Bruce Bartlett, Conservative Republican Midwife of Supply-Side Economics, on the “Revenge of the Reality-Based Community”

Read  Bruce Bartlett’s account of how he was shunned by his tribe for daring to think for himself a little.   He joins the likes of David Frum and Christopher Buckley in being ostracized (or was it self-deportation”?).   While his account of Republican “epistemic closure” is a useful inside testimonial, what is perhaps more revealing is his honest admission that  

“I’ve paid a heavy price, both personal and financial, for my evolution from comfortably within the Republican Party and conservative movement to a less than comfortable position somewhere on the center-left.”

The “financial” heavy price is a reminder of the extent to which the vaunted Republican intellectual establishment, from Heritage to Cato to AEI, is fully bought and paid for by right-wing interests with tests of fundamentalist purity, in a way that has absolutely no parallel on the center/liberal/left portions of the political spectrum.

h/t Brad DeLong

32 thoughts on “Bruce Bartlett, Conservative Republican Midwife of Supply-Side Economics, on the “Revenge of the Reality-Based Community””

  1. Thought control is none of the government’s business; it should be taken care of by the private sector.

  2. Whistle blowers get no gratitude from their erstwhile employer, for showing the error of their closed, idelogical mindset. The fact that Bartlett ended up being prescient about so many things, such as the unfunded liability of Bush’s prescription medicare drug program is even more annoying to the faithful, for they see Barlett as someone who simply betrayed the tribe, facts be damned. If he had been wrong, they would have forgiven him, by now.

  3. Kevin Drum had a post on this same subject earlier today, in his blog on Mother Jones. My favorite paragraph he quoted from Bartlett is this one:

    I was flabbergasted. Until that moment I had not realized how closed the right-wing mind had become. Even assuming that my friends’ view of the [NY] Times’ philosophy was correct, which it most certainly was not, why would they not want to know what their enemy was thinking? This was my first exposure to what has been called “epistemic closure” among conservatives—living in their own bubble where nonsensical ideas circulate with no contradiction.

    Here’s the link to Drum’s post:

  4. in a way that has absolutely no parallel on the center/liberal/left portions of the political spectrum.


    1. I’m sorry, Chipotle, I must be a little confused this morning. Could you remind me which members of the Democratic intellectual establishment, from ACLU to Center for American Progress to the NY Times editorial board, is fully bought and paid for by Soros with tests of fundamentalist purity?

      1. You have to keep in mind that conservative thought is all projection, all the time. Chipotle KNOWS that Soros is using his money that way, simply because that’s what he would do if he had that much money.

        1. Like how the Geo W. Bush Administration torture (sorry extreme interrogation methods) were derived from Air Force studies of Communist torture techniques?

          1. Exactly right! Communist tortures that were specifically designed to produce false confessions. Yes, false confessions. Most people argued this was a bug in Bush’s intelligence gathering system but I’ve always suspected that the Bush people thought of the tendency to get false confessions and bad intelligence as a feature, not a bug. If one reads between the lines of the publicly available information, it seems likely that most of the CIA and military interrogation centers were tasked with creating false information demonstrating links between Saddam Hussein and the 9/11 attacks so as to justify invading Iraq.

    2. No. Not even remotely close to a massive interwoven network for peddling influence and enforcing an almost fanatical orthodoxy. There is nothing comparable on the leftish side of the political spectrum and probably never has been. The nearest approximation to the toxic combination of Fox News and cradle to grave wingnut welfare would be thr Soviet Union’s mafia state near the time of its collapse (by which time the USSR had shifted to place on the political spectrum from left to right, as we are now seeing with “Red” China—a “communist” country where union activity is violently suppressed on behalf of business owners)

      1. A very good piece of research would likely arise out of someone exploring how the right wing’s fantasies of Communist conspiracy in the US shaped their own very real manipulation of our system.

