Thursday, January 27, 2011

A Closer Look at Some Asinine Crap I Found

I don't know how I didn't hear of John Hawkins before now, but this guy is a gold mine. On top of running the aptly-named Right Wing News, he writes a weekly column for Almost all of these columns are in the form of "X Reasons [____] Should [____]" or "The X [____]est [____]s in the history of [____]," or something to that effect, and the latest is no exception: 7 Non-Political Differences Between Liberals and Conservatives.[1]

Honestly, I'm a little overwhelmed. If I tried to scrutinize every line that's deserving of scrutiny, I would undoubtedly go insane. Since I'm not quite ready to let that happen, the best I can offer is this partial overview, beginning with Non-Political Difference #2:
2) It's socially acceptable for liberals to lie about conservatives: Whether you're talking about the New York Times, The Washington Post, or the Daily Kos, it's considered to be perfectly acceptable to lie about conservatives. That's because, as Charles Krauthammer once said, To understand the workings of American politics, you have to understand this fundamental law: Conservatives think liberals are stupid. Liberals think conservatives are evil.

If you think your opponents are evil, you tend to be okay with using tactics that you would describe as "evil" under other circumstances to fight them. If you're up people you compare to Nazis, it’s easy to tell yourself that lying to beat them isn’t so bad. If you're in a dispute with people who you believe are just too stupid to understand what's going on, you feel compelled to try to explain yourself a little better.
Ok, if I've got it right, the logic goes something like this. Lying, under normal circumstances, is evil, and thus unjustifiable. However, if one believes one's opponents are evil, then one may also believe it's acceptable to lie to defeat them. Liberals believe conservatives are evil. Therefore, liberals believe it's acceptable to lie about conservatives.

But wait a minute—if liberals lie about their political opponents, doesn't that make them evil? And if conservatives believe liberals lie, and are therefore evil, then why wouldn't conservatives believe it's acceptable to lie to defeat them? And at that point everybody's evil and everybody lies, and we might as well throw logic out the window.

Hawkins tries to side-step this paradox by endorsing Krauthammer's claim that conservatives think liberals are stupid, but not evil. But that doesn't make sense. Either they lie because they're evil, or they're wrong because they're stupid (assuming, for the sake of argument, we've eliminated the "none of the above" option). If Hawkins really thinks they're "too stupid to understand what's going on," then I don't see how they can be liars. And if Hawkins thinks they're liars, then he's lying about thinking they're stupid. Either way, he's lying about something. Unless he's just stupid.
3) Conservatives are results-oriented. Liberals are not: If you understand one thing about liberals, understand this: Liberalism is nothing more than "childlike emotionalism applied to adult issues." That's why they don't care very much about whether the programs they advocate work or not. Proposing programs isn't really about what will help the most people to liberals; it's about making them feel good about themselves. On the other hand, conservatives are results-oriented, which is why they tend to be so down on the government, which is inevitably slower, more expensive, and less effective than the private sector at pretty much everything.
In other words, if liberals and conservatives were an 80's movie about a pair of comically-mismatched cops, conservatives would be the one who gets results, dammit!
4) Conservatives care about the Constitution. Liberals don't: Conservatives believe that we need to try to interpret the Constitution in the way that the Founders intended it to be read and if we want to change it, then we need to pass a Constitutional Amendment. Liberals believe in a "living Constitution," which is functionally no different than believing in no Constitution at all. If you believe in a "living Constitution," you think it is okay to do whatever you want for political reasons and then come up with a legal justification afterwards, which you'll then call "constitutional law."
In other words, if liberals and conservatives were an 80's movie about a pair of comically-mismatched cops, conservatives would be the one who does things strictly by the book.

So…conservatives somehow see themselves as both Riggs and Murtaugh.

Seriously, though, how are points #3 and #4 compatible?[2] Being "results-oriented" means doing what it takes to get the job done. Respecting the rule of law means sticking with the system even when it produces seemingly-unjust results. As anyone who's ever seen a movie knows, these two characteristics are not generally found in the same person. Even giving Hawkins the benefit of the doubt, the only way this could make sense is if conservatives believe the Constitution is so flawless, it simultaneously represents the unimpeachable rule of law, and the ideal mechanism for achieving short-term results.

