Quotulatiousness

April 7, 2014

Nick Gillespie on the politics of exhaustion

Filed under: Politics, USA — Tags: , , — Nicholas Russon @ 08:13

Writing in the Daily Beast, Nick Gillespie looks at the terrifying prospect of a 2016 presidential contest between yet another Bush and yet another Clinton:

For partisan and media elites, ‘the past is never dead. It’s not even past,’ which means with these two candidates likely to lead the race in 2016, the future doesn’t look so different.

As if we need it, here’s extra proof that contemporary politics is more thoroughly exhausted than adult actress Lisa Sparkxxx must have been at the end of her record-setting roll in the hay at the 2004 “Eroticon” in Warsaw, Poland.

The Washington Post reports, “Many of the Republican Party’s most powerful insiders and financiers have begun a behind-the-scenes campaign to draft former Florida governor Jeb Bush into the 2016 presidential race, courting him and his intimates and starting talks on fundraising strategy.” For once, I found myself agreeing with Jesse Jackson. Can’t we just “stay out the Bushes” this one time at least?

On the other side of the aisle, it’s a given that Hillary Clinton is not only the presumptive Democratic nominee, but the only possible Democratic nominee anyone can name with a straight face (sorry, Joe Biden, but this just ain’t your century any more than the 20th was). “There was a Bush or a Clinton in the White House and cabinet for 32 years straight,” notes Maureen Dowd at The New York Times, whose headline writer adds, “Brace Yourself for Hillary and Jeb.” As it was, it shall always be. About the only cause for optimism is that there’s no Kennedy in the mix.

At least Lisa Sparkxxx participated voluntarily in her own screwing. For the large and growing plurality of Americans who identify as independent, there’s seemingly no way to opt out of the compulsive-repetitive disorder among legacy media types and partisan string-pullers. What is it that Faulkner said in Requiem for a Nun (1950)? “The past is never dead. It’s not even past.” Who knew that he was talking about politics in the goddamned 21st century, not Yoknapatawpha County after the Civil War?

March 11, 2014

QotD: “Moderates”, the Tea Party, and partisanship

Filed under: Politics, Quotations, USA — Tags: , , — Nicholas Russon @ 08:34

This difference in outlook may be why the Republican leadership hates the Tea Party. The Tea Party gets pissed when folks they elect punt on the ideological goals they got elected to pursue. They have no tribal loyalty, only loyalty to a set of policy goals. The key marker in fact of many groups now disparagingly called “extremists” is that they do not blindly support “their guy” in office when “their guy” sells out on the things they want.

I have friends I like and respect — smart and worldly people — who are involved in a series of activities to promote political moderation. What I have written in this post is the core of my fear about moderation — that in real life calls for moderation are actually calls for loyalty to maintaining our current two major parties (and keeping current incumbents in office) over ideas and principles.

Which leads me to an honest question that many of you may take as insulting — can one be a principled moderate? I am honestly undecided on this. But note that by moderate I do not mean “someone who is neither Republican or Democrat,” because I fit that description and most would call me pretty extreme. So “fiscally conservative and socially liberal” is not in my mind inherently “moderate”. That is a non-moderate ideological position that is sometimes called “moderate” because it is a mix of Republican and Democrat positions. But I would argue that anyone striving to intellectual consistency cannot be a Republican or Democrat because neither have an internally consistent ideology, and in fact their ideology tends to flip back and forth on certain issues (look at how Republican and Democrat ideology on Presidential power, for example, or drone strikes changes depending on whose guy is in the Oval Office).

Warren Meyer, “Can One Be A Principled Moderate? And What the Hell Is A Moderate, Anyway?”, Coyote Blog, 2014-03-07.

February 17, 2014

There’s a lot of money in US politics

Filed under: Politics, USA — Tags: , , — Nicholas Russon @ 09:42

Jim Geraghty included this table in a blog post about the biggest contributors to the two major US political parties, and it’s rather shocking. This is the list of top donators from 1989 to 2014:

US political contributions 1989-2014

Clearly, there’s a need to get big corporations out of the political game. Two of them are in the top ten, and three are in the top 15. Oh, and two of them actually gave more money to the Republicans than the Democrats! When will they reform the system to prevent this kind of distortion to the political process?

