Krugman shows us why the Left loses, despite its advantages

Summary: This is the fourth in a series about why the Left loses. America’s drift to the Right since 1980 has not only become impossible to ignore, but has accelerated despite the many fundamentals favoring the Left. Such as demographics and the increasing acceptance of behaviors an anathema on the Right (e.g., gay marriage, abortion). Increased concentration of wealth and income by the 1% explains much of the Right’s success. As this series will show, weakness of the Left explains much of the rest.

Closed Mind


  1. A symptom of the problem
  2. Diagnosis
  3. Significance
  4. Other posts in this series
  5. More evidence

(1)  A symptom of the problem

Triumph of the Wrong“, Paul Krugman, op-ed in the New York Times, 6 November 2014 — Excerpt:

The race is not to the swift, nor the battle to the strong, neither yet bread to the wise, nor yet midterms to men of understanding. Or as I put it on the eve of another Republican Party sweep, politics determines who has the power, not who has the truth. Still, it’s not often that a party that is so wrong about so much does as well as Republicans did on Tuesday. … So now is a good time to remember just how wrong the new rulers of Congress have been about, well, everything.

First, there’s economic policy. … In short, the story of conservative economics these past six years and more has been one of intellectual debacle — made worse by the striking inability of many on the right to admit error under any circumstances.

Then there’s health reform, where Republicans were very clear about what was supposed to happen: minimal enrollments, more people losing insurance than gaining it, soaring costs. Reality, so far, has begged to differ, delivering above-predicted sign-ups, a sharp drop in the number of Americans without health insurance, premiums well below expectations, and a sharp slowdown in overall health spending.

And we shouldn’t forget the most important wrongness of all, on climate change. As late as 2008, some Republicans were willing to admit that the problem is real, and even advocate serious policies to limit emissions — Senator John McCain proposed a cap-and-trade system similar to Democratic proposals. But these days the party is dominated by climate denialists, and to some extent by conspiracy theorists who insist that the whole issue is a hoax concocted by a cabal of left-wing scientists. Now these people will be in a position to block action for years to come, quite possibly pushing us past the point of no return.

One of these three things is not like the others. For the first two Krugman clearly identifies the GOP view and provides rebuttals, all supported by links (I agree 100%). The third asserts that the GOP is dominated by climate extremists — and implies that the Democrats represent the consensus of climate scientists. He provides no evidence for either claim; there are reasons to doubt both. Certainly the public does, with climate change near the bottom of major threats (See Gallup polls, other polls, other evidence).

Is the Republican Party “dominated by denialists?” In Leftist usage, “denialist” has no fixed meaning beyond “people who disagree with me about climate change”. Much like “terrorist” to the Right, it’s a political tool rather than a category. It includes prominent climate scientists skeptical of some aspects of the IPCC’s views (e.g., Judith Curry and Roger Pielke Sr) — or critical of the Left’s exaggerations of the IPCC’s views, and have supported their view with studies in the peer-reviewed literature (e.g., Roger Pielke Jr).


Poll: global warming by party
Public Policy Polling, April 2013

On the other hand, polls show that a slim majority of people who identify as Republicans are literally denialists — who believe that global warming is a hoax (as Senator Imhofe, R-OK, believes). But more detailed surveys paint a more complex picture of right and wrong beliefs by conservatives about warming.

Such data does not show what a majority of the GOP’s leaders believe. Even Imhofe, who often plays the clown on global warming, is more nuanced when pressed for details. As in this interview on CNN, in which he discusses the effects of rising CO2 and refers to the pause in surface atmosphere warming (a reference CNN’s Tapper either doesn’t catch or doesn’t understand). Typically, a note by the Editor confidently but wrongly corrects Imhofe’s estimate of the Bush tax cuts (comparing Obama’s exaggerated estimate of the 10-year cost with the annual cost Imhofe gives).

On still another hand, Leftists don’t have clean hands here. Many on the Left continue to deny the pause in surface atmosphere warming, while climate scientists explore its causes and estimate its duration. They refused to acknowledge their past false predictions, such as predicting increased frequency and strength of hurricanes after Katrina, the “end of snow“, and rapid melting of the arctic sea ice (Al Gore in 2007-09, slanted presentation of current research. They often describe normal weather as extreme (e.g., the OK tornadoes, Hurricane Sandy), and exaggerate & over-simplify trends). They attribute almost every extreme weather event to increased CO2-caused global warming, without evidence (e.g., the cold 2008 and the 2010 Russian Heat Wave).

