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The Conservative Secession from Reality

Posted by on Dec 11 2012
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By: Sean Cribben

Perhaps it's fitting that in a year in which fantasy dominated the box office, the Republican war on reality reached its apogee. Hopes that wholesale repudiation at the polls would somehow disabuse them of their delusions have been dashed to pieces; indeed, if anything the radical right has doubled down on the crazy without exhibiting a flicker of doubt or remorse. How else can one explain their seemingly inexplicable opposition to a (non-binding) U.N. disabilities treaty, or their bizarre Benghazi fixation? The continued adherence to discredited economic theories, or their habitual skepticism of scientific consensus?

There are many explanations for the conservative movement's drift to Middle-earth, ranging from its unthinking devotion to big business to its reliance upon the Southern Strategy to capture votes in a nation increasingly defined by diversity and multiculturalism. But by far the most important factor, and the one which undergirds all others, is the transformation of conservative political ideology into a jealously guarded, quasi-religious faith. For too long conservatives have dwelled in a hermetically sealed echo chamber, one which the light of reality has seldom pierced; as a result, their core tenets have simultaneously ossified and achieved sanctity, making it almost impossible to address their real-world practicability without incurring the zealous wrath of orthodox right-wingers.

Thus we have a situation in which otherwise secular concepts, such as the free market, are now imbued with an aura of divinity. The government has to be responsible for economic crises such as the Great Depression and the Great Recession; speculative excess and corporate malfeasance cannot exist in a world in which financiers and CEOs stand athwart history like titans. And of course programs like the Neal Deal and the 2009 stimulus were utter failures; the federal government is inherently feckless and harmful, despite what actual research and statistical evidence may say to the contrary. The market, according to the good prophets Reagan, Friedman, and Rand, is nigh flawless, and therefore beyond reproach.

And so on and so forth. The ever-growing cracks in conservatism's intellectual edifice are papered over with breathless invocations of states' rights, “sovereignty,” and laissez-faire. As if those terms and phrases are in and of themselves sufficient proof of their efficacy. Like radicals of yore, modern-day conservatives have been seduced by visions of what the world (in their estimation) should be, instead of what it is; that reality has proven mostly unwilling to accede to their schemes and predictions has, of course, done little to dissuade them from their dreams of a free-market utopia.

This, as most rational observers are all too aware, is wholly inimical to responsible governance. Experience and empiricism, not theory and dogmatism, should ultimately guide the decisions of those who hold higher office. The right's nearly uninhibited pursuit of false oases has proven an unmitigated disaster for millions, both at home and abroad over the last three decades; the time has come for responsible and pragmatic conservatives (what few of them remain) to rescue their party, and their movement, from the wilderness of anti-intellectualism and blind faith. To do otherwise would only further alienate the Republican Party from the emerging multicultural coalition that has only just yet begun to flex its political muscles.



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