January 13, 2014

Chris Christie discovers that there are no allies in politics

Filed under: Media, Politics, USA — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 08:34

L. Neil Smith thinks that the national media have abandoned New Jersey governor Chris Christie as the political equivalent of the Washington Generals (that is, the preferred token Republican to lose against the presumptive Democratic presidential candidate):

By now, I’m confident you’ve all heard, seen, or smelled the story about New Jersey’s RINO Governor Chris Christie, whose administration allegedly closed down several lanes on the George Washington Bridge as political retribution of some kind against Fort Lee’s Mayor Mark Sokolich.

“RINO” stands for “Republican In Name Only”. Before the bridge incident, Rush Limbaugh was predicting that Christie would go over to the Democrats day after tomorrow. Now I doubt they’d let him in the clubhouse.

[...]

Of all Christie’s dubious accomplishments, and they are many, the one he’s most proud of and famous for is his moderation. In practice, this means that he has absolutely no discernable philosophy. Those are his principles, by God, and if you don’t like them … he’ll change them. Which enables him, he would tell you, to reach out to the “other side of the aisle”, and make compromises with them, so stuff can get done.

Even when it shouldn’t.

Now you would think, when their moderate Republican buddy came under attack, that some of these Democrats he’s been reaching out to all these years might have something to say in his defense: “Let’s give him the benefit of the doubt,” or something. But listen to the crickets.

Instead, they’re already calling for a Congressional investigation which, translated into Russian and translated back again, means “show trial”.

Also, there are other Republican moderates who share whatever serves Christie for values. You might expect them to stand up with him.

Nope … more crickets.

Finally, there are the media (plural noun again) who have been pimping Christie for so long, not only as an ideal politician, but the very fellow who ought to get the Grand Old Party’s next available nomination for President. They were the first to start snapping at his heels. They never really wanted him as President, They wanted him to be a losing Republican candidate for President, the GOP equivalent of Hubert Humphrey, George McGovern, Walter Mondale, and Michael Dukakis.

But now he’s no longer useful to them, even for that.

December 15, 2013

Wall Street’s dream matchup in 2016 – Christie vs Clinton

Filed under: Business, Politics, USA — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 10:27

Sheldon Richman says the big money folks on Wall Street know who they’d like to see at the top of the tickets for the 2016 presidential election, and they might just get their way:

If you share my belief that the major obstacle to the free society is the national-security/corporate state, 2016 is shaping up to be a year of apprehension. The Wall Streeters, who are among the biggest advocates of partnership between big government and big business, are looking forward to a presidential contest between Hillary Clinton and Chris Christie, a contest the bankers can’t lose.

They have already discounted any populist rhetoric Clinton may need to fight off a primary challenge from, say, Sen. Elizabeth Warren. As “one well-placed Democrat” told Politico, “Wall Street folks are so happy about [having Clinton run] that they won’t care what she says.”

[...]

In Clinton, then, we have a friend of the bankers and a friend of the military-industrial complex, since as secretary of state she was an advocate of a muscular foreign policy, including intervention in Libya. (When she was in the Senate she voted to give George W. Bush a blank check to invade Iraq, and when she was first lady, she pushed Bill Clinton to drop bombs on the Balkans).

“And if the banking class is delighted with Clinton lately,” Politico notes, “the feeling appears mutual.”

Wall Street’s first choice on the GOP side is apparently Chris Christie, the governor of New Jersey. He had his own meeting with the big-money crowd in July 2011. Politico calls him “the candidate with the best chances at winning the support of bankers in the next presidential election.”

At that 2011 meeting: “Henry Kissinger [!], the former secretary of state, stood and pleaded with the governor to enter the presidential race for the good of his country. Christie would, of course, resist their pleas, becoming perhaps even more alluring to those on Wall Street as a prospect for 2016.”

October 21, 2013

All those boats have been burned

Filed under: Health, Politics, USA — Tags: , , , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 07:35

Megan McArdle on the problem with emulating the Conquistator model of operational planning and burning your boats:

There’s a legend that after Hernan Cortes and his crew landed on the shores of the New World, Cortes ordered that their boats be burned. The only way they would be able to get back to Spain would be to conquer the land, giving them the resources to build new boats. With necessity at their backs, his band of adventurers managed to conquer all of Mexico.

It’s not clear if this story is actually true, but it’s nonetheless beloved by motivational speakers. The last two weeks of political paralysis have been an excellent illustration of why you shouldn’t model your negotiation strategy on a guy who’s mostly famous for slaughtering strangers.

[...]