Perhaps worst of all, many on the Left have abandoned the IPCC (examples here and here) as “too conservative”. It’s a sad state of affairs for conduct of the Left’s signature public policy initiative.

Epistemic Closure

(2)  Diagnosis

In this, as in the many other examples listed below, we see epistemic closure. The same illness which has infected the Right, as described by Julian Sanchez, 10 March 2010:

One of the more striking features of the contemporary conservative movement is the extent to which it has been moving toward epistemic closure. Reality is defined by a multimedia array of interconnected and cross promoting conservative blogs, radio programs, magazines, and of course, Fox News. Whatever conflicts with that reality can be dismissed out of hand because it comes from the liberal media, and is therefore ipso facto not to be trusted. … This epistemic closure can be a source of solidarity and energy, but it also renders the conservative media ecosystem fragile.

… If disagreement is not in itself evidence of malign intent or moral degeneracy, people start feeling an obligation to engage it sincerely — maybe even when it comes from the New York Times. And there is nothing more potentially fatal to the momentum of an insurgency fueled by anger than a conversation.

Many on the Left see the threat of climate change as a bludgeon that vigorously wielded will return them to power, accompanied by a massive increase in government power. Their success promulgating the “nuclear winter” story showed that their strength in the news media and academia could be used to influence public opinion (they ignore the failure of the Nuke Winter campaign to have much political effect).

Sadly, as so often the case when attempting to persuade using half-truths, they were the first and most strongly convinced of their stories about global warming (which go far beyond the consensus of climate scientists).

Key to bright future

(3) Significance

The Right always has more money, and so often has more effective organizations and a deeper bench of trained talent (see the Shame Project for examples of money well-spent over decades), especially since the collapse of labor unions (the only institutional counter-weight to the Right). Epistemic closure, the dominant role of tribal truths, maintains the Right’s ideological cohesion and prevents compromise with foes — at the cost of some disconnect from reality.

The Left’s advantage has been its “reality based community”, a trait abandoned by the Right under the leadership of Bush Jr. But such an inward turn always appeals to members of a group; fighting that temptation requires listening to critics — even among your foes (where most live) — learning from them and even admitting mistakes. But given the odds against them, without a tight grasp on reality the best the Left can become is a loyal opposition. They can watch the Democratic and Republican Party leaders fight for allegiance of the center-right (as they did in this recent election).

Most of us like to imagine ourselves bold leaders, with the inevitable forces of history on our side. This can easily be re-written about the Left today:

In the summer of 2002, after I had written an article in Esquire that the White House didn’t like about Bush’s former communications director, Karen Hughes, I had a meeting with a senior adviser to Bush {later identified as Karl Rove}. He expressed the White House’s displeasure, and then he told me something that at the time I didn’t fully comprehend — but which I now believe gets to the very heart of the Bush presidency.

The aide said that guys like me were ”in what we call the reality-based community,” which he defined as people who ”believe that solutions emerge from your judicious study of discernible reality.” I nodded and murmured something about enlightenment principles and empiricism. He cut me off. ”That’s not the way the world really works anymore,” he continued. ”We’re an empire now, and when we act, we create our own reality. And while you’re studying that reality — judiciously, as you will — we’ll act again, creating other new realities, which you can study too, and that’s how things will sort out. We’re history’s actors . . . and you, all of you, will be left to just study what we do.” {Source: Ron Suskind in the New York Times}

(4) Other posts in this series

  1. Why liberals lose, 1 July 2012
  2. Why the Left is losing: another example of incompetent marketing, 26 February 2014
  3. Why the Left loses: we see their vision of a new America, 26 April 2014

Truth Will Make You Free

For More Evidence

(a)  Reference Pages about climate on the FM website:

  1. The important things to know about global warming
  2. My posts
  3. Studies & reports, by subject
  4. The history of climate fears

(b)  Good news about climate change

  1. Good news: rising seas might not cover these Pacific islands, 4 August 2014
  2. Some good news about our changing climate. Enjoy it, for it might not last long., 12 September 2014
  3. More good news about climate change: no sign yet of the methane apocalypse, 14 September 2014
  4. Prof Botkin gives us good news about our changing climate, 30 October 2014

(c)  Posts about climate change as seen by the Right:

  1. About those headlines of the past century about global cooling…, 2 November 2009
  2. The facts about the 1970′s Global Cooling scare, 7 December 2009
  3. Start of another swing of the media narrative – to global cooling?, 11 September 2013
  4. Global Cooling returns to the news, another instructive lesson about America, 25 January 2014
  5. A look into the GOP mind: untethered from reality and drifting in the wind, 3 March 2014
  6. Is the Tea Party wrong about global warming? Yes! And no., 11 May 2014
  7. Facts are the enemy of both Left and Right in our America, 12 May 2014
  8. The climate wars get exciting. Government conspiracy! Shattered warming records! Global cooling!, 1 July 2014

