Smart. Sharp. Funny. Fearless.
Monday, October 24, 2016

Oct. 1 (Bloomberg) — The best explanation of the U.S. government shutdown points to two factors. The first involves information, or what people think they know. The second involves incentives, or what motivates our elected representatives.

From decades of empirical research, we know that when like-minded people speak with one another, they tend to become more extreme, more confident and more unified — the phenomenon known as group polarization. One reason involves the spread of information within echo chambers.

If you are in a group whose members think the Affordable Care Act is horrible, you will hear many arguments to that effect and very few in the other direction. After a lot of people have spoken, Obamacare will seem much worse than merely horrible; it might well be taken as a menace to the republic. In recent months, the House of Representatives has been a case study in group polarization.

In a free nation, of course, no member of Congress can really spend life in an echo chamber. They are aware that people disagree with them. To appreciate what is happening with the shutdown, we have to understand a bit more about the nature of political beliefs. It turns out that when people’s convictions are deeply held but false, efforts to correct those views can backfire. Such efforts tend to entrench and fortify those very convictions.

When the news media corrects a false proposition (say, that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction, or that George W. Bush banned stem-cell research), both conservatives and liberals may become even more committed to that proposition. Partisans and extremists know what they know, and efforts to correct what they know make them firmer still (and angrier to boot). It is for this reason that the beliefs of some of the most extreme House Republicans, and their constituents, appear almost immune to correction.

With respect to incentives, elected officials are often motivated by one goal above all: to get re-elected. They are focused on their own electoral prospects, not those of their party. They know they have to answer to their constituents, not to the nation as a whole.

Within the Republican Party, many members of Congress have no reason to fear a challenge from the left. There is no chance that they will lose their seat to a Democrat, and a moderate Republican isn’t going to run against them. The only threat is from the right. With respect to a controversy that the public is closely following, the main question may well be whether, in the view of the most extreme conservative voters, the legislators will “cave” to President Barack Obama or instead stand up for their convictions. Is it any wonder that many Republican members are willing to run the risks of a shutdown?

Click here for reuse options!
Copyright 2013 The National Memo
  • gmccpa

    This whole article amounts to nothing. So, as it states, some congressmen are standing on their principles and will not vote for anything that does not defund the ACA. OK. Some are. But we will never know if they are a majority…because there has been no House vote on a clean CR. None. Do not their principles include a democratic process? If not, they have no business being in Congress.

    What the hell is wrong with our news media? They are completely missing the issue. Where is the House vote on this? Its being BLOCKED. These so called principled law makers are clearly afraid of a vote. WTF. Total BS.

    • RobertCHastings

      Boehner will eventually hold in abeyance the Hastert Rule and allow a bill to the floor that will require the approval of Democrats to pass the House. When this happens,he will lose his Speakership in a bloody battle, but who really gives a shit. The serious question to be considered, however, is who will replace him?

    • awakenaustin

      No, unfortunately their principles do not include a democratic process. Their principles do, however, seem to include winning at any cost.
      Democracy fails to take root in many new nations because the various political factions fail to understand the idea of a loyal opposition (among other things). The idea, of course, is that win or lose in the elections you remain loyal to the nation as a whole and loyal to the process by which people are elected and policies made. Your commitment is to the fight but to the fight within the boundaries of the process. You lose an election, you accept that fact and work hard to win the next one. Legislation passes which you disfavor, you speak and campaign against it and if you win then you change it. You accept the fundamental legitimacy of the other side to govern when they win, as you expect them to accept your legitimacy when you win. This has allowed our nation (with a couple of hiccups and a civil war) to survive and flourish. We may have disagreed mightily about policy but agreed about the process and in the process itself.
      I think this also requires one to believe that no matter how correct one may think he or she is, that one continues to feel mildly insecure about his or her own personal truth or at least minimally open to the idea you might be wrong or at least not completely correct. If you can manage this then you can accept the legitimacy of disagreement.

