Paul Krugman on the Real Reason Reality Doesn’t Make the Slightest Dent in the Right-wing Brain

Jan 19, 2015 by


What’s behind this rabid denial of facts and evidence?

Photo Credit: via YouTube

It’s really terrible when reality intrudes on your extremist world view.  And yet that’s what keeps happening to right-wingers and Republicans. The latest reality to intrude on their ideological parade is that 2014 was the warmest year on record. It’s official, Paul Krugman writes in his column Monday. And yet, it will not make the slightest difference to the climate-change deniers in Congress and elsewhere, who have proven themselves time and time again to be impervious to facts.

Evidence doesn’t matter for the “debate” over climate policy, where I put scare quotes around “debate” because, given the obvious irrelevance of logic and evidence, it’s not really a debate in any normal sense. And this situation is by no means unique. Indeed, at this point it’s hard to think of a major policy dispute where facts actually do matter; it’s unshakable dogma, across the board. And the real question is why.

There is other news that will not matter, Krugman points out before getting to the deeper question of why. There is the irrefutable evidence that Kansas’ right-wing governor Sam Brownback’s experiment with supply-side economics is a dismal failure. But this and other supply-side catastrophes has not eradicated that scourge. “If evidence mattered, supply-side economics would have faded into obscurity decades ago,” Krugman writes. “Instead, it has only strengthened its grip on the Republican Party.”

The unexpected success of health reform—unexpected even to its supporters—is another example. Not only has it resulted in a huge increase in the number of people who have health insurance, “Now we have evidence that the number of Americans experiencing financial distress due to medical expenses is also dropping fast,” Krugman points out.

Good news! Government is helping people. Now there is a goal we can all agree with.

Therein lies the rub. Why do even clear government successes (like containing Ebola) only result in more rage?

The reason is that conservatives, who should really be renamed reactionaries, do not want government to succeed. Krugman:

Well, it strikes me that the immovable position in each of these cases is bound up with rejecting any role for government that serves the public interest. If you don’t want the government to impose controls or fees on polluters, you want to deny that there is any reason to limit emissions. If you don’t want the combination of regulation, mandates and subsidies that is needed to extend coverage to the uninsured, you want to deny that expanding coverage is even possible. And claims about the magical powers of tax cuts are often little more than a mask for the real agenda of crippling government by starving it of revenue.

And why this hatred of government in the public interest? Well, the political scientist Corey Robin argues that most self-proclaimed conservatives are actually reactionaries. That is, they’re defenders of traditional hierarchy — the kind of hierarchy that is threatened by any expansion of government, even (or perhaps especially) when that expansion makes the lives of ordinary citizens better and more secure. I’m partial to that story, partly because it helps explain why climate science and health economics inspire so much rage.

Sadly for all of us, we are living in an era when facts, evidence and morality don’t seem to matter at all. Which is not to say that we should not keep fighting.

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