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October 05, 2005

You Spin Me Right Round Baby Right Round

From Henry's review of Hacker and Pierson's new book Off Center:

So why hasn’t the Republican party been punished by voters for its radicalism? As I understand it, Hacker and Pierson’s explanation has three main components. First, information. Voters are often poorly informed about politics, and are vulnerable to “tailored disinformation,” which distorts public perceptions. Second, institutions. The Republican Party has been able to use its dominance of Senate, House and Presidency to set the agenda and to sideline opposition. Finally, networks. “New Power Brokers” like Tom DeLay have been able to assemble networks that bring together politicians, think-tankers, funders and lobbyists, creating a coherent agenda across separate institutions, rewarding and protecting loyalists while brutally punishing those who go off-message.

And as I understand it, the argument really begins and ends behind door number one. That the Republican Party has been able to leverage their institutional dominance to reshape the playing field and imprison Democrats in the dugout helps explain their effectiveness, sure, as does the DeLay-led synergy among moneymen, idea peddlers, and politicians, but the reason they can bring their ideological babies to term is the peculiar structure of the media and the openings it provides for disinformation. If voters don't know, they can't oppose. And the media's preference for screaming fests, their willingness to let distortions and half-truths fly unchallenged, their grateful acceptance of a cadre of professional flacks paid and trained to lie unpopular positions into broadly acceptable forms, and all the other quirks of the "objective" protocols have taught listeners to basically tune out the whole show, to watch it as a boxing match rather than an informational session. The results are unambiguous, this comes from a PIPA poll released shortly before the election:

Majorities of Bush supporters incorrectly assumed that Bush favors including labor and environmental standards in trade agreements (84%), and the US being part of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (69%), the International Criminal Court (66%), the treaty banning land mines (72%), and the Kyoto Treaty on global warming (51%). They were divided between those who knew that Bush favors building a new missile defense system now (44%) and those who incorrectly believe he wishes to do more research until its capabilities are proven (41%). However, majorities were correct that Bush favors increased defense spending (57%) and wants the US, not the UN, to take the stronger role in developing Iraq’s new government (70%).

Bush supporters also, themselves, favored some of the positions that they attributed to Bush. Majorities of Bush supporters favored including labor and environmental standards in trade agreements (93%), and the US being part of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (68%), the International Criminal Court (75%), the treaty banning land mines (66%), and the Kyoto treaty on climate change (54%). Only 33% of Bush supporters wanted to build a new missile defense system now, while more wanted to do more research until its capabilities are proven (56%).

Same thing happened during the Clinton health care initiative. Studies showed that, over the course of the controversy, voters actually got stupider, which is to say that the fairly clear understanding they had of the Clinton plan at the start actually degraded over a year of wall-to-wall coverage. The media, the commercials, the politicians -- all these ended up misinforming the populace on what was being debated. It should thus be no surprise that, after ClintonCare died, surveys found voters wanted a health care proposal that was -- you guessed it -- almost exactly like Clinton's.

For now, our politicians live on disinformation. The Energy Bill was an atrocity, the Medicare Bill a giveaway, the tax cuts targeted at those with no need, the Iraq War sold on the dangers of weapons that didn't exist. The only failure, Social Security privatization, flopped because Bush eventually admitted what it was -- not a solvency plan, but a restructuring of a beloved program. Betcha he won't make that nistake again.

October 5, 2005 in Books | Permalink

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Comments

So, is this one of those times where polls count? Just want to be sure.

...the tax cuts targeted at those with no need.
So, who determines "need" of tax cuts? That's the beauty of across the board style cuts. Everyone who pays taxes benefits. It's a TAX CUT, stoopid!

Posted by: Fred Jones | Oct 5, 2005 1:09:35 PM

Thanks to Fred Jones for demonstrating that media misinformation is not necessary, to make someone stoopid.

