Wednesday, July 26, 2006

The Rightwing Group Slander Of Liberals Refuted—Part 1.

It’s not liberals, but ultra-conservative movement conservatives who are far outside America’s mainstream. And I’ve got the figures to prove it. In fact, liberals and regular conservatives agree far more than they disagree. The ultra-conservatives are odd-man out, and their constant demonization of liberals is a highly effective form of distraction that’s absolutely crucial to the success of their project, which has virtually no mainstream support. This argument is consistent with, but goes far beyond, recent criticisms of neo-conservatives, including John Dean’s just-published book, Conservatives Without Conscience.

With Israel’s airstrike killing 4 UN observers, we once again see evidence of the right wing’s glee over the death of those it hates, for whatever reason, or for no reason at all. (After all, what do they know of these four people who died?)

Glenn Greenwald notes:
Here's another item to discuss in the next newspaper article about the "Angry Left": members of the Little Green Footballs community last night celebrate the death by Israeli bombing of four UN peacekeepers:

5- I would not put it against the Israelites, nor hold it against them, to have targeted this position based on the revelation, yesterday, that Indian UN 'peacekeepers' were complicent in the kidnapping/murder of Israelites, earlier.

20 - Too bad Kofi wasn't there, too.

22 - So what is Koffi going to do about it even if they did? I understand the paper cuts from a strongly worded letter can really hurt if desert sand gets in them. We are all at war with the UN, time to admit it.

37- I'm finding it hard to feel bad for these so-called peacekeepers. Most of them blindly shilled for Hezbollah while attacking Israel....

38 - ....
63 - ....
70 -....

That was just from the first 100 comments (more here). Consider the mindest required to celebrate the death of U.N. peacekeepers. It's time for another news article on the Angry Left.
This reminded me again of a discussion at Swords Crossed in which Ender defended Ann Coulter, explaining that “Coulterization of the GOP is your own doing” because out-of-the-mainstream liberals drove the conservatives out of the Democratic Party. This polarization, Ender explains, is what gives Coulter her audience. Hence, liberals are to blame for her.

There are, of course, more holes in this logic than you’ll find in Swiss cheese. Such as, “If it’s just a result of polarization, why doesn’t Al Franken make those sorts of jokes?”

After all, Franken’s made his living in comedy all his life. He knows what’s funny. What is he, chopped liver? Still, no jokes about killing conservatives.

[Note: I use Ender as an example, because I encountered him directly, and because Swords Crossed is relatively rare (arguably unique) website, set up to try to promote a left-right debate. However, as it has evolved, it appears that conservatives will only participate under something approaching Fox News rules—they get to spread group lies about liberals on a regular basis, while the liberals go around pretending it’s still the Age of Enlightenment. The dysfunctional debate at Swords Crossed is thus a good mini-barometer of how the larger political debate in our country is seriously off-kilter. I am continuing to post diaries there, but will not engage in debate there. I do not wish to appear to support the gross inequities of how the site functions to tacitly endorse the Fox News rules of engagement. Therefore, I do not engage there. I gladly engage here.]

My initial response to Ender demolished his sweeping claims with a few specific examples of recent polls to the contrary. But I promised a more sweeping survey of public opinion data—a promise I didn’t fulfill, since Ender piped up and promised to research and write a diary refuting me. I decided to wait for his response before doing my diary, but of course he never delivered.

So now I’m delivering on my promise. We’ve just seen another outburst of hate on the right—as Glenn documents. But unlike Ender, I don’t just blindly extrapolate, and conclude that all conservatives are just knuckle-dragging yahoos. Quite the opposite. I think that LGF—and the rightwingers at Swords Crossed, too—are highly un-representative of conservatives as a whole. In fact, liberals and conservatives have far more overlap in their views than have differences. Extremists in the conservative movement have hoodwinked the majority of conservatives, in large part by poisoning them with demonized images of liberalism. The result is a dramatic 72% difference in who liberals and conservative voted for in the 2004 election. But if we look at the issue level, we find that differences rarely come anywhere close to even half that much. Rather, agreement of 70%, even 80% or more is the rule.

