It used to be a simple question of stupid vs. evil, but I think we now need to add a third option, which is “afraid.” For example, not everyone who wanted to invade Iraq was so stupid as to think it was about weapons of mass destruction or that we’d be greeted as liberators or that our homeland was in imminent danger from that quarter. And not everyone who advocated launching a war of choice was guilty of depraved indifference about the likely consequences or motivated by simple bloodlust. A lot of people were simply afraid to go against the tide.

Likewise, there are those in the so-called Republican Establishment who are wise to the game that they’re playing on the rubes through the application of their Mighty Right-Wing Media Wurlitzer. They know that they’re ginning up resentment and anxiety and fear and race-hatred and division for naked political advantage. That doesn’t prevent them from sipping a cocktail with a Democratic operative in some Georgetown bar or hobnobbing with a liberal senator’s wife at some hoity toity Manhattan charity fundraiser.

There are others, however, who have marinated so much in the right-wing media bubble that they actually believe their own talking points. These are the folks who are genuinely petrified of getting Ebola or think that there’s a real epidemic of in-person voter fraud that requires hyper vigilance to combat. These people are genuinely stupid despite being elected officials and technically part of the “Establishment.”

The final category of people are the ones who aren’t so dumb as to not see what is happening, or to understand the negative consequences of it for the Republican Party and the nation. They’re in on the joke, so to speak, but they don’t approve. Yet, they’re afraid to speak out and will even parrot the bullshit in order to avoid getting challenged from a horde of lunatics who don’t know the difference between fear-mongering hype and basic reality.

The basic problem is that everyone on the right wants to benefit from having an electorate that is convinced that al-Qaeda is planting terror-babies at the southern border or that the government has robbed them of their Social Security and Medicare or that someone is coming any day to confiscate their guns. No one wants to give this up. Not really.

And the few people who see that this has gone too far and poisoned the minds of their base?

They can’t kick the habit and they’re petrified that even sticking their neck out to suggest some restraint will get their head chopped off.

So, what you get is the spectacle of Jeb Bush this morning complaining about the tone of the campaign right after he told everyone that the international effort to block Iran’s nuclear ambitions will do absolutely nothing to curb their nuclear ambitions and that it has for the first time created a situation in which the United States is responsible for creating Israel’s greatest existential crisis.

Here Jeb is utilizing the same fear-mongering tactics that have wrecked the collective brain of the right and sunk his campaign. And he’s endeavoring to use them to build enough “credentials” with the deluded that they’ll give his “tone it down” message a hearing.

Is Jeb suffering from epistemic closure or is he wise to the game? If he’s not stupid, and I don’t think that he is, what measure of evil vs. afraid are we dealing with?

His problem is that he can’t make up his mind.

If you want to get beyond name-calling and bogus talking points and have a substantive discussion, you can’t continue to try to prove your conservative bona fides by amplifying their stupid fear-mongering about Iran.

It’s not just Jeb, of course. This is the same malady that destroyed Eric Cantor and John Boehner.

It’s the same malady that will soon destroy Paul Ryan.

If the right wants to have a debate between Ted Cruz and Donald Trump and that’s what is going to constitute the scope of their reality then there’s no room for anyone who isn’t stupid, evil, or afraid. Whether you’re in on the game or not, you’ve become a victim of epistemic closure.

If you want to break out of that bubble, you have to stand with both feet outside it.

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Martin Longman is the web editor for the Washington Monthly. See all his writing at