The state insurance exchanges aren’t working, Obamacare is in jeopardy, and Democrats are casting around for a way to blame this on Republicans. The answer they have settled on: It’s their fault because Republican governors did not set up exchanges.

Think about what they are actually saying: “We passed a law that was so incredibly fragile that it was destined to fail unless all the state governments controlled by the party that opposed this law worked hard to make the system a success.”

And why did they expect this to happen? The answer boils down to this: “After we burn the boats, everyone’s supposed to band together to fight the Aztecs!”

I’ve long criticized the health-care law for being a Rube Goldberg Policy Machine: There are dozens of pieces that all have to work perfectly. If one of them fails, the whole apparatus breaks down and the individual insurance market spirals toward death. That seemed risky to me, especially when the law was passed over fervent opposition — a fervent opposition that was smugly told that “elections have consequences,” without anyone apparently considering that future elections might have different consequences.

But in this view, the Rube Goldberg quality is actually a plus, because after all, if we do something that might break the insurance market unless Republicans enthusiastically cooperate, they’ll have to enthusiastically cooperate.

This is … what’s the technical term? Right, insane.

Start with the fact that the state exchanges — what we would have had if the Republican governors and legislatures had cooperated — aren’t all in such great shape, either. Don’t get me wrong; some of them are doing very well. But some aren’t really working at all, and in others the results are … unclear. And that’s in blue states where the governor and the legislature were hugely enthusiastic about this program and are going all out to make it work. As anyone who has ever implemented a new program (corporate or government) can tell you, one of the biggest hurdles is getting people who don’t care about your program, or who actively oppose it, to make their piece work. Even if they’re trying in good faith, they have neither your enthusiasm nor your deep grasp of the internal logic. In the best-case scenario, it’s not their No. 1 priority; when it competes for resources with stuff they really care about, it tends to get the second-string people and budget. This is one reason that promising pilot projects often fail when they’re rolled out to the larger organization—and one of the most important things that a corporate innovator has to do is to evangelize his program so that other departments get as enthusiastic as he is.

The Obama administration was not in a position to evangelize the president’s health-care program to Republican governors. If the law absolutely required that those governors be as enthusiastic about implementing a state exchange as the folks in the administration, then it was a bad law that should never have been passed, and the Democrats made a grave mistake that could destroy the nation’s insurance market.

After the boat-burning failed the first time, leaving it weeks from its debut without a working computer system, the administration seems to have decided that what was needed was simply a larger bonfire: Launch the nonworking system, because after all, once you’ve gone live, the potential catastrophe would be nearly upon us, which would somehow force those inside and outside the administration to somehow bring order out of the chaos they had created.

But Republicans should make this work! It’s the right thing to do! That is, of course, debatable. But aside from that, this is magical thinking — as magical as the Tea Partiers who responded, when I pointed out that the shutdown was costing them the support they’d need to retake the Senate and the White House and actually get some policy making done, that this was all the fault of the liberal media, which was just repeating administration talking points.

October 7, 2013

Harsanyi – Better openly partisan than “impartial” media

Filed under: Media, Politics, USA — Tags: , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 10:22

David Harsanyi thinks the political scene would be better if more media outlets were up-front about their partisan stance rather than pretending to be objective and impartial:

As much as it pains me, let me take a few moments to defend MSNBC. Last week’s much-talked about testy exchange between anchor Thomas Roberts and Republican National Committee Chair Reince Priebus has been predictably negative. Media bias is a perpetual grievance of the Right — for obvious reasons. But maybe the only way to improve on the situation is to champion more openly ideologically driven political journalism? By any measure, it’s a lot less destructive than what we had for decades: a media feigning impartiality.

[...]

It can be uncomfortable watching a head-on collision of hackery, but the truth is the entire exchange is weirdly honest, entertaining and informative. It’s not often a TV anchor admits to viewers that he’s reading “directly from what the president just gave us.” Roberts is standing in for the president. Perfect. It’s not as if Reince Priebus was on MSNBC to offer his dispassionate impression of the situation, either. He should be challenged. And though the table-setting question is preposterously biased, it’s exactly the kind of question Priebus should be able to deflect. And he gets to do it in front of an audience that generally detests Republicans. I saw many people on Twitter wondering why Priebus does it to himself. They should be wondering why he doesn’t do it more often.