      Today, many elected Republicans and many of their supporters reject these notions and have sought to undermine the principles which make democratic-republican governments possible. They believe absolutely in their own truth. If you oppose or disagree with their truth, then you are worthy of no consideration and you forfeit all right to any claim of legitimacy. At times they have preached sedition, rebellion and secession. They have pandered to the most violent natures of the public and they demean and devalue their opponents by the use of the most vile names and accusations. In the pursuit of their goals, any act, if carried out by them, is legitimate and praiseworthy.
      After all, when you are in service to the “real” truth and the one “true” god, all acts are acceptable, permitted and justified. When you oppose them you are not offering a different legitimate view of reality and human nature, you are spreading lies, distortions, and evil. They speak in the absolutist terms of “good” versus “evil.”
      Maybe this is a bit of an overstatement, and clearly this isn’t true of all conservatives in this nation. However, as I might say to my children, if you aren’t the one leaving the mess in the bathroom then I am not talking about you.

      • Elisabeth Gordon

        Brilliant ! However, for the very reasons that everything you say resonates, those that need to hear it won’t.

      • LotusJoan

        Well yes, but the Tea Party is anarchistic. They want
        the federal government to fail. The Tea Party is the most pernicious homegrown terrorist of all. terrorist –“ a radical who employs terror as a political weapon; usually organizes with other terrorists in small cells; often uses religion as a cover for terrorist activities. This is done through intimidation or coercion or instilling fear” I include the definition to indicate my use of the work terrorist is not hyperbole but rather calling a spade a spade.

  • charleo1

    According to the latest news release from Asylum Central. Inmate, Sen. John Cornyn,
    (R.Tx,) tells the press, “It is obvious Harry Reid, and President Obama wanted this
    Government shutdown all along!” As evidenced in their refusals to even read, or respond to recent ransom notes, sent to them by symbolic, Speaker Boehner, and
    by order of the new, de facto, head of the House T-Party faction, Sen. Ted Cruz. (R.TX.) Yes, it seems President Obama has finally taken the advise of many pseudo armchair psychologists. Who for years now has suggested Obama demand Republicans do the exact opposite of what he actually wants. Like, “I forbid the T-Party to allow Speaker Boehner to send conferrees to hammer out a real budget with the Senate.” ” I much prefer just lurching along, as we have been from one crisis to the next!” “And where are my list of outrageous demands I must meet to prevent a worldwide economic collapse?” “As President, I urge T-Party members to carryout
    the will of the American people, and bring down the Federal Government at once!”

    • toptwome

      Because of Rachel Maddow I can say that Rachel has many examples that I never heard before of republicans shouting out to shut the government down in front of many audiences. No Democrats would ever say that to their constituents, but the GOP talk to some very selfish, narrow-minded people who consider themselves the only ones who count. It shows how very demented republicans have become and that is why the worst republican extremists were elected.

      • Bill Thompson

        See link below this says it all Rachel Maddow: Republican shutdown evil and planned (VIDEO)

    • RobertCHastings

      Cornyn is one of the Republicans who is saying the House has gone too far and is pursuing a course of moderation. Like Boehner, however, he must maintain the semblance of rebellion against the “dictator” while saying he feels the pain of his brothers.

      • charleo1

        Cornyn was the Republican that claimed 97% of Planned Parenthood was involved in providing, and carrying out abortions. And using tax dollars to do it. When it was pointed out to Senator Cornyn that in fact only 3% of Planned Parenthood’s activities dealt with women seeking abortion. And they were very aware of the law. And were checked regularly, and could prove their compliance. HIs staff reported the Senator’s comments delivered as part of the Congressional Record, were not intended to be factually based. Neither were the statements by born again Christian, and anti-abortion zealot, Rick Perry. As he claimed closing every Planned Parenthood clinic in his State, would not effect the more than one million poor women, and children that accessed their medical care, and preventative testing through PP. When he was reminded these clinics were Federally funded, and used no tax dollars on abortions. Governor Perry’s statement was, “We just want to make doubly sure.” And with that the, “most devout,” Governor, cut close to 200,000 women residing in the greater Rio Grande Valley, off from their only means, and access to healthcare. Other than the local emergency rooms. So it will be one of my most ardent dying wishes,
        that when I get to Hell. One of the first things I see, will be Governor
        Rick Perry, with one of Lucifer’s helpers jamming a red hot, pitchfork so far up his ass, the State of Texas is clearly visible behind that shit
        eating grin of his.

