Republican presidential candidate Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX), perhaps seen contemplating
whether to use an Affordable Care Act health plan.
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. (How do you know they’re liberal? Well, they disagree with the conservative media!)
-- Julian Sanchez
Julian Sanchez, a CATO Institute fellow who specializes in the areas of privacy and surveillance, was perhaps the first to concisely distill the alternate reality that has been created by the continuously cross-referencing circle of conservative media outlets. Conservatives live in a bubble of epistemic closure in which narratives and ideas that feed a particular narrative are introduced, reinforced and then judged to be accurate simply by virtue of having been presented by the correct media authorities. It doesn't matter if whatever is being claimed has an actual basis in objective reality: once an idea that pleases the conservative id has taken root, it is mighty hard for truth to pierce the bubble of fantasy.
This is why President Obama can in the conservative mind be a Kenyan, a Muslim, a socialist, and a black liberation theologist all at the same time. It's why no amount of evidence can ever convince conservatism the climate change is real. It's why they view it as a fact that Obama is killing jobs and exploding the deficit, even as the facts are exactly the opposite on both counts. And it's also why the Affordable Care Act is simply known to be a disaster that is ruining lives, damaging employers, and constraining freedom, even as in reality it is reducing costs, saving lives, and making health insurance affordable for people who have gone far too long without it.
But when conservatives are forced to venture outside the circle of epistemic closure and actually confront the world outside the bubble, the results are hilarious, as we've seen this week with certain Republican opponents of the Affordable Care Act. More below the fold.
Let's take what happened this week to Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers, who was selected to deliver the official Republican response to President Obama's State of the Union address last year. On Monday, Rodgers took to her Facebook page to ask her supporters and constituents to share the ways in which the Affordable Care Act has negatively impacted their lives. The conservative narrative about health insurance reform, of course, is that it has jacked up premiums, made taxes more difficult, and made employment harder to find.
Rodgers' fishing expedition didn't go as planned: the thread was deluged by dozens, perhaps hundreds, of comments in support of the law. Individuals described how either they or family members who could not get coverage previously due to pre-existing conditions were now able to get themselves insured. Others discussed how the law's subsidies had drastically reduced their insurance premiums. Healthcare providers told stories about how their clinics were seeing a massive influx of people who had finally gotten health care after going far too long without it. Now, it's hard to know precisely what prompted Rodgers' communications staff to solicit Affordable Care Act horror stories. Perhaps they felt the need to publicly toe the party line; maybe they're looking to build momentum for the "patient-centered" replacement plan Republicans are trying to put together to convince Chief Justice Roberts to side with the King v. Burwell plaintiffs. It seems certain, however, that they were so convinced about the accuracy of their own narrative that they felt that a public dialogue wouldn't contradict it. It's a dumb thing to believe when the Affordable Care Act will directly help far more people than it will directly hurt—but that's how dense the epistemic closure of the Republican message machine is.
But Rodgers' Facebook fail pales in comparison to the situation of an ardent hater of the law who just might end up signing up for it anyway: Republican Senator and presidential hopeful Ted Cruz. It was just last month that Cruz introduced the latest Republican attempt to repeal Obamacare; but now that his wife is taking a leave from Goldman Sachs to join Cruz on the presidential campaign trail, he's in the market for health insurance. And guess where he's looking? The insurance exchanges created by the law he's so desperately seeking to eliminate.
Cruz is claiming that federal law requires him to get his health insurance on the exchanges since he is a member of Congress, but that's not true: Cruz could either buy a plan on the individual market, get COBRA through his wife's employment at Goldman Sachs, or participate in whatever insurance his presidential campaign ends up offering. The only restriction on members of Congress (created, ironically, by a poison pill amendment from Cruz' Republican colleague from Iowa, Chuck Grassley) is that they would only be eligible to receive the tax subsidy if they purchase a plan on the exchange. In other words, Ted Cruz was forced to step outside his bubble of epistemic closure and actually look around for the best deal on health insurance like a normal American, and it seems like the best deal he could get was through the Affordable Care Act.
That result isn't surprising: Obamacare exchanges have been the cheapest and best option for millions of Americans, which is why signups have been so high and why the overall uninsured rate has gone down. What is surprising is that Cruz is apparently such a miser that he would choose to participate in the program he hates most rather than pay more for the purely private healthcare he proclaims is the best model for the country.
Whether by choice or by necessity, a pair of prominent Republicans dared to step outside the conservative thought bubble and interact with the real world of how people actually go about getting their health care—and the experience hasn't gone well for their chosen narrative. Will it change anything inside the wall of Republican epistemic closure? Not likely. But it at least demonstrates to everyone else how absurd the conservative anti-Obamacare charade has become.