The other sides messaging is powerful: The other side has powerful messagingand its messaging is everywhere. This was Dan Quayle, in yesterdays Washington Post Outlook section, writing something he may even believe:
QUAYLE (4/4/10): Many remember the Reform Party of the 1990s, which formed around the candidacy of Ross Perot. I sure do, because it eliminated any chance that President George H. W. Bush and I would prevail over Bill Clinton and Al Gore in 1992. What started as a grass-roots phenomenon ended with 19 percent support at the ballot boxand a majority of those voters would probably have gone Republican in a two-party race. Speaking on behalf of the Bush-Quayle campaign, to this day we firmly believe that Perot cost the Republican Party the White House. The 1992 election was the best showing for the movement Perot started, and whatever national influence it retained kept working to the benefit of Democrats.
In that passage, Quayle recites an ingrained part of GOP messaging: Clinton only won in 1992 because of Ross Perot. Point of information: Since Clinton beat Bush by six points, a substantial majority of Perot voters would have had to favor Bush over Clinton to make Quayles thesis turn out right. In fact, Perot voters split evenly between Clinton and Bush in that years exit polls (see THE DAILY HOWLER, 6/29/05). Those are the only objective data on which claims like Quayles can be judged. And they dont favor his thesis.
Based on the evidence as it exists, Perot voters didnt harm Candidate Bush in 1992. But so what? Republicans got busy inventing this alternate reality, in which their noble candidate lost because of this third-party movement. This is one of the ways the GOP tagged Clinton as an illegitimate president. We knowits heresy to remember such things! But Obama isnt the only recent Democratic president to be tagged as illegitimate. The GOP did the same darn thing when a white Democrat got elected!
(In last Fridays Salon, Steve Kornacki offered a detailed look at the polling history of the Clinton/Bush race, thus debunking Quayles claim. Three cheers for Kornacki!)
Quayle may even believe what he wrote, so ingrained in this GOP messaging. But then, Republicans have reinvented basic facts to explain away other famous defeats. Example:
Yesterday, John Dean did the full three-hour stint on C-Spans invaluable In Depth program (click here). At 1:04 of the tape, a caller offers the standard excuse for Nixons loss to Kennedy in 1960. According to the caller, Nixon lost the White House that year because of voter fraud in Illinois. Nixons advisers wanted him to challenge the electoral count in Illinois, which would have given him the presidency, the caller said. But Nixon decided to take the high road, he saidthough this experience might help explain Nixons bitterness toward the media, the press. (How the press would have been involved never quite got explained.)
Remarkable, isnt it? Fifty years after that famous election, this country is full of disinformed souls who still believe that story. In fact, Kennedy won the electoral vote over Nixon by a healthy margin (303-219). Even if Illinois 27 electoral votes had flipped, Kennedy still would have won. But so what? This pleasing piece of disinformation has been spread all about, right to this day. Indeed, Dean himself showed no sign of knowing that the callers basic premise was wrong. He simply explained that down-state cheating on Nixons behalf would have outweighed any Chicago-based cheating which helped JFK. He never corrected the viewers claim that Illinois cost Nixon the White House. Indeed, he explicitly seconded the viewers claim that Nixon didnt challenge the Illinois outcome because (in Deans words) he took the high road.
Given the way our politics works, its very easy to disinform voters in such ways. Well-funded, skillful message machines churn oodles of conservative cant. The liberal and Democratic worlds have never quite gotten around to building information platforms which would tell the average voter that they are being misled. We prefer to bellow and wail at the voters themselves, as occurred in this recent piece (more tomorrow). Or we run our keisters onto programs like Hardball, where we kiss the ass of one of the greatest disinformation-purveyors of the modern era.
(As a famous bipartisan player once said: This is the business weve chosen!)
Last Friday, we looked at the large-scale messaging strategy described by James Hoggan on Maddow (see THE DAILY HOWLER, 4/2/10). If Hoggan is right, a long-term effort is underway to portray the scientific community as a biased liberal bloc, as was done in earlier eras with journalists. (If this strategy succeeds, the liberal media will be joined in voters minds by liberal science.) And pleasedont think this effort couldnt succeed. Their side is massively-financed and technically skilled. Our side is in the hands of children, sell-outs and goof-balls.
