Straw Dogs

A few years ago, I participated in some experiments designed to shed light on how people’s political beliefs are formed. My co-authors and I assembled a number of people in Colorado into all-liberal groups and all-conservative groups. We asked the groups to discuss three issues: climate change, affirmative action and civil unions for same-sex couples. …

Our findings were simple. On all three issues, both liberal and conservative groups became more unified and more extreme after talking to one another. Not only in their public verdicts but also in their private, anonymous statements of views. Discussions with one another made conservatives more skeptical of climate change and more hostile to affirmative action and same-sex unions — while liberals showed exactly the opposite pattern. …

Why do groups polarize in this way? One reason involves people’s concern for their reputations. If you find yourself in a group of people who hate affirmative action, you might be reluctant to say that you like affirmative action, and your agreement with the group in a public setting might affect what you say privately.

Thomas Hobbes’ oft-cited phrase from 1651, “nasty, brutish and short,” does not describe the 2012 presidential campaign…

To those not enamored by Teams Blue and Red, the rhetorical gymnastics performed in the run-up to a presidential election can be daunting. Yet underneath the hyper-partisan back and forth is an uncomfortable truth: a lot of what both sides are saying on the campaign trail is complete bullshit. 

The first day I became mayor they sit me down at the desk. Big chair, dark wood, lots of beautiful things. I’m thinking, “How much better can it get?” There’s a knock at the door in the corner of the room and Pete comes walking in carrying this gorgeous silver bowl… “It’s from the unions,” he says. So I think it’s a present, something to commemorate my first day as mayor.

He walks over, puts it on the desk, I look down at it… [I said] “That’s disgusting… the hell is this?” He says “What the hell’s it look like?” [I said] “It looks like shit. What do you want me to do with it?” He says “Eat it.” “Eat it?” He says “Yeah. You’re the mayor, you gotta eat it.”

So okay, it was my first day. Pete knows more than I do, so I go at it. And just when I finish, there’s a knock on the door and in walks Pete carrying another silver bowl. [Pete says] “And this one’s from the blacks.” “This too?” And he nods. I start eating, and when I’m finished there’s another knock and another bowl: “This one’s from the polocks.” And then after that, one from the ministers.

And you know what…? That’s what it is: you’re sitting, eating shit all day long, day after day, year after year. When I realized that I decided being a downtown lawyer and seeing my family every night made for a fine life. Just a fine life…

Former mayor “Young Tony’” The Wire
On so-called “Media Bias” posted this demotivational pic on its website along with the following:

Recognize these two people? If you don’t, we’ll help you out. The man on the left is George Zimmerman, the man accused of murdering the boy on the right, Trayvon Martin. The mainstream media won’t show you these two photos because they convey a message that no one else wants to take into consideration.[emphasis mine]

OR… it’s because the media can verify that the people in those photos are in fact the correct George Zimmerman and Trayvon Martin; the mugshot coming from the Sanford Police Dept. and the photos of Trayvon coming from Martin’s family.

The media don’t go trolling on Facebook looking for juicy photos of murder victims/suspects; they stick with what they can quickly verify. And there’s always the chance that the Trayvon Martin whose profile you got your pic from is not the same Trayvon Martin who was shot and killed in the altercation by Zimmerman.

Ironically, the post on displays a different kind of bias: confirmation bias.

The Myth of American Bipartisanship

Michael Nyhan on the Rationally Speaking podcast:

The experience of mid 20th Century bipartisanship which the old guard in Washington are so fond of was in some ways an accident of the way that race played out in this country, by creating this conservative bloc within the Democratic Party that essentially created a three party structure in congress and kind of blocked the natural polarization we would have in a two party system. So if you look at the history of Congress, that’s kind of an odd interlude—it’s an odd departure from the norm of partisanship. What we’re observing now is the norm; that period was the exception. …

More here.

I previously posted—a few weeks ago, that is—that I did not know why some moderates seemed to view Jon Huntsman favorably in spite of the fact that he’s probably one of the most conservative candidates in a primary season filled with politicians crowing about their own conservative bona fides.

Even weirder is the conservatives’ view of Huntsman.

The main difference between the two parties seems to be that the right assumes the media is out to get them (i.e., see The Weekly Standard) and the left seems to take it as a personal affront when you call them out (see the reaction to PolitiFact).
Glenn Kessler, "The Biggest Pinocchios of 2011," The Fact Check blog.
2010: The “Anti-Incumbent” Election Cycle

Last year, a lot of hubbub was made over the perceived anti-incumbent sentiment, which the MSM claimed was embodied by the Tea Party. The story goes that anger over the previous two years towards gov’t policy of bailing out banks and healthcare “reform” resulted in blah blah blah… you get the idea.

Unfortunately, if someone were to look at the historical rates of re-election for incumbents on Capitol Hill, they might get a different story.

Here’s what I mean:

Between 1964 and 2008, the average re-election rate for congressional incumbents has been 93.4%, and approx. 81.6% for incumbent senators.

Let’s compare them to the numbers for 2010:

US House Re-election Rate: 85%
US Senate Re-election Rate: 84%

The drop in the re-election rate for the House was the lowest in years, it’s hardly beyond historical precedent; 85% rate for 2010 was the same as the rate for the year 1970. More to the point, the drop in the re-election rate between 2008 and 2010 (9%) isn’t even the highest on record; the highest is between 1968 and 1970, where it dropped 12%.

Even more troublesome for the anti-incumbent narrative is the re-election rate for the Senate which was higher than the historical average and absolutely nowhere near the 55% low reached in 1980.

Suffice to say, the narrative that dominated the last election cycle was more hype than substance.

NOTE: re-election rate stats were researched by the Center for Responsive Politics and can be found on, a handy website for stats wonks.

I recently heard my liberal, Democrat parents say rather… non-negative things about Republican candidate Jon Huntsman, which makes me wonder:

1) are they completely oblivious to how conservative he actually is?
2) is this obliviousness due to the fact that the partisan prognosticators at MSNBC haven’t really dog-piled on him… yet…

History for Losers

from David Aaronivitch’s Voodoo Histories: The Role of Conspiracy Theory in Shaping Modern History:

…there is something of a pattern in which overarching theories are formulated by the politically defeated… They are the American Firsters, who got the [second world] war they didn’t want; the Midwest populists watching their small farmers go out of business; the opponents of the New Deal; the McGovern liberals in the era of Richard Nixon; British socialists and pacifists in the decade of Margaret Thatcher; the irreconcilable American right during the Clinton administration; the shattered American left in the time of the second Bush [administration].

If it can be proved that there has been a conspiracy, which has transformed politics and society, then their defeat is not the product of their own inherent weakness or unpopularity, let alone their mistakes; it is due to the almost demonic ruthlessness of the enemy.

I’m compelled to read a book Aaronovitch mentions a few pages before this passage: Going to Extremes: How Like Minds Unite and Divide by Cass R. Sunstein.

George Calin doesn’t complain about politicians.

The great thing about representative democracy is that the government is accountable to the voters.

The horrifying thing about representative democracy is that the voters aren’t accountable to anyone.