Thursday, February 04, 2010

Dissecting Some of the Questions that Daily Kos Asked Self-Identifed Republicans

The Daily Kos poll of Self-Identified Republicans seems to be creating quite a stir — "The results are nothing short of startling" exclaims Markos Moulitsas Zúñiga (better known as Kos) — especially given the fact that the questions seem straight-forward.

But the Research 2000 for Daily Kos questions (1/20-31) to Self-identified Republicans (MoE 2%) are not as straight-forward as they look at first sight, and how you phrase a question can bring a vast variety in the answers. (For instance, there is a difference between asking "Do you think Bush was right to start a(n illegal) war?", "Do you think the U.S. Army was right to invade (Saddam Hussein's) Iraq?", and "Do you think the United States was right to overthrow a dictator (who had killed 300,000 of his fellow citizens)?" Note that each question changes even more by simply adding — or, alternatively, removing — the respective phrase in parentheses.)

As I will be pointing out below, the main problem here is with either-or questions in which neither option is entirely satisfactory. The answers therefore help Kos make those questioned look ridiculous. Often, by voicing a question stating the exact opposite of what the original question is saying, you sense the problem with that original question — since the (unmentioned) alternative is unpalatable, or even more unpalatable, the person questioned has little choice but to accept the question, incongruous as it may be. As a matter of fact, I have reason to believe that in any case, these questions were reframed after they were asked in order to make Republicans look ridiculous — make them look more Taliban-like — but since I have no proof of this, I do not dwell into the issue. The conclusion (as I write later on): If you really want to get to know the population or a segment thereof (rather than make a caricature of them), it makes more sense to frame your queries as if they were multiple-choice questions.
As I've mentioned before, I'm putting the finishing touches on my new book, American Taliban, which catalogues the ways in which modern-day conservatives share the same agenda as radical Jihadists in the Islamic world.
As Ann Althouse states, "It turns out this poll was designed to help him with that theory." ("As far as Research2000 is concerned," according to a commentator on Althouse's post, "they had Coakley over Brown 49-41 on January 14th. So they were wrong by 13 points 5 days before that election.")
Should Barack Obama be impeached, or not?

Yes 39
No 32
Not Sure 29

For what? Who the heck knows.
The exact reverse of this question might sound something like "Has Barack Obama done nothing wrong — not a single thing — has he, in fact, been right on the money every time during his first year in the White House?" Now, this may come as a surprise for America's (and the planet's) blame-America-firsters, but for one thing a number of people do not think the nation's commander-in-chief should act as the nation's apologist-in-chief (for instance bowing to foreign monarchs). For another, some of us remember Obama's wanting (or, rather, his followers wanting) to change the U.S. Constitution so that he could be reelected endlessly, winning more than two elections (apparently — in the best of worlds — ending up as president-for-life). How about the attempts to take over one sixth of the economy and to ram that law through Congress — and down the American people's collective throats — with no input from the opposition, from the American people, and, indeed, from his own party members (this, in direct contradiction — I mention this for all the people who love the idea of impeaching an American president for his alleged lies — of his campaign promises concerning CSPAN's cameras)?

And how about Obama's wars on Fox News and talk radio, along with changes to the FCC rules which would make it harder for the latter to survive, which, even if his followers lap it up, strikes some of us as an attack on the First Amendment? Those may or may not warrant impeachment per se, but certainly it makes it understandable that some people think that those acts should be opposed with the (legal) weapons at hand… (PS: for those who think that conservatives' domination of the airwaves is truly a travesty, please realize that it is a reaction to liberal domination of the newspapers and to liberal domination of the TV networks…)
Do you think Barack Obama is a socialist?

Yes 63
No 21
Not Sure 16

That's the power of Fox News and Rush Limbaugh, after one year of relentlessly claiming Obama is the second coming of Lenin ... and Hitler!
If anybody has made anybody seem like the second coming of Hitler, it isn't the Republicans with Obama; it is the Democrats (and their like-minded European brethren) with George W Bush.

More to the point, the reason Kos can make Republicans seem lame-brained here is because the question, "Do you think Barack Obama is a socialist?", makes it sound like people are being asked if they think the most preeminent member of America's Democratic Party is (really or otherwise) a full-fledged, card-carrying member of a totally different party (the Socialist Party) — "the second coming of Lenin", in Kos's leering words — but when you think about it (the obverse question would be "Do you think Barack Obama is not a socialist at all?"), isn't the underlying question, obviously — the one that people are indeed answering — has Barack Obama behaved, is he behaving (at least part of the time), like a socialist would?

