Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Short: Why I love Plain Blog

The matchlight flares up blindingly.

Suddenly I see so clearly why I like (love?) the Plain Blog about Politics. Here it is:

  • It's based on data. In particular, the author (a PhD and professor) has a deep knowledge of US political history, and he takes a data-driven approach. 
This is a refreshing difference from the mostly ideological approach that political writers take.  Here's the author, Jonathan Bernstein, destroying the idea that a loss on the Syria vote will destroy the Obama presidency:
...there's one permutation that absolutely, no question about it, would destroy the rest of Barack Obama's presidency is: a disastrous war. Ask Lyndon Johnson or George W. Bush. Or Harry Truman...   
None of the other permutations [including losing a Syria vote] are anywhere close to that kind of threat to the Obama presidency. Presidents lose key votes which are then mostly forgotten all the time. They pursue policies which poll badly, but are then mostly forgotten, all the time. There are important things to say about all of that, because "mostly" isn't completely. But the first thing to get right when considering the effects of Syria policy on the rest of the Obama presidency is that the scale of a Vietnam or an Iraq (or a Korea, for that matter) overwhelms everything else we might talk about.
However, it wasn't reading the blog that brought on this epiphany. I was pursuing an argument on another blog where I'm trying to get a blogger to alter his view of Obama's fiscal program. How am I trying to do this? With data. 

Do your views conform with the data, or do you have to ignore the data (ignore facts) to maintain your political position? Everyone should be asking themselves that ALL THE TIME. Sadly, that isn't what happens.

1 comment:

Dangerous said...

Facts, as they say, are stubborn things. But so are impressions and opinions.

What many politicians and media analysts have concluded is that facts are malleable and the truth they are supposed to reveal and on which politics is supposed to rely is as much subject to interpretation and spin as to the facts themselves.

Today was an interesting example. First-time jobless claims were reported at a 7 year low of 292K, the first time below 300K since 2006. BUT, as reported in the media and as a "fact" issued with the report, the figures are "incomplete" because two states did not report all their results due to upgrades in their computer systems. Hence, so the analysts said, this "good" news may not be so "good".

Hmmm. If it is a "fact" that two states didn't report all their results. I'll accept that as the truth and the stated reason for it. But, um, which states? If it's Texas and Florida, then the 292K may be grossly understated. If it's Delaware and South Dakota -- not so much.

It's a "fact" that a majority of Americans oppose US military involvement in Syria. I have no doubt that's true since the methodology of the parties reporting those survey results are likely sound. But if you ask the question another way -- that is, frame the issue differently -- you would get a different "fact" which is also true but everyone would interpret with the opposite conclusion.

Anyone can make their views conform with the "data" by picking the right data or framing their argument a certain way in order to maintain one's political position. I agree that everyone should cross-examine their own facts and arguments ALL THE TIME. Sadly that isn't what happens.

Why? Results matter more to just about everyone than process. I think you and I, MP, are different from most people in that regard. I say Tom Corker (R-TN) make an ass of himself this morning on MSNBC trying desperately to make Obama look weak and wrong on Syria -- even while he himself supports the minority position on use of force in Syria!

If people can succeed with rationalizations instead of facts, or can succeed in their goals by shaving or ignoring facts, they will.

So I'm not ashamed to say that the facts are that an evil guy in Syria used chemical weapons to kill hundreds of innocents and wants to get away with it. It's right that Obama wants to hold him accountable. I can't imagine a US president who somehow wouldn't want that. The arguments aren't great not because the facts are murky. They aren't. The arguments aren't great because the choices stink and the outcome is uncertain.

When Bush & company lied us into Iraq, there was no murkiness in their assessment or in the facts they relied on. It was all a factual fiction, except that Saddam Hussein was a evil guy who had it coming. Saddam had WMD. He would give them to terrorists who would attack us. We would be greeted as liberators after short, easy war. Those were the "facts".

Obama could sell a war in Syria the same way, but has chosen not to because the real facts are these: Syria poses little direct or immediately threat to the US or its allies, whether we bombed him punitively or not. The risk to us, while not zero, is small. The ultimate outcome is more uncertain, but -- the argument is -- evil of this magnitude must be confronted.

What would be the "fact" reported if the survey question was; "Do you agree that evil must be confronted with military strikes if necessary?" Who would answer that question "no"?