Thursday, November 18, 2004

Over at the Volokh Conspiracy, David Bernstein links an opinion piece by another frequent Volokh contributor in the Boston Globe purporting to debunk "conservatives are stupid" myths.

What appalls me about these pieces is the sloppiness, inaccuracy, and general ignorance that goes into writing them. A proper response would have been to point out that, statistically, on most metrics (average education, average income, etc) Republicans slightly outperform Democrats. Instead, we get a rant the highlights of which I address below.

Some on the left have humbly taken to calling themselves "the reality-based community."

The idea that Bush voters are reality-challenged is based partly on surveys showing that a large percentage of Bush supporters believe, despite evidence to the contrary, that Iraq under Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction or a program to develop them. Many also persist in the belief that Iraq had substantial ties to the Al Qaeda.
We call ourselves "the reality-based community" as a contrast to the Bush administration which we perceive as being out of touch with the real world, not in contrast with Bush supporters.

Is this a damning indictment of Bush voters and conservatives? George Mason University law professor David Bernstein...speculates that in the more recent polls, ignorant Bush supporters were likely to pick answers flattering to Bush, while ignorant Kerry voters did the opposite.

I'm willing to bet that if you asked people whether it's true or false that President Bush wanted to allow higher levels of arsenic in drinking water after he took office (a charge made in a ad), a lot more Kerry supporters than Bush supporters would have said it was true. Yet this claim has been conclusively debunked as a lie by New Republic writer Greg Easterbrook..

Democrats, I suspect, would also be much more likely to believe that if the Florida recount in 2000 had not been halted by the Supreme Court, Al Gore would have won the state and the election. In fact, a 2001 review of the Florida ballots by a media consortium concluded that both the recount in several Democratic counties that Gore had requested and the statewide recount of undervotes that was actually underway would have given a victory to Bush (though Gore could have won under some other recount scenarios).
So let me get this straight: your "debunking" of the myths is based on speculations and suspicions that you've got? Hell of a debunking.

1. The fact of the matter is that if you ask Democrats & Republicans about their candidate's foreign policy positions, Republicans get it wrong a vastly larger percentage of the time.

2. Bernstein speculates that the reason for this is that Bush's position sound bad (oppose the test ban treaty, oppose the Kyoto treaty - all the treaties sound good to someone who knows nothing about them) whereas Kerry's sound good (for all the same treaties). That sounds about right to me. But this speculation about the causes of the results is not a debunking: it does not dispute that Republicans are ill informed, but only argues that they are ill informed for largely accidental reasons (e.g. the good-sounding names of the treaties, the particular positions taken on them by Bush & Kerry).

3. Nobody "debunked" that Bush wanted to allow higher levels of arsenic in drinking water. It is a fact that Bush tried to rescind a Clinton-era executive order that allowed the implementation of more stringent arsenic restrictions to begin. Easterbrook's point was that it is more appropriate for newspaper editors to describe Bush's actions as avoiding to implement Clinton's cuts. The fact remains, however, that Bush wanted to raise arsenic levels relative to the standards in effect when he came into office (and he was right to do this - but thats beside the point).

4. The suggestions for question on which the Democrats are likely to get it wrong are simply inept. One crucially depends on the difference between a full recount and a recount of just the undervotes (how many people understand the difference?); the other depends on a crucial distinction between "increase" and "undo decreases."

Moving on to perhaps the most egregious pair of sentences in the article,
As for collaboration between Hussein's regime and terrorist groups, it clearly did exist; the only question is how substantial it was.
No, no, damn it, no! There was no collaboration at all. There is a possibility of contacts at the lowest level of the two organizations, but there is absolutely no evidence at all there was any collaboration.
A particularly amusing instance of the "Americans voted for Bush because they're so dumb" trope occurred in a post-election discussion at the online magazine Laura Kipnis, a professor of media studies at Northwestern University, noted that "The United States ranks 14th out of 15 industrialized countries in per capita education spending."

In fact, comparisons conducted by the international Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development have found that only four countries -- Switzerland, Austria, Denmark, and Norway -- spend more per pupil on primary and secondary education than the United States.
The stupidity behind this paragraph is immense. Education spending per capita is not the same as primary and secondary education spending per pupil! Note the disingenuity here: the United States can still be one of the last in education spending, but perform well in one particular subarea of education spending.
We also spend a higher percentage of our gross domestic product on education than most other industrialized nations.
Uh, no. This is just plain wrong. See here for a chart.

Is mildly intelligent commentary from the conservative side on these issues too much to ask for?


At 4:49 AM, Blogger angela said...

short answer: yes.


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