Candidates Nixon and Bush really won! If you read yesterdays Post, then watched C-Span, you saw both claims reinforced, all in one day! The country is full of voters who believe these thingsin part, because people like Dean seem to reinforce their beliefs. In reaction, we liberals insult these disinformed voters, failing to note the sprawling pseudo-liberal incompetence which lets such messaging grind on.
And of course, we call these voters stupid! What then would that make us?
As we were saying: In our post from June 2005 (see above), we were responding to a claim at the liberal site Tapped which said that Perot may have cost Bush the race! But dont worryit all turned out well. The author who peddled that RNC cant ended up with a job at the Post!
(Given the way American messaging works, we dont doubt, not for a minute, that this writer believed what she said. Most likely, she had heard that claim many times. Given the way our messaging works, almost everyone has.)
Special report: Ravished by Ravitch!
PART 1THE ALLURE OF THE SWITCHER (permalink): Diane Ravitch isnt a household name; for that reason, well start by identifying her. Rather, well let her ID herself. This is the start of Ravitchs interesting op-ed column in Fridays Washington Post:
RAVITCH (4//10): I used to be a strong supporter of school accountability and choice. But in recent years, it became clear to me that these strategies were not working.
Ravitch is hot these days. For one thing, she has a new booka book we look forward to reading, though our expectations for this particular author will be in the mid-level range. And Ravitch is hot because shes a convert, an apostate, a switcher of tribes. For years, Ravitch was a strong supporter of school accountability and choicea high-level advocate of the policies enshrined in the No Child Left Behind law. Now, Ravitch has switched her viewsand shes very hot.
Lets say it againwe look forward to reading Ravitchs book. Ravitch is experienced and knowledgeable, and were sure shes totally well-intentioned, as she has always been. But as we look forward, we remember one pointRavitch says she was wrong in the past, that her judgments over the past many years have turned out to be largely wrong. (In her own words, it has become clear that the strategies she favored havent been working.) In our view, the limitations of some of these strategies always seemed fairly clear in real time. In our view, a sensible person might look forward to reading Ravitchs book. But he might wonder, at the same time, why Ravitch wasnt a bit more savvy in the past.
Question: If Ravitch was largely wrong all those years, why should we assume that shell be largely right now? For ourselves, we would keep her history of (partial) error in mind as we approach her new work. But for many others, the switcher inevitably carries an allureespecially if the switcher switches over to your tribal side. Example: In Salon, this is the way Mary Elizabeth Williams introduced her recent interview with Ravitch:
WILLIAMS (3/25/10): Diane Ravitch has spent a lifetime in school. She was the assistant secretary of education under George H. W. Bush and an early advocate of No Child Left Behind. Today, she's a research professor of education at New York University, a passionate critic of the system and an articulate, outspoken advocate for saving our public schools. Her new book has the provocative title, The Death and Life of the Great American School System: How Testing and Choice Are Undermining Education.
She's certainly got my attention. As a public school parent in New York City, where on Thursday, chancellor Joel Klein threatened to cut 8,500 teaching jobs20 percent of which would come from the impoverished South BronxI've been watching the ongoing fiasco in education reform with a mixture of fear, anger and outright disgust.
The Williams-Ravitch interview is well worth reading. But if Williams has been watching the ongoing fiasco with outright disgust, were not sure why shes so eager to hear from Ravitch! Ravitch was one of the influential people who stood behind the movement which has long filled Williams with loathing. What makes Williams so eager to hear from Ravitch now?
In our view, Ravitch didnt judge all that well in the past. This tends to lower our expectations for the judgments well find in her book. In our years of rambling, weve noticed one key point: People who were wrong in the past will sometimes be wrong in the future.
That said, Ravitch is a leading voice in the education world. She has studied education policy for decades; we feel quite certain that shes looking for the best ways to proceed, and that she always has been. Her new book is stirring a lot of interestand the topics she discusses are, of course, quite important. For that reason, we thought wed spend a few days this week looking at Ravitchs op-ed column, in which she sketches the basic ideas driving her new approach.
We the people love a switcherespecially when the switcher crosses over to join our own tribe. For those who have watched the ongoing fiasco with outright disgust, Ravitch once stood with the devils; today, she stands aligned with the angels. But are her judgments any more sound? Tomorrow, well return to her opening paragraph in the Postand well check a statistical claim.