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December 20, 2004

My Mind's Made Up, Don't Confuse Me With the Facts

Welcome RMPN readers. Here's the piece Alan links to. A somewhat longer reply to his piece is at the top of the blog.

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Gerard Hauserís article in Sundayís Denver Post "Perspective" section is typical of the sophistry that passes for political argument on the left today. We no longer debate opinion, we debate facts. Such divisions over facts are especially poisonous in a democracy, which depends on common facts, even as we dispute their meaning.

He's right, but Professor, heal thyself. Here, the "fact" he presents is that conservatives can't think straight. In Prof. Hauserís world, only Republicans who watch Fox News resent the truth-tellers who come to explode their delusions.

Hauser quotes the University of Maryland study purporting to find high levels of misconception lurking in the President's supporters. The problem with the study, pointed out by the Wall Street Journal's James Taranto at the time, is that it examines only possible conservative biases, and is intended as an indictment of Fox News. It completely misses liberal biases, held by viewers of the three major networks.

Even then, the specifics that Hauser cites are pretty weak. The Duelfer Report does not claim that "Iraq did not have a significant WMD program." In fact, the report spent about 1000 pages arguing that the oil-for-food scam was part of a larger plan to maintain just such programs that could be quickly mobilized, once sanctions were lifted.

Republican skepticism about Kerry's motives in citing the report had less to do with their preconceptions, and everything to do with Kerry's own selective and misleading use of the report during an election campaign. The idea that Bush redefined the justification for war is fantasy. In fact, it was the Democrats who repeatedly insisted that the President had cited an "imminent threat" in his State of the Union Address. While everyone now admits that Saddam didn't have WMDs in quantities large enough to repel an American invasion, the "gathering threat" actually noted was more than justified by the Duelfer findings.

Even the New York Times and Washington Post figured this out, as summarized nicely in Powerline at the time. Professor Hauser might have known this, had he been willing to read outside his own echo-chamber.

Hauser doesn't do himself any favors by his reporting on a 25-year-old energy "crisis," either. Gas lines were not caused by a shortage of oil, or an impending energy crisis. As David Frum demonstrates in his book, The 70s, gas lines were caused by price controls, preventing refiners and retailers from selling gas at a price high enough to cover their costs. Europe experienced no gas lines. Miraculously, once prices rose, lines disappeared and new car designs had better mileage.

He brings up that whole sorry episode in American political economy to show how the President can frame the debate during important crises. The public may have gone along with President Carter's idea to "punish" the Iranians by buying less oil. This proposal, like Carter's "Windfall Profits Tax" on the oil companies, was based on the same flawed economics that caused the lines in the first place. So eventually we were sitting in lines, and we didn't have the hostages back.

If the President is going to "connect the dots," he'd better be sure he knows how to count. Eventually, people will figure out the truth. In Carter's case, it was that we weren't nearly as impotent as he wanted us to believe. In Bush's case, it was that Saddam's European-backed pursuit of WMDs was a threat, even if he hadn't got there yet.

Hauser admits that the echo-chamber is a two-way problem. But if the misconceptions are all on the right, then the advantage for the left in breaking out of it is purely rhetorical. In fact, Hauser seems to be trying to make the case that Fox News, by presenting a conservative viewpoint, is balkanizing the country. That we'd all be much better-served by using the liberal line of the mainstream media as the baseline for political discussion.

Hauser is correct that when basic facts come into dispute, civil discourse dissolves. So for an article about facts in a section titled "Perspective," itís a shame that Prof. Hauser should offer so little of either.

Posted by joshuasharf at December 20, 2004 06:44 AM | TrackBack
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