Maintaining Optimism in the Face of Reality. Occasional observations on the state of the world, society, business and politics. Usually anchored by facts, always augmented by opinion.
Witness the "I hate Pat Robertson" blog. Now, any regular reader probably knows that I am not a fan of the religious right, and thus should be largely sympathetic to the blog's author. I must also tell you that I actually like the look of the blog, it's got some nice CSS tricks. Unfortunately, the blog's author decided, simply because Pat Robertson had an anti-French author on the 700 Club, that now he must take up the very heavy mantle of defending France. We can start with this:
The simple fact that the author feels the need to defend France in comparison to a nation that is effectively a U.S. protectorate is itself quite humorous. Actually, if the author wasn't such a knee-jerk, he'd stop for a minute and realize that France's equivalent of our FBI is their gendarmerie, or national military police, and is part of their defense organization. In 2004, the gendarmerie was 101,000 strong versus the balance of their military forces at 259,000.
Pat starts off the interview by attacking France:
The truth is, France is a second-rate power and can’t even compete with (South) Korea
Actually, France is much more powerful than South Korea. The Gross Domestic Product of France is near double that of South Korea, as is the per capita income. As for the military, France is the 3rd largest military power, South Korea is #9.
The South Korean Army, in contrast, has about 560,000 troops, or a ground force of 300,000 more troops than France.
The blog's author should consider reading the Center for Strategic and International Studies report "Military Trends in France: Strengths and Weaknesses" which can rarely go more than a page or two without pointing out the obvious, such as:
During the first Gulf War, and operations in former Yugoslavia, Franceor
realized that it had major difficulties with coordination at the strategic and tactical levels, including the integration of combined operation command structures.43 France has extensively studied Britain as a model in these areas due to its relative deficiencies compared to the UK.
During the first Gulf War, France had difficulties in deploying a light division of only 12,000 troops, whereas Britain managed to deploy twice that number despite having a much smaller army. At that time, France only had 6,000 troops immediately available for force projection.(That was the first Gulf War, the one where Iraq had invaded Kuwait...the one John Kerry voted against) Or, citing from Jane's Security Sentinel Assessment:
France's defense industries are oriented towards export markets, particularly in former colonies in the Third World. The difficulty with this emphasis is that products that sell well abroad are not necessarily the best for modern European military force. The French armed forces are not configured for modern warfare, in which high technology is critical."(Oh, and as to why France had a larger Army: the French used conscription to maintain their Army up three years ago today, November 30, 2001.)
The author then has the following comments:
Actually, no, it's not a matter of national pride for us. When you're #1 with a bullet, it's really hard to have insults from anyone count for much. On the other hand, France went from being one of the most significant powers in the old world to being an also-ran in the new world. France has not had a significant military force since Napoleon's defeat, despite their cultural aspirations for military power; witness de Gaulle's election as their President after fleeing the country and "leading" the impotent French resistance from Algiers. One who wished to criticize the French might argue that only in France could a deserter be considered a war hero. In the world of industry, while Airbus has been a success (although some would suggest the heavy support of the French government and Eurocentric purchasing by other European nations might have be a factor), looking at Renault and Peugot reminds us that the French aren't known for their engineering, as are the Germans. And in the modern age of computers and communications, France's isolation has hampered their progress in the international arena as much as it has protected their weaker players from domestic competition.
Pat then asked John Miller why France hated us so much:
Their animosity right now is mostly fueled by wounded national pride.
And this [American animosity toward France] isn’t fueled by national pride?
The long-standing imperialistic nature of the French government also shows that they have had difficulty relinquishing power. Consider how relatively long it took the French to relinquish their control over their colonies like Algeria and Vietnam as well as how they continue to try to play big fish in a small pond over their former colonies. Even in the case of Iraq, France would never have backed U.S. action because it was too significant a trading partner. (Of course, the kickbacks might have helped as well.) And while many (most?) of Great Britain's former colonies became powerful countries in their own right, France never appeared to have nation-building as an agenda, just international dominion. Indeed, a number of things, from their anti-semitism to their opposition to Turkey joining the EU seems to be indicative of their disrespect (or disdain) for non-European cultures. [Another blogger's interesting observations on former French colonies.]
The reason people mock the French is that they are so easily mocked. Insular, parochial, living in another world, and keeping their language pure from outside influence as the world passes them by while they continue to relive their glory days of centuries past, the days of Versailles and the Sun King and of Napoleon's domination of Europe. Indeed, when our original patrons, one-time enemies and now nearly permanent allies, the British brought Napoleon to his knees (insert short joke here), France has never really recovered its stature.
In many ways, the sad tragedy of France is the tragedy of the homecoming king and quarterback who peaked in high school, never again to experience the greatness he once knew.
