal than others. Romney lost even though Obama was a four-year economic, foreign policy, and civil rights disaster. This says volumes about Romney’s electability (it actually dropped between 2008 and 2012).

More,

I can assure you that every bit of my analysis forecasting a Romney win was sincere and rooted in data. The data was just wrong, or at least the assumptions surrounding the data were. . . .

Yes! It’s the data’s fault. Faulty intelligence causes another GOP-driven casualty of war.

In 2012, the Republican optimists just did not have their day.

Because “Republican optimism” is a an skittish lady of the night who rarely looks beyond the next trick. More on that in a future article.

Then, astoundingly,

I believe that the Republicans are going to lose in 2016 if Marco Rubio is not our candidate for President. . . .

And,

Hear me loud and clear on this: The professing Christians who sat out this election are shameful, and they ought not be taken seriously.

Shameful? For not affirming the civil rulership of a satanic socialist who believes he will be God some day, but for the time being has a denominationally-imposed underwear fetish?

The decision to oppose such a man as “fine man” let alone fit for the highest executive office in the land “ought not be taken seriously”? Oh, my poor bitten lip!

Next thing we know, such Christian leaders will be saying, “Where is Baphomet when you need him?”

But step back for a moment and consider this series of propositions for what they are saying in the big picture. I paraphrase in behalf of the pundit (whom I would say fairly represents the failures of all the others):

1) “I was wrong.”

2) “Everyone I believed was wrong.”

3) “But I am right about 2016! Really! Believe me or else!” And . . .

4) “The guys who were right and stood for it ought not be taken seriously.”

Translation: “Failure and self-delusion ought to be taken seriously. Principle, sacrifice, courage, and truth should not.”

When will conservative start acting like conservatives, and have a backbone about it? They don’t. Instead, they endorse crypto-liberals like Romney, call them conservatives, and then call true courageous conservatives stupid.

Friends, this is your father’s GOP!—if your father is Dwight D. Eisenhower. Consider his words:

But to attain any success it is quite clear that the Federal government cannot avoid or escape responsibilities which the mass of the people firmly believe should be undertaken by it. . . . This is what I mean by my constant insistence upon “moderation” in government. Should any political party attempt to abolish social security, unemployment insurance, and eliminate labor laws and farm programs, you would not hear of that party again in our political history. There is a tiny splinter group, of course, that believes you can do these things. . . . Their number is negligible and they are stupid.

To say, therefore, that in some instances the policies of this Administration have not been radically changed from those of the last is perfectly true.

Indeed, establishment Repubicans have not yet advanced beyond the liberal Republicanism of 1954.

But will they learn from their mistakes? Yes? No?

I’ll let you decide which answer is “delusional.” And I’ll let you decide if you want to continue giving credibility to those who fail, and then refuse to take personal responsibility for it.

You want something more substantial (“stupid” or not)? Read my Restoring America project. That’s a start in the right direction.

[UPDATE: Now we learn that Romney himself is using this excuse. Sure, the loss had nothing to do with the candidate whatsoever. We should expect to hear as much from someone who thinks he’s on the path to godhood.]

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