Monday, March 20, 2006

Avoiding Cognitive Dissonance

Wingnut style. Krugman talks about how this is done now that George Bush no longer looks like the second coming of Christ, even to the wingnut base. That everything about the combined neoconservative-fundamentalist administration is a mess is the truth. To reconcile this with the neoconservative-fundamentalist ideology still being the correct one requires some clever work, and Krugman points out that this work consists of painting Bush as a big domestic spender. Which he isn't, according to Krugman:

So what's left? Well, it's safe for conservatives to criticize Mr. Bush for presiding over runaway growth in domestic spending, because that implies that he betrayed his conservative supporters. There's only one problem with this criticism: it's not true.

It's true that federal spending as a percentage of G.D.P. rose between 2001 and 2005. But the great bulk of this increase was accounted for by increased spending on defense and homeland security, including the costs of the Iraq war, and by rising health care costs.

Conservatives aren't criticizing Mr. Bush for his defense spending. Since the Medicare drug program didn't start until 2006, the Bush administration can't be blamed for the rise in health care costs before then. Whatever other fiscal excesses took place weren't large enough to play more than a marginal role in spending growth.

So where does the notion of Bush the big spender come from? In a direct sense it comes largely from Brian Riedl of the Heritage Foundation, who issued a report last fall alleging that government spending was out of control. Mr. Riedl is very good at his job; his report shifts artfully back and forth among various measures of spending (nominal, real, total, domestic, discretionary, domestic discretionary), managing to convey the false impression that soaring spending on domestic social programs is a major cause of the federal budget deficit without literally lying.

But the reason conservatives fall for the Heritage spin is that it suits their purposes. They need to repudiate George W. Bush, but they can't admit that when Mr. Bush made his key mistakes — starting an unnecessary war, and using dishonest numbers to justify tax cuts — they were cheering him on.

This isn't an uncommon thing. When something happens that clashes with a person's worldview it's usually the evidence that will be reinterpreted so that the worldview can stay. Fixing worldviews is a major psychological undertaking, and few of us want to do it. Ultimately, though, a false worldview bumps against conflicting evidence so often that the alternatives are either to accept the need to rethink the whole ideology or to start drinking heavily. I wonder which will be more popular among the wingnuts.

Nah, I don't wonder. The wingnuts will find their way back into the lap of wingnuttery. They will regroup and come back with another hairbrained scheme, but probably only after someone else fixes the country so that it's worth wrecking again.