Can We Dumb Things Down Enough?

December 4th, 2012

By Dan Miller

Arguments that appeal to reason rarely appeal to emotion. Nor do they appeal to uninformed voters who are not interested. Can we have better informed and more rational voters?

Democrats realize that rational thought does not appeal to many voters and Republicans have yet to understand that emotional appeals beat rational appeals. Even when they try emotional appeals they rarely work because they don’t do a good job of it; their efforts are quickly and effectively shoved aside.

On Sunday, I received an appeal from Stephanie Cutter of the Obama-Biden campaign. Here’s the gist of it:  

Obama - Biden

Friend –

I hope you had a lovely holiday and all is well. I’m writing with a quick update on the “fiscal cliff” and how you can get involved.

Right now, President Obama is asking you to think about what $2,000 a year means to you and your family — because Congress needs to hear it.

The Senate has passed a bill that stops taxes from going up for 98 percent of American families, and asks those who can afford it to pay a little more. If the House follows suit, President Obama is ready to sign it as soon as it hits his desk.

If they fail to do so, a typical middle-class family of four will see their taxes go up by $2,000 in just a few short weeks. (Emphasis in original.)

Is the third paragraph untruthful? Sure. Effective? Sure. That’s the sort of appeal that works for them.

Economic fantasy trumps economic reality.

Before and after being nominated as the Republican Vice Presidential candidate, Congressman Paul Ryan presented nifty charts demonstrating the sad state of the economy. He and they seemed impressive.

It did not work. Even though presented at (what should be) an elementary school level, many who watched probably did not understand and many of those who did understand probably didn’t care beyond that he wanted to keep Government from getting bigger and bigger and bigger. For them, Government is the source of prosperity and less of it would be bad for the poor.

The fat cats just need to pay a little more in taxes and all will be fine.

Fiscal CliffFor too many, a generous Government under President Obama is anxious to supply their needs and wants; if only the fat cat racist Republicans would go away life would be sweet. They are happy with him still in the White House. Thoughts too big to understand do not work with them. George Will noted today that Republicans like lower taxes because

lower rates reduce incentives to distort economic decisions, they promote growth by enhancing efficiency. Hence restoration of the higher rates would be a giant step away from, and might effectively doom, pro-growth tax reform.

Although a degree in economics is not necessary to understand that, at least vague familiarity with how our convoluted tax structure causes distortions in favor of whatever may have been the politically favored goals when the distortions were introduced is necessary. Such familiarity is uncommon. Instead, all economic problems are seen simply, as the fault of the Republican fat cats who need to pony up their fair share — just “a little more.” What a great idea.

[R]aising rates on the rich has always been a liberal cover for raising taxes on everyone.  Obama doesn’t seem to know much about economics, but he certainly knows that taxing the rich alone won’t begin to resolve the deficit.  The real money has always been found in taxing the middle class.  The great jump in federal revenues began in World War II when the income tax was changed to reach much further down the income ladder of the middle class.  (See Figure 4.)  This is why I think Obama actually wants to go over the fiscal cliff, slam the middle class, and blame it on Republicans.

So why in the world is the GOP on the defensive in the tax debate?  I’d give a simple explanation: the Left is arguing Rawls (justice as fairness), while the GOP is still arguing the Laffer Curve, that is to say, the GOP is arguing utility, i.e., raising taxes on the 1 percent hits job creators, stifles investment, and might even reduce revenues.  Likewise, the argument that the Bush tax cuts made the income tax more progressive concedes the liberals’ entire premise about tax policy.

To be sure, this is an expression of the superior economic literacy of Republicans.  But justice or fairness always beat utility.  Republicans won’t begin to turn the tax debate around until they begin to develop the argument that it isn’t fair to place the burden of paying for the government on just a portion of the population.  What exactly is fair about taking half of someone’s income to pay for out of control government?  In other words, at some point Republicans need to develop an argument that challenges the idea of tax progressivity itself.  That will be the ground of moving to a flat tax through fundamental tax reform.

Obama AntoinetteJeez! That can’t be right. Governor Romney has a bunch of houses and cars and boats and jet skis. He inherited all of his money and his lazy wife, who never had to work a day in her life either, just fools around with dancing horses. Honest, hard working poor people like me can’t do that and Governor Romney just flaunts his ill-got wealth. It’s worse than eating candy in front of a poor boy. He and his kind can’t understand what it means to be poor and don’t care. President Obama knows all about being poor and, despite the obstructionist Republican fat cats, does his best to keep them that way help them. Perhaps that’s why, if there is no “fiscal cliff” deal,

by a 53%-27% margin people say Congressional Republicans will be more at blame than Obama, with 12% saying both sides should be equally blamed. Among independent voters, 52% would blame Republicans and 21% would point fingers at the president.