        • RobertCHastings

          I prefer to imagine a scenario more reminiscent of “Little Nicky”, the movie with Adam Sandler, in which his father, Harvey Keitel, has a daily encounter with Hitler.

          • charleo1

            Obviously, both unintended pregnancies, and abortions
            occur in greater numbers where access to healthcare,
            and contraceptives are limited. This should be a problem
            confined to third world countries. And addressed by the
            World Health Organization, or UNICEF. Not an ignored
            circumstance, in some GOP dominated sections of the
            Southern United States.

          • RobertCHastings

            As with the Voting Rights Act, the areas of the country to which your assessment applies is now much broader than just the deep south. Kansas and some other Midwestern states prohibit the teaching of evolution, as well as the teaching of realistic sex education. As conservatives seem to be expanding their hold around the country, more and more students are being exposed to sexual ignorance and the hatred of empirical science.

  • Dominick Vila

    There is no question that the shutdown was influenced by opportunism and support from people who have been brainwashed and convinced that everything that benefits them is evil socialism and an attack against everything they hold dear.
    Opposition to ACA is influenced by ignorance, by the fact that the Tea Party and some segments of our industry have been able to convince many fellow Americans that it is a horrible failure and a contributor to rising premiums and medical costs…before it was implemented.
    Several members of my family have been making claims on Facebook that reflect what the liked of Limbaugh, Beck, and Cruz have been saying. From claims that ACA is a communist ploy that will destroy America if it is implemented, to claims that we cannot allow President Obama to bankrupt America. The fact that millions of Americans are enrolling in the ACA exchanges, that the Federal government budget is going down as a result of a smaller government workforce and increase revenues from a recovering economy, the fact that the DOW is at record highs, that unemployment is going down, that the real estate market is recovering, and that our international credibility has been restored, means absolutely nothing to them. Most are single issue voters whose opinion is influenced by issues such as abortion, illegal immigration, gay marriage, ignorance, and fear.
    When they talk about what the American people want, they are not talking about what 52% of Americans voted for last November, but what they – the Tea Party – believe in and want.

  • FT66

    I have one advice to the republicans though they didn’t ask for it. Lay your weapons down. The war you started is not winnable at all. Even the last person with the last IQ in the entire world knows it. This has no difference from what you have been doing by repealing ACA, Obamacare for 42 times, except this time you have involved people to suffer by shutting down the gov. The more the shutdown prolongs, the more people will continue to hate your actions and hence you will lose their support completely. It is better you die like officers with your ties on and admit one person(Ted Cruz), brought you all at the the point, which you didn’t think about it first why you were brought there and what is the outcome of it. Be gentlemen/women and brush this off and let time clean out the mistake of which not all of you intended to do.

  • RobertCHastings

    This week all of America has been treated to videos of a group of motorcyclists surrounding, harassing, and beating the occupant of a large black SUV. Would ANY of these individuals have done such a thing if they were not part of a large group referred to as a mob? We often hear of such actions, although not in all cases in which large numbers congregate. College students(or even New Yorkers,Bostonians, Cheeseheads, etc.) do the same after their team has won a championship. In the case in point, authorities had hints that this group of cyclists was rampaging, and some action should have been taken prior to the paralyzing of the one cyclist and the serious assault on the driver. I can fully understand how the driver felt threatened – I feel uncomfortable when driving amongst a group of cyclists. Mob mentality allows followers to become joiners, or even leaders, when they sense the ability to do what they normally wouldn’t and remain anonymous within a large group.