We all know where MSNBC or FOX News stand. It’s establishment media masquerading as impartial that has the real impact. This bias is rooted in insularity, showing a lack curiosity about the other side’s worldview — the ignorance about religion, guns or free-market economic ideas are the most glaring example — and, even worse, a lack of skepticism towards its own conceptions about how things work.

To the untrained eye, the Obamacare rollout may seem like an unmitigated disaster. But editors at Reuters (“Web traffic, glitches slow Obamacare exchanges launch”) or the Associate Press (“Rollout of ‘historic’ Obamacare in California hits some snags”) will try to dissuade people of this notion. Bias doesn’t only manifest in what you write but what you don’t, in what goes above the fold and what sort of delicate nouns and adjectives you sprinkle in your headlines.

QotD: Progressives and power

Filed under: Government, Politics, Quotations, USA — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 06:51

Charlie Cooke had a very good column and follow up post this week on progressive disdain for our system of separated powers. What liberals want, according to Charlie, is an “elected king” who can do whatever he wants. I agree with him almost entirely. For instance, he doesn’t say it, but this is exactly what Thomas Friedman wants. It’s what all the pseudo-eggheady-jagoff technocrats always want. The desire to simply impose “optimal policies” heedless of democratic or legal impediments lies behind virtually every technocratic fad of the last couple of centuries. We know what to do, and the problem with democracy is that the rubes won’t let us do it! Stuart Chase, one of the architects of the New Deal (who some say coined the term), openly pleaded for an “economic dictatorship.” After all, he asked, “why should the Russians have all the fun remaking the world?”

But here’s where I disagree a bit with Charlie. The key issue for progressives has never been the form power takes, but power itself. You want my five-second lesson in progressive history? No? Sucks for you, because I’m going to tell you anyway: They always go where the field is open.

That’s it.

When the public was on their side the progressives relied on the public. That’s why we have the direct election of senators. That’s why women got the franchise. Etc. In his early years as an academic Woodrow Wilson wanted Congress to run the country — the way parliament runs England — and relegate the president to a glorified clerk. When the public became unreliable and Congress was no longer a viable vehicle, progressives suddenly fell in love with a Caesarian presidency. Indeed, Wilson himself, the former champion of Congress, became an unapologetic voluptuary of presidential power the moment it suited him — and nary a progressive complained (save poor Randolph Bourne, of course). The progressives rode the presidency like it was a horse they never expected to return to a stable. And when that started to hit the point of diminishing returns, they moved on to the courts (even as they bleated and caterwauled about Nixon’s “abuses” of powers that were created and exploited by Wilson, FDR, and Johnson). After the courts, they relied on the bureaucracy. Like water seeking the shortest path, progressives have always championed the shortest route to social-justice victories.

My point is that I think Charlie is entirely right that progressives want to maximize their power. But the elected king scenario is just one of many they’d be perfectly happy with. If they could have a politburo instead of a unitary executive, they’d probably prefer that. But the point is that the instruments are, uh, instrumental. The core imperative is power. We see this in miniature when liberals don’t control the presidency but do control Congress. Suddenly, it’s vital that the “people’s house” exert its constitutional prerogatives! When the president is a Democrat he needs to rule unimpaired. When he’s a Republican, his dictatorial tendencies must be held in check. When liberals want to reinterpret the Constitution by judicial whim or fiat, it’s proof that the Constitution is living up to its nature as a “living, breathing, document.” When conservatives actually want to amend the Constitution — the only legitimate and constitutional means to change the meaning of the Constitution, I might add — it is a horrible affront to the vision of the Founders!

Once you realize this it helps explain so many of the Left’s hypocrisies and alleged double standards. I say alleged, because they aren’t really double standards. You can only have a double standard when you actually believe something should be a standard. Ultimately, for progressives these procedural debates about how power is used in America are just that: procedural debates. The alleged standards at stake are evanescent and petty — for liberals. The only true standard is whatever advances the progressives’ ball downfield. That is the very heart of “social justice” — doing whatever “good” you can, when you can, however you can. As they say, behind every confessed double standard there is an unconfessed single standard. And for progressives, the single enduring standard is “whatever works for us.”

Jonah Goldberg, “Progressives and Power”, The Goldberg File email newsletter, 2013-10-04

October 4, 2013

Why this government shutdown is different from the last 17 shutdowns

Filed under: Bureaucracy, Government, USA — Tags: , , , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 07:24

Jonah Goldberg on what sets the current US government “shutdown” apart from all the others in recent memory:

Obama has always had a bit of a vindictive streak when it comes to politics. I think it stems from his Manichaean view of America. There are the reasonable people — who agree with him. And there are the bitter clingers who disagree for irrational or extremist ideological reasons.