Update: MostlyCajun, commenting why his ancestors got out of France early, also points us to this post on Common Sense and Wonder.
Update: A reader responds with "France's Admitted Strong Points."
Update: Interested in French foreign policy or postwar Europe? Read my piece on "Kojève's Latin Empire and Contemporary French Foreign Policy." It provides a great deal of insight into French thought, some of reaffirming our stereotypes, but also providing context for such a worldview.
e-mail post | Link Cosmos | [Permalink] | (3) comments | | Tuesday, November 30, 2004
Some conservatives will be chagrined that the Supreme Court has refused to hear a challenge to Massachusetts' gay marriage law. Some liberals are no doubt disappointed as well, since this development doesn't really fit their whole "Jesusland" narrative. Damned inconvenient, that.Though the Jesusland, red-state/blue-state, "America divided" narrative does seem loved by press and pundit alike, today again it appears descriptively wanting. The case today is in fact another case today, namely Jackson v. Birmingham Board of Education, on which the Supreme Court hears arguments today. The nuts and bolts of this case is that a coach was fired after complaining that his girls' teams had inadequate resources compared to the boys' teams. He sued, but a lower court ruled that the Title IX protections do not include whistleblower protection from retaliatory firing. The cases falls before the court, pivoting on the argument that any such law without whistleblower protection is toothless, as teachers and coaches are in the best position to know when gender discrimination is taking place.
In this case, the Bush administration is doing the right thing by most people's standards, particularly those on the left, they have joined Jackson's side and have submittde amicus briefs arguing in support of anti-retaliation measures. Interestingly, the states joining Alabama in the case cut across the red-state/blue-state narrative on which the media seems so often fixated. Nine states including Oregon, Hawaii, and Delaware have all sided with Alabama.
[USA Today] [CNN] [ABC] [MSNBC]
If you're curious, you can read why I don't think America is really all that divided.
e-mail post | Link Cosmos | [Permalink] | (0) comments | | Tuesday, November 30, 2004
Now, some of this may simply be the advantage our founders had, working in a simpler time. Possibly the most stark contrast can be drawn by pointing to the actual presence of a logo for the EU constitution (and a 19-page usage guide [English PDF]). Of course, as anyone in the corporate world knows, every initiative or project needs a name, as if it were a military operation, and any project of significance certainly needs a logo, or at least a graphic design treatment. I just can't imagine some young scribe running into the constitutional convention to get Hamilton's or Jefferson's opinion about the use of Pantone 280 for the background color, or whether Helvetic Neue would be a good typeface to present the constitution to the states. (And, to be clear, the logo must be a big issue, as the "graphical design and logo" section is linked from the top-level main page on the EU constitution!)
I think another possible consideration is that Europeans, particularly the French, and by implication the Belgians, are sticklers for detail and are nothing if not all about standards. The meter bar is sitting in Paris. Cardinal de Richelieu founded the French Academy (or Académie Française, more properly) to regulate and preserve the purity of the French language back in 1635, long before the French could have anticipated the profound damage the new world would cause the French language some four and a half centuries later, with our use of words like "bazooka" and "e-mail" ("courriel" to you francophiles). And while I certainly am weary of (and occasionally appalled by) Americans' abuse of our own language, I can't imagine regulating its use.
I am sure it is a combination of factors including both the regulatory cultural bias of contintential Europe as well as the way we in the contemporary world are prone to making things more difficult and more complex than they need to be. I'm not sure that either main political party in the U.S. has produced a platform shorter than the U.S. Constitution in recent memory. General guidance has been replaced by specific directives. Ultimately, I am confident that the EU constitution's specificity will prove its weakness in the same way our Constitution's generality has proven its strength.
What got me thinking about the EU constitution in the first place was the Wall Street Journal Europe Op-Ed piece by Craig Winneker, "Roving Europe," in which he discusses how Karl Rove, with all his political genius, may be the one man alive who could get the EU constitution ("an almost entirely unsellable document") ratified across all of Europe. I do tire of the deification of Rove, not because I think he's undeserving (he is smart, there's no question), but because I think it denigrates Bush's victory and is another example of the broader move to discussing politics as process, rather than as policy, by the American public. However, the piece was worth a chuckle. One of the funnier bits:
Denmark: This small Scandinavian country has proven to be an inveterate flip-flopper when it comes to EU referendums -- a reputation that should be exploited to maximum effect. Case in point: Denmark actually voted against the Maastricht Treaty before it voted for it. Just as the indecisive Hamlet eventually chose the road that led to self-destruction, so can today's wavering Danes be trusted to eventually vote "yes" -- and, with Mr. Rove's help, maybe even in less than two rounds.