How wrong (or how allegedly lame-brained) is it (for "homegrown teabaggers" or others) to refer to a man as a socialist when that man has taken over General Motors — whether or not you agree with that — and who has attempted— again, whether or not you agree with that — to take over a sixth of the economy? During which time, he and the Socialist — sorry, the Democratic — heads of the House and the Senate (remember when they passed the stimulus bill with no input from either the opposing party or the members of their own party?) tried to get the whole deal decided behind closed doors with a handful of actors, acting almost as if the country were a one-party state. (To return to the previous question, how inane does the threat of impeachment become in this case?) Notice that I haven't even mentioned Obama's support for (or lack of a stand against) known socialist strongmen such as the Castro brothers, Hugo Chávez, and their like-minded brethren…

"Given what their base demands, and this poll illustrates them perfectly, it's no wonder the GOP is the party of no" writes Kos, and he's damn right: when we see all these takeover attempts, we do say No — and we do so proudly — and we want our elected representatives to say No. "No" is not — necessarily — a sign of virulence and resentment: "No" can be a sign of logic, of common sense, and of (rightful) resistance.
Do you believe Barack Obama was born in the United States, or not?

Yes 42
No 36
Not Sure 22

We still have over a half of Republicans who don't think Obama was born in the US or think it's a matter open to debate.
It may well be that most of the writings concerning the wherabouts of Obama's birth sound delusional, but, as far as I can tell, James L Lambert's arguments are far from nonsensical… There are two problems with the alleged deluded "Birther" conspiracy that are overseen by Kos (and everywhere else). They are, first, that the real, original "long" birth certificate never seems to have materialized (the certificate of live birth being, and please correct me if I'm mistaken, a recent production); second, that to believe that an American citizen born to a foreign father who lived much of his childhood abroad may indeed have been born in a foreign country is not that far-fetched.

[Update: Not until April 2011 did the White House finally release Barack Obama's original birth certificate.]

Indeed, the difference between the Truthers and the Birthers is that in the first case, we are being asked to believe that 1) hundreds, if not thousands, of government officials were approached with a view to conspire to kill thousands of their fellow citizens, all (or most) of them innocent civilians, that 2) hundreds, if not thousands, of government officials agreed (apparently without a moment of hesitation) to conspire to murder thousands of innocent civilians, and that 3) none of these hundreds (thousands) of government officials has ever had a single, even fleeting feeling of remorse, or let the cat out of the bag, say while having too much to drink (no remorse?) during a Saturday outing to a local bar.

In the second case, we do not even have a conspiracy, but basically one single man telling a falsehood — although it might even be termed a lie of omission — a lie about what offhand is a personal matter, but has turned into the only thing (allegedly) keeping him from power (Update: The New York Times' Double Standard on Conspiracy Theories).

Most damning of all, when you pause to think of it, the castigators' proof — if it can be called that — all lies in one fact (beyond the recently released certificate of live birth): and that fact is that Obama is a man, a person whose word should never be doubted, who is capable of no lying, no evil, no chicanery. If he tells you that, say, he is a Christian, then how dare you deny he is a religious man?! How dare you imply that he is a Muslim?! How dare you state he is a socialist?!

The person who ridicules the "Birther" theory as inane has no more proof than the born-in-Hawaii skeptic of where Obama was actually born [or didn't have any more proof until over two years into Obama's presidency]: his only argument only argument — beyond the fact that the certificate of live birth and the newspaper clipping are incontrovertible proof that are not, can not be, fakes, bureaucratic mistakes, or misinterpretations — is the indisputable "truth" that Obama is someone whose honesty should not — should never — be questioned. (Whether in regards to his private life or to his political plans for America's future.)
[Update: As it happens, we would learn in 2012 (over four years after Obama was first a candidate and over three years after he entered the White House) that a "New Book Raises Questions About Obama's Memoir" (The New York Times' Michael Shear) and that, indeed, it turns out that Obama's memories were a "fantasy (like most of the President's own memoir)" (The Daily Mail). Adds Toby Harnden: "'Barack Obama: The Story' by David Maraniss catalogues dozens of instances in which Obama deviated significantly from the truth in his book 'Dreams from My Father: A Story of Race and Inheritance'. The 641-page book punctures the carefully-crafted narrative of Obama’s life."]