Oh, right. Nevermind.
6) Conservatives are happier people than liberals: Despite all the claims you hear that conservatives are angry, cruel, and mean, conservatives are much happier people than liberals. This is something that has been consistently proven in studies and, let's face it -- anyone who knows a lot of liberals and conservatives will tell you that it's not a surprise. Conservatives love the country they live in, they're more likely to be Christian, and they take responsibility for their own lives instead of griping that the world is terribly unfair. If you want to be a happy person, you're more likely to be a happy conservative than a happy liberal.
Again, there's way too much going on here. I don't even disagree, necessarily—the real question is whether correlation implies causation[3]—but I love the part about conservatives taking "responsibility for their own lives instead of griping that the world is terribly unfair," because it came from the same person who wrote:
Amnesty is unfair to immigrants. Nobody has been treated worse in the whole amnesty debate than legal immigrants.
When you're a conservative, it's almost impossible to filter out liberal views. Your kids are exposed to liberalism at school, Hollywood forces liberal ideas down your throat when you watch TV, the local paper leans left -- you just can't get away from it.
No matter how grave the provocation or how clearly Israel is in the right, the world's judgment is always against Israel. Why?
Just a few decades ago journalism in this country was actually about reporting the facts. Yes, journalists may have leaned to the Left, but at least reporters made an effort to be fair. Today, journalists are more interested in "making a difference" than in any antiquated standards and they play by PRAVDA rules.
And on and on. It's tough to find anything he's written that can't be classified as griping, really.

Then again, maybe I'm being unfair—it is his job, after all. But whatever. What's he going to do, gripe about it?

1. I sent Hawkins's column to a friend, who responded with, "How do you find that asinine crap? Do you Google 'asinine crap'?" Haha! I obviously didn't find it that way, but, thanks to this article, maybe in the future somebody will.
2. Also, how are they "non-political" differences? Eh, forget it.
3. Imagine a bunch of people are deciding who to align with. Ideology A says, "Are you upset about anything (poverty, the environment, something you want to do but can't because it's illegal, etc.)? Then join up with us and we'll do something about it!" Ideology B says, "Are you alright with things just the way they are? Cool, so are we." Of course the happier people are going to go with Ideology B, but that doesn't mean they're happy because they made that choice.
    (Meanwhile, Ideology C says, "Do you think Ideology A has the right goals, but the wrong answers, and Ideology B is full of shit when they say they want to leave you alone?" I think I'll go with that one.)

Tuesday, January 25, 2011


As long-time readers are no doubt aware, I have little to no interest in timeliness. The real reason is that I'm usually doing a dozen things at once and I'm not an especially fast writer to begin with, but I don't fight it, because, in terms of offering thoughtful, measured analysis, there are clear benefits to sitting back and waiting to see how things unfold.

This is my way of saying hey, remember that shooting in Tucson that everyone with a media platform (i.e. everyone) has already weighed in on? The one that sparked a somehow-still-ongoing national debate on the dangers of excessive political rhetoric, leading to a tangential debate on whether the first debate was unfairly one-sided—both of which are exactly the sort of topic I like to discuss on this site? Well, I have a few thoughts.

Thing is, while the shooting itself was shocking, none of what followed was even remotely surprising, because of course one side went too far in trying to assign blame, and of course the other side became defensive in response to what they saw as unfounded and hypocritical allegations. That's what always happens.

Here's an example, courtesy of Red State, of the general tone and substance of the conservative reaction:
Unfortunately, the left is using this tragedy to score political points. Rep. Giffords was on Gov. Palin's target list for defeat this past November. The left claims Gov. Palin has blood on her hands. So does the tea party movement.

Less than a year ago a gunman stormed into the Discovery Channel's headquarters, taking hostages and threatening to kill them all. The left immediately accused the man of being a tea party activist.

Unfortunately for the left, the man turned out to be an envirowacko leftist raised on Algore's global warming garbage.

Immediately, the left changed their tune and proclaimed that no longer could we as partisans accuse each other of causing things like this. There are just crazy people in the world and tragedies happen.

My, my how quickly they forget.
To enumerate the key elements, there's (a) the requisite condemnation of those who would politicize a tragedy, (b) the accusation of hypocrisy, supported by vague or anecdotal evidence taken from a prior tragedy, and (c) the clumsy attempt to politicize that tragedy by implying the other side was somehow more responsible. And thus the circle of hypocrisy loops back around and begins anew.

