David Frum

11.09.12

Republicans: Check Your Premises

Daniel S. Duffield on the importance of understanding reality

From the moment we are born we process every bit of information we get and use it to build a framework for interpreting our world and predicting the outcomes of ours and others’ actions. Without that framework we would all be paralyzed, afraid to take the merest action for fear of unpredictable results.But it is those very frameworks, our worldviews, that when left unchecked can lead us to make disastrous decisions.

It is a man’s worldview that causes him to predict a landslide victory for one candidate despite all polling evidence to the contrary. He believes he is privy to information not reflected in polls. He believes those who perform or interpret polls possess such bias that the result of an election will be the inverse of what empirical evidence suggests. His worldview does not allow him to see his own biases.

It is a political party’s worldview that allows it to believe it has outlined the proper course for a nation’s path to prosperity and that the people are on it’s side. It believes that in order to move forward along that path we must implement laws that systematically suppress voter turnout.

It is a media pundit’s worldview that allows him to see a man as simultaneously a Muslim and an Atheist when he is neither; to see him as a fascist and a communist when he is neither. It is his worldview that does not allow him to see that either pair of these is mutually exclusive. And again it is his worldview that gives him the certitude to preach these lies to millions on a daily basis.

And yes, it is a President’s worldview that allows him to authorize the extrajudicial assassinations of his own citizens abroad, citizens whose rights he has sworn to uphold and protect. It is his worldview that allows him to simultaneously believe that his country has the fairest justice system the world has ever known, but that this justice system is not up to the task of being applied to foreign citizens he has indefinitely detained.

On Tuesday, the Republicans suffered resounding defeats in the Presidential and Senatorial arenas. They lost winnable elections because they are clinging to their aging and endangered worldviews. They lost the presidential election because their certitude in a model of targeting voters and predicting outcomes that is sadly outdated. They lost Senatorial elections because their views on women’s reproductive rights are no longer conservative, but punitive. They have excommunicated members of their party for performing the uncomfortable, difficult, and admirable task of reflection and realization that the party’s ideology has in many ways become contrary to reality.

The Republican Party has fought reality as if it were opinion. Pregnancies resulting from rape are a reality. The theory of evolution is a reality. The President’s birth certificate is a reality. The tragedy of the current Republican Party is, given the problems our nation currently must confront, we desperately need conservative leaders in government who are willing and able to publicly acknowledge reality and endorse practical solutions to our societal concerns.

Conservatism should be about practicality, not dogma. When confronted with an uncomfortable truth, a practical person will consider the different forces at work and propose a viable solution. A dogmatic person will entrench himself in his dearly held beliefs and vigorously fight that truth. Which do you think more accurately describes the current Republican Party?

So to all the conservative ideologues who may happen upon my thoughts, if you take to heart no other lessons from your electoral embarrassment this week, I know you will at least heed the words of Francisco d’Anconia:

“Contradictions do not exist. Whenever you think you are facing a contradiction, check your premises. One of them is wrong.”