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Carney: The Left's effort to discredit all conservative thought

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Closed-minded dismissal of opposing views has gone from being a bad habit of conservatives to a core strategy of the Left.

As we await the Supreme Court's Obamacare ruling, liberal commentator after liberal commentator has declared that only a dishonest partisan or a complete fool could find the individual mandate unconstitutional.

This is where the liberal elites have been headed for a couple of years, and not just on health care. In many cases, it's simply a matter of the liberal bubble. For others, it's a cynical way of moving the bounds of permissible dissent. This latter phenomenon I've given the florid name "Strategic Epistemic Closure."

I learned the term "epistemic closure" a couple of years back from the erudite libertarian blogger Julian Sanchez. Sanchez wrote that grassroots conservatives are especially prone to ignore counterarguments and opposing viewpoints, instead immersing themselves in the comfortable waters of Rush Limbaugh and Sean Hannity.

Epistemic closure is a sign of intellectual laziness that's too present among the conservative base. But it seems that among some liberals, epistemic closure is a deliberate and strategic choice: Ignore, dismiss and ridicule conservative and free-market views, and maybe the "referees" -- that is, the mainstream media -- will begin treating those views as ridiculous, too.

The other side's views need not be entertained, the argument goes, because the other side is not serious. And we know they are not serious because they are on the other side. Any reporter who gives as much weight to the Right's argument as to the Left's is guilty of false equivalence and "he-said-she-said" analysis.

Paul Krugman, the acid-penned New York Times columnist, is the trendsetter when it comes to Strategic Epistemic Closure.

"I don't know of any economics or politics sites on that side that regularly provide analysis or information I need to take seriously," Krugman writes, explaining why he reads no conservatives or free-marketers. "I know we're supposed to pretend that both sides always have a point; but the truth is that most of the time they don't."

Those conservatives they can't dismiss as "ignorant yahoos" (Krugman's term) they vilify as corporate shills. Yahoos and shills being the only two sources of conservative or free-market argumentation, they can all safely be ignored.

This is related to what liberal blogger Ezra Klein recently described as "building a permission structure." Klein wrote this week of how the Right built a "permission structure" allowing conservative judges to rule the individual mandate unconstitutional.

Here's the flip side of that story: liberal Strategic Epistemic Closure is all about dismantling any permission structure on the Right. For instance, get enough elites to dismiss an idea, and boom, it's "discredited." Get enough liberals to act shocked at a proposal, and you've made it "controversial." Then pretend some objective standard has been met, and warn the media not to give credence to discredited or controversial ideas.

On the mandate's constitutionality, liberals point to a legal consensus among liberal academics most of whom also happen to think a mandate is good policy. Then they assert that anyone outside that "consensus" is arguing on political, not legal, grounds.

Facts that undermine the claim of consensus -- for instance, a Clinton-appointed judge found the mandate unconstitutional -- are steadfastly ignored.

Nobody looking at the plain language of the Constitution would say, "Ah, this obviously empowers Congress to force everyone in America to buy health insurance on the state-by-state individual market."

But a permission structure has been built in the form of legal precedent -- including many bad decisions by liberal judges -- slowly making it possible for Washington to do what sounds absurd on its face: forcing us into intrastate commerce in the name of regulating interstate commerce.

The liberal argument today, though, is not merely that Congress can regulate inactivity, but that any argument to the contrary is dishonest or idiotic. This allows the Left to portray an adverse ruling as nakedly political. The Atlantic's James Fallows wrote it would signal a "coup."

Liberal writer Kevin Drum wrote that it "would mean that the Supreme Court had officially entered an era where they were frankly willing to overturn liberal legislation just because they don't like it."

The truth is we've entered an era where many liberal commentators are willing to dismiss any argument as illegitimate just because they don't like it.

Timothy P.Carney, The Examiner's senior political columnist, can be contacted at tcarney@washingtonexaminer.com. His column appears Monday and Thursday, and his stories and blog posts appear on washingtonexaminer.com.

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