When President Obama takes another four million dollar little family vacation in Hawaii principally at taxpayer expense during or after the “fiscal cliff” negotiations, he and his lovely family will deserve it because of all the good work they do for the poor little people like us.

Romney causes cancerGovernor Romney, despite his flaws, has been very generous with his time and his money in helping the “little people.” The much disparaged “non-Christian” religion to which he adheres insists on providing charity for the unfortunate. Accordingly, he was portrayed as a tax cheat, felon and the cause of the death of a poor woman whose husband had been fired by Bain. None of it was true but it worked.

Foreign policy is complicated and irrelevant.

Many voters know little and care less about our foreign policy. Israel? Joos are too rich, too smart and hate peace. They are no better than Governor Romney. Iran? Lots of poor people there got cheated by the rich oil sheiks and big oil fat cats in the U.S. We feel their pain. They are just like us so the “Arab Spring” will help us all. England, France, Spain, Korea, Greece and the rest of Asia? Asia is too far away to matter. Al Qaeda? President Obama killed Osama so there is no more al Qaeda. Never mind reading this sort of stuff,  obviously written by a racist ObamaHater.

The Washington Post reports on the reemergence of al Qaeda in Iraq (AQI). According to Bruce Reidel, a former CIA counterterrorism expert now with the Brookings Institution, “what we’re now seeing is al Qaeda in Iraq’s revival, not only as a movement in that country but as a regional movement.” Reidel notes that from its base in the Sunni provinces west of Baghdad, AQI is building networks in Syria and Jordan “at an alarming rate.”

Recently, AQI’s new-found regional reach manifested itself in a well-developed plot to create mayhem in Amman, Jordan. The plan was to terrorize the city through attacks on malls, car bombings, etc., and then, in the ensuing chaos, attack the U.S. embassy. The Jordanians foiled the plan, and in doing so discovered the key role of AQI.

Ben Ghazi? Wasn’t he some fat cat Iranian ambassador or something? President Obama killed him like he killed Osama bin-Laden and that’s good.

The United States Constitution is worthless.

The U.S. Constitution? It was written a long time ago by rich old White guys who whipped their slaves. It has no meaning for me so I don’t care about it. Besides, President Obama is the smartest and best President ever and he knows all about it. He ought to write a new one. Why should I care what a bunch of old White male fat cat Republican racists continue to mumble about the dead old Constitution?

The result: we got a really cool President.

We now have President Obama for another four years. Although Candidate Romney was not my preference he would have been a far better President than the incumbent.  This bumper sticker sums up my position.

Fine, Romney

Maybe we could do better next time with a dancing clown.

In April of 2011 and well before the Republican nominations I suggested here, tongue in cheek, that a Brazilian clown called Grumpy would be a pretty good president.

Francisco Silva became famous as Tiririca — “Grumpy” in Portuguese — and received about 1.3 million votes, nearly twice as many as the next-highest vote-getter in last month’s congressional elections. His campaign videos drew millions of viewers on the Internet, with slogans such as “It can’t get any worse” and “What does a federal deputy do? Truly, I don’t know. But vote for me and you’ll find out.”

Did Nancy Pelosi write that last sentence? Maybe I should have promoted him more seriously as the Republican candidate. At least he had an appeal that could easily be understood by voters. He presented no graphs or intellectual arguments and he won overwhelmingly.

Might there be better ways?

tilting_windmillAmerica as we know her now is broken, but not beyond repair. Continuing to tilt at windmills won’t work but finding ways to harness the entertainment industry to our wagon may. Music, films and even video games can evoke emotional responses and there seems to be no compelling reason why they can’t evoke healthy rather than unhealthy emotions. Getting the money for such projects might be difficult, but the financial rewards for those who provide it might be greater than the large  financial rewards anticipated from campaign contributions — and perhaps even more prestigious than otherwise meaningless ambassadorial appointments.

Our system of “education” sucks and the Federal Government controls most  of it.

President Obama’s bid to control what your children learn in school is surely one of the most important and disturbing of his many transformative plans. Not only is Obama’s attempt to devise what is in effect a national K-12 school curriculum arguably unconstitutional and illegal, the fact that most Americans have no idea that the new “Common Core” (aka Obamacore) even exists may be the most troubling thing about it.