(d)  Posts about climate change as seen by the Left:

  1. A note on the green religion, one of the growth industries in America, 17 March 2009
  2. More attempts to control the climate science debate using smears and swarming, 19 October 2009
  3. Quote of the day – hidden history for people who rely on the mainstream media for information, 12 February 2010
  4. The hidden history of the global warming crusade, 19 February 2010
  5. A real-time example of the birth and spread of climate propaganda, 9 March 2010
  6. Lies told under the influence of the Green religion to save the world, 30 July 2010
  7. Puncturing the false picture of a scientific consensus about the causes and effects of global warming, 20 September 2010
  8. A new video about global warming, a Leftists’ wet dream pretending to be humor, 1 October 2010
  9. More about the forecast for flooded cities in the late 21st century, 16 October 2010
  10. Looking into the past for guidance about warnings of future climate apocalypses, 17 October 2010
  11. Mother Jones sounds the alarm about global warming! This time about the north pole., 10 December 2012
  12. Lessons the Left can learn from the Right when writing about climate change, 12 December 2012 — Propagandist Phil Plait
  13. Fierce words about those “wacky professional climate change deniers”, 20 January 2013 — More by propagandist Phil Plait
  14. We can see our true selves in the propaganda used against us, 14 May 2013 — Skillful inaccurate article in The Guardian
  15. A powerful story about global warming in Alaska that’s set Twitter aflame, 23 June 2013
  16. Climate lies are the tool of choice by both sides to influence your opinion. Why is that?, 11 July 2013
  17. The North Pole is now a lake! Are you afraid yet?, 3 August 2013
  18. Climate science deniers on the Left, captured for viewing, 29 September 2013
  19. A behind-the-scenes look at the making of propaganda, the kind that paints the world we see, 22 December 2013
  20. Climate change sinks the Left, while scientists unravel mysteries we must solve, 24 January 2014
  21. Watch the Left burn away more of its credibility, then wonder why the Right wins, 29 January 2014
  22. Apocalyptic thinking on the Left about climate change risks burning their credibility, 4 February 2014
  23. “Climate change is slowly but steadily cooking the world’s oceans”, 5 February 2014
  24. Four views of exciting new climate research. See the difference., 12 February 2014
  25. Why the Left is losing: another example of incompetent marketing, 26 February 2014
  26. The Left sees “Climate buffoons” and “deniers”. What do they see in the mirror?, 7 March 2014
  27. This is what defeat looks like for the Left, and perhaps also for environmentalists, 17 March 2014
  28. The Left stages a two minute hate on Nate Silver, Roger Pielke Jr (& me), 29 March 2014
  29. Facts are the enemy of both Left and Right in our America, 12 May 2014
  30. The climate wars get exciting. Government conspiracy! Shattered warming records! Global cooling!, 1 July 2014
  31. The debate about climate change takes a new form. One familiar yet disturbing., 8 August 2014



15 thoughts on “Krugman shows us why the Left loses, despite its advantages”

  1. “Hillary is banal, corrupted, drained of vibrancy and passion. I mean, she’s been around forever, the Clinton circle. She’s a fucking hawk and like a neocon, practically. She’s surrounded by all these sleazy money types who are just corrupting everything everywhere. But she’s going to be the first female president, and women in America are going to be completely invested in her candidacy. Opposition to her is going to be depicted as misogynistic, like opposition to Obama has been depicted as racist. It’s going to be this completely symbolic messaging that’s going to overshadow the fact that she’ll do nothing but continue everything in pursuit of her own power. They’ll probably have a gay person after Hillary who’s just going to do the same thing.

    I hope this happens so badly, because I think it’ll be so instructive in that regard. It’ll prove the point. Americans love to mock the idea of monarchy, and yet we have our own de facto monarchy. I think what these leaks did is, they demonstrated that there really is this government that just is the kind of permanent government that doesn’t get affected by election choices and that isn’t in any way accountable to any sort of democratic transparency and just creates its own world off on its own.”

    There is hope for the Democrats — Hillary. I’m with Glenn Greenwald, Hillary is coming, and it’s going to be ‘the most important election ever’ that no one cares about. Network anchors flustered, “why aren’t Democrats showing up at the polls? Why could that be?” Democrats may win the White House — I expect they’ll legalize Marijuana and call this a huge step forwards in human rights. But, like, whatever.