In his various statements over the last week, he’s insisted that opponents of Obamacare are “ideologues” on an “ideological crusade.” Meanwhile, he cast himself as just a reasonable guy interested in solving America’s problems. I have no issue with him calling Republican opponents “ideologues” — they are — but since when is Obama not an ideologue?

The argument about Obamacare is objectively and irrefutably ideological on both sides — state-provided health care has been an ideological brass ring for the Left for well over a century. But much of the press takes its cues from Democrats and sees this fight — and most other political fights — as a contest pitting the forces of moderation, decency, and rationality against the ranks of the ideologically brainwashed.

What’s unusual is the way Obama sees the government as a tool for his ideological agenda. During the fight over the sequester, Obama ordered the government to make the 2 percent budget cut as painful and scary as possible.

[...]

When Republicans vote to fund essential or popular parts of the government, the response from Democrats is, in effect, “How dare they?” Nancy Pelosi calls the tactic “releasing one hostage at a time” — as if negotiators normally refuse to have hostages released unless it’s all at once.

In the 17 previous government shutdowns since 1977, presidents have worked to avoid them or lessen their impact. Obama has made no such effort out of an ideological yearning to punish his enemies, regardless of the collateral damage.

July 31, 2013

The congressional defenders of privacy

Filed under: Government, Law, Liberty, USA — Tags: , , , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 11:12

Jacob Sullum in Reason:

“This is not a game,” Mike Rogers angrily warned last week, urging his colleagues in the House to vote against an amendment that would have banned the mass collection of telephone records by the National Security Agency (NSA). “This is real. It will have real consequences.”

I hope Rogers is right. Despite the Michigan Republican’s best efforts to portray the amendment as a terrifying threat to national security, it failed by a surprisingly narrow margin that could signal the emergence of a bipartisan coalition willing to defend civil liberties against the compromises supported by leaders of both parties.

Rogers was not surprised by the recent revelation that the NSA routinely collects information about every phone call Americans make, just in case it may prove useful in the future. As chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, he knew about the program for years, and he had no problem with it.

Not so two other Michigan congressmen: Justin Amash, a 33-year-old libertarian Republican serving his second term, and John Conyers, an 84-year-old progressive Democrat first elected in 1965. These two legislators, conventionally viewed as occupying opposite ends of the political spectrum, were outraged by the NSA’s data dragnet, especially since representatives of the Bush and Obama administrations had repeatedly denied that any such program existed.

The measure that Amash and Conyers proposed as an amendment to a military spending bill would have required that records demanded under Section 215 of the PATRIOT Act, which authorizes secret court orders seeking “any tangible things” deemed “relevant” to a terrorism investigation, be connected to particular targets. Although it was a pretty mild reform, leaving in place the wide powers granted by Section 215 while repudiating the Obama administration’s even broader, heretofore secret interpretation of that provision, the amendment was viewed as a quixotic effort.

July 26, 2013

Justin Amash and the attempt to rein-in the NSA

Filed under: Government, Politics, USA — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 10:19

Dave Weigel looks at the unexpectedly close vote in congress that would have forced the NSA to “walk back” some of its current domestic surveilance operations:

For a few minutes on Wednesday afternoon, Rep. Justin Amash thought he might have killed the National Security Agency’s metadata collection program. He’d optimistically expected maybe 90 Republicans to back his amendment to the Department of Defense budget. Ninety-four of them did. But he ran out of votes eventually — the Democrats didn’t come through — and by a 217–205 margin, the House killed his amendment.

Amash loaded the confetti cannon anyway. “My friends and colleagues stuck with me on my NSA amendment and changed the dynamic of the debate with tonight’s close vote,” the Republican congressman tweeted. “What an amazing staff I have. Thank you, thank you, thank you. You guys are awesome.”

[...]

Defenders of the NSA program are furious that Amash even got that far, and are working to undermine him. According to Politico’s Jake Sherman, Amash started this process with an “unworkable amendment” that would have failed easily, until staffers “held his hand” to fix it. That’s their story, but it doesn’t reflect what led up to the amendment. In the wake of Edward Snowden’s disclosures, every member of Congress who’d been sitting on some security state reform picked it back up and reintroduced it. In the Senate, Utah’s Mike Lee (a Republican) and Oregon’s Jeff Merkley (a Democrat) brought back the Ending Secret Law Act that they couldn’t pass when FISA was reauthorized. Oregon Sen. Ron Wyden and Colorado Sen. Mark Udall, both Democrats, introduced legislation to restrict NSA data collection unless the material contained a “demonstrated link to terrorism or espionage.”

At the time, the lack of quick action on those bills suggested that the Snowden story had been a blip. Privacy advocates in Congress now refer to those bills as the first wave, part of a strategy of attrition that will make the current policy politically untenable.

Amash proved the NSA will have to concede some ground when his amendment moved quickly from obscurity to reality to being under attack from the administration. On Monday night, before the Rules Committee voted on which amendments to bring up, Amash was told to meet with Speaker of the House John Boehner on the floor. He returned from that meeting convinced (and surprised) that he’d get a vote after all.

January 11, 2013

The old left, the new left, and the late Howard Zinn

Filed under: History, Media, Politics, USA — Tags: , , , , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 14:13

In Reason, Thaddeus Russell reviews a recent book on the life of historian Howard Zinn:

There was once a radical left in the United States. Back then, it was common to hear on college campuses and in respectable left-wing publications that liberals and the Democratic Party were the enemies of freedom, justice, and the people. Democratic politicians who expanded welfare programs and championed legislation that aided labor unions were nonetheless regarded as racists, totalitarians, and mass murderers for their reluctance to defend the civil rights of African Americans, for their collusion with capitalists, for their use of police powers to repress dissent, and for their imperialist, war-making policies. There was widespread left-wing rejection of the liberal claim that government was good, and many leftists spoke of and stood for a thing they called liberty.

There was no better exemplar of that thoroughgoing, anti-statist left than Howard Zinn, the author of A People’s History of the United States, whose death in 2010 was preceded by a life of activism and scholarship devoted to what could be called libertarian socialism. It is difficult to read Martin Duberman’s sympathetic but thoughtful biography, Howard Zinn: A Life on the Left, without lamenting how different Zinn and his ilk were from what now passes for an alternative political movement in this country. And for those of us with an interest in bridging the left and libertarianism, the book will also serve as a painful reminder of what once seemed possible. Howard Zinn’s life was a repudiation of the politics of the age of Obama.

[. . .]

Zinn was deeply influenced by anarchists, and this anti-statism kept him from doing what most of the left has been doing of late — identifying with the holders of state power. Some of Zinn’s friends, Duberman writes, resented his “never speaking well of any politician.” When many considered John F. Kennedy to be a champion of black civil rights, Zinn declared that the president had done only enough for the movement “to keep his image from collapsing in the eyes of twenty million Negroes.” Going farther, Zinn argued that African Americans should eschew involvement with any state power, and even counseled against a campaign for voting rights. “When Negroes vote, they will achieve as much power as the rest of us have — which is very little.” Instead, they should create “centers of power” outside government agencies from which to pressure authorities.

December 5, 2012

Humans are not as much rational as they are rationalizing creatures

Filed under: Politics, Science — Tags: , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 10:37

Ronald Bailey discusses a study which confirms what every con man already knew: smart people are easier to fool.

People reason chiefly to persuade others that they are right, not to find out what is true.

So claim Hugo Mercier, a postdoctoral fellow in economics and philosophy at the University of Pennsylvania, and Dan Sperber, a philosopher and cognitive scientist at the Central European University, in their provocative 2010 article, “Why Do Humans Reason? Arguments for an Argumentative Theory,” in the journal Behavioral and Brain Sciences. Now a new study by the Yale Cultural Cognition Project finds that people also use reason to convince themselves, in the face of evidence to the contrary, that they and those on their side are right.

[. . .]

In addition, both liberals and conservatives displayed ideological bias when assessing the validity of the cognitive reflection test. When climate change skeptics were characterized as open-minded, Republicans thought the test was nifty. When skeptics were branded as close-minded, more Democrats found the test results convincing. Thus, the study finds that the experimental “results were more consistent with a finding of symmetry than one of asymmetry with respect to ideologically motivated reasoning.” Ideology distorts both left-wing and right-wing thinking.