Today’s Washington Post features an article on the controversy being kicked up by the new English curriculum that 46 states and the District of Columbia are just now waking up to. Not coincidentally, this new education war is hitting less than a month after Obama’s re-election, just in time to prevent the public from taking the most effective step it could have to block the changes. You have to get nearly to the end of today’s Post article even to get a hint of the fact that Obama is the real force behind the new curriculum. Following that link takes you to an article that more frankly lays out Obama’s role in commandeering the substance of what’s taught in the nation’s schools. The print version of this September 21, 2012 article featured a more revealing headline than the web version: “Education overhaul largely bypasses Congress.” …

That 45 states and the District of Columbia have signed on to what is in effect becoming a new national curriculum, most of them without even seeing the new standards, is a Constitutional, legal, political, and educational outrage. Obama is most at fault, yet the states (many run by Republicans) also deserve blame for selling their Constitutional birthright for a mess of pottage. I have much more to say about the Common Core here.

All is not lost. Indiana and Utah already have popular rebellions in progress against the Common Core. If you want help fighting Common Core in your area, contact the American Principles Project. [NOTE: the “article” links no longer work. I don’t know why.]

Often, the States go willingly onto the Federal reservation — and stay there — because life seems easy and inexpensive (for them). They discover too late that escape has become financially and otherwise nearly impossible.

How about some old fashioned language and some old fashioned morality?

♦ During the campaign, Obama ran an ad featuring an actress named Lena Dunham. It was pitched to young women, and to the hook-up culture they inhabit — and that almost everybody inhabits.

“Your first time shouldn’t be with just anybody,” said the actress. “You want to do it with a great guy.” She was not talking about a husband. (Hope I haven’t given you too great a shock.)

Question: In a country in which that ad doesn’t backfire but succeeds, can a man like Mitt Romney be elected? …

♦ This business of two Americas, in the cultural-moral sense, is a familiar subject. I mean a much-examined subject. One of the best examiners is Gertrude Himmelfarb, who in 1999 published a book called One Nation, Two Cultures. There is the dominant culture, she said, which used to be the counterculture. Then there is a more conservative culture, which is now a kind of counterculture. Or a “dissident culture,” to use her words.

Her book came out in the wake of the Lewinsky affair, which pitted Bill Clinton versus Ken Starr. There could hardly be two more different Americans. One as decent as the other is not. Which one reigns as the nation’s political sweetheart? And which was thoroughly demonized?

Could the schools begin to deal with such problems if so disposed? They once did but seem no longer disposed in that direction. That is hardly surprising because of Federal control of what they teach and how they teach it. The Federal Government has managed to gain control by taking money from the people and throwing some of it (less hefty commissions) back at the States and localities. Federal usurpation of the prerogatives of the States has often happened because the states were bribed paid with Federal money. I cited one small example of this here, involving a fortunately now dead but perhaps only dormant Federal intrusion into State licensing of young drivers. The intrusion seemed good to many, including even Colonel Allen West, and at first the intrusion appeared small and reasonable. However, the Secretary of Transportation would have had essentially unlimited authority to make it big and unreasonable. That’s what has happened with education. States and localities have to take back their control over education and the citizens of those States and localities will have to pay for it. Is it worth the effort, time and money? I think so because the alternatives will continue to be increasingly worse.

Victor Davis Hanson described here the pervasive insanity now consuming the United States. The system of racial preferences in immigration is only one aspect but is a metaphor for the rest of our “fairness” society.

For immigration to be fair and without prejudice, race and skin color must alone count — not biased skill sets and education levels. Do you think an immigrant who needs public assistance and does not speak English is any less valuable to America than one with a PhD in electrical engineering, English fluency, and $10,000 in the bank?

So the present discrimination is fair when it prejudices those by ethnic affiliation, but bad when it is color blind and adjudicated through merit-based education and skills. There is no longer such an arcane thing as a federal law that says you must enter the United States legally. Instead it is de facto assurance that if you wish to enter the U.S. with an advanced degree or capital, and if you are not crossing into the United States across the Mexican border, then you must get in line and wait years while we adjudicate your dubious case. Latino politicians who demand amnesties for illegal immigrants from Latin America are disinterested and fighting bias; all others who favor legal immigration from all countries on racially blind considerations of education and expertise are racist.

