BLOWING IN THE WIND! Almost half the country agreedunless you were reading Charles Blow: // link // print // previous // next //
MONDAY, NOVEMBER 22, 2010
The shape of shared sacrifice: The Bowles-Simpson proposal seems to be fading away; increasingly, it seems that the Deficit Commission will reach no group agreement. But we did want to explain the sacrifice Bowles and Simpson wished on the top one percent of earners, who now hold a massiveand rapidly growingshare of the nations income and wealth.
As noted, several groups have now crunched the numbers of the Bowles-Simpson proposal. At the Tax Policy Center, the chairmens proposal was measured against two baselinesthe current policy baseline and the current law baseline. To read the full explanation of those baselines, just click here. But basically, this means that the Bowles-Simpson proposal was measured against the world left by President Bushand against the earlier world left by President Clinton.
Question: What sort of sacrifice would be required of the top one percent? How would those people make out under the Bowles-Simpson proposal, as opposed to what was required under President Clinton? We had planned to discuss that today, but we see that the Tax Policy Center has updated its analysis, making its work even harder to explain than it already was. For that reason, well simply quote Jonathan Chait again. Then, well make a few basic remarks about our broken discourse:
Say what? Bowles-Simpson would tax the [top one percent] at lower rates than the Clinton-era tax code? That is the kind of sacrifice visited on the nations wealthiest peopleon people who have become much more wealthy since the Clinton days?
In our view, thats a strange form of sacrifice. People at the top of that top one percent are making much more money than they did even a dozen years ago. But so what? Now that were confronting an alleged national crisisa crisis requiring sacrifice by everyoneBowles and Simpson propose that massively wealthy people be taxed less than they were in those halcyon days, before we all had to sacrifice! At least, thats the way this proposal would work if you accept Chaits paraphrase of the Tax Policy Centers analysis. Last week, we thought we understood that analysis. Now that the Center has updated its already opaque work, we cant really say that were sure.
This brings us to a central problem within our broken democracy:
How is anyone ever supposed to know the facts about such proposals? Groups like the TPC publish analyses, but their analyses tend to be written in the high-fallutin academic lingo that very few folk understand. Presumably, progressives want the average voter to have the chance to understand how proposals like Bowles-Simpson work. But where do you go to see such matters explained in regular English?
For decades, pseudo-conservative spin tanks have pimped economic disinformationbut that disinformation has always been packaged in ways which are easy to process. (If we lower tax rates, we get extra revenue! The Social Security money isnt thereweve already spent it!) Decades later, the liberal world still hasnt created a place people can go to learn the actual facts. Did Bowles and Simpson really propose the type of sacrifice in which the very wealthy would have to pay less than they did under President Clinton? If you have a friend who doesnt believe that, where could you send him or her to see this matter explained?
The liberal world has been badly outplayed over the past forty years. Rush and Sean churn pure disinformationbut its digestible. On our side, we sit and stare into space and say how stupid they are.
BLOWING IN THE WIND (permalink): For our money, Charles Blow produced his most interesting column yet in Saturdays New York Times.
That doesnt mean the column was good. On balance, wed say it wasnt, although it raised an intriguing question.
Blow discussed the response to a recent survey questionthe same survey question we mentioned last Friday (see THE DAILY HOWLER, 11/19/10). The question was asked by the Public Religion Research Institute. It was part of a post-election survey which undergirds that groups new report.
What is the survey question at issue? In the survey, respondents were asked if they agreed or disagreed with the following statement:
For ourselves, we dont know why people would agree with that statement. We would have said we disagreed, or we might have declined to answer on grounds of vagueness. But oodles of Americans did agree with that statement. Overall, 44 percent of respondents said they agreed; 54 percent said they did not. (Two percent didnt answer.)
Might we check our basic math? Forty-four percent of respondents is almost half the country!
