Thursday, December 15, 2011


Conor Friedersdorf is puzzled:

... A November 2011 CNN poll found that 68 percent of Americans oppose the [Iraq] war. A CBS News poll from the same month found that 49 percent of Republicans believe the Iraq War was "not worth it" compared to 41 percent who said the war was worth it. And as President Obama oversees a substantial pullout from the country, 71 percent of Americans say bringing our troops home is the right decision.

Despite all that, the Republican Party is attacking President Obama over his withdrawal of troops. And the Republican primary race is full of candidates who supported the war: Mitt Romney, Rick Perry, Michele Bachmann, Newt Gingrich and Rick Santorum all favored waging it....

Why is support for the Iraq War still an unofficial litmus test in the GOP?

Simple: because what decides the viability of a political stance isn't the raw percentage of people who support it, but the percentage of people whose blood boils at the mere thought of anyone opposing it. The GOP has done a terrific job of ginning up right-wing outrage at filthy hippies who don't support star-spangled patriotic wars -- and while anti-war voters were stirred up in 2006 and 2008, that wasn't the same as a sense of permanent outrage at what's perceived as sandal-wearing hippie peacenik thinking. It doesn't matter that this particular outrage is now felt by less than a third of the public: that minority sliver of the population insists on bellicosity far more than the vast majority of us now insist on the opposite. Please note that 71 percent of the public doesn't oppose the Republican presidential candidates who object to withdrawal from Iraq -- they're indifferent to that. Only the hawks are passionate.

Which is why Friedersdorf (whose point is listen to Ron Paul, dammit!) is naive when he writes this:

There is a chance [the Iraq War] could play a much bigger role in the general election. When President Obama debates his Republican opponent on foreign policy, he'll likely be able to cite that candidate's support for a war that a healthy majority of general election voters regard as a mistake.

Obama can try citing it, but most of the public has moved on. But the angry hawks never move on.


The GOP is excellent, of course, at turning its voters into people who never, ever move on on a wide range of issues: guns, abortion, tax increases, and so on. On the subject of tax increases (and economic policies in general), I think Kevin Drum is basically correct when he takes a jaundiced view of that new Pew poll. It's true that the poll says

large majorities think that corporations and the rich are too powerful, our economic system unfairly favors the wealthy, and Wall Street is bad for the economy. What's more, there's a big decline in the number of people who think hard work leads to success and a big increase in the number of people who think they're part of the have-nots.

But this is also essentially true:

Americans say the current system is unfair and favors the rich, but if you ask about specific things we could do to change that, I'll bet support drops off dramatically. You can see some of this in the question about threats to America's well-being. Only 56% name the power of banks and Wall Street, while 76% think the national debt is a big threat. This is not a sign of a country that's seriously bent out of shape about growing inequality.

Sure, lots of people support modestly higher taxes on the rich, but serious reform to cut Wall Street down to size or reduce the influence of corporations and the rich? The kind that people feel strongly enough to march in the streets about or elect a Congress that agrees with them? We're not there yet.

I wouldn't say the problem is that "support drops dramatically" for actual remedies -- people support a lot of progressive remedies. But there just isn't enough outrage to get them passed. There is, however, plenty of outrage (ginned up by the right-wing noise machine) in favor of not doing these things -- and that simply trumps the opinion of progressive-leaning majority on these issues.

Minority rage wins every time.

(X-posted at Booman Tribune.)


c u n d gulag said...

"Minority rage wins every time."

'Cause, for 27-33% or so of our population, as they learn from the cable TV news networks and talk radio - "It ain't what you KNOW, it's how hard you can BLOW!"

Volume and anger supersede knowledge and ration in "Idiot America" - h/t to the GREAT Charles Pierce.

Cereal said...

The defining American character traits are: ignorance(and not just that, but glorification of ignorance and deep distrust of education and intellecualism); tribalism (us-versus-them); belligerence (and glorification of violence); greed/materialism; and selfishness.

Add this to the fact that the most motivated people tend to be the ones with the most extreme versions of these traits, and it's natural that anyone not fitting this mold has little chance of influencing policy or reaching a position of leadership. Frankly, rational people will not even bother; they will tune out of the hate-and-stupid fest that passes for political discourse and policy, or even more wisely, they will just move somewhere sane. Which reinforces the situation.

Robert said...

note the "I'll bet that." I think the best way to fight inequality is to raise taxes on the rich and cut them for the poor and middle class. The vast majority of US adults agree with me.

I know of no evidence for opposition to tighter regulation of banks.

Drum's position and yours is mostly that polls are not useful guides to politicians as they don't measure intensity and because the pollster and not Karl Rove frames the issue. What evidence do you have ? Who has tried and failed to running an egalitarian populist in the past 40 years ?

My sense is that Obama pulled ahead of all of the Republicans, generic Democrat for congress ahead of generic Republican (in basically all non Rasmussen probes), and blame of congress shifted to definitely more blame of Republicans (about 10 points)
when the Democrats briefly stopped worrying about being accused of waging class warfare. I admit that I hoped for and expected a more dramatic shift, but I got the sign right.

I blame myself. Long long ago, Drum wrote that US adults don't support higher taxes on the rich. I pointed to the polling data which, even then, showed otherwise. He was surprised and puzzled and shifted to polls don't matter (opposition to °polling literalism° had already been one of his themes for many years). I think the experience of being told (and convinced) that he didn't know what he was typing about has caused him to dig in and reject the masses of evidence (not then available) which made it clear to everyone that an overwhelming majority of US adults supports higher taxes on rich people.

I would never have thought that Drum would react that way. I am not at all confident that he did. Actually the "I blame myself" is 90% a joke and 10% vanity induced self importance.

OK my usual rant on opinion on taxes.

Fractions similar to those which Drum dismissed (because they didn't endorse a remedy such as higher taxes on rich people) support higher taxes on the rich. Consistently a majority says taxes on the poor are unfairly high (larger than the bare majority who says that about taxes on the middle class). I am totally sick of typing the url but this is a standard Gallup question going back to the early 90s and is on pollingreport (on taxes page 3 or 4 by now).

On topic (on Conner F) the answer is that they are trying to win the nomination now so they only care about Republican Primary voters. For the general, I don't think your argument is relevant at all. The right wing haters will vote for the Republican in any case. They don't have to criticize the withdrawal from Iraq to get those votes. They are sacrificing a tiny bit in the general (tiny because, as you note people have moved on to other worries) for the nomination.