Last Refuge Of A Pantload
Jonah Goldberg has a fascinating piece in the LA Times this morning. Apparently, the American people are too stupid to be listened to:
HUGE NUMBERS of Americans don't know jack about their government or politics. According to a Pew Research Center survey released last week, 31% of Americans don't know who the vice president is, fewer than half are aware that Nancy Pelosi is the speaker of the House, a mere 29% can identify "Scooter" Libby as the convicted former chief of staff of the vice president, and only 15% can name Harry Reid when asked who is the Senate majority leader.
Also last week, a Washington Post-ABC News poll found that two-thirds of Americans believe that Atty. Gen. Alberto R. Gonzales' firing of eight U.S. attorneys was "politically motivated."
So, we are supposed to believe that two-thirds of Americans have studied the details of the U.S. attorney firings and come to an informed conclusion that they were politically motivated — even when Senate Democrats agree that there is no actual evidence that Gonzales did anything improper. Are these the same people who couldn't pick Pelosi out of a lineup? Or the 85% who couldn't name the Senate majority leader? Are we to imagine that the 31% of the electorate who still — after seven years of headlines and demonization — can't identify the vice president of the United States nonetheless have a studied opinion on the firing of New Mexico U.S. Atty. David Iglesias?
Oh, before we proceed, let me make clear: This isn't a column defending Gonzales. This administration should have long ago sent him out of the bunker for a coffee-and-doughnut run and then changed the locks. No, this is a column about how confused and at times idiotic the United States is about polls, public opinion and, well, democracy itself. We all love to tout the glories of democracy and denounce politicians who just follow the polls. Well, guess which politicians follow the polls? The popular ones, that's who. And guess why: Because the popular ones get elected. Bucking public opinion is the quickest way for a politician to expedite his or her transition to the private sector.
More to the point, Americans — God bless 'em — are often quite ignorant about the stuff politicians and pundits think matters most. They may know piles about their own professions, hobbies and personal interests, but when it comes to basic civics, they just get their clocks cleaned on Fox's "Are You Smarter Than a 5th Grader?"
Though examples are depressingly unnecessary, here are two of my favorites over the years. In 1987, 45% of adult respondents to one survey answered that the phrase "from each according to his ability, to each according to his needs" was in the Constitution (in fact, it's a quote from Karl Marx). Then, in 1991, an American Bar Assn. study reported that a third of Americans did not know what the Bill of Rights was.
That the public mood is a poor compass for guiding the ship of state is an old lament. Here are two reasons why.
The first has to do with the laziness, spinelessness and vanity of political elites. Citing polls as proof you're on the right side of an argument is often a symptom of intellectual cowardice. If the crowd says 2+2=7, that's no reason to invoke the authority of the crowd. But pundits and pols know that if they align themselves with the latest Gallup findings, they don't have to defend their position on the merits because "the people" are always right...
Which brings us to ideology. The days when politicians would actually defend small-r republicanism are gone. The answer to every problem in our democracy seems to be more democracy, as if any alternative spells more tyranny.
Americans love that kind of talk. I hope the whole field of GOP presidential candidates listens to the DP on this one and startssaying they won't listen to the idiot voters. After the performance of the Resolute Codpiece and his pantload administration for the past few years, they are in a perfect mood to leave themselves in the hands of some more Republicans who know what's best for them.
But what is most interesting about Goldberg's column (aside from the shocking fact that he has one) is that he fails to note who the most uninformed people in the country are. I'm sure you saw this coming. I'll let let Steve Benen explain:
As the researchers explained in their report, “The extent of Americans’ misperceptions vary significantly depending on their source of news. Those who receive most of their news from Fox News are more likely than average to have misperceptions. Those who receive most of their news from NPR or PBS are less likely to have misperceptions. These variations cannot simply be explained as a result of differences in the demographic characteristics of each audience, because these variations can also be found when comparing the demographic subgroups of each audience.”
Almost shocking was the extent to which Fox News viewers were mistaken. Those who relied on the conservative network for news, PIPA reported, were “three times more likely than the next nearest network to hold all three misperceptions. In the audience for NPR/PBS, however, there was an overwhelming majority who did not have any of the three misperceptions, and hardly any had all three.”
Looking at the misperceptions one at a time, people were asked, for example, if the U.S. had discovered the alleged stockpiles of WMD in Iraq since the war began. Just 11% of those who relied on newspapers as their “primary news source” incorrectly believed that U.S. forces had made such a discovery. Only slightly more — 17% — of those who relied on NPR and PBS were wrong. Yet 33% of Fox News viewers were wrong, far ahead of those who relied on any other outlet.
Likewise, when people were asked if the U.S. had “clear evidence” that Saddam Hussein was “working closely with al Queda,” similar results were found. Only 16% of NPR and PBS listeners/viewers believed that the U.S. has such evidence, while 67% of Fox News viewers were under that mistaken impression.
Overall, 80 percent of those who relied on Fox News as their primary news source believed at least one of the three misperceptions. Viewers/listeners/readers of other news outlets didn’t even come close to this total.
In other words, Fox News viewers are literally less informed about these basic facts. They have, put simply, been led to believe things that are simply not true. These poor dupes would have done better in this survey, statistically speaking, if they received no news at all and simply guessed whether the claims were accurate.
I have a sneaking suspicion that those Fox viewers skew the surveys pretty badly, don't you? Like this one, who asks:
So, we are supposed to believe that two-thirds of Americans have studied the details of the U.S. attorney firings and come to an informed conclusion that they were politically motivated — even when Senate Democrats agree that there is no actual evidence that Gonzales did anything improper?
Somebody's a little bit "uninformed" isn't he? Senate Democrats most certainly do believe that there is evidence that Gonzales did something improper and that is why they are holding the hearings. Most of Jonah's braindead countrymen also understand that when a public official says he "can't recall" 75 times when there is documentary evidence in front of him which should have jogged his memory, that he's either got serious mental deficiencies which render him unfit for the important job he's doing --- or he's lying. You don't need to be "informed" of all the details to understand these things. It's common sense that we yokels out here in the hinterlands use every day in our dealings with other yokels.
And anyway, if Goldberg's column is indicative of what they are saying around the National Review water cooler these days, then times have really changed around there.
H/t to K-Drum for the K-Lo