Motley Moose – Archive

Since 2008 – Progress Through Politics

America, the Misinformed and Proud of it!

“Whenever the people are well-informed, they can be trusted with their own government,” Thomas Jefferson said when our democracy first came into the existence we know now in 1789.

Jefferson might never have envisioned an American voting public like the one we have now. Few of us can say that the American people are well-informed. Can they be trusted with their own government anymore? Can the misnformed be rightly informed?

I’m not leaning heavily toward no and don’t bother trying, it’s hopeless.  

I think, once again, progressives overestimated the intelligence and education of the American people. Conservatives win because they play to their stupidity. We appeal to intelligence. They appeal to family and go into churches and praise Jesus and convince people that because they praise Jesus, what they’re saying is true and because liberals are areligious, they can’t possibly be trusted, and in our puritanical religious society, it works. This forces our own elk to try to appeal to religion too, which angers social liberals

Americans are, by in large, morons when it comes to politics. They’re nationalists and are fundamentally clueless about politics and policy, and they like it that way. They hate when you try to teach them anything, it implies that they’re stupid, and they’re Americans dammit! They can’t be stupid. Most poweerful nation on earth, clearly we’re smarter than everyone else.

The Boston Globe reported this weekend the results of a study that concluded facts don’t change minds.…

Writes Joel Koehane of the Globe;

Recently, a few political scientists have begun to discover a human tendency deeply discouraging to anyone with faith in the power of information. It’s this: Facts don’t necessarily have the power to change our minds. In fact, quite the opposite. In a series of studies in 2005 and 2006, researchers at the University of Michigan found that when misinformed people, particularly political partisans, were exposed to corrected facts in news stories, they rarely changed their minds. In fact, they often became even more strongly set in their beliefs. Facts, they found, were not curing misinformation. Like an underpowered antibiotic, facts could actually make misinformation even stronger.

Arrogance takes over in these situations, the study says and rather than admit they are wrong, which is something most Americans ALWAYS have trouble doing, they entrench even deeper and lash out at those trying to set them straight.

Most of us like to believe that our opinions have been formed over time by careful, rational consideration of facts and ideas, and that the decisions based on those opinions, therefore, have the ring of soundness and intelligence. In reality, we often base our opinions on our beliefs, which can have an uneasy relationship with facts. And rather than facts driving beliefs, our beliefs can dictate the facts we chose to accept. They can cause us to twist facts so they fit better with our preconceived notions. Worst of all, they can lead us to uncritically accept bad information just because it reinforces our beliefs. This reinforcement makes us more confident we’re right, and even less likely to listen to any new information. And then we vote.

As it turns out, the difference elsewhere is that those with this type of ignorance do not vote, but not in America. And while it is obvious this problem persists on the left (is Obama REALLY more conservative than Reagan as Cenk Uyger implies?), the problem is worse on the right;

A striking recent example was a study done in the year 2000, led by James Kuklinski of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. He led an influential experiment in which more than 1,000 Illinois residents were asked questions about welfare – the percentage of the federal budget spent on welfare, the number of people enrolled in the program, the percentage of enrollees who are black, and the average payout. More than half indicated that they were confident that their answers were correct – but in fact only 3 percent of the people got more than half of the questions right. Perhaps more disturbingly, the ones who were the most confident they were right were by and large the ones who knew the least about the topic. (Most of these participants expressed views that suggested a strong antiwelfare bias.)

In 2005, amid the strident calls for better media fact-checking in the wake of the Iraq war, Michigan’s Nyhan and a colleague devised an experiment in which participants were given mock news stories, each of which contained a provably false, though nonetheless widespread, claim made by a political figure: that there were WMDs found in Iraq (there weren’t), that the Bush tax cuts increased government revenues (revenues actually fell), and that the Bush administration imposed a total ban on stem cell research (only certain federal funding was restricted). Nyhan inserted a clear, direct correction after each piece of misinformation, and then measured the study participants to see if the correction took. For the most part, it didn’t. The participants who self-identified as conservative believed the misinformation on WMD and taxes even more strongly after being given the correction. With those two issues, the more strongly the participant cared about the topic – a factor known as salience – the stronger the backfire. The effect was slightly different on self-identified liberals: When they read corrected stories about stem cells, the corrections didn’t backfire, but the readers did still ignore the inconvenient fact that the Bush administration’s restrictions weren’t total.

The article goes on to say that shaming liars won’t work either, which has been a way liberals have argued to go about winning the messaging war.

This is something I can personally attest to. Taking messaging into my own hands, as a journalist I’m told I’m good at convincing, I presented my more right wing friends with some facts. Dispelling their belief that Bush tax cuts protected the economy, I pointed out how they are primarily responsible for the deficit, did not increase government revenue, and did not create jobs. It didn’t matter…all of my evidence was dismissed as “wrong” or “from a liberal source”

Climate change is either a “liberal conspiracy to raise taxes” or “a real problem, but one man can’t deal with because it’s nature”

We have the best healthcare system in the world, they say, and facts don’t do anything but make them question my patriotism or get told “well then move to Canada/France/Italy/England”

I’ve lost more friends during Obama’s presidency than ever before. Conservative friends of mine whom I used to have good relationships with have resorted to calling me “comrade,” “soviet” “arrogant,” “elitist,” been told to stop acting “superior” when I try to argue my point and I’ve been told to “leave my country” and “grow brains”

You can’t successfully get votes in Congress when you can’t convince constituents. When so many people are indebted to their boneheaded beliefs, what can you possibly do except get what you can get done and suffer the consequences for it? How can the President of our leaders use the bully pulpit when there’s no one to convince?