        That the Kochs are from Wichita (as am I) and their dad a founding member of the Birch Society, combined with their secret meetings, suggests there is a lot here to investigate. A false new organization, a series of ideologically driven ‘think tanks,’ the efforts to actively recruit promising undergraduates and get them positions if they worked out, and so on. When I taught at good liberal arts colleges I, as a former conservative/libertarian, always got requests from right wing organizations for names of promising soon-to-graduate students, requests I never answered. I still get them.

        1. Actually, the Koch family saga is stranger than you might think. The Koch family’s vast wealth is largely the product of Fred Koch’s strong personal and business relationship with none other than Joseph Stalin. He helped build the Soviet’s oil refining capacity (which would have been crucial for them in any military confrontation with the West) and he was very positive about the Communists until business dried up and certain relationships apparently went south and he turned against the Communists and founded the Birch Society. Which only proves Lenin’s claim that “the capitalists will sell us the rope with which we will hang them”.

          1. Robert Welch founded it. Fred sr. was a cofounder, but at the meetings I was invited to as a high schooler (I got better in college) he never said much.

            Ironically given the pro-‘free market’ ideology of those guys, Koch had to go to Russia for business and fortune because he was frozen out of most markets in the US by existing big guys using less advanced technology. (Unlike his progeny Koch actually created a new technique.) At least that is my understanding.

    3. Soros in his adherence to the Open Society notions of Karl Popper is the absolute antithesis of the use of what appears to be policy inquiry for narrow political purposes, even aside from the power differential. Soros has funded a lot of explicitly political work for positions he supports in the US, and has done so openly. Overseas he has been a major supporter of infrastructure for dissidents and broader civil society.

  5. I think what we’re seeing is some kind of tipping point from the past decade of complete crazy.

    Bartlett’s point about not even wanting to keep track of what the enemy is doing is a crucial one. People and organizations with possibly-not-entirely-fact-based fears of persecution tend to keep obsessive track of what their possible adversaries and persecutors are doing, because they believe it’s crucial to their survival. Soi-disant conservatives have the delusions of persecution, but have apparently found it necessary to stop monitoring their enemies’ broadcasts lest they be confused.

    Meanwhile, liberals and progressives tend to have the opposite problem. We tend to believe that conservatives are just reasonable people motivated by the desire to preserve their tribe’s wealth and power, and not really crazy. Then every now and then we hear one of them actually talking and are, uh, surprised.

  6. Why would any sane rightwingnut bother to read the NYT when they know it’s all just librul propaganda put out to decieve them. They are on to our wiley ways. Dang!

  7. I wonder whether this epistemic closure comes from the influence of so many fundamentalusts and the habits of thought they employ? When your religion relies on denying science, logic, and intellectual honesty then it seems to me a short jump into applying it to everything else at all complicated. On other words, modern rationality must be taught or sustained by a society that honors it, or it degenerates into nihilistic tribalism.

    1. Or perhaps it’s as Upton Sinclair said,

      “It is difficult to get a man to understand something, when his salary depends upon his not understanding it!”

      1. True for some but not for all. I think it’s why the best think tankers carefully craft their research to fit the priorities of their funders rather than raise troubling questions. But I do not think anyone’s job depended on attacking Nate Silver, for example.

  8. I read this and I still think he’s a bit clueless. First, I don’t see George W. Bush as the tipping point for the Republican Party, I see 1994, Newt Gingrich and the generally hysterical reaction to Bill Clinton — a white politician capable of getting the Bubba vote — as the events that really shook the nuts loose from the tree and imposed a nearly cult like hard line inside the Republican Party.

    Second, anyone who thinks that the way to attract African Americans back to the Republican Party is to play up the Democratic misdeeds that preceded 1964 does not have a sound grasp of reality or fairness. Strom Thurmond was a Democrat. Then he was a Dixiecrat. And then he was a Republican — all without changing much if anything he believed in. Does he think African Americans don’t know this history already?

    And if he really can’t figure out what makes GWB “tick” even to this day, then he really does not understand the plutocratic rise that has been happening around him (and that he has been part of) for more than 30 years.