Last week, at Mother Jones, Stephanie Mencimer referred rather snarkily to the responses to this survey question; she then mistakenly linked to an earlier report by the Public Religion Research Institute. That said, Mencimer took a familiar path in her analysis of this question. She focused on responses by Tea Party members alone. She said those responses provided the latest sign of the Tea Partys racism. Bring on the snark!
Pleasingly, Mencimer brought on the snark. Without making a direct claim or assertion, she implied that the Tea Partys 61 percent agreement rate helps us address the question of just how racist the tea party movement really is.
Mencimer then posted the incorrect link, then crept off to nap in the woods.
One hour later, Kevin Drumwho is normally much more soberlinked to Mencimers post. He referred to this disturbing finding about the Tea Party, then offered the incorrect link himself. A bit later, Digby also linked to Mencimer. She said Mencimer had dug into the latest survey on the tea party and come up with some interesting data.
The whole report is here and it's fascinating, she wroteas she linked to a different report.
Like Drum, Digby accepted Mencimers narrow focus on Tea Party responses. That said, we thought Digbys reaction to those response was basically sane and intelligent, for reasons well detail below. But everyone was upset, or semi-upset, with this latest disturbing sign of the Tea Partys racism. And thats where Blows new column comes in.
Why did people agree with that statement? As part of Saturdays rambling effort, Blow cited the responses by white Tea Party membersand he extended the circle of blame beyond the Tea Party itself. But he only cited responses by whitesand he focused on certain sub-groups. In so doing, he deep-sixed an intriguing part of the data:
Blow didnt accuse anyone of racism, though he did say that this extraordinary set of responses provides the latest evidence that many whites are exhibiting the same culture of racial victimization that they decry. That said, Blow was quite selective in the way he presented the data. If you look at the graphic which accompanies his piece (click here), you will see that many people said they agreed with that statement about discrimination. Perhaps most strikingly, this included many blacks and Hispanics:
Has discrimination against whites become as big a problem as discrimination against blacks? Skillfully snarking, Mencimer suggested that the Tea Partys 61 percent agreement rate was the latest sign of the groups racism. But if the data in Blows graphic are accurate, 30 percent of blacks agreed with that statement, along with 32 percent of Hispanics!
Forty-four percent of all Americans agreed. Snarking skillfully, Mencimer airbrushed those people. On Saturday, so did Blow.
Why did so many people answer that question that way? We have no idea. But note the way Mencimer reacted to this gift from the survey gods. Snarking nicely and linking wrongly, she seized the latest chance to link the Tea Party to racism. Blow had a similar reaction. For him, the responses by white Tea Party members and white Republicans represent the latest evidence that many whites are exhibiting the same culture of racial victimization that they decry. But if thats what we learn from the white response, what do we learn from the responses by blacks and Hispanics?
Answer: In the land of tribal narrative, we learn nothing at all! Those reactions got airbrushed away in Blows column. The scribe ignored those responses completely, even as he said that this answer, when given by whites, is a sign of their racial bad faith.
In our view, Mencimer and Blow were hacking fairly hard as they pondered this survey question. For our money, Digbys reaction was much more saneand was more humane. For once in recent years, Digby banned the bomb, trying instead to figure out why people responded as they did. Its trueshe didnt mention the fact that many minorities gave the same answer as those Tea Party members. (Most likely, she didnt know that fact; it wasnt included in Mencimers post or in the published report.) She didnt discuss the fact that 44 percent of all Americans49 percent of all independentsanswered the question that way.
But instead of dropping an R-bomb on Tea Party heads, Digby behaved like a mensch. She reacted as Dr. King might have done. This is what she wrote:
For ourselves, we have no idea why all those people answered the way they did. For our money, Digby engages in a bit too much speculation when she starts imagining what Tea Party members and Christian conservatives think. (Bowing to a familiar impulse, she also semi-implied that all members of these groups would have the same basic complaint.) But Digby did something we found quite amazing. Amazingly, she imagined that Tea Party members might hold a view that isnt intellectual incoherent. She pictured such people adopting a position that isnt unreasonable.
