Monday, June 26, 2006

Fatuous poppycock

This piece of nonsense is from today's WSJ editorial page. My comments are interspersed in italics.

He Who Whines First Laughs Last

June 26, 2006
; Page A14

Republicans are a bunch of stiffs. That, at least, is the portrait the Democrats are trying to create. A key to making gains in the 2006 and 2008 elections is to convince Americans that Democrats are fundamentally more positive and attractive than conservatives. And a study in the news over the past month appears to provide evidence that this may be true.

"A study in the news" = red flag. My moron sense is already tingling.

In 1969, two psychologists at the University of California at Berkeley evaluated 100 Berkeley-area preschoolers. Decades later, they followed up with these former toddlers, and asked them about their politics. In a recently published article, the researchers report the results: The politically liberal young adults in this group had been the more resourceful, autonomous, expressive and self-reliant children. In contrast, the people that turned into conservatives had been judged as children to be "visibly deviant," susceptible to guilt feelings, easily offended and rigid. In short, the research -- gleefully embraced by many liberals -- makes conservatism sound as if it stems from a childhood personality disorder.

If referencing a study (as well as a "recently published article") without providing sources on either isn't a clear violation of Tim's Laws of Engaged Debate, it should be. (This reminds me: Tim, would you be kind enough to post on the blog the list you shared at last week's book club?) Brooks's comments about liberals "gleefully embracing" the research is also an egregious offense: besides not defining "liberal" (does the study even do that?), he does not deign to share with us the gleeful embracers.

This view of conservatives is consistent with the picture painted by bestselling author George Lakoff, who has personally advised Democratic leaders, including Howard Dean, on how to frame political messages. According to Mr. Lakoff, conservatives have a "strict father" model of life, in which "the world is a dangerous place. It's a difficult place. And kids are born bad and have to be made good." A portrait of Republicans as the American Gothic is the one most likely to be marketed by the Democrats.

Does he mean that painting "American Gothic" by Grant Wood? I don't get the connection. Is the pitchfork guy a Republican, "protecting" us from terrorists?

Will portraying the Republicans in this way ring true with Americans? It may not, because there is actually no evidence that political conservatives, no matter how whiny they were at age three, are especially rigid or grim as adults. On the contrary, the best data available show that conservatives have a clear edge over liberals in terms of happiness and emotional fortitude.

Whoa, whoa - "on the contrary" means you are about to present THE OPPOSITE of what was just claimed. Since when are happiness and emotional fortitude the opposite of rigidity or grimness?

For example, data collected on Americans in 2004 by the National Opinion Research Center show that self-described political conservatives are almost twice as likely as political liberals to say they are very happy with their lives. These differences are not due to demographics such as education, income, age, gender or race. Indeed, if two adults are identical in all these ways and only differ in their politics, the conservative will be, on average, 14 percentage points more likely to say he or she is very happy than the liberal.

This is the "best data available" referenced in the previous paragraph? The very name of the data's source - the National OPINION Research Center - makes calling this "data" a bit of a stretch.

Political conservatives are also far less likely than liberals to express maladjustment to their adult lives. For example, adults on the political right are only half as likely as those on the left to say, "at times, I think I am no good at all." They are also less likely to say they are dissatisfied with themselves, they are inclined to feel like a failure, or they are pessimistic about their futures.

OK, now Brooks has totally lost me. George Lakoff was expressing what PJ O'Rourke said better: God is a Republican, Santa Claus is a Democrat. Brooks's "data" seems to be more about self-image determining political values - which is the kind of shaky intellectual ground you'd expect to see in a Communications major's thesis. Says a lot for the WSJ's editorial standards, I suppose.

Whether they start out "visibly deviant" or not, what accounts for the fact that conservative adults end up happiest? One answer is probably religion. Today, religion is the most important cultural faultline between the left and right: In 2000, for example, conservative Americans were twice as likely as liberals to attend a house of worship every week, and half as likely to have no religion. Voluminous research on happiness has shown that religious people are much happier about their lives and futures than nonreligious people, and that it is religious faith per se that causes at least part of this difference.

Ah, here we go: the true colors come out! "Probably"; "most important"; "voluminous research on happiness" - these made it past the editor's knife because this piece is not meant to be considered critically. Rather than the hypothesis-supporting data-conclusion editorial it claims to be, this editorial is merely a hack job on the "gleefully embracing liberals" straw man invented above.

In summary, it appears that he who whines first laughs last. Americans may not buy the Democratic portrait of grim Republicans because it is simply not accurate. On the contrary, it appears that American conservatives have a formula for happiness that liberals might just want to emulate, instead of caricature or mock.

But I like caricatures!


Blogger Tim said...

I am still working on Moran's Laws.
Here is their current form:

-Moran's Law of Trust #1; The trustworthiness of a statement is proportional
to the accuracy of similar previous statements from a source.
-Moran's Law of Trust #2: The trustworthiness of a statement about the opinions
of a certain group is proportional to the precision with which that group
is defined.
-Moran's Law of Trust #3: The trustworthiness of a statement about the opinions
of a certain group is proportional to the approval that informed people would have
of the phrasing of the descriptions of those opinions.
-Moran's Law of Trust #4: The trustworthiness of a statement is proportional
to the amount of peer review it has received.

12:47 AM  

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