I can even attest to this outside of political life. Remember my next door neighbor, the one putting my parents through hell? No matter how much proof we’ve shown that we weren’t killing or trapping her cats, right up to the Town of Huntington and the local ASPCA ADMITTING that they had captured stray cats in the neighborhood, fixed them and gave them up for adoption, she still believes we’re killing them. Nothing can change her mind. We’ve just given up.

and that’s how I feel now politically, i’ve given up. I thought that we would be able to move the Overton Window, it’s pretty clear this is how far it goes.

How do Democrats win their messaging when the people they need to convince are unconvincable? What use is the President’s “bully pulpit” when there’s no one to preach to? Besides the obvious fact that the microphone on the pulpit is controlled by a corporate-controlled media.

Some say if the President had fought for a bigger stimulus, we’d be in a better situation. What if he was able to get a $2 billion stimulus passed last year when he had popular support? Well, that depends on whether or not certain Republican Senators would have been able to be persuaded, which is doubtfull, but if we did pull it off, I think we’d still find ourselves in this precarious political situation. What if there was a biggest stimulus and the economy would be doing better now? Obama would get credit from us, but not from Republicans and conservative leaning independents, who would be trying to give Bush the credit. A bigger stimulus would have led to a bigger deficit, which the media would blow completely out of proportion and we’d be stuck trying to satisfy popular fear over too much spending.

“Now that he saved the economy, what is he going to do about the huge deficit?”

“We created jobs, but at what cost?”

“Was all this spending really necessary?!?!”

We surely alienate “the base” anyway once we started to deal with those questions and a bigger deficit hamper efforts to pass HCR or Energy legislation, again alienating “the base”

It really doesn’t matter who we elect or what we do, the American people are going to be reactionary and try to elect the best center-right government they can get. I’m pretty sure no matter what, we’d be losing big right now.

Progressives are irrelevant in American politics right now except for local elections, and even there they have to fight.

It leaves one to wonder, why the use of fighting if there’s no hope you can get anywhere? In the course of history, empires rise and overtime they fall. Maybe it’s time for ours to fall and another to take its place.

Trying to save a nation that doesn’t want to be saved is, in my opinion, a gigantic waste of time.

I question whether Americans can be trusted with selecting their government anymore.  


  1. HappyinVT

    “proud” of it.  No one likes to admit when they’re wrong, particularly when it comes to a subject they care deeply about.  Especially when it comes from someone they view as the enemy.  A progressive trying to persuade a conservative, even with proof, isn’t necessarily going to be persuasive.  I’ll admit that a conservative trying to convince me of something is going to have an uphill battle; I’d be highly skeptical of his/her sources, too.  It’s actually those pesky people in the middle that are open to persuasion.

    That’s why the politicization of our media is so troubling.  We may know that FNC is largely full of crap but, given they claim to be fair and balanced, how do you tell a loyal viewer they aren’t.  MSNBC?  CNN?  Nope.  When Beck et al are so forceful and sure, and their guests back them up, it’s hard to turn that tide of opinion.  Even the Internet cannot be trusted.  How many people understand that many of the news sources or pundits have a distinct bias?  Newsmax sounds innocuous enough on the surface.

    Giving up isn’t an option, though.  It’s taken us decades to be taught that we’re the greatest country on Earth.  Shoot, we single-handedly won WW II, defeated Communism, won the space race, and discovered lots of useful products.  Figuring out that we aren’t perfect hurts those of that generation.  But we don’t stop trying just because we don’t win all the arguments.

  2. rfahey22

    I actually think that there are riches to be made by someone who, every day, puts together cogent, well-reasoned Democratic talking points and faxes/emails them to every national Democratic politician.  The reality is that human beings are suckers for marketing, and that the Republicans have a huge advantage in that regard.  Thinking that that advantage can be overcome through the painful and laborious process of educating voters is our Achilles heel (as you mentioned, many don’t want to be educated in the first place).

  3. creamer

     DT I love your passion, but if I were a conservative I would be inclined to pull you string just to see how quickly I could make you mad. I agree with a lot of what you posted here, and quite often feel the same way. But I’m so tired of arguing with far right conservatives. Right now it seems to be a waste of time.

     I’m becoming more convinced that a larger dialouge in the middle, and a marginalizing of both extreme’s is nessasary for this country to address its problems and move forward. ANd while I always have found the human inclination to resist knowledge just because it conflicts with ones views insane, I don’t think the right has a monopoly there. Have you tried talking to a teacher or municipal employee about changing the status quo lately?

     Last night I watched Chris Mathews talk about this same subject,the right embracing ignorance. Then the subject changed to BP’s latest cap attempt. Chris got worked up about why the administration was slowing the process down, pretty much ignoring NBC’s own reporter, only dropping it after a former Shell exec explained the concern about the condition of the pipe under the ocean floor and its ability to with stand the pressure that a cap would bring. If youv’e followed this story, that concern has been discussed on numerous occassions. Seems wilfull ignorance works at all levels.  

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