To our ear, that sounded like a new morning. But in our view, Digbys first remark was her most striking: I think it would be interesting to ask them what they consider discrimination. Hear! Hear! the analysts lustily cried, rising as one in their carrels.
In that statement, Digby rejected the instant tribal reaction, unless you choose to read her statement as sarcastic/sardonic. For once in her recent life, Digby seemed to say it might be interesting to learn what the other guy thinks!
In a giant, continental nation, theres no other way to do politics. You cant just blunderbuss ahead, name-calling everyone who doesnt agree with your inerrant view of the cosmos. In a giant democratic nation, those people have a namethe electorateand you arent likely to win them over if you dont understand what they think. (Or if you signal open contempt for their very being.) But curiosity about the other guy has been hard to find in the liberal world which has emerged in the years since Iraq.
Can we talk? Rather plainly, contempt for the tea-bagger drives a great deal of our new liberal culture. (Except when our intellectual leaders explain themselves to Jon Stewart.) Curiosity about the views of Tea Party members is virtually non-existent; the notion that their views arent necessarily crazy/stupid/racist is rather hard to find. The love of loathing drives much of our world. To some extent, we would say that Mencimer and Blow each put this instinct on display.
Mencimer ignored the fact that 44 percent of all respondents answered that question in the way she suggested was racist. Are they all racist too? Mencimer excused herself from answering. Days later, Blow ignored the fact that almost one-third of blacks and Hispanics had given that same response.
Why did all those people answer that way? We have no idea, but wed like to hear them explain. Wed like to hear what Tea Party members would say. Wed like to hear blacks and Hispanics (and minority Christians).
Wed like to hear how the world looks to them. How else do you run a democracy?
Why did people answer that way? Basically, we dont knowand theres no substitute for simply asking the people in question if you want to find out. Having said that, we would offer two observations, after reading through the 231 comments to Blows column (click here).
First observation: Many people, including Blow, seem to conflate the following terms: racial discrimination, racial bias, feelings of racial prejudice. If Blow himself conflates those terms, many others may do so as well. In some cases, this may affect the way that question was answered. (That said, there is no substitute for asking people to explain their answer.)
Second observation: People dont give a fig about data. We scanned all 231 comments, although we didnt fully read those which were very long. But we didnt see a single comment which noted the data in Blows graphicdata which showed that almost one-third of blacks and Hispanics answered that question in the way which was deemed to be damning. We didnt see a single person who asked a fairly obvious question: If so many black and Hispanics agree with that statement, why is it damning when other folk do? We didnt see a single person who was struck by the large overlap between the responses by the good and bad groups.
We live in a highly tribal timea time when observers pick-and-choose data, using them to denounce the other tribe. We thought Blows column followed this pattern. By the end of his column, he was playing the public against the right: He was saying the public must reclaim the facts of the race debate in this country, while implying that some on the right agreed with that survey statement. But it wasnt some on the right who agreed with that statementit was 44 percent of all respondents (otherwise known as almost half the public), including 30 percent of blacks! These facts were disappeared from Blows column, as its author extended blame to groups he doesnt like.
Good grief! Almost half the country agreedunless you were reading Charles Blow! We have no idea why they did. Wed like to see somebody ask.
Counting crackers: We thought Digby behaved like a mensch, but not so much with many of her commenters. Increasingly, our liberal tribe likes to snarland we love to loathe:
According to one of Digbys readers, 30 percent of blacks and Hispanics should be held in contempt, and laughed at regularly. To another reader, this survey is further proof that the Teabaggers are delusional and live in a different universe from the rest of us. Presumably, this tribal loather meant to say that 61 percent of tea-baggers live in that different universe. (Thirty-nine percent disagreed with the statement.) Did he know that 30 percent of black and Hispanics live in that universe too?
Thirty percent of blacks are crackers! This is where it goes when we let ourselves loathe. The plutocrats win this way.