That article showed up less than three hours after the shooting, and was only the beginning. I scrolled through the RSS feeds of five popular conservative commentary sites—National Review, Hot Air, Red State, Michelle Malkin, and Big Government—looking at every article posted between the afternoon of Saturday, January 8, immediately after the initial reports came in, and midnight on Friday, January 14. During that six-and-a-half-day period, a total of 351 articles appeared on those five sites, and, by my count, 172 were about liberals unfairly blaming conservatives for Jared Lee Loughner's actions.[1] That's almost half their entire output for the week—a mountain of commentary roughly equaling the total combined coverage of the non-blame-related aspects of the Tucson shooting and all other news—devoted to reinforcing the idea that members of the media and liberal politicians will take advantage of any opportunity to negatively portray conservatives, regardless of whether the portrayal is accurate.

My point? My point is that…um… Alright, I'm not entirely sure, except that it's neither of the following:
  • Conservatives reacted calmly and appropriately to specious, unjustifiable criticism.
  • Conservatives reacted hysterically and disproportionately to reasonable, well-founded criticism.
Those are the extremes. Reality, as it tends to do, fell somewhere in between. I'm not going to try to identify precisely where—I just think it's interesting that the Tucson shooting went from zero to ideological spat in a matter of hours. Sure, a credible argument can be made that liberals started it, but conservatives weren't exactly caught off guard. It's almost as if they've come to expect this kind of treatment, and have learned to anticipate it, turn it around, and use it to their advantage.[2]

1. Give or take. I mostly just looked at the headlines, so I'm sure I included a few I shouldn't have, and vice versa, but about half seems about right. Also, I left out NewsBusters because reporting on the media is what they do, so you'd expect a high percentage, but I counted anyway: Over the first week, an incredible 83% of their articles (67 of 81) were about conservatives being unfairly linked to the shooting.
2. Dare I post this article disclaimer-free, trusting that I've said all I need to say to ensure a fair interpretation? And that whatever inferences are drawn will be consistent with my history of not making potentially-insulting generalizations without at least doing so carefully and with a clearly-articulated basis? Eh, maybe next time. Here's the disclaimer:
    I don't mean to imply that conservatives were in any way happy about what happened—I'm just saying, once it became a political issue, there were political points to be scored. (In that sense, it's the same—in principle, if not magnitude—as when unemployment goes up, or a Senator is caught in a sex scandal, or whatever. Nobody's happy about it (we hope), but still, there are inevitably political consequences, often favoring one side and disfavoring another, and it'd be absurd not to talk about that.) I'm also not saying liberals wouldn't've done the some thing, had the roles been reversed. Opinions may differ on who's more inclined to shamelessly exploit a tragedy, but I don't think anyone could convincingly argue that their side always takes the high road.
    That said, I do think one effect of the media's generally-liberal slant is that liberals are a little more reckless with their discourse (since they believe, probably subconsciously, they're more likely to get away with it), and conservatives are a little more defensive when they feel like they're under attack (since they believe, probably justifiably, they're more likely to be called out for saying something reckless).

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

The Three-Fifths Compromise

Last week, Ken Blackwell went off on two Washington Post writers for saying the Constitution condoned slavery, which is precisely what it did. While he was at it, he also lodged a few complaints about the way they discussed the three-fifths compromise:
Then, there's the Post's ritual repeating of the falsehood that the Founders viewed black people as "three fifths of a person." That is a wholly tendentious misreading of the Three-Fifths Clause.

It is especially galling to have liberals attack Republican Members on these matters.[1]
And he's not the only one who feels strongly about this. Neal Boortz made it the topic of his weekly Atlanta Journal-Constitution column:[2]
Let's bury this "three-fifths of a person" nonsense. The people who spout this idiocy are either lying or grossly ignorant.
I try to be more tactful about it, but I share their distaste for historical misconceptions. So, in the hope of clearing a few things up, I prepared a short True/False quiz:
  • A. Southern states argued for counting slaves as whole persons, while Northern states would've preferred to not count them at all.
  • B. The three-fifths compromise was not a direct assessment of the value of certain human beings relative to others.
  • C. The three-fifths compromise did not draw a legal distinction between black people and white people.
  • D. Statements A, B, and C, if true, are valid reasons to insult and ridicule those who consider the three-fifths compromise a shameful chapter in American history.
  • E. America was founded by a bunch of racists.
And (as if it's not already clear that I'm more interested in making a point than putting together a proper quiz)…the answers:

A. True
An unexpected gesture of humanity from the South? Of course not. They wanted to count slaves because seats in the House of Representatives are apportioned by population, so higher populations meant more influence for them and less for the North. Not that they had any intention of letting the slaves themselves have a say in who occupied those extra seats.

B. True
As mentioned above, it was mostly about representation in Congress, though it first appeared during the Articles of Confederation days as part of an attempt to resolve a tax dispute. To infer from those two non-horrifying origin stories anything deeper about the Founders' perception of a human being's worth is, according to Blackwell, a "tendentious misreading."

C. True
The distinction was between slaves and non-slaves. There were, of course, black people who were free, and there were also slaves who weren't black. I'm sure the latter took great consolation in knowing the terrible oppression they had to endure would not be in vain, for they would one day be used by blowhards as proof that slavery was slightly less racist than people make it out to be.

What kind of blowhard would do that, you ask? Neal Boortz, for one:
[A]llow me to help you out here with a little history lesson about the Three-fifths Compromise reached at the Philadelphia Convention of 1787. You’ll see that there is no evidence to support oft-repeated claims by so many liberals and race pimps that the Constitution is racist.

There was NO mention of race and NO suggestion that anyone counted as three-fifths of a human being. There were, by the way, black slave owners who were counted and white slaves who were not. But let's not cause too much stress for delicate minds.[3]
D. False
Obviously, conservatives don't like hearing that the three-fifths compromise—or anything else about the Constitution—was racist, and I think I've got a handle on why that is. In part, it's because the implication is usually that it was racist because slaves were counted as only three-fifths of a person, when the reality was that every seat in Congress a state obtained by virtue of its slave population was another Representative who could be counted on to vote to perpetuate slavery. For those working to end the practice, the best-case scenario was to not count slaves at all.

Makes sense so far—they want to set the record straight, and there's nothing wrong with that—but at some point setting the record straight starts to overlap with defending the Founding Fathers and the Constitution against accusations of racism, and that's when emotion takes over.

Sure, there was never an evaluation of the relative human-ness of slaves and non-slaves that led to the 3/5 number, but is that supposed to prove that a slave's humanity was 100% recognized by society? Because I can say with absolute confidence, despite having been born five score and 18 years after the adoption of the Thirteenth Amendment, that it was not. And my first piece of evidence is that in the part of the Constitution dealing with the incredibly straightforward matter of counting how many people there are, slaves are subject to different math than everyone else. It doesn't matter how much historical expertise you have—the fact that a fraction had to be negotiated in the first place is a sign something was terribly wrong, and the fact that it remains in the text of the Constitution serves as a vivid reminder that freedom hasn't always been for everyone.

Conservatives talk about the Founders as if they were some single-minded entity, and they use language that seems to treat the Constitution itself as a sentient being (like Boortz's "there is no evidence…the Constitution is racist"), but that's absurd. There were 55 delegates to the Constitutional Convention. Some, like Ben Franklin, Alexander Hamilton, and John Jay, were staunchly opposed to slavery. Others, like Charles Pinckney and Pierce Butler, were relentless advocates. James Madison was somewhere in between, providing a consistent voice for gradual, rather than immediate, emancipation, which I suppose is why he never freed his own slaves. And Thomas Jefferson (not a delegate, but influential nonetheless) was just all over the place. All had a role in shaping the Constitution.

With that in mind, I have three questions:
  1. When conservatives heap praise on the Founders, is it somehow implied that they're excluding Pinckney, Butler, and the other dozen or so delegates who would've refused to sign a constitution prohibiting slavery?
  2. If not, are they prepared to argue that those men weren't so bad (because, I don't know, a handful of white people and Indians were slaves too, and therefore slavery wasn't racist, or some other such nonsense)?
  3. Or are they ignoring the truth—that neither the Constitution nor its creators are as infallible as conservatives make them out to be—and simply framing history however they want?
The first and third are dishonest and hypocritical, while the second seems indefensible. And yet, logic dictates that the answer to at least one of those questions has to be "yes," doesn't it?

It's great that some of the Founders were among the era's leading abolitionists, but it's also shameful that others put up such stubborn resistance. Conservatives accuse liberals of treating the Constitution like it was written entirely by the latter, but then they turn around and treat it like it was written entirely by the former. And both views are asinine, because, the fact is, most of the Founders fell somewhere in between. Hence the three-fifths compromise, which was exactly that—a compromise.

E. Not even close to the kind of question that can be answered with a simple "True" or "False"
So how about we stop acting like we don't know that?

1. As quoted above, Blackwell decries "the Post's ritual repeating of the falsehood that the Founders viewed black people as "three fifths of a person,"" calling it a galling attack on House Republicans. That's a pretty small snippet of text for such sweeping generalizations. Here's the whole sentence:
One [passage omitted during the House reading], the "three-fifths compromise," counted slaves as three-fifths of a person for purposes of divvying congressional districts.
That's a galling attack? Looks more like an accurate, objective description of the three-fifths compromise to me.
2. To Boortz's credit, he criticizes both the New York Times and Fox News for their respective comments about the three-fifths compromise, so at least he's not making a specious argument that conservatives understand the Constitution better than liberals. Instead, he's making a specious argument that conservatives are ignorant, while "the left holds our Constitution in contempt," which is…better, I guess.
3. Seriously, what am I supposed to take away from that? That 18th-century America was a diverse rainbow of abuse and subjugation? Also, if it's a distortion of history to call slavery, or the Constitution, or both, racist, then how about immoral? I assume we can call slavery immoral, but what about the pre-1865 Constitution, which—dare I say—condoned slavery? And if both slavery and the pre-1865 Constitution were immoral, then what does it matter that they weren't racist? Ugh. Now I've got a headache, so, if nothing else, Boortz was right about that.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

An Argument I Cannot Condone

As if secretly trying to crush any lingering hope that we could maybe do something—anything—without descending into embarrassing partisan bickering, last week the Republicans decided to read the Constitution on the House floor. Philip Rucker and David Fahrenthold of the Washington Post described the ensuing controversy:
House Republicans, who orchestrated the symbolic exercise as an early gesture to the tea party movement, touted it as a way to bring the new Congress, and the people they represent, back to America's roots.

But they didn't want to go all the way back.

The version read aloud was missing at least seven passages that remain etched in faded ink on the Constitution kept at the National Archives. Most are eye-glazing: procedures for electing senators, the workings of the electoral college.

But two, in particular, reflect a painful reality: The nation's founding document condoned slavery.

One, the "three-fifths compromise," counted slaves as three-fifths of a person for purposes of divvying congressional districts. The second dealt with runaway slaves—if they escaped to a free state, the Constitution required that they not be freed but rather "delivered up" to their owners.

Both were negated by the 13th Amendment but necessary to ratifying the original document, according to historians.
Any problems with that account? Maybe they sound a bit critical of Republicans, but not in an inaccurate way, or in a way that strikes me as unfair.[1] I don't see much worth complaining about. Prominent Republican and columnist Ken Blackwell, on the other hand, is incensed. In an article titled "The Constitution Did Not Condone Slavery," he writes:[2]
The Rucker-Farenthold article was nowhere labeled analysis, but who expects anything but front-page editorials these days, anyway? They waded right in to a two-hundred twenty-two year old controversy when they flatly stated that the original Constitution "condoned" slavery.

Abraham Lincoln did not agree. He revered the Constitution and said that the fact that it nowhere mentioned the words slavery, slave, African, or Negro was a silent but powerful admission that the Founders were ashamed of the existence of slavery among them. They hid it away, Lincoln said, as "an afflicted man hides a wen or tumor."

Abolitionist editor and orator Frederick Douglass also did not agree. He emphasized eloquently that not one word would have to be changed in the Constitution if only the states would follow George Washington's example and voluntarily give up slavery.

Lincoln and Douglass were right. James Madison explained why there was no mention of slavery in the Constitution. The framers were unwilling to admit in the federal charter there could be property in men.

