Friday, February 26, 2016

The Facts Have a Well-Known...Er, Never Mind

I already know the answer. Now. What's the question?
I used to believe that there was a fundamental, really an absolute difference between liberals and conservatives. We were the empiricists, willing to follow the evidence and evaluate the facts no matter where it took us. It was better to start with a clear eyed view of reality and then try to develop policies that would lead to our desired outcomes. Unlike conservatives, we were not so desperate to find confirmation of the things we so desperately wanted to believe that we could be bamboozled into believing anything - from tax cuts increase revenue to believing that we are faced with annihilation by Muslim terrorists. It was the conservatives that would unquestioningly believe anything that told them things they wanted to hear, or that confirmed a worldview that couldn't stand up to honest scrutiny. As bad as we wanted certain things to be true, if the facts took us another direction we would sadly - perhaps even reluctantly - give up on those beliefs in favor of a worldview grounded in reality.

Sadly, the Bernie Sanders presidential campaign has disabused me of such a quaint, naive notion. Motivated reasoning is not, it turns out, a conservative weakness, but more of a universal human weakness to be carefully guarded against. No matter who we are, no matter our ideology and political belief system, there are certain things we fiercely want to be true, and we react with anger and resentment when presented with facts that tell us they are not. Now, it has been historically true in recent decades that liberals were more willing than conservatives, upon reflection and analysis, to give up those cherished beliefs and build a new worldview on a foundation of factual analysis. But we are learning, as the Democratic primary season plays itself out, that sort of self-inveigled understanding of fairly basic political and economic realities is not solely the province of silly old white men in tri-cornered hats.

Indeed, just as American Christianist extremists adopt a whole set of social taboos and structures that are often in perfect alignment with the Islamist extremists they claim to hate, other than the political/economic/governance policy disagreements, it's become surprisingly different to tell a liberal hippie from a tea party conservative. The much-argued comparisons between the Trump and Sanders campaign is fairer than may are willing to accept. While they espouse diametrically opposed policy positions, they do so with the same kind of vague mumblings under shouted promises, all wrapped up in a few clever slogans.

We laughed when Jeb Bush ludicrously promised 4% annual economic growth, but then were surprised at the anger and outrage when we laughed at an analysis of Sanders economic policies projected 5.3% annual growth. Just a few years removed from a bloody multi year legislative fight that produced Obamacare, providing health insurance to an additional 20 million Americans and income security for millions more, the Sanders campaign tells us the ACA is a disappointment and that fully government funded single payer is not only the solution, it is a solution they promise to deliver. Ask how they plan on overcoming the immense political, ideological and economic hurdles that have prevented anything like that in the past, they respond with more vague mumblings and shouted accusations of corruption.

Many years ago, I left my beloved online community of Sadly, No! because I had grown exhausted and frustrated trying to have a meaningful conversation with people who refused to agree to a single, standard definition of common words. It was Upton Sinclair who famously advised: "It is difficult to get a man to understand something, when his salary depends upon his not understanding it!" Similarly, when it is more important to someone to believe the world is a certain way than it is to learn how the world actually functions, there are no facts or arguments that can sway them.

Frankly, I'm looking forward to Super Tuesday next week so we can stop arguing about how many angels can dance on the head of a pin and start counting delegates in earnest.


  1. Let me start with this:

    In Kahan’s experiment, some people were asked to interpret a table of numbers about whether a skin cream reduced rashes, and some people were asked to interpret a different table – containing the same numbers – about whether a law banning private citizens from carrying concealed handguns reduced crime. Kahan found that when the numbers in the table conflicted with people’s positions on gun control, they couldn’t do the math right, though they could when the subject was skin cream. The bleakest finding was that the more advanced that people’s math skills were, the more likely it was that their political views, whether liberal or conservative, made them less able to solve the math problem. [emphasis added]

    (I may have more later)

  2. they do so with the same kind of vague mumblings under shouted promises, all wrapped up in a few clever slogans.

    That is a fair description of the campaign for the TPP, TTIP, and TISA (all of which are covered by Fast Track).

    Here are the four "respected economists" casting shade on Sanders' ideas:

    The Honorable Alan Krueger
    The Honorable Austan Goolbee
    The Honorable Christina Romer
    The Honorable Laura D'Andrea Tyson
    Each one supported Fast Track, the motherlode of fairy tale economics.