e-mail post | Link Cosmos | [Permalink] | (0) comments | | Monday, November 29, 2004
Just as Saddam spread ill-gotten wealth around to various parties with possible influence over the U.N. Security Council, Microsoft appears to have paid off the President of the Computer and Communications Industry Association to halt the CCIA's involvement in the EU antitrust case against Microsoft. Laura Rohde has this report in Computerworld:
The antitrust settlement between Microsoft Corp. and the Computer and Communications Industry Association (CCIA) announced earlier this month included a payment of $9.75 million to the CCIA's president, according to a report published today.Basically, the payoffs were to get the CCIA to stop being a party to the EU antitrust litigation Microsoft is facing. Nokia has resigned from the CCIA in response to this, and the entire issue has stirred up a great deal of controversry.
Almost half of the $19.75 million total settlement went to Ed Black, who has been the president and CEO of the Washington-based industry organization since 1995, in a deal approved by the CCIA board, according to a report in the Financial Times. The newspaper cited confidential documents in its story.
A spokesman from Microsoft declined to comment on the FT report. The CCIA referred questions to Black, who couldn't be reached.
Follow up in Financial Times 26-Nov-04: "MS.dosh Settlement"
The Guardian reports on the examination of the deal by the EU judge, "Judge Puts Microsoft Deal Under Scrutiny" The Guardian has some great quotations from newly-minted millionaire Ed Black. In addition to his retrospectively hypocritical criticisms of Netscape's acceptance of $750 million to drop their case against Microsoft this past May, Black used to say things like:
Microsoft is an adjudicated monopolist who continues to deliver anti-competitive, illegal products into the marketplace. Their products hurt innovation, unfairly impede competition and, in the end, harm consumers.But today all that money seems to have taken the fight out of Ed Black:
We are pleased with this agreement and expect our relationship with Microsoft and others will enable us to address important issues impacting millions of people and the future of our industry. While there may be times when we and Microsoft will not agree on every issue, we are looking forward to developing a stronger relationship.The EU judge hearing the case will keep all the testimony provided already by the CCIA and other who have been bought out of the case, according to another Guardian story.
Interestingly, the NY Times doesn't seem to mention the Black payoff, even though it seems to be well-publicized in Europe. [NYT Nov 25] [NYT Nov 24]
And while the story was picked up by the Dow Jones Newswires [through WSJ link], apparently the Wall Street Journal's editors felt that the story wouldn't fit well with their typical position on EU antitrust issues, so they have neglected to mention it in their reporting. Hardly shocking. As much as I do like the WSJ, I believe that they are at least as bad as any media outlet with respect to editorial bias.
e-mail post | Link Cosmos | [Permalink] | (1) comments | | Saturday, November 27, 2004
I discovered that in terms of the opinions of Americans, Yasser Arafat was more of an enigma than Keyser Soze. He was everywhere and nowhere. He was the leader of many countries. And while I had been so innoculated to American ignorance that I didn't find it entirely odd that many people could only mention his headwear, I was surprised that Americans had enough first hand experience with him to complain of an odor problem. In memory of Yasser, let's take a look at what Americans were saying about Yasser Arafat back in 2002. This is not a complete list of the idiocy, but it will give you a good sense of what people were saying.
Like Leonardo DiCaprio in Titanic, Yasser was King of the World
- Over 100 people thought he was the leader of Israel
- 51 people thought he was the leader of Pakistan ("dude in charge of Pakistan"...dude, where's my car(bomb)?)
- 18 have him leading Iran
- 18 people also had him running Iraq
- 14 people thought he was the leader of Saudi Arabia
- 11 people had him running Egypt
- 3 people thought he was European, 2 the head of a country in Europe (this could be a geography problem as well)
- 1 person said "He's in charge of the government"...maybe he was making a more subtle claim that our government is too tied up with Mideast politics.
- "The Russian President" also "The Russian Prime Minister"
- "Commander in chief of the Army"
- "President of asian countries" (wow, not just one)
- "Leader of the middle east" (again, multi-country control)
- "Head of the muslims" (The Islamic Pope, so to speak)
- "Ruler of people overseas" (Every last one of them?)
- "A little guy who is ugly"
- "He's a slimy little guy"
- "The man who has never bathed, he looks like true grease"
- "Nothing but ugly"
- "The stinky guy; leader of palestinians"
- "Little short arab"
- "Ugliest man I've ever seen in my life"
- "Nasty smelly old arab Palestinian head of Hamas"
- "The one with the scarf"
- "He's the one stuck in the building, they got him cornered in there. Not the Israelis. Big, got the black and white turban."(I had to check...this was from a "very close" follower of mideast news.)
