Tuesday, September 30, 2008

clearing up the issues

Man. It looks like Spur is going to keep me busy. The free comment system that I use isn't very convenient for on-going discussions, so I'm going to pull out Spur's comments that I want to respond to. If I'm careless, this will turn into a strategy to always give myself the last word, but that isn't my intention. If you want to get a Google account, Spur, I would be glad to give you co-hosting privileges so you can append to my posts rather than comment.

Here is his comment in response to this. I'm limiting the quote to parts that I want to respond to:
I would like to raise a further point from the outset. You say that the war in Iraq has been an "astonishing success" and that most Americans who do not realize this do not realize it because they have been deceived by the predominantly liberal media into thinking otherwise. But another possibility is that the war really isn't going that well and the Bush administration and die-hard conservatives want people to think it is going well, the result being that people who pay close attention to conservative commentators, writers, and other outlets are getting a distorted impression of how things are going in Iraq. So how do you know that it's not you who is being deceived about how the war in Iraq is going? In other words, we are both getting our information about the war from one kind of medium or another. So how do you know that your media sources are the trustworthy ones and mine aren't? (BTW, did you notice how McCain emphasized during the debate on Friday that the Bush administration had mismanaged the war in Iraq?)
Yes, I know that lots of conservatives and Bush supporters think that he has mismanaged the war. I am by no means a Bush supporter (I stayed home twice rather than vote for him) but I think that the war in Iraq and the War on Terror have gone remarkably well --not because of what conservative writers have said but because of what has happened and what has not happened, and because of the historical incidents that I compare it to. I hope to write a post on this soon. To be clear, though, when I say "media bias" I don't primarily mean that their facts are wrong. Media bias shows itself in emphasis (months of stories on Abu Grhaib, for example) and in attitude (treating American losses as militarily devastating and enemy losses as militarily insignificant, for example) more than in the actual facts. I doubt that you and I disagree very much on the facts of what is happening in Iraq and on what has happened --what we probably disagree on is what it was reasonable to expect.

I'd also like to make a preliminary comment about (2). Since you think Bush's popularity is historically low in large part because of his liberal policies, you must think that either (a) people who are dissatisfied with Bush realize that his liberal policies are one of the reasons they disapprove of him or (b) people who are dissatisfied with Bush do not realize that his liberal policies are one of the reasons they disapprove of him. If (a) is your position, then it seems the only way you could establish this would be to point to polling data which show that people who disapprove of Bush cite his liberal policies as one of their reasons for disapproving of him. As far as I can tell there is no such data. If (b) is your position, however, then it seems to me that it would be exceedingly difficult to show that Bush's "liberal policies" are one of the major reasons leading these people to disapprove of him. It seems to me, therefore, that (2) is a lost cause, unless you are going to introduce some unusually broad definition of "liberal."
My position is more complex than either (a) or (b). My position is that Bush's liberal policies have had two relevant effects: they have led to a great deal of strong, bordering on hostile, criticism of Bush from many respected conservative opinion-makers. Even if these criticisms don't come up in the polls, they have to have an effect on the way that conservatives think of Bush. Second, these acts have had an emotional effect on many conservatives, giving them the depressing feeling that even when they win the elections they continue to lose the policy battles. Since the president that they vote for makes them depressed rather than proud, they are far more likely to internalize all of the negative press about him. If they felt that Bush was one of them then they would stand up for him against the negative press.

So his liberal policies have lost him the good will of his former supporters and in that way have indirectly led to his low approval numbers. Since the effect that I postulate is indirect, you would not expect to see it in the polls. However, I will say that I am surprised that we have not seen this in the polls more strongly and my indirect theory is a way to explain the disconnect between the polls and my personal observations of Republican attitudes. It is possible that my observations on this are statistical flukes.