Do higher scores on the reflective cognition test temper political polarization? To get at this question, the study compared both liberals and conservatives who scored low on the reflective cognition test (the 62 percent of subjects who got no answers right) with liberals and conservatives scored higher (those who got an average of 1.6 answers right putting them in between the 80th and 90th percentile of the sample). In short, the researchers found that the higher either conservatives or liberals scored on the cognitive reflection test the more likely they were to judge the test as valid when its results supposedly confirmed their ideological views about climate change skeptics and vice versa. People skilled at systematic reasoning use that capacity to justify their beliefs rather seek out truth.

Kahan notes in passing that social psychological research has found that political independents and libertarians score better on the cognitive reflection than do liberals or conservatives (check your answers below). But before we libertarians and independents start patting ourselves on our collective backs for being the better systematic reasoners, could this simply mean that we are especially good at justifying our beliefs to ourselves?

I got the answers to all three test questions right, which means I’m even more likely to “fool myself” than the average person (according to this study, anyway).

November 7, 2012

No matter who you vote for, the government always gets in

Filed under: Liberty, Media, Politics, USA — Tags: , , , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 09:07

L. Neil Smith explains one of the most significant reasons that the most recent US election didn’t seem to offer much in the way of choice between the two major party candidates:

No matter how hard Productive Class folks may work at trying to put good people into office, people who respect the Bill of Rights, as well as our dignity as individuals, every single time, we end up with a non-choice between two sets of rapacious gangsters, government parasites and their corporate lookalikes who, differing only in the excuses they use to justify it, see us only as cattle, to be herded, branded, milked, and slaughtered. On the rare occasion that someone decent pokes his head up — Barry Goldwater, Ron Paul — it’s cut off by the socialist mass media, pack animals who give prostitution a bad name.

Beyond the palest shadow of a doubt, the game is rigged, with people who actually work for a living assigned the role of perpetual losers, expected to bow down to Authority no matter how ludicrous its demands, required to observe the letter and the spirit of the law no matter how often, or how outrageously it’s flouted by the insatiably power-hungry. Those who object — especially if they get together to air their grievances — are labeled rednecks, racists, or terrorists by the socialist mass media, depending on what’s in fashion at the time. The truth has no place in this process, only the virtual reality created by the socialist mass media at the behest of their thuggish clientele.

To make things even worse, members of the Productive Class find themselves in the role of shuttlecock in a game of political badminton that has been going on for two centuries. Fed up with the failures and excesses of, say, the Republicans, voters will replace them with Democrats, only to be reminded, in short order, that Democrats suffer failures and commit excesses of their own. Four years after that, experiencing political amnesia again, they put Republicans back in power, when what they ought to do is dump “both” major parties (which are really only one entity, the party of endless lies and coercion) altogether.

September 9, 2012

Winner of the Democratic convention? Conservative trolls

Filed under: Media, Politics, USA — Tags: , , , , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 00:04

Dave Weigel on the fascinating fact that a few conservatives were able to successfully troll the Democratic convention in Charlotte:

Whatever lessons the Democrats take from Charlotte, whatever it did for the president or for the ambitious senators and governors who stalked delegate breakfasts and whispered “2016,” this is a fact: The convention was successfully trolled.

I don’t use troll in the pejorative sense. Actually, I may be trying to craft a neutral meaning of troll where none previously existed. The term, in its modern Internet usage, refers to people who want to start fights online to bring the universe into an argument on their terms. It comes not from Grimm literature, but from a fishing technique in which multiple lines are baited and dragged to haul in the maximum amount of cold-bloods.

Democrats did not expect to spend Wednesday arguing about the capital of Israel and the appearance of the word “God” in their platform. There were, reportedly, 15,000 members of the media in Charlotte, of whom maybe 14,980 could have given a damn about the party platform. On Tuesday night, when the Obama campaign and the DNC released its platform, none of the bigfoot media outlets in town spent time on the text.

[. . .]

Maybe the word “historic” is out of place for the modern convention. To say that they’re clichéd and staged is, in itself, a staged cliché. But who thought, just 11 months after the launch of the Occupy movement, that 99 percenters would have less influence on the platform than conservative media?

This is what I mean: We live in the age of trolling. Any comment made online, if it’s given the right forum, is as relevant as any comment made by some media gatekeeper. Think about a politician or a journalist on Twitter, and what he sees. If a colleague wants to tell him something, it appears in his feed with an @ symbol. If someone who just logged on and wants to bait a nerd logs on, he will send a message that appears with an @ symbol. Both are equally valid, at least in how they appear on-screen or on a phone. There is no ghetto-izing of comments into the bottom of a page, or into media that you don’t pay attention to.

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