Transitioning back to economics,

As I understand the Obama message, it goes something like the logic of illegal immigration: The free market quite illogically and wrongly sets salary levels. Education levels, specialized skills, experience, hard work, character, luck, accidents, good health — and all the other criteria that arbitrarily factor into one man making $250,000 and another $50,000 — are just too random and unfair.

If that’s the direction our brave new world will continue to take, we had to be crazy to allow that direction to be taken.

Maybe it’s good that we are crazy. If we couldn’t laugh, if weren’t all crazy, we’d all go insane.

Jimmy Buffett may be one of the few who haven’t gone insane. His audiences, generally much younger than he is, seem to love his music and therefore him. A bit older than Mr. Buffett, so do I. Why might that cross-generation agreement exist? Does it suggest a bit of hope for our future? Maybe.

(This article was also posted at Dan Miller’s Blog.)

Articles written by
Tags: , , , , , , ,
Categories: Economics, Education, Media, Politics | Comments (3) | Home

Bookmark and Share

3 Responses to “Can We Dumb Things Down Enough?”

  1. Tom Carter |

    It’s always been a truism of democracy that most voters are largely ignorant of issues and vote in what they perceive to be in their best individual interests (which perceptions are also often based on ignorance). As Thomas Jefferson is supposed to have said, “The government you elect is the government you deserve.” Problem is, of course, that those who didn’t vote for this government (almost half the people) get the government they don’t deserve. This is the tyranny of the majority at work.

    Jefferson also said, in a letter to John Adams,

    I agree with you that there is a natural aristocracy among men. The grounds of this are virtue and talents. … The natural aristocracy I consider as the most precious gift of nature, for the instruction, the trusts, and government of society. And indeed, it would have been inconsistent in creation to have formed man for the social state, and not to have provided virtue and wisdom enough to manage the concerns of the society. May we not even say, that that form of government is the best, which provides the most effectually for a pure selection of these natural aristoi into the offices of government?

    It’s obvious that many of those who presume to govern us are neither virtuous nor talented. So what’s the answer, and who gets to decide the question of “virtue and talents?” Should those who are not (by someone’s definition) members of the “natural aristocracy” even be allowed to vote, given their propensity to vote for losers like themselves? Or should we go back to those days when only free male property holders were allowed to vote?

    The reality is, if we’re to have a democracy, or at least something that resembles it, everyone who’s old enough and not otherwise disqualified has to be allowed to vote — and that includes the stupid and the ignorant.

    Not so many years ago, we were a better educated and more thoughtful people who for the most part functioned on the base of a commonly understood and accepted culture. That’s no longer true. If the Republican Party can’t adjust to this new reality, then the country will be governed mostly by people who are not interested in supporting and defending the America that once was.

    I would also recommend Jim Taylor’s article from yesterday discussing why our young people (and those of future generations) are less thoughtful and less likely to know how to think broadly and deeply on social and political issues.

  2. Dan Miller |

    Tom, you say

    Not so many years ago, we were a better educated and more thoughtful people who for the most part functioned on the base of a commonly understood and accepted culture. That’s no longer true. If the Republican Party can’t adjust to this new reality, then the country will be governed mostly by people who are not interested in supporting and defending the America that once was.

    I suggested some ways of doing just that. But aren’t there better long term options than passive acceptance of the incompetence of the electorate? If not, the nation has a dismal future. How about, as suggested in the article, taking the education system away from those who now principally benefit from it, the powers that be in Government, and returning it to where it was and where it still belongs, in the hands of States and localities and hence of the people?

    Some change is for the better but much is not. We have experienced the consequences of adverse change and now is as good a time as any to revert to what was better. Unless we do now, there may not be many chances of doing so later.

  3. Tom Carter |

    Things can’t be fixed until the people elect candidates who don’t give the majority what they want, and those not being elected can’t convince the majority that bitter medicine is good for them.

    The education system can only be fixed by those who control the education system, and they’re the products of that system empowered by the winning politicians to deal with it.

    Round and round we go, circles within circles, while Republicans and conservatives in general watch from the fringes, rending their garments and smiting upon their breasts.

    The country isn’t what it was and never will be again. The only way to make changes is to accept reality and get back into the only game there is.

Leave a Comment

(To avoid spam, comments with three or more links will be held for moderation and approval.)


Recent Posts





Creative Commons License;   

The work on Opinion Forum   
is licensed under a   
Creative Commons Attribution   
3.0 Unported License

Support Military Families 

   Political Blogs - BlogCatalog Blog Directory

Listed in LS Blogs the Blog Directory and Blog Search Engine  

Demand Media

Copyright 2024 Opinion Forum