- "Turban" (Seriously, the one word response from someone watching "Fairly closely")
- "He that man sheet around"
- "Has a funny looking hat"
- "The man that wears the black and white thing" (Zebra costume?)
- "Wears a turban"
- "Dude with the hat on"
- "Checkered scarf around head"
- "Wears that checkered thing"
- "He's the one with the checkered hairdo"
- "Joe shit the raghead"
- "The big problem"
- "The enemy"
- "A butthole"
- "Need's a spanking"
- "He's a dingbat"
- "He's a bad guy"
- "I know that he is not a good man" (Well, that narrows it down)
- "Undesirable individual in the middle east"
- "A troublemaker"
- "Somebody who has been around way too damn long"
- "A misguided soul"
- "Rascal who's been causing so much trouble"
- "Madman terrorist"
- "Palestinian moron"
- "Pain in the neck"
- "Jackass, what a nerd"
- "Son of a gun"
- "Somebody I don't like"
- "He's a geek"
- "Ding dong"
- "Pain in the ass"
- "Big fat liar"
- "Prick liar"
- "One of those pricks in the Mideast"
- "Needs to be shot"
- "He is someone that we do not need"
- "Horse's tail"
- "A horse's patutti" (I am not making this up)
- "You know him when you see him on TV"
- "A rat, sick not much of a leader"
- "Head of organization that's giving the Jews a hell of a go around"
- "We need to chop his head off"
- "Some kind of leader over in a different country"
- "The leader of some country"
- "The, um, leader of another country"
- "Not sure..head of some country over there"
- "Leader of one of them warring countries, leader of Israel of something"
- "One of them guys they are looking for over there"
- "He's a foreigner"
- Believe me, there were many, many more along these lines
- "He's the premier in arabia far west"
- "Dude over there in the middle" (There were clowns to the left of him, jokers to his right)
- "Yeah and no"
- "German Russian" (that was the whole answer)
- "The one who is in jail during the 9-11"
- "The meanie in the far east"
- "He's over in Africa with the war in Afghanistan" (Please, someone send this guy a globe)
- "A mother-fucking Russian"
- "One of the main guys you hear about in the news"
- "I have no interest in him"
- "Turd head with turban, liar, head guy of OPEC, guy trapped in his own fotress"
- "The guy that wears the towel, leader in the church under seige"
- "He's the dude over yonder that the Jews are messin' with...the Jews should take him out and hang him." (Between the "over yonder" and the "hang him" comment, $50 says this guy lives south of the Mason-Dixon line.)
- "He is the bearded guy that everyone wnats to get rid of, and wears funny hat"
- "Guy with funny lips...funny hat"
- "That slob from that other country"
- "He's kept up"
- "Roughest man going"
- "Bad ass"
- "Big dawg of the Palestinians"
- "Head of PLO, winner of Ringo Starr lookalike contest"
- "The man overseas, bin Laden's secretary" (*ouch*, "Yasser, I need three copies of this, and bring me some more coffee.")
- "Started the terrorist bombing on September 11th"
- "A thorn in my side"
- "He is the leader of the Palestinians and he's being treated unfairly. Extremely unfairly!"
- "Poor guy who is in trouble all the time" ("Why's everybody always pickin' on me?")
- "One of the guys" (That's Yasser, just one of the guys)
e-mail post | Link Cosmos | [Permalink] | (1) comments | | Friday, November 26, 2004
To assess the ignorance rampant in this great country of ours, I started to dig into the Pew survey results. The survey, with 3,002 respondents, asked three questions that I decided to examine, as they seemed like an obviously interrelated set:
- Question 7(c) asked if the respondent followed the news story of "The continued violence in the Middle East between the Palestinians and the Israelis very closely, fairly closely, not too closely or not at all closely."
- Question 39(e) asked "Do you happen to know who Yasser Arafat is? [If "yes" ask:] Can you tell me who he is?" The responses were recorded verbatim and then coded.
- Question 39(f) asked "Do you happen to know when the state of Israel was established? Was it around 1852, around 1948 or around 1960?"
People Overrate The Extent to Which They Follow The News
The results were, shall we say, unfortunate. Recoding the data to compare whether the respondent got neither, either, or both of 39(e) and 39(f) correct, and comparing it to their self-assessment of how closely they followed news of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict result in this table:
What!? Only 45% of people who honestly think they are following Palestinian/Israeli violence very closely can answer both of those questions? Even more astounding is that 43% of those who think they are following it "fairly closely" couldn't answer either of them. Bear in mind that with Israel's establishment, it was a multiple choice question. But maybe I'm being too harsh, suppose we just consider at the incredibly simple question of who Yasser Arafat is. Certainly everyone should nail that one?
