How the Republican echo chamber is worsening the government shutdown
On the night of the 2012 presidential election, a bewildered Karl Rove insisted that Fox News was wrong to call Ohio for President Obama, sending anchor Megyn Kelly on her infamously awkward walk to the decision desk.
After the dust settled, many wondered why conservative pundits — including Rove, Dick Morris, George Will, and Michael Barone — didn't see an Obama victory coming, even when most mainstream media outlets did.
Back then, The Atlantic's Conor Friedersdorf blamed "a conservative echo chamber" that let right-wing pundits drive the conversation on Fox News, talk radio, and blogs, leaving even members of Mitt Romney's team shocked when Obama was handily elected to a second term.
Fast-forward to the government shutdown of 2013. For the first time in 17 years, Congress hasn't been able to pass a spending bill, forcing nearly 800,000 federal workers to take furloughs and threatening the United States' already shaky economic recovery.
The culprit? According to Republicans, it's the Affordable Care Act. "Everyone in America knows ObamaCare is destroying the economy," claims Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas).
But is it really? The pernicious evils of ObamaCare are a given in conservative circles, but there is little evidence to suggest that the law has slowed down the recovery, according to economist Mark Zandi.
Then there's the belief among Tea Party conservatives that President Obama will eventually back down and repeal his signature domestic achievement, which many say defies common sense. There is also the oft-stated conviction that Republicans are exercising the people's will, even when polls show that Americans don't like the government shutdown — and mostly blame Republicans for causing it.
If we assume these Republicans are being sincere, what could explain these beliefs?
One theory: Republicans are falling victim to the same sources of information that misled Rove, says Robert Costa of the conservative National Review, who talked to The Washington Post's Ezra Klein.
Many of these members now live in the conservative world of talk radio and Tea Party conventions and Fox News invitations. And so the conservative strategy of the moment, no matter how unrealistic it might be, catches fire. The members begin to believe they can achieve things in divided government that most objective observers would believe is impossible. Leaders are dealing with these expectations that wouldn't exist in a normal environment. [Washington Post]
Even conservative lawmakers have echoed that sentiment.
Rep. Peter King: "We have too many people who live in their own echo chamber."
— Mike Memoli (@mikememoli) September 30, 2013
House Republicans aren't the only ones consuming conservative media all day — their constituents are, too. Compared to 1995-96, the last time the U.S. government shut down, Republicans in the House represent much safer, more homogenous districts, where the only challengers are other conservative Republicans.
That, coupled with the rise of outlets like Fox News, has created a "gravity-free zone, where there is no punishment for extreme behavior, but there’s 1,000 lashes on Twitter if you deviate from the hard-line and great coverage to those who are most extreme," writes Nicholas Kristof at The New York Times.
With the conservative media, voters, and think tanks all saying the same thing, Republican lawmakers may "sincerely believe that the health-care law is a clear and present danger," writes Cass R. Sunstein, a former official in the Obama administration, at Bloomberg. And there may be no way to convince them otherwise:
When the news media corrects a false proposition (say, that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction, or that George W. Bush banned stem-cell research), both conservatives and liberals may become even more committed to that proposition. Partisans and extremists know what they know, and efforts to correct what they know make them firmer still (and angrier to boot). It is for this reason that the beliefs of some of the most extreme House Republicans, and their constituents, appear almost immune to correction. [Bloomberg]
In other words, the Republican Party may be heading for another Mitt Romney moment. "The latest evidence" from the polls, writes Roll Call, "is that the GOP will get (and deserve) the blame" for the shutdown fiasco.