Agreement and Difference Explained

First, let me explain what these terms mean. If there are two positions, liberal and conservative, and all liberals support the liberal position, while all conservatives support the conservative position, then there is a 100% difference between them. But if both liberals and conservatives support both positions equally, there is 0% difference. It doesn’t matter how much support there is for each position. All that matters is that the same percentage of liberals and conservatives support each position.

Expanding a bit, we don’t have to limit ourselves to two positions. We can ask people to respond on a sliding scale, and compare the distribution of answers in the same way: If there are 5 categories, and liberals and conservatives respond in the same percentages across the board, then the difference between them will be 0%. If none of the conservatives and liberals respond with a common answer, then the difference will be 100%.

Now, the image that Ender projects—the image that Coulter projects, and that movement conservatives of all stripes project, is that liberals and conservatives have virtually nothing in common. And it’s not just movement conservatives who believe this. It’s the conventional wisdom. It’s all that talk about “Red States/Blue States.”

It’s malarky.

On issue after issue, and question after question, if we break people down into liberal and conservative, there is more agreement than disagreement, and usually by an overwhelming amount. There are liberals who hold the conservative position, and conservatives who hold the liberal position. And if there are more than two options, there are both liberals and conservatives who will hold those positions as well. Combine these numbers together, and they will virtually always come up to more than 50%--usually a lot, lot more—70%, 80% or more as a rule.

Most public opinion polls do not systematically include information about people’s ideology. You have to hunt around and find the ones that do. And if you do that, people can fairly question if maybe you’re being selective in the polls you include, and those you don’t. So, to avoid any such questions, I’m just going to look at one source of data. It’s the most analyzed data set in US social science after the US Census, the General Social Survey, conducted by the non-profit National Opinion Research Center, which is affiliated with University of Chicago. The GSS has been conducted 25 times since 1972, with the 26th coming out later this year.

I’m not going to try to analyze the whole thing. I am going to look at every substantive question in 4 different parts of it, however. The first has to do with government spending—which is the heart of what New Deal liberalism was about. The others have to do with divisive so-called “wedge issues”—abortion, gay rights, affirmative action.

New Deal Consensus vs. Reactionary Fringe

I have chosen this combination of areas for a very deliberate reason. Undermining and reversing the New Deal is job one for movement conservatives. They have never accepted the New Deal as legitimate, and want to undo it completely, if possible. In this they are a fringe minority, and the data will convincingly prove it. In their quest to overthrow the New Deal, movement conservatives have resorted to using social wedge issues, to divide the Democratic Party base, and put conservatives in power—conservatives who dare not enact their most heartfelt agenda of abolishing the New Deal, but who can, nonetheless, roll it back incrementally.

On social issues, the liberal majority is not nearly so overwhelming and universal. Depending on how issues are framed, majorities may shift from one side to the other. But despite this fact, the differences between liberals and conservatives remain well below 50%--which means that there’s a lot more common ground, and a lot more room for reaching understanding than the polarizers would have you believe.

Why does this matter? Simple: if liberals and conservatives can work out compromise solutions on social issues (such as parental controls like the v-chip, instead of draconian government censorship), then the overwhelming liberal consensus on economic issues will prevail. Thus, polarization is a strategy for rightwing extremist to set the agenda for the entire country, and to stymie effective governance by the majority.

The demonization of liberals we see routinely here at Swords Crossed is but a tiny little echo of the overall rightwing noise machine, but it fits in perfectly with this grand plan—a plan that most people have no idea about. After all, even the vast majority of the extreme right true believers buy their own line—just like Ender does—and think that they represent the vast majority of the American people.

