The Conservative Culture of Ignorance

We Heart ObamacareYou may have heard about the House hearing on Obamacare yesterday. The Republicans brought in six health insurance executives to grill them on the number of people actually paying for insurance on the exchanges. You see, it was supposed to be a bloody good time for them. This followed from a survey that they made of the insurance companies on 15 April that asked how many people had thus far paid for their health insurance. Of course, at that time, a lot of people hadn’t even been billed, so there was no reason that they would have paid their premiums yet. Nonetheless, it allowed the Republicans to crow about how Obamacare wasn’t working because only 67% had paid for it.

Even at the time, just a week ago, there was widespread coverage of the failings of this study, like Dylan Scott’s Talking Points Memo article, EXCLUSIVE: Here’s the House GOP’s “Incredibly Rigged” Obamacare Survey. So there was no reason for the Republicans to walk into the hearing yesterday thinking they were going to stick it to Obamacare once again. At minimum, they should have known that the 67% number was going to be a lower bound on what the executives would report.

When asked, the insurance companies reported that they are seeing a payment rate in the 80% range, and not all the premiums are due. So what we are looking at is what has been reported for a couple of weeks: between 80% and 90% of the signups are paying. According to Sam Baker at National Journal, “Wellpoint, the largest insurer in the Obamacare exchanges, said the payment rate is closer to 90 percent among people who reached their first payment deadline.” Los Angeles Limes‘ Michael Hiltzik has more details on where the insurers are.

According to Elise Viebeck at The Hill, many of the Republican members of the subcommittee made an early exit, I assume because it wasn’t going well. Now this, in itself, is not surprising. These hearings are usually about grandstanding. But this is something else. This is a situation where Republicans are believing their own nonsense.

Think about it. All of these Representatives have staffs. They have people who do nothing but process information and provide it for the Republicans to allow them to do their grandstanding. I understand that the Representatives don’t scour the internet trying to find out what the other side is saying. But their people should be. And that’s especially true when their newest non-Benghazi talking point is based upon a clearly deceptive survey. So they should have known.

The question is why they didn’t. These are not stupid people. Yes, as Jonathan Bernstein pointed out, they live inside the “closed conservative information feedback loop.” But I think it is a cultural issue. It all started in the late 1970s. As I’ve written in the past, supply side economics was not a completely crazy idea at that time. But it was fairly far out and most objective analysis countered it. From there, step by step, they’ve moved inward.

For years, I’ve argued that the problem with Fox News is not that it is biased and just plain bad. The problem is their conceit that they are the only truly neutral news source. The biggest difference between a Fox News viewer and, say, a reader of this site is that readers of this site know that I am not neutral or otherwise unbiased. And the irony of the situation is that I take great care to get my facts right. Errors are not something I ignore around here. That’s not true of Fox News and most right wing information sources; their normal reaction to errors is to ignore them and move on. And that just leaves the impression in viewers that what was reported before was correct.

This is important because of its cultural ramifications. Even though I work very hard to get things right, no one would just assume if they saw it on this little website (or on Talking Points Memo or on MSNBC) it must be right. But apparently, not only do Republican politicians but their entire staffs consume nothing but conservative media. And they think that it is the neutral press.

And here’s the thing: it will only get worse. It has managed to get this bad because despite getting more and more out of touch with reality, Republicans have done quite well at the ballot box. If the Democrats manage to hold the Senate this year, win a landslide in 2016, and lose little in 2018, then the Republican Party might start to change. But even given that unlikely scenario it is not certain they will change. They may react the same way they did to 2008, “We lost because we weren’t conservative [ie, crazy] enough!” Unfortunately, it doesn’t just hurt them. We will all go together when we go.

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About Frank Moraes

Frank Moraes is a freelance writer and editor online and in print. He is educated as a scientist with a PhD in Atmospheric Physics. He has worked in climate science, remote sensing, throughout the computer industry, and as a college physics instructor. Find out more at About Frank Moraes.

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