Still, only 60% of these self-assessed very close followers of Mideast news can say who Yasser Arafat is. C'mon, in 2002, he had been head of the PLO for 33 years. This is an embarassment that had me ready to put the "for sale" sign in my yard and get a one-way international plane ticket. I figured the Thanksgiving travel crowds would be too much, though. So I'm staying put for now.
Well, It's Probably Because of Those Stupid [Insert Opposing Party Here]
I am sure that partisans on both sides of the political spectrum are assuming that the "other guys" are weighing those numbers down. Not as much as you might think, with respect to those who claim to follow things "very closely" however there is a significant partisan difference between people who think they follow things "fairly closely."
Among those who follow the news "very closely" there is a statistically insignificant difference Democrats and Republicans, with Independents slightly ahead, and all three within a margin of error for the subsample sizes of 308-406. However, it appears both Democrats and independents have a different standard for what watching the news "fairly closely" means. That is, while the "both correct" score for Republicans went down 9 points between the very closely to fairly closely group, Democrats who follow the news "fairly closely" went down by 22 points, and independents by 20. compared to their similarly-aligned "very closely" group. Half of Democrats who "fairly closely" followed Mideast news missed both questions, while slightly more than a third of similarly self-assessing Republicans could got neither correct.
Well It's Probably the [Stupid Kids/Senile Old People] Then
I thought I would look at ages as well, given that maybe the numbers for the Dems were being skewed by the presumably larger proportion of young people, my assumption being that the natural hubris of youth combined with a lack of perspective might have young people even more likely to incorrectly regard themselves as following the news when they really aren't. The first quick check I did was to see how party affiliation lined up by age within the sample:
So it looks like those from 18-44 have a slightly different perspective of what "very close" means compared to 45-64. Again though, this "fairly close" segment blew me away. Fewer than 25% of those under 44 who think they are fairly close followers of Mideast news could answer both questions, and among the 18-24 crowd, it's a particularly sad 6.1%. I hesitate to read too much into this question because both of the questions are things that have been known facts for decades, and thus could arguably favor older people, although I have a tough time accepting that argument.
But, given that age and party affiliation were pretty well-distributed, I wanted to look a little more closely. The next thing I did was to look at the percentage of individuals who got both questions correct within each age and party affiliation segment for the groups that reported following the news very closely or fairly closely. Remember that this is a fairly large total sample (n=3002), so these are still decent-sized slices, with n=1195 for very close news followers and n=1131 for fairly close news followers. I then computed the percentage decline with each cross-sectional group.
Looking at the numbers, the one thing that I think is visible is that while everyone seems to think they are better informed than their knowledge suggests they are, younger people seem to have a lower standard of being informed on the news, but Democrats, even more than young people, are more likely to overstate their familiarity with the news compared to their actual knowledge of that news. To look at this, I examined just the 25 and older crowed (throwing out those who refused to provide and age as well as the 18-25 group).
Among this group (25 and up) Democrats who considered themselves "very close" followers of Mideast news (n=375) scored about the same as Republicans who only rated themselves as "fairly close" news followers (n=326) (41% VCD to 40% FCR). In contrast, self-described Republicans (n=363) and Independents (n=272) who were very close news followers did much better than similarly self-reporting Democrats, with 48% and 52%, respectively, able to answer both questions accurately, versus the 41% for Dems. (Note that this contrasts some from the early observation that Dems and Republicans seemed to be quite similar in the "very close" news follower segment, the 18-24 group was hurting Republicans and helping Democrats.)
Education and Income Do Have An Effect, Obviously
Since the Republican numbers would tend to be natural skewed by education and income, I thought it would be worthwhile to just take a quick skim at those numbers as well:
The numbers for fairly close watchers fall off about as one would expect. That is, while the more educated and the weatlhier drop off about 10 points, the lower categories fall off at a faster rate.
Here are some quick general observations from the data.
- People are woefully uninformed, regardless of age, income, education or party affiliation.
- Partisanship among 18-24 year-olds who believe they follow the news very closely positively correlates with knowledge within that group.
- Republicans seem to be both better-informed and have a slightly higher standard for regarding themselves as "up on the news" compared to Democrats, but less so compared to independents.
- Independents who believe they very closely follow the news tend to be most able to answer questions pertaining to that news, doing better than partisans from either side (I will actually run some numbers to control for partisans).
- Middle-aged individuals tend to be better informed and hold themselves to a slightly higher standard of following the news than people younger or older. Younger people hold themselves to the lowest standard.
I will add a comic relief section to this later that lists some of the verbatim responses captured when asking who Yasser Arafat was. ("Bad ass" is my favorite so far.)
e-mail post | Link Cosmos | [Permalink] | (0) comments | | Friday, November 26, 2004
Whence Political Apathy?
