A couple of weeks before the 2004 election, Suskind wrote a long article for the New York Times Magazine that quoted some of my comments to him that were highly critical of Bush and the drift of Republican policy. The article is best remembered for his quote from an anonymous White House official dismissing critics like me for being “the reality-based community.”
The day after the article appeared, my boss called to chew me out, saying that Karl Rove had called him personally to complain about it. I promised to be more circumspect in the future.
Interestingly, a couple of days after the Suskind article appeared, I happened to be at a reception for some right-wing organization that many of my think tank friends were also attending. I assumed I would get a lot of grief for my comments in the Suskind article and was surprised when there was none at all.
Finally, I started asking people about it. Not one person had read it or cared in the slightest what the New York Times had to say about anything. They all viewed it as having as much credibility as Pravda and a similar political philosophy as well. Some were indignant that I would even suspect them of reading a left-wing rag such as the New York Times.
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 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.
Agree with him or not, Bartlett is a sane conservative and a member in good standing of the reality-based community. David Frum is another. Read the full article to learn how both have been ostracized by the Fox/Murdoch right-wing propaganda complex. Bartlett's ideas might be wrong. His argument, for instance, that the contemporary Republican Party has a legitimate historical claim on the Black vote is silly. The GOP after Nixon's southern strategy is no longer the party of Lincoln. But it's an argument that isn't crazy. In fact, it would be salutary if the GOP could return to its older traditions, and it's clear that Bartlett sincerely sees himself standing in that tradition.
When people call on Liberals to be less sanctimonious and judgmental about Conservatives, I get it. There's little good to be obtained in such a stance, and it's rhetorically ineffective. But it's also important to understand that there be a distinction between sane conservatives and those who clearly are not, and those who are not are living in epistemic closure, which is a form of collective delusion. With such people no sane conversation is a possibility.
A rhetorical strategy for promoting a pragmatic policy approach needs to be developed for right-leaning Main Streeters who are not locked into epistemic closure, but we should have no illusions about the possibility of persuading those who are in the bubble that Bartlett describes. If a guy with his conservative credentials can't do it, how in the world can anybody to his left?