    “We’re history’s actors . . . and you, all of you, will be left to just study what we do.”

    That was true for Bush. Actually it was true for Hitler too, come to think of it. But something happened after our retarded Iraq war — the Islamic State. America can’t resolve it’s desire to stop them with it’s desire to take out Assad in Syria, so Isis is making history, and the USA, it’s only reacting. We took our shot, now it’s over, we just don’t know it yet.

  2. I had a Zen moment of clarity watching Fox News anchors gloat on election night when they had Dennis Kussinich on as a sort of comic relief. What went wrong Dennis? They gloated.
    His answer was what went wrong is the Dems ignored Occupy Wall Street. Same as the GOP ignored the Tea Party, reaction to the bail outs of Wall Street. He predicts a third party. They chuckled. The way one chuckles at a foolish child.
    Of course no one chuckles at the separatists in Catalan in Spain now. Or Greppos party in Italy. Or Marin Le Pen in France. Coming to a dysfunctional country near you? Stay tuned.

    1. These mass movements are messy, and my sense of Democrats, when you actually meet the party wonks, they really are the ‘government party.’ During the day, they’re all like pushing papers in some giant building, filling out their forms, cautiously obeying their little rule books and not taking any chances. Maybe they’ll even talk romantically about civil rights movements in the 60’s, but they’ve whitewashed away all the scary crazy parts of that.

      They’re just not capable of taking chances. They’re obeying all the rules in their carefully planned government job life, and then after hours they ‘do their civic duty’ by supporting Democrat causes, all carefully santized though, and completely free of chaos. Occupy, it was chaos, it really was, and if it had been a right wing cause, so active and so energetic, I think the Republicans could have tamed it. The Democrats, though, they’re like “eww, where’s your permit for sitting there?”

  3. Talk about your Zen moments. Stumbled onto this from NPR. After Catalonia’s Independence Vote, An ‘Homage’ To George Orwell, November 14, 2014

    On Sunday morning as I cast my vote in the Catalan election, I thought of the day that George Orwell arrived in Barcelona. It was the day after Christmas in 1936 and Spain was in the midst of a terrifying and utterly chaotic civil war.

    Orwell was shot in the throat and barely survived to tell the tale of what he saw, but survive he did, and in 1938 Homage to Catalonia, his personal account of the near six months he spent on the front lines of the Spanish Revolution, was published to little attention. In fact, it wasn’t published in the United States until 1952. Nevertheless, it has become, in the years and for generations that have followed, a landmark text of the 20th century and an indispensable read.

    “I had come to Spain with some notion of writing newspaper articles,” Orwell wrote, “but I had joined the militia almost immediately, because at that time and in that atmosphere it seemed the only conceivable thing to do.”

    Few stories of conflict manage to stir together such a moving admixture of horror, grace, brutality and, yes, even humor. “The Spaniards are good at many things, but not at making war,” he wrote. “In Spain nothing, from a meal to a battle, ever happens at the appointed time.”

    This is the story of an individual, determined to do what he thinks is the right thing, caught in the midst of a spiraling conflict that has long since spun out of control. Today, that messy war in Spain has been replaced by a messy political situation. Those traumas of the past still play out, faintly, in the current politics of the country.

    At the time, Orwell wrote, “the rights and wrongs had seemed so beautifully simple.” I wonder what he would say now?

  4. I like the intelligent debate and reasoned arguments.

    What saddens me is that you are repeatedly so wrong about climate change. Huge corporate interests can buy a lot of bad science and opinion pieces.

    1. Steve Keen believes in anthropogenic global warming hook line and sinker. I do not think it has much merit at all. It looks like sloppy science to me.
      Does that mean I think him a fool? Absolutely not.

  5. Hard to blame the lefties for sensationalizing and exaggerating the risks of climate change when they see such tactics working so well for the other side.
    I guess that’s your point though, as John McCain said during his Presidential campaign, about having tactics but not strategy.

    1. Todd,

      It’s always a temptation to copy the successful tactics of the other side. It often fails, however, as they have a different mix of skills, resources, and social positioning.

      Just because I play the rook well at chess doesn’t mean you can do so at well. Perhaps the knight is your strong suit.

  6. The conservatives (aka Republicans) have been wrong about almost everything. As many have pointed out, they have opposed virtually every worthwhile social cause back to and including the American Revolution, e.g., abolition, child labor, workmen’s suffrage, civil rights, pure food and drug laws, antitrust laws, environmental regulations, workplace safety regulations, auto safety features, health-care legislation, etc., etc., etc.. You name it, they’ve opposed it.

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