Posted by: Bruce Wilder | Oct 5, 2005 1:24:42 PM

Real problems require real solutions. The Democratic Party should buy editorial control of MSNBC. It cannot be worth much; its ratings are terrible, and it cannot possibly be making General Electric any money, and a deal could probably be struck, which left the business/advertising operations in the hands of G.E. Air America has shown that a market exists, and all of 45% is better than 1/6 of 55%.

The difficult parts would be the political manuvering necessary to get corporate America to give up its lock on Big Media, preceded by the political manuvering necessary to get the leadership of the Democratic Party to admit that there is a problem, and a solution is both possible and necessary.

Posted by: Bruce Wilder | Oct 5, 2005 1:31:05 PM

AHHH Dead or Alive. I didn't think you would know that song since it is way before your time.

Posted by: ET | Oct 5, 2005 2:21:28 PM

Thanks to Fred Jones for demonstrating that media misinformation is not necessary, to make someone stoopid.

This is what usually happens when one doesn't have the intellectual capacity to argue the issue

Posted by: Fred Jones | Oct 5, 2005 3:03:10 PM

Indeed, it takes a fair amount of effort to get good information about what our government is really up to. I've seen better, more nuanced reporting about US policy making in British journals than I've ever, ever seen in US newspapers (and forget about television). But who has easy access to such info? Were it not for a broadband connection and internationally traveling business associates, I think I would miss alot of great reporting. In fact one of the first topics that me and my friends usually talk about is "what are you reading and where did you see it" info.

Posted by: sprocket | Oct 5, 2005 3:34:35 PM

So, is this one of those times where polls count? Just want to be sure.

But there is a difference, Fred. Normally when someone, say myself for example, claims that a poll doesn't count, they believe that the policy positions wanted by the pollees are incorrect. In this case, what they want and what they know are completely different. This isn't just a matter of opinion on what the President stands on. Its fact. And the correlating fact, is that people's opinions (i.e. what they think they know) about the President are clearly wrong. You can't argue that they aren't.

Posted by: Adrock | Oct 6, 2005 11:53:27 AM

So, who determines "need" of tax cuts? That's the beauty of across the board style cuts. Everyone who pays taxes benefits. It's a TAX CUT, stoopid!

I pay plenty of taxes and got NOTHING. Repeat, NOTHING.

Posted by: Adrock | Oct 6, 2005 11:55:42 AM

You left out a very important factor in disinformation; Media ownership. GOP now owns large chunks of media real estate. They dominate cable news, talk radio, op-ed page. It is easy to convince people Saddam=Osama when you own the propaganda machine.

Democrats also controlled both the WH and the Congress in 93 but they couldn't control the agenda because they didn't control the airwaves. Talk radio was 24/7 Whitewater, Vince Foster, Democrats taking away your guns.............

Posted by: Nan | Oct 6, 2005 8:56:57 PM

I guess if I ever heard a Democrat or a liberal not castigate every single breath that George W. Bush takes, I might be inclined to listen to them more. If I ever heard ANYONE left OR right who would say to the oppostition, "Say, that's a good idea, let's look at it a little more." I would be amazed.

We Republicans have long learned to read between the lines of the "liberal press" who somehow are owned (as in "slavery") by GOP bigwigs. So the litany of stupid and/or criminal charges thrown at Bush and other Republicans doesn't hardly register. It has become boring.

Unfortunately, that also means that Republicans don't think defending against such charges is worth the effort. Bill Clinton proved it is WELL worth the effort, but we DARE not learn from a Democrat. (By the way, anyone who thinks Bill Clinton was a liberal should be made to write "Welfare Reform and NAFTA" a thousand times.)

Fortunately for the left, there are enough folks at the margin who will finally succumb to their barrage. There WILL be a Democrat President in 2009. There can be no doubt. Then the Republicans and the "independent" press, who are actually on NOBODY'S side but their own, will start in on that person.

Personally, in spite of my Republican credentials, I hope the next president is Hillary Clinton. I have read about her life, and I have seen her in action as the "First Lady." I may not agree much with her domestic policy, but I KNOW she won't take shit from ANYONE. She will put an end to the Iraq war, but it won't be by precipitously pulling out. Mark it down.

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