The idea that our Constitution "condoned" slavery and was therefore an immoral document unworthy of being viewed with reverence is a stock liberal claim. It is false.
I'm sure he has more at his disposal somewhere, but Blackwell's reaction represents the combined effort of approximately two neurons—the one that loves the Constitution, and the one that's convinced liberals don't. The neuron that knows what "condone" means, though, was apparently not consulted. Here are a few definitions:
  • To give tacit approval to. By his silence, he seemed to condone their behavior.
  • To accept and allow (behavior that is considered morally wrong or offensive) to continue.
  • To approve or sanction (something), esp. with reluctance.
So, to reiterate, the same person who wrote this…
[Lincoln] revered the Constitution and said that the fact that it nowhere mentioned the words slavery, slave, African, or Negro was a silent but powerful admission that the Founders were ashamed of the existence of slavery among them.
…also wrote this, three paragraphs later:
The idea that our Constitution "condoned" slavery and was therefore an immoral document unworthy of being viewed with reverence is a stock liberal claim. It is false.
What else is there to say? That the Constitution contained "a silent but powerful admission that the Founders were ashamed of the existence of slavery" is exactly what "condoned" means, right? If not, what should've been used in its place? Ignored, excused, and allowed all seem worse than condoned. Condemned, denounced, and decried all seem inaccurate, as the Constitution did none of those things.

In other words (so to speak), "condoned" strikes me as a perfectly cromulent word for the Post writers to use to make their point. And, by the way, the point itself—that despite whatever misgivings the Founders may have had about slavery, it was not prohibited under the Constitution—is indisputable. If there's anything historically- or semantically-flawed about saying the Constitution condoned slavery, I haven't figured out what it is. So, what triggered Ken Blackwell's column-length rant about liberals seeing the Constitution as "an immoral document unworthy of being viewed with reverence"?[3]

I wouldn't accuse Blackwell of not knowing what "condone" means (after all, in the same column he uses words like "phalanx" and "tendentious," and rather artfully at that). I'd say what's happening here is that he's so committed to the conservative mantra that they are the proud defenders of the Constitution—the last line of defense protecting American values and the rule of law from those who (in their minds) would do away with both in a second, given the chance—that he just didn't bother to think about what "condone" really means, or what the Post writers meant when they used it. He read an article written, presumably, by liberals, in which the Constitution was discussed in not-entirely-positive terms,[4] and that's all the fuel he needed.

This is where I'd normally write some sort of conclusion—something concise and witty that also reinforces the point I'm trying to make—but there's no need. While I was working on this post I came across a conclusion to another article that serves those purposes beautifully. I hope Ken Blackwell doesn't mind if I borrow it:
Let's rejoice that we have come this far. Let's not use the reading of the Constitution as an occasion for scoring cheap—and false—political points. Let's proceed as Lincoln proceeded: With malice toward none.

1. Personally, I say leave the archaic sections out. Not because they're objectionable, but because I thought the point of the reading was that people—members of Congress and private citizens alike—might benefit from being reminded that the Constitution has a lot of important stuff in it and, by the way, is still legally binding. I don't see how it serves that purpose to read the parts that are no longer in effect.
    Still, would it have been too much to ask for somebody (John Lewis, perhaps) to kick things off with a short speech about the history of the controversial provisions? Alternatively, would it have been too much to ask for the Democrats to just stop complaining for an hour and a half?
2. Blackwell also has some thoughts about the Post's take on the Three-Fifths Compromise. I, in turn, have some thoughts about Blackwell's thoughts about the Post's take on the Three-Fifths Compromise. All these thoughts eventually grew too large to reasonably cram into this footnote (and even began sprouting footnotes of their own), so they'll show up as a separate article within a few days.
3. Oh, almost forgot the requisite disclaimer: Just because I disagree with some parts of Blackwell's article, doesn't mean I see the Constitution as immoral or unworthy or reverence or…I'm already tired of writing this sentence. It's a powerful, ground-breaking document, but it also has its flaws, because so did the world that created it. Can we all agree on that?
4. Interestingly, Blackwell doesn't comment on this line in the Post article, which is the only part that jumps out to me as containing legitimate inaccuracies:
To some African Americans, skipping those passages was a stinging omission that overlooked the fact that under the original Constitution they would not have had a right to vote, let alone serve in Congress.
The original Constitution didn't restrict voting rights. It didn't say much about voting at all, really, other than the constitutional requirement that members of the House of Representatives be, in some non-specific way, chosen by the people. Determining who could vote and what they could vote on was, and still is (although Amendments XV, XVII, XIX, XXIII, XXIV, and XXVI established a few more ground rules), left up to the states. In a lot of states—you can probably guess what general part of the country we're talking about—free black men have been voting since the 1700s, and I'm pretty sure they were allowed to run for federal office, too.

Monday, January 10, 2011

Survey Says: Fox News Viewers Bad at Reading Comprehension

Hey, a study! A new study! Gather 'round everyone, there's a new study out!

It comes from the University of Maryland's Program on International Something-or-Other, where researchers have used biased methodology to reach a pre-conceived result made a number of fascinating discoveries. One finding, in particular, is ideally suited to the sort of vapid, substanceless news reporting people tolerate for some reason very interesting: Apparently, regular viewers of Fox News are more likely than those who get their news elsewhere to be "misinformed" misinformed. Of course, research like this frequently raises serious questions about the integrity and/or competence of everyone involved is rarely met with universal acceptance. This study would, if printed out, actually devalue the paper it's printed on is no exception.

Alright, enough with the strikethroughs—I think I've made it clear how little respect I have for this kind of counterproductive bullshit flawed research.

Why is it flawed? A bunch of reasons, but this article from Right Wing News nicely summarizes the one I want to talk about:
[S]ome of the questions asked by the World Public Opinion Dot Org are framed around "what the experts think." So there is another obvious point to be made about the flaw in their research: It is inclined to bestow the title of "well informed" upon people who place great weight on what "experts" think, and then just slavishly mimic them. I suppose there is a certain fairness to that, along with a worthy fidelity to the intent of the study—you need to track down some information in order to find out what the so-called experts are thinking, so you can copy it—but it occurs to me. When we seek to establish and maintain an "informed" democratic republic of participating voters, this seems somewhat far-flung and distant from what we should be trying to build.

What good is information if you aren't thinking independently about it means?
Along the same lines, here's's Brent Bozell:
Fox viewers were more likely to believe "Among economists who have estimated the effect of the health reform law on the federal budget deficit over the next ten years, more think it will increase the deficit."

That is misinformation? This question is not about facts at all. It's about the opinions of economists looking into a crystal ball, and PIPA's "economists" estimate that herding 35 million uninsured Americans into a new federal entitlement program is going to reduce the deficit. This assertion by liberals that ObamaCare would cut deficits isn't technically a "lie"—yet. It is merely a patently ridiculous claim that doesn't acknowledge the real world. But somehow, Fox News viewers are tagged as the "misinformed" dummies, because their opinions are grounded in logic.
Those devious pollsters! It seems people weren't asked if, for example, healthcare reform will increase the deficit, they were asked if economists believe healthcare reform will increase the deficit. Several other questions were similarly phrased.

That the researchers used biased methodology is so obvious it's not worth talking about up here in the main text,[1] so I'm setting that aside for now. At the same time, let's not treat these Fox News-viewing respondents as paragons of enlightenment. Bozell, like most conservatives who've weighed in on the study, acts like they were tricked into giving "wrong" answers, because God forbid Fox News viewers be expected to know what the so-called experts think about anything.[2]

Conservatives have gotten into the habit of dismissing "experts" as out-of-touch elitists who care more about promoting an ideology than objective truth-seeking. (Note: Does not apply to experts who endorse conservative views.) As usual, they're kind of right and kind of wrong, but Bozell is taking it a step further. Later in the same article, he asks:
Is it fair—whether the pollsters are liberals or conservatives—to expect the American people to identify correctly the estimates made by a panel of economists organized by news editors of The Wall Street Journal?
Is it fair to ask a difficult question? I'd like to think so, especially if your goal is to determine whether the answers to such questions have reached the public, which, nominally (if not actually), is what the study was about. Nobody's trying to deprive anyone of their fundamental right to disagree with the experts as obstinately and as unjustifiably as they see fit. Besides, I'm not sure it's even logically possible to disagree with the experts if you aren't, you know, informed about what the experts think.

So let's criticize the hell out of this study for all sorts of reasons, but not that one. I guess Bozell would be happier if this were just another opinion poll, but if you're not informed enough to answer at least a few questions about what the experts think, I'd rather not hear your opinions anyway.

