How the conservative information feedback loop helped cause the shutdown.
With the government shutdown entering its second week, now is a good time to ask how exactly did we get here? While hardly the only factor, I have to say that the conservative information feedback loop seems to have played a major part.
The conservative information feedback loop is phenomenon in American politics that appears throughout Republican and conservative oriented media outlets. It was first named by Jonathan Chait back in 2010 when he noticed that a particular false claim about a change to Medicare had been circulated around by both the conservative media and Republican politicians despite numerous people proving over and over again that it was false. As he put it the conservative media had created, “a closed information circuit, in which even claims that are demonstrably false questions of fact can circulate unchallenged.”
In short the feedback loop creates an almost parallel reality for Republicans who immerse themselves in the world of Fox News or conservative blogs. This is the world where it is obvious President Obama’s foreign policy is “unraveling right before our eyes.” It is the world where Obama went on an “apology tour” and the world where Mitt Romney was clearly going to win.
This parallel reality makes crafting sensible political strategy very difficult if not almost impossible. A central tenant of the strategy of House Republicans all year was based on the assumption that Obama would cave to their demands to defund or delay Obamacare if they just threatened to shut down the government. To the rest of us not watching Fox News all the time this looked pretty silly. Every signal coming out of the White House for months was that Obama was not going to cave to demands over his signature domestic achievement. Add in that Democrats have been remarkably unified across the board during this crisis and the fact that the Republican strategy ended in a shutdown seems pretty predictable. But it wasn’t to those in the feedback loop.
Republican views on Obamacare are themselves an interesting example of the feedback loop. The health care law is of course controversial, but polling about it remains profoundly mixed. Its provisions and roll out have also been mixed as well, but for every story about crashing websites there seems to be a story about someone who benefited enormously from the law.
The key take away here is that the story about Obamacare is complex, or at least a lot more complex that it is in the feedback loop. But if you’re inside the feedback loop you are probably hearing everyday about how massively unpopular the law is and how it will do everything from lead to socialism to destroy the national economy. If that really was the case it would probably be an easy law to repeal, one where there would be strong incentives for Democrats in Congress and President Obama to throw in the towel. But since in reality the situation that surrounds the law is much more complex, those incentives don’t actually exist, and thus Obama and the Democrats don’t cave.
The Republican’s shutdown strategy is turning out to be a disaster for them. Their party’s approval ratings are now at their lowest ever and the whole shutdown itself is being blamed on them by most Americans. Their strategy may have worked inside the feedback loop, after all if Obamacare is really massively unpopular and Obama really is some kind of weakling about to cave, threats of shutdowns or worse might actually work. But in the real world, where the story about Obamacare is much more mixed and the President is deeply determined not to fold, it makes no sense at all. This probably explains why Republicans seem to have no idea about how to get themselves out of the mess they’ve created.
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