    Massive trade deals negotiated secretly by representatives of the world's largest corporations will turn out great for the rest of us, too.

    Do you believe it?

    As for those four vs. Gerald Friedman and Bernie Sanders, I can't do better than James K. Galbraith.

    Then we have electability: Trump vs. Sanders or Trump vs. Clinton. Sanders has the edge.

    (And it will be even more pronounced if there is a recession before November. That could actually get us a President Trump if the nominee is Hillary.)

  3. I continue to be fascinated by the approach of Sanders supporters. They NEVER talk about this candidate that is supposed to be so wonderful. They demonize Hillary, they call anybody who disagrees or questions the Sanders campaign's claims and promises a corrupt tool, but when Bernie himself promises 5.3% GDP growth and understates the cost of universal single payer health care by $3 TRILLION DOLLARS ANNUALLY then don't say a word about it. It's just demonize, attack, smear, accuse and shout. It's like they read the Karl Rove playbook, but also like they don't actually believe very much in their candidate's own statements...

  4. OK here's the thing. Or, at least, here's my thing.

    I'm gonna vote for the commie, at least in the primary (as a matter of fact I changed my party affiliation from independent to Democrat (because of the rules here in Arizonastan) specifically to do so).
    Why? Not because I believe Sanders will magically pull sparkle pony unicorn 5.whatever% growth out of someplace you really don't want to see or 'green lantern' single payer health care through our completely bought and sold political system. I don't even really expect him to win the primary.
    I am doing so because I so dislike the corporatists, be they Democrat or Republican, who have destroyed my country* and are coming close to destroying my world. These jock-a-moes** need to be sent a message, that rolling out the tumbrils is very, very close (not that I really want it to come to that, but...)
    So what do I do besides voting for Sanders? I can't afford to buy my own politicians and even if I could there are plenty who can afford more.
    Will I vote for Hillary in the general? Yes, of course. Will I be happy about it? Hmmmm.

    *My job, of well over 20 years, was outsourced to Shanghai a couple of years ago. I have very good reason to be pissed off (and if I really believed Trump would be able to bring that job back I might even vote for him).

    **I have seen evidence that jock-a-moe is not really an insult in the original Cajun. That's OK, I use it as one.

    1. THAT is refreshing. Stunningly so. Logical, reasonable, rational reasons for choosing one candidate without feeling the need to demonize the other. A fair argument and pragmatic politics.

      Thank you, Dave...

  5. I have seen little progressive demonizing of the person named Hillary. I have seen lots of demonizing her appalling record in so many areas (including TPP and war). I will vote for her in the general election ONLY if my state is up for grabs. Even this is a cop out, conscience wise. Hillary may be Glenda (the good witch) as a person, but she has sided with the corporatists for a long, long time.

  6. May I be the first to say HELLO! to he well-deserved traffic from C&L, courtesy of the upstanding non-zombie Tengrain.

    I am wondering if Bernie sticks around till my primary, in April. As the Professional Left has said, I am planning to vote Bernie in the Primary, and whoever Bernie is voting for in the general.

    Like Jim, I have seen little (but certainly some) personal demonizing of both Sanders and Clinton, but mainly by people on the intertubas. I have been impressed that the Democrats seem to have largely concentrated on arguments about issues, not personalities. Compare that to the Republicans...

    One thing I would say; national polls, this far out are doubly meaningless. As the Gore election shows, national numbers are not how we wind up with a President, but it breaks down by state and electoral votes (which, apparently escapes the notice of most of my fellow citizens).

    Also, when I mentally game out the general race, I imagine Hillary as a much more potent force against Trump's bluster (and after tonight, does anyone doubt that he is the nominee?) as she is cool, calm, collected and has a remarkable command of the issues. Much as I love Bernie, I fear his race against Trump would turn into a Republican debate; two old white guys with questionable hair choices yelling at each other. In that context, I figure Bernie's lead over Trump erodes pretty damn quickly.

    Besides; if you look at President Bern, facing a colossally obstructionist Congress vs. Bernie as a magnificent Senator, I know where I feel he is more effective. Also along those lines; Is there anyone better prepared for the resistance and hatred from the right than Hillary Clinton?