A combination of positive and negative factors has created a significant (and generally growing) level of political apathy over a period of decades, but I think the major ones are:
- The success of our political system at producing a government that is satisfactory to nearly all Americans, regardless of the party in power .
- The naturally-occuring convergence of the two parties reduces people's sense of making a genuine choice.
- The largely satisfied, but ever-expanding, social emphasis on consumerism and materialism, and the resulting absence of great causes, to sum up Francis Fukuyama's "The End of History and the Last Man."
For an overview of the extent, root causes (other than apathy), and implications of political ignorance, I suggest GMU law professor Ilya Somin's "When Ignorance Isn't Bliss: How Political Ignorance Threatens Democracy." Also, if you're a Kerry voter thinking that political ignorance must be a big problem since Bush won, you might want to slow down and see Ilya Somin's breakdowns on political ignorance by party affiliation.
I can't help but think that contributing to political ignorance is the decline in both the consumer's demand for public affairs news and the resulting decline in the supply of that news. Pew's 2002 survey on news consumption indicated that 20% Americans didn't expose themselves to any news in the prior day (controlled for weekdays), that's double the 1994 result when only 10% skipped news. And while television news (primarily local) is still the largest source of news for people, the average American was watching less than 30 minutes a day. In terms of topical interest in news, people are more likely to follow "community," health, crime and sports news very closely than news of local goverment, international affairs or Washington politics and policy.
Highlighting of the mutual reinforcement of ignorance and apathy, the poll also found that even among "heavy" news consumers (those spending at least one hour on news in the prior day) approximately 40% of them said they would often lose interest in news stories because they lacked the background context to understand them. Consider that if this number of people have a difficult time keeping up with the news
Believer me, the media isn't helping, but that criticism will have to wait for another post.
"But I'm Not Ignorant, I Keep Up With The News" - Yeah, Right
Even more disconcerting than how little news people do consume is how much people appear to overestimate their level of attention to the news or their understanding of news the claim to follow. (I hope you are sitting down for this.) While 65% of respondents claimed to follow both international affairs and national politcal news somewhat or very closely:
- Only 61% could name Dick Cheney as the VP
- Only 48% could name Colin Powell as the Secretary of State
- Only 48% correctly described Yasser Arafat as a Palestinian leader or the head of the PLO (I thought this was particularly astounding as he held that post 1969, and has been a fairly regular news fixture ever since.)
- Only 44% could name the "recently adopted European currency"...the "Euro" (it is a hard to remember name)
- Only 41% could correctly choose between 1852, 1948 and 1960 as the approximate date of Israel's creation.
- Only 29% could correctly name Donald Rumsfeld as the Secretary of Defense
I wanted to try to get a better understanding of just how bad this situation is, so I actually downloaded the 2002 media survey data set from the Pew Research Center's data archive. They release the complete SPSS data files (.sav) for their surveys six months after they release their findings. If you know how to use a stats package like S-plus, SPSS, SAS or R, you can go nuts with them. By the way, if you don't know about Pew Research, they are a non-profit, and their lead pollster, Andrew Kohut, was something of a minor celebrity after the election this year, having nailed the prediction of the final national vote tally. He was also critical of the inclusion of the "moral values" question on the exit poll and the amount of attention given the results.
You'll have to wait for the next post for the results. I can tell you already that they're really pretty depressing. And for all you partisans out there, I did run some partisan segments, but I don't think anybody will be claiming bragging rights, at least on the small analysis I am doing.
e-mail post | Link Cosmos | [Permalink] | (0) comments | | Thursday, November 25, 2004
- In 1800, when the Electoral College produced a tie, the House took 36 ballots to elect Jefferson president over Aaron Burr and avoided a promised attack on Washington by Pennsylvania and Virgina state militias had they voted for Burr; that was a divided America.
- In 1858, when Abraham Lincoln uttered the famous line that "A house divided against itself cannot stand," that was a divided America.
- In 1876, when another election went to the House and Rutherford Hayes became President only by cutting a deal with the Southern state delegations to remove federal troops, end reconstruction and to not enforce voting rights for blacks; that was a divided America.
So it's probably good for all of us to have news of a really divided nation, just to keep things in perspective this Thanksgiving. The Ukrainian elections have the country on the brink of a civil war. International election monitors are claiming widespread vote fraud on behalf of the winner of the election, Viktor Yanukovich, Ukraine's Prime Minister, backed by both the outgoing President and Moscow. The EU has spoken out against the results, as has Canada. The U.S. weighed in with Colin Powell mentioning the serious consequences of certifying the fraudulent election (namely U.S. aid). Meanwhile, needless to say, Putin has already been congratulating Yanukovich on his "win," and the outgoing President has asked the world to, basically, mind their own damn business. [Retuers via Yahoo] Today, Ukraine's highest court has blocked the inauguration of Yanukovich. [Reuters via Yahoo] It will be interesting to see how this unfolds.