The Big-Picture Data

Here, then, are the broad results of the GSS survey questions in the areas I looked at—plus a snapshot supporting my claims about (a) widespread support for New Deal-style government spending and (b) the marginal nature of reactionary opposition. I will examine all this data in more detail in the diaries to come. But these broad results clearly demonstrate the truth of the claims I’ve just made. I stop here because (1) I don’t want everyone to go into overwhelm, and (2) I want the discussion here to deal with the fundamental arguments presented, as opposed to any discussion of detailed analysis which will come with the followup posts.

Liberal-Conservative Agreement

  • Of 59 items dealing with issues of national spending, the average disagreement between liberals and conservatives was 12.8 percent. Only 7 items-less than one in eight-had a disagreement of over 20%. None had a disagreement of over 30%.

  • Of 18 items dealing with substantive questions about abortion, the average disagreement between liberals and conservatives was 15.9 percent. Although 8 items had a disagreement of over 20%, none had a disagreement of over 30%.

  • Of 13 items dealing with affirmative action, the average disagreement between liberals and conservatives was 14.6 percent. Just 2 items had a disagreement of over 20%, and none had a disagreement of over 30%.

  • Of 9 items dealing with gays and lesbians, the average disagreement between liberals and conservatives was 19.3 percent. While 5 items had a disagreement of over 20%, just one had a disagreement of over 30%. Even so, the disagreement—31.9%—was less than half the agreement—68.1%


In total, of 99 questions, only 22 had a disagreement of over 20%, and just one had a disagreement of over 30%. That means that agreement of more than 80% between liberals and conservatives is the norm on most questions. This is not indicative of a deeply polarized society.

Liberal-Conservative Support For Big Government Spending

To look at support for welfare state spending across a range of areas, I created a variable, NatSpend6, which combined support for

A. Improving and protecting the environment.
B. Improving and protecting the nation's health
C. Solving the problems of the big cities
D. Improving the nation's education system
E. Improving the conditions of Blacks
F. Welfare

A landslide total of 73.1% says we’re spending too little on at least one program, net. (Too little spending on 3 while too much spending on 2, for example.) This is the minimal level of solid support for the New Deal welfare state. Another 10.8% says we’re spending the right amount, net. (Too little on 3, too much on 3, for example.) Since they do not support cutting programs, they should be regarded as supportive as well, for a total of 83.9%

The Marginal Nature of Reactionary Opposition

Just 16.1% think we’re spending too much on at least one program. This is the maximal level we can assign for opposition to the welfare state.

But support for cutting one program, net, is a far cry from supporting the abolition of the welfare state, which is the ultimate goal of movement conservatism. We have no measure for abolition. The closest we get is for those think we’re spending too much on all 6. And a miniscule 0.6% think that.

Even among self-identified conservatives, just 24.9% thought we’re spending too much on at least one program. And a miniscule 1.4% think we’re spending too much on all 6. Hard-core welfare state opponents are indeed a miniscule fringe.

Conclusion

The portrayal of liberals as an alien, subversive force in American politics, far outside the political mainstream, is a complete and utter myth. Not even bothering to refute this claim, we refute an even milder one—that liberal opinion is far out of touch with conservative opinion. We find that in all 99 questions surveyed, there is always at least twice as much agreement as there is disagreement between liberals and conservatives. Usually there is four times or more as much agreement as disagreement. Furthmore, we find that the number of people who want to abolish the welfare state cannot be larger than 1.4%, while 73.1% want to increase welfare state spending.

In short, there is no sweeping political polarization of American political life, liberals are not some alien, unpatriotic fringe, and most liberals and conservatives agree on most issues at least four times as much as they disagree.

The only odd man out is the ultra-conservatives—such as Ender—who have perversely come to dominate the GOP, and now control all three branches of government. It would be difficult to imagine a more undemocratic situation inside a formal democracy.

This is what system failure looks like.

This is what the fall of the Roman Empire looked like.

This is not a test.

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