A Thin Veil Of Intellectualism

Popping up on Memeorandum was a rather interesting sounding headline, “Vote for me, dimwit,” a supposedly intellectual look at how the uninformed voter votes, often times against their best interests.

It starts off promising enough:

ANYONE who follows an election campaign too closely will sometimes get the feeling that politicians think voters are idiots. A new book says they are. Or rather, Bryan Caplan, an economics professor at George Mason University, makes the slightly politer claim that voters systematically favour irrational policies. In a democracy, rational politicians give them what they (irrationally) want. In “The Myth of the Rational Voter”, Mr Caplan explains why this happens, why it matters and what we can do about it.

The world is a complex place. Most people are inevitably ignorant about most things, which is why shows like “Are You Smarter than a 5th Grader?” are funny. Politics is no exception. Only 15% of Americans know who Harry Reid (the Senate majority leader) is, for example. True, more than 90% can identify Arnold Schwarzenegger. But that has a lot to do with the governor of California’s previous job pretending to be a killer robot.

Many political scientists think this does not matter because of a phenomenon called the “miracle of aggregation” or, more poetically, the “wisdom of crowds”. If ignorant voters vote randomly, the candidate who wins a majority of well-informed voters will win. The principle yields good results in other fields. On “Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?”, another quiz show, the answer most popular with the studio audience is correct 91% of the time. Financial markets, too, show how a huge number of guesses, aggregated, can value a stock or bond more accurately than any individual expert could. But Mr Caplan says that politics is different because ignorant voters do not vote randomly.

But following this opening that is filled with an air of academic curiosity is a thinly veiled conservative screed which cleverly not only lends credibility to conservative issues (not the big ones like Iraq and Health Care so much as the not quite hot button issues of free trade and job growth), but also is rather successful at indirectly taking Democratic politicians for sounding alarmist on these issues. All the while, it borders on the subliminal in telling the reader to essentially just, you know… relax man, everything’s gonna be fine.

Ron Chusid of Liberal Values sees this and figures two can play this game, adding a few biases of his own that were kind of ignored in the original article:

Security Bias: Republicans have played politics with the 9/11 attack, using it to push through their pre-9/11 goals and to claim Democrats were weaker on national security, and possibly even unpatriotic.

Values Bias: Republicans, often with the help of churches, portrayed their views as being supportive of family values and more moral, while Democrats were portrayed as sinners.

Free Market Bias: Republicans claimed to be the defenders of the free market while pursuing efforts contrary to true capitalism, including corporate welfare, collusion between businesses and regulators, and the K Street Project.

Anti-Government Bias: The message that “government is the problem, not the solution,” resonates with voters both in situations where it is true and when it is not. Republicans played up running against big government, even when they controlled all three branches of the government.

In the end, the original premise was actually an interesting one, definitely something that horse race addicts such as myself could really get into. It’s just too bad that it descended so quickly into just more conservative propaganda.

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