Again, like my historical examples, but unlike today, in the U.S., Ukraine shows a fundamental division in a nation, with a part of the nation wanting to pursue westernization and liberalization, wanting to align itself more with the EU and the Western democracies. Now this is a difference that matters: about remaining as a satellite of Russia, little different than the days of the Soviet Union, or becoming an independent and autonomous nation.
I think it would help us all, as we go to see families and friends, many of whom may be at odds on politics, to think of Ukraine or the history of our country, and remember that we agree about more things that we disagree, that we're really all Americans, living in the greatest nation in history, participants in that bold experiment in democracy that still continues. I think that's something for which we should al be thankful, whether your're Michael Moore or Pat Robertson.
e-mail post | Link Cosmos | [Permalink] | (0) comments | | Thursday, November 25, 2004
- Is the division in America important to you?
- What will be necessary to heal it?
- What part do you see Bloggers playing in that discussion and how will you personally contribute to it?
The contemporary American political process naturally demands a certain level of division.In every election competing candidates offer competing or opposing positions and visions for the future; and in every election only one candidate can win. That's the way it works. Why does this election demonstrate some kind of unique divide?
Some point to the election results as evidence of the rift. They say the relatively narrow margin shows just how evenly split the nation is, while the high voter turnout indicates the intensity of the divide. But compare this to Kennedy-Nixon in 1960 in which Kennedy won the national popular vote by a margin of .17%, about 113,000 votes, a smaller vote margin than Bush had in Ohio alone. And as to turnout, in 1960, 63.1% of the voting age population showed up to vote, compared to 55.1% this year. Was the nation as divided then as it was today? More importantly, did people feel as divided as we do today? It is doubtful that Kennedy's election left 3 out of 4 Nixon voters "worried" and over a third "angry" about the outcome, as a Pew poll found Kerry voters to feel about Bush's victory.
A political scientist would say that close elections aren't usually a sign of division, but instead are the result of a lack of clear substantive differences between the candidates. I have commented at length on John Kerry's failure to present an agenda that offered a significant alternative to Bush. Kerry talked of doing things "better" or "smarter" or "differently;" he said we should do "more" or "everything possible." However, as a substantive forward agenda, he offered little more than increasing taxes on the wealthiest 5% of the nation and eliminating restrictions on funding embryonic stem cell research. The first President Bush might say that Kerry lacked that "vision thing."
"But look at the maps!" division-seekers claim, "The maps make the divisions so clear." If you really feel that way, I would encourage you to read a piece by the Washington Post's Philip Kennicott, "Election Map Makers, Exercising Some Latitude" to help provide some perspective. One of Kennicott's observations:
On the Internet, the shape of the United States is being reconfigured, recolored, relabeled and even twisted, in some cases, into unrecognizability. The infamous Jesusland map, which pits the blue states and Canada against a new southern theocracy, is only the tip of the cartographical iceberg. A more sober slide show, originally produced for CBS News, walks the user through just about every conceivable demographic division, from wealth to education to race and ethnicity. It is a mesmerizing and obsessive repetition of the American silhouette, colored to capture myriad degrees of social difference. It has the unintended consequence of reducing America like an X-ray reduces a patient, reinforcing the same minutiae of demographic cynicism we deplore in major-party strategists."Well if you can't see the division from the polls, you must be blind," say the believers in a deep divide, pointing to electoral splits among various demographic or sociographic factions. Of course, one can obviously segment groups, and identify segments that vote in one direction or another, this is exactly the "minutaue of demographic cynicism" Kennicott described. Indeed, I recently argued that the exit polls were actually engineered to "find" the division. But looking at the bigger picture and reading various postelection polls, the division appears less clear. For example, a CNN poll found 63% of voters want Bush to emphasize a bipartisan agenda, while only 30% want a focus on a "pure" Republican agenda. If you assume that anyone who voted for Kerry would, by definition, want a bipartisan agenda, slightly over 40% of Bush voters must want that bipartisan agenda as well. I would even bet that if the election results had flipped, the results would be mirrored, with at least as large a portion of Kerry's voter's endorsing a bipartisan agenda.
