Still Pissed Off About the Hawley-Smoot Tariff

Thursday, December 09, 2004

Redefining Reality

Ace has a post, as well as some critical remarks, about a proposed new Democratic strategy of winning by re-defining terms.

For example:

"He has suggested that same-sex marriage should be referred to as 'the right to marry.'"

I'm posting this mainly in response to a commenter on that thread, Chris Grant, who basically complains that Republicans do that as well as Democrats, so blah blah blah. I note at the outset that "he did it first" was a logical argument that lost its persuasive force back in kindergarten.

Secondly, as I pointed out in Ace's comments, politicians speak to the lowest common denominator. That's simply a fact of political life, and it's due in large part to the fact that a complicated, rambling argument is hard to put on a t-shirt, and therefore hard to drill over and over into the heads of a very dim-witted public. Let me offer an example of this sort of phenomenon, and its abuses.

According to the book 'Michael Moore is a Big, Fat, Stupid White Man," the big fat stupid white protagonist of that book went to Europe and decided to demonstrate how stupid Americans are, compared to their intellectually superior European cousins. He asked Germans (for example), to name the President of the United States, and then the Chancellor of Germany, and the Germans could all do it. Then he said that most Americans can name our President, but not the German Chancellor. Therefore Americans are stupid. QED.

The problem is that Moore's question doesn't reflect intelligence so much as it reflects relative importance in world affairs. Sorry to any Germans reading this, but you are simply not the economic and military super-power that America is, and the last time you tried to be... well, I'll leave that one alone.

To illustrate precisely why Moore's question is so flawed, consider a hypothetical interview conducted in America. Let's start in Louisiana, and ask some random passers-by to name the Governor of Louisiana and the Governor of California. I'm willing to bet that most Louisianans could do both, because our Governor is in the newspaper all the time, and the Governor of California is also in the newspaper all the time. Now let's go to California and ask the same question. How many Californians do you think know who the Governor of Louisiana is? And if that number is very low, is it because Californians are really stupid? (Before you answer that, I remind you that California went very blue last time, and Democrat Barbara Boxer absolutely kicked the crap out of her opponent).

Let's try the same experiment for Moore's state of residence, New York. How many New Yorkers can name the governors of both New York and Louisiana? Can Michael Moore name our governor? If not, does that make him stupid? [No, his lack of a functioning brain makes him stupid.] Does it mean Louisianans are more intelligent than New Yorkers?

Frankly, no. Louisianans are neither more nor less intelligent than people in other states. The problem is the relative importance of the position we're discussing. As much as I like Louisiana, it is clearly not as important as New York, in terms of overall national prominence. Louisiana is like Germany to New York's America.

The problem with all of the foregoing is that it doesn't fit on a bumper sticker. You can't make a radio ad out of it. It takes several paragraphs to combat the sheer stupidity of Michael Moore's fundamentally dishonest conclusion, and frankly, less people are likely to read my several paragraphs than are likely to read the bumper-sticker-sized slogan that Americans are stupid.

So really, it's no surprise that politicians do their best to dumb everything down, and redefining terms is part of that. It's stupid, but that's how the system works.