  • howa4x

    Both major parties are surrounded by a circle of big money, talk show hosts and extreme positions. Through that is the job of actually governing. The far left wants more protective government and the far right wants none. Somewhere in the middle we get enough of a coalition to govern. In this situation the far right pushed harder than the middle and got their anti government ideas to the forefront. These are the same people in the 60’s that fought against Medicare/Medicaid. The idea that the government should actually take care of it’s people is alien to people who believe in rugged individualism. This same division holds true today. The Tea party replaced the John Birch Society but still has many of the same ideas. They don’t see government as protective, they see it as intrusive. They don’t think people need protecting but rather should stand up for themselves. During Clinton the Democrats moved away from the left to the center and things got done. Republicans have to move back to the center or nothing will get done and we have a paralysis like a shutdown and a potential one on every issue. They have to stop being terrified of their own base. Instead of running and hiding representatives could try educating instead of pandering. The center of the republican party is hand wringing now but not involved. If the republicans can’t re establish the center, they will cease being a national party and it’s strength will be regional and in some states. This is why we see the blue states doing everything to promote the ACA and the red states doing everything to block it. In the end the people are not in view and take a back seat to ideology.

    • mah101

      There is no “far left” in American politics.

      • howa4x

        Not any more. They morphed into the progressive wing of the party

        • mah101

          Seriously. There is no effective far left in American politics. There is no real communism, collectivism, socialism as an viable political position in the US. Progressivism is not far left.

          • howa4x

            True there hasn’t been a far left in America since Eugene V Debs ran for president in 1912 as a socialist and getting 4 million votes.
            Bernie Sanders won in Vermont as a socialist and is in the senate 2nd term.

  • mah101

    One key to resolving our polarized politics is in districting. The GOP live in bubbles of gerrymandered like-minded districts that are carved out of a diverse pluralized society. As a result, they largely represent people that think like them, and they are only vulnerable to not being pure enough and in their adherence to ideologies that are not at all representative of our country. They never hear from anyone else, they can (and must) dismiss any position that differs from their own.

    We MUST revise the way that congressional districts are drawn so that these people start to hear from a diversity of positions and experiences.

  • jimmycarlcameron

    This destroy the government at all cost ideology that the “tea
    partiers” possess is hardly a new phenomenon
    but is instead a direct descendent of the ideology of the Dixiecrat of the
    South during President Ulysses S Grant’s administration. Of course, at that time they were trying to re-litigate the
    Civil War and they succeeded to the point of taking away the 14th
    amendment rights of Americans of African
    descent thru the “separate but
    equal laws “ that were put in place.

    The Democrats of the South at the time was hell-bent on
    destroying the Republican Party of Lincoln and reversing the outcome of the
    just completed Civil War. The Democrats in the Congress mostly from the South
    succeeded in causing the first great depression the nation had seen by bringing
    the government to a standstill by 1874, all because of their anger at Lincoln
    and the Republican Party for taking away their slaves, taken away their way of
    life after killing some 300,000 of their citizens. It Is evident to me the
    elements driving the Republican party today are direct descendents of these
    Dixiecrat’s who still harbor a fixation on destroying Abraham Lincoln’s
    Republican Party and reversing everything that is accomplished in that Civil
    War including re-enslaving this Black President we have today.

    They have successfully infiltrated and hijacked the
    Republican Party today and are on the verge of destroying it.

    This twisted ideology is based in this “self-fulfilling
    prophecy of racism” that I write about in my new book “Racism and Hate:
    an American Reality,” which somehow today equates the “affordable
    care act” to this “wealth redistribution scheme” that will somehow leave them, white people, poorer
    and the Americans of African descent somehow richer.

    Forced on them, by
    the way, by this Black President .

    That is what this whole “tea party” revolt is

    ~jimmy c cameron