1. Basically, if you went in with the attitude that everything liberals do is right and everything conservatives do is wrong, you would've given the "informed" answer to almost every question.
    The content of a lot of the questions was suspect too. This video probably isn't flawless, but it's a pretty good overview of some of the problems. (That's twice in just over a month I've praised something on one of the Breitbart sites, so…haha, [snarky comment about the frigid conditions in Hell, maybe a Michael Bloomberg reference and something about snow plows, etc., etc.])
2. Or, on the chance some thought they were being asked for their opinions, God forbid they be expected to read an entire sentence and evaluate the semantic contribution made by every single word.
    All that said, this isn't really about Fox News, because I have no doubt that, given an ideologically-neutral set of questions, those who get their news from other sources wouldn't fare much better. A follow-up article elaborating on that is in the works, but, for now, I'll just point out that the researchers threw in a token question for conservatives (about whether there was proof the U.S. Chamber of Commerce had been raising foreign money for Republican candidates), and, shockingly enough, on that one MSNBC and NPR viewers/listeners were the most "misinformed." That completely undermines the reported findings, doesn't it? How they could just shrug it off and proceed with their "Fox News viewers are misinformed!" publicity grab is beyond me, but I guess that's why I'll never climb to the top of academia.

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Rush Limbaugh Knows Liberals (So You Don't Have To)

Say you're a budding conservative (having somehow resisted the influence of public schools, unions, the media, and New England), and you're also open-minded. You'll want to challenge your beliefs to make sure you're on the right track. You'll want to talk to some people who are decidedly not conservative. Get to know them, find out where they're coming from, learn about the circumstances that led them to reject conservatism. Because that's what open-minded people do.

Or, you could just let Rush Limbaugh be open-minded for you.
I know the kind of person he is because of what he believes. I know liberals. I know socialists. I know Marxists. I know exactly how they do things.
They were and are intended to be destructive. I knew this was his intention, because I know liberals, and I know his kind of radical.
See, for me, this is very simple, because I know liberals. I know how they go about achieving their aims. I know what the purpose of their aims are, and I know that climate science, global warming, whatever, is just a cover for liberalism in action.
I got a note: "Do you really believe this about [John] Edwards?" I believe this and more…See, I know liberals. None of this is a shock to me.
See, I know liberals—I know these cockroaches—and I'm telling you, this just has them boiling today.
You get the point. This could go on for a surprisingly long time, but I'll jump to the best one. And there's a lot going on here, so I'll break it up.
I know liberals. I know the premise of liberalism. It's a tough thing to accept it, but once you do, everything after that is easy. Liberalism is a lie. I know many of you know liberals and you think they're nice people, maybe just wrong. You don't want to think of them as liars. You prefer to think of them as just "misguided" or "wrong."
That's certainly how I prefer to think of them. It's also how I think of conservatives. And a fair number of libertarians. Who isn't misguided or wrong, really? We all are—none more so than those who say they aren't.

But I guess I'm misguided. So how am I supposed to think of them?
They're liars!
Many of the rank-and-file liberals are dupes. They're well-intentioned and have no idea what they're actually supporting. They fall into this, "I feel good about myself. I see a homeless person and I say, 'Oh, why don't we do something?' I'm a good person." You haven't done anything! You just thought something and made you feel like you're a good person.
Ok, first, I'm pretty sure the concept of a lying dupe is an oxymoron. Second, even the liberaliest liberal doesn't believe a positive thought alone counts as "doing something." And third, what has Limbaugh ever done to make the world a better place?[1]
Conservatism solves problems. Liberalism blows 'em up and amplifies 'em in the name of fixing them.
Ha ha, those liberals and their obsession with well-intentioned-but-fundamentally-flawed government intervention. When will they learn? Oh, by the way, I don't know why I just thought of this, but here's what Rush says about legalizing pot:
I listen to all these people say, "I don't know. Legalizing pot? Ehhhhh, I don't know. I don't know the American people are ready." If the American people are ready for the destruction of capitalism, if the American people are ready for the destruction of the opportunity for the American dream, if the American people are ready to vote for an end to their chance to be prosperous…where is the logical conclusion that they would oppose the legalization of marijuana?
Anyway, where were we? Oh yeah, liberals—and only liberals—destroy everything they mess with.
So once you accept that every liberal politician in Washington or your state capital or on your city town council is a liberal and therefore is a liar, then the rest is easy. You simply don't believe anything they say and you will be right.
Holy crap, really? Don't believe anything they say? That sounds like a miserable existence. What if you don't want to go through life that way?
"But, Rush, I don't want to go through life that way." Well, okay. If you don't want to, I'll handle it for you.
There you go. Rush has it all taken care of.

1. According to Wikipedia, he's given millions of dollars to the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society (and helped raise millions more), and he's raised another few million for the Marine Corps-Law Enforcement Foundation, which is a lot more than I've done. You win this round, Limbaugh.