    1. Right, clueless he is and that’s as much an indictment of the Right Wing intellectual culture that he was a key member of as how he was treated when he then deviated some from it. No one is making him out to be a hero.

        1. Yes, but it is stunning that this is what passes for reality based reasoning. I mean, not that he doesn’t have some reality check in some areas but still, reaching out to African-Americans based on either (a) trying to capitalize on historical grievances by the kind of people who are now Republicans or (b) trying to capitalize on tension between them and Latinos — so that, maybe, you can get the votes of 30% (like Eisenhower did)– and then what? — proceeding along the predestined Republican path that he now claims is insane? Even if he thought he could do this, why would he bother? And this isn’t just a casual thought on his part — he wrote a book about it!

          1. Keep in mind that this is, according to Bartlett, a subject he really had never looked into. The first research he did on it made it obvious to him how ridiculous a proposition it was.

            That, to me, is the story here. As much as it is a case of Bruce Bartlett turning on the right wing, it’s the case of an academic who really had very narrow horizons in the knowledge he had acquired broadening out and, when exposed to the realities of subjects on which he’d taken other people’s word, recognized that he’d been working from bullshit assumptions about who he should trust.

    2. It was Reagan who convinced the Rs that your opinions don’t have to correspond with reality, and your policies don’t have to produce the desired outcomes, or even make sense, as long as they make you feel good about yourself.

  9. Otoh … it could be that the Left’s incoherence comes from the more heterogenous nature of its concerns.

    The GOP today basically exists to safeguard rich people’s interests, with all the religious talk as a cover to get the bodies to the polls, imo. So, they don’t really need a lot of different opinions, in a way. And their strategies actually work really well, and fool a lot of people very successfully. “Small government” and “low taxes” sound good if you don’t think much or pay much attention to the details or results.

    What happened is, the inequality has gotten so bad that that’s not working well anymore. They can’t fool enough people now. And I agree with Barbara — this black v. brown thing just won’t work. People of color know who they are by now. Now, whether they could change *that?* That’s a real question. I don’t see how it can be done unless they change a whole lot about themselves.

  10. I noticed the lines “I talked myself into believing that Karl Rove was so smart that he had concocted an extremely clever plan—Bush would endorse the new benefit but do nothing to bring competing House and Senate versions of the legislation together. That way he could get credit for supporting a popular new spending program, but it would never actually be enacted.”

    Mr. Bartlett’s complaint with Bush seems to be that Bush wasn’t as dishonest as he (Mr. Bartlett) wished him to be. This ruins any credibility he might otherwise have. Ignore him. He is as much a crook as the rest of them.

    1. Au contraire, I think; Bartlett’s disillusionment with Bush was that Bush wasn’t as smart as he (Bartlett) supposed him to be.

      I remember hearing a Republican say, in response to somebody mocking Bush’s seemingly mediocre mental powers, “Well, he’s got degrees from both Harvard and Yale. He’s the first President ever to do that, y’know.” I guess it was disappointing to folks who bought into that “secret smart” assessment to discover that their man wasn’t a secret anything–what you saw was pretty much what that was there.

      1. “It must be very strange to be President Bush. A man of extraordinary vision and brilliance approaching to genius, he can’t get anyone to notice. He is like a great painter or musician who is ahead of his time, and who unveils one masterpiece after another to a reception that, when not bored, is hostile.”

    2. I challenge you to find anyone in politics, not just modern American but in any time and place, who has not pretended to support something he didn’t really want to implement in order to appear supportive. If that’s the level of dishonesty at which someone’s credibility is ruined for you, expect to live a very lonely life.

  11. I enjoyed the Bartlett piece but after thinking about it (and reading the comments by cons at the American Conservative, many who are NOT pleased), I cry crocodile tears for Bartlett wrt his paying a “heavy price”. The guy was on wingnut welfare for years. I guess that’s what the last sentence of this post means. But I’m not sure.

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