And, there really isn't so very much difference between the major parties. I'm not saying it's Coke versus Pepsi, but we certainly aren't deciding between milk and whiskey, this election was LBJ versus Barry Goldwater. When you consider the entire gamut of government policy, so much of it has been settled and institutionalized into vast professional bureaucracies. Even in policy areas that haven't been completely settled, the debate is not black or white, but more about deciding between a charcoal or slate grey. Each party is more than willing to co-opt positions traditionally "owned" by the other: Clinton brings us free trade and welfare reform, and Bush spearheads the largest entitlement program since Social Security (the Medicare prescription drug benefit). Ever tort reform, a key platform item for Bush, was first implemented by a Democratic governor and legislature in California back in 1975 (more on this subject). And truthfully, there wasn't much of a healthcare debate because Kerry's plan really wasn't all that different from a proposal presented by Republican Senate Leader Bill Frist. It's hardly surprising that many earnest progressives would call Kerry "Bush lite," or that conservative ideological purists would point out that Bush could hardly be called a "genuine" conservative.
Some might suggest that the similarities between the parties indicate a dysfunction in the political system. I would suggest that, more positively, such similarity might also be taken as evidence of a significant national consensus about a great many issues as well as the relative effectiveness of the two parties at ultimately arriving at solutions that are acceptable to a broad national consensus. The truth is that, as a collective whole, our nation is in pretty good shape, really. Citizens around the world might criticize or insult us for reelecting George Bush, but the funny thing is, we are still the envy of the world. For every Kerry voter that joked of leaving the country, there are easily a hundred people around the world who would wish nothing more than to take their place in America. And, as a practical matter, there hasn't really been any sort of exodus.
But If There's All This Consensus, Why Do We Feel So Divided?
As I've thought about it, I believe that the sense of division we feel is symptomatic not so much of a broad political difference but of a partisan rivalry, created and compounded by some broadly interrelated factors, none of which should make us very proud. (I will be posting followups to elaborate on these items as well, but I am trying to be brief(?))
A broad level of political ignorance and apathy, combined with the an expanding commonality between the major parties, has encouraged, if not forced, the use of more wedge issues, shrill claims, and personal demonization in campaigns, creating a political Kabuki theater. Poor mainstream news reporting of both government and politics has also encouraged more stark differentiation and simplistic messaging. The media has compounded their failure by being a party to the shift in the political debate from one of substance, facts, governance and policy to one that is personal, partisan, misleading and process-oriented.
These factors, combined with a pragmatic consensus by many in the informed middle has resulted in the group of citizen partisans for each side being composed of proportionally more extreme elements, who have also become increasingly shrill. The rise of niche media outlets from talk radio to blogs has also provided these citizen partisans with a greater voice.
The increasing intemperance by partisans and a lack of substantive knowledge about politics and policy has combined with a culture that discourages the social discussion of political disagreement to create a situation in which our social circles are more likely to be politically homogeneous, leading to groupthink and intemperate "debate" within those circles. When combined with increasing privacy and social isolation in people's political worlds (evidenced by increasing absentee voting and online political discussions) the result is many people who don't have (or don't know they have) any friends with an opposing viewpoint. A broad decline in the culture of respect and civility has also meant that people are more likely to view those who share different political views as somehow abnormal (and since it is often only the most extreme from the other side that rise above the din, this is more understandable).
All of this has combined with an increasingly self-indulgent culture that encourages, or at least validates, this emotional and dramatized sense of division that requires healing. Depression, as they say, is a disease of affluence. And, of course, it makes great news copy, having become the meme of the year for the mainstream press.
So What Can We Do?
Shortly after the election, I did an in-depth analysis of the NEP exit polls, which led me to believe the questions and tabulations were selected to highlight the sense of division in the electorate, it forced me to contemplate their motivation:
I'm not 100% sure why they would want to create that image so badly it would be worth effectively rigging the voter opinion results. The only rationale that comes to mind for doing this is that an America divided along largely demographic grounds is a better story for television.And while I could go on about this at length, that seems like the best summation for now. I will be posting further information about some of these issues mentioned here, and will add links to the expanded information in this post as I do.
I suppose television as a medium can't compete as strongly with print or online in the deeper discussion of policy, and that is exactly what our nation needs. If polling revealed the commonsense fact that most Americans, regardless of who they vote for, are generally concerned about the same sorts of things, and the conflict is really about the philosophical approach to achieving those common goals, then Americans are going to realize that we need to come together, across party lines and ideologies, and have a dialog about how best to achieve those common goals. That is usually what I try to do here, but I think many people think it's just easier to believe that "the other guys" are just too far apart from them to even have a conversation.
"Thankfully, Ukraine Reminds Us What 'A Nation Divided' Means" offers both some contemporary and historical perspectives on our nation's current divide.
"Looking at Political Apathy and Ignorance" considers some of the reasons for political apathy and touches on the extent of political ignorance.
e-mail post | Link Cosmos | [Permalink] | (1) comments | | Wednesday, November 24, 2004