When you think about it, it might be less worrying that some do not believe Obama was born in the United States (because of the circumstances linked to his entire childhood, much of it abroad) than that some are utterly convinced he must be born in the United States (because the Chicago pol is allegedly a sainted figure who can do, who can say no evil, who is incapable of lying or of falsifying documents). Again, remember the desires of some of his followers who want(ed) the constitution to be changed, only so Obama could win one election after another and end up, in one way or another and in the best of all possible outcomes, as (de facto if not de jure) president-for-life?
Do you believe Barack Obama wants the terrorists to win?

Yes 24
No 43
Not Sure 33

Not just a quarter of Republicans believe this ludicrous premise, but another third think it's a matter open to debate. How do you negotiate with a party whose rank and file are that divorced from reality?
Again, there is a difference between "Do you believe Barack Obama wants the terrorists to win?" and "Do you believe Barack Obama wants the United States to win?" — or, alternatively, asking "Do you believe Barack Obama wants the terrorists to lose?" or "Do you believe Barack Obama wants the United States to lose?" Barack Obama has said several times that in this new, reset world of ours, there should be no losers and winners (or words to that effect), he has pointed out the many times the United States has allegedly been wrong (while making all due apologies), and, especially, he has been (or seemed) more concerned with giving Miranda rights rather than to learn more about the thugs planning (further) terrorist attacks.

Alright, answering Yes to "Do you believe Barack Obama wants the terrorists to win?" may seem far-fetched, but if it seems that he himself, BHO, would answer No to that question (or to "Do you believe Barack Obama wants the United States to lose?"), think of the opposing question — isn't it true that there are indications that BHO would not want to answer Yes to either "Do you believe Barack Obama wants the United States to win?" or "Do you believe Barack Obama wants the terrorists to lose?"

[Update: a couple of days after the ISIS attacks on Paris in November 2015 killed some 130 people, Barack Obama (proudly?) declared that What I’m not interested in doing is posing or pursuing some notion of American leadership or America winning.]
Do you believe ACORN stole the 2008 election?

Yes 21
No 24
Not Sure 55

One in five Republicans think ACORN is so powerful as to magically make 10 million votes appear. Another 55 are open to the theory. In other words, just 24 percent of Republicans have an even passing relationship with reality.
This is called Kos's grotesque caricature weapon. Check the opposite question (asked to either Republicans or Democrats): "Do you believe that ACORN is an entirely honest organization which is deserving of the utmost trust?" Or how about this one: "Do you think ACORN played no tricks during the 2008 elections?" Those options we do not have, nor do we have (in a MCQ format) the option simply to say that ACORN cheated, without perhaps without going so far as having the ability to turn the election one way or the other. Answering No on that question therefore becomes akin to saying ACORN is honest and deserving of trust, and that is not something many people think or want to say… And so Kos feels he is allowed to caricature the results in a ridiculous way ("One in five Republicans think ACORN is so powerful as to magically make 10 million votes appear").

Furthermore, nobody believes ACORN uses (or tries to use) magic (if only!). And, in any case, it's not a matter of either stealing as many as 10 million votes or even of stealing the nationwide election. All you need are (some of) the borderline states. For example, I think a number of people could easily make the case that if not ACORN, then Soros' Secretary of State Project, stole (or was instrumental in stealing) the Minnesota senate election, a theft which required no more than a few hundred fake or dead voter names and which brought enough power to Obama's party for it to act like a one-party state and do what it wanted (at least for a few months)…
Do you believe Sarah Palin is more qualified to be President than Barack Obama?

Yes 53
No 14
Not Sure 33

Guess what, Kos. We also think Scott Brown more qualified to be president of the United States! (Not to mention Mitt Romney, Bobby Jindal, and even… John McCain.) For one thing, Sarah Palin was mayor of a town and governor of a state (which she became in spite of her party machine) for a couple of years; how that makes one many times less (or more) qualified than head of a community organization and in the national senate (with the backing of his party machine), also for a couple of years, is beyond a few of us.

For another, Sarah Palin would likely not have tried to take over General Motors and one sixth of the economy (as Don Surber says, "she would not have wasted $787 billion on a stimulus that tanked the economy"), and she would not even have thought of reading the Christmas Day bomber his Miranda rights and putting the mastermind behind 911 on trial in Manhattan. Well, even if you disagree with any of those, that should make you understand why Palin seems more qualified to be President of the United States than Barack Obama in many of our minds. Note that the "sigh" rests on little else than, again, the uncontested "fact" that the grotesque caricature of Sarah Palin can only be real and that BHO is this holier-than-thou human being whose potential for leadership is self-evident and uncontested.

[Update: After Vladimir Putin annexed the Crimea in 2014, it transpired that one of the many things that Sarah Palin had been ridiculed for during the 2008 campaign was predicting that electing a pacifist like Obama to the White House would only encourage Russia’s Putin to invade Ukraine.]
Do you believe Barack Obama is a racist who hates White people?

Yes 31
No 36
Not Sure 33

I bet more people think Obama is racist, but were too afraid to tell a live operator the truth.
Again, think of the exact opposite of this question — in this case, "Do you believe Barack Obama is an unbiased uniter who loves white people?" — to see how the question is distorted. It is highly unlikely that most people — even Democrats — would answer Yes to the entire revised question. Even Democrats who might — who probably would — gladly say Yes to the first part of the revised question, would have trouble with the second part, sensing it goes too far. (This question is one of several that makes me believe that the questions have been changed since they were asked in order to make Republicans look more "Taliban-like" but, since I have no proof for that, assume that the question was asked as written here.)

There is more than a little evidence to believe that, for reasons good or bad, Obama is — to some extent — resentful of white America, not least his autobiographies, the "damn America" comment of his (former?) spiritual guide, and his "stupid" white policemen quote. Imagine a person being asked the (original) question above; if she answers No, she is effectively answering Yes to the revised question ("do you believe Barack Obama is an unbiased uniter who adores white people?"). If you do not believe the latter, you are in a dilemma in answering the original question and remaining honest.

What all this shows is that if you really want to get to know the population or a segment thereof (rather than make a caricature of them), it makes more sense to frame your queries in multiple-choice question format.
Do you believe your state should secede from the United States?

Yes 23
No 58
Not Sure 19

42 percent of Republicans aren't really patriotic. They pretend to love America only when they approve of the president. These traitors don't believe in democracy, in our nation's founding ideals, or in our flag. To them, those colors run. They are cowards.
What rot! First of all, notice that if anyone is saying anything far-fetched, it is Kos — who is effectively (read his comment again) equating opposition to Obama to being unpatriotic, traitorous, and cowardly. And the way for Kos to frame this is to say that Republicans (pretend to) love America "only when they approve of" who is in the White House, when in fact they are saying — as I have noted in the "socialist" and "impeachment" questions above — that they (might) no longer want to be part of a union if and when the government (never mind if the person in the White House is a Democrat or a Republican) threatens to take too much power…

Let's use our rule again: think of what the opposite question would sound like — "Do you believe your state should remain in the United States?" Your reaction would be, "What is this pollster talking about? Nothing of the sort is going on, why does she bring this up?" You don't have too much time, you have been talking — even if you answered No to all the questions so far — about Obama and socialism and (allegedly) impeachable offenses and presidents who (may) hate you for your race, and now you are asked: "Do you believe your state should secede from the United States?" Obviously, your answer has to do with the loss of liberty from the federal government (real or otherwise) — the feds' treason (so to speak), if anybody's — and not an absence (far from it) of patriotism.
Note, secession sentiment is MUCH stronger in the South than elsewhere -- 33 percent want out, compared to just 52 percent who want to stay. In the Northeast, "just" 10 percent want out, in the Midwest, its 18 percent, and in the West, it's 16 percent. Can we cram them all into the Texas Panhandle, create the state of Dumbfuckistan, and build a wall around them to keep them from coming into America illegally?
Notice how Kos reveals his (Stalinist?) masses-hoarding desires, allegedly uneducated masses for which the gulag-admirer (?) has nothing but contempt. The point with secession, Kos, would be to prevent contemptuous Koses like yourself from carrying out your emprison-'em-all-or-throw-'em-all-out desires.
Should Congress make it easier for workers to form and join labor unions?

Yes 7
No 68
Not Sure 25
No comments here: Notice how Kos refrains from addressing an issue that he knows will hardly prove popular (more power to the unions!). Again, think of what goes unmentioned: imagine if this question had been framed using the controversial card check objective, labor's desire to dump secret ballots, and other bullying tactics — which was/is undoubtedly on most people's minds.
Would you favor or oppose giving illegal immigrants now living in the United States the right to live here legally if they pay a fine and learn English?

Favor 26
Oppose 59
Not Sure 15
Again, Kos refrains from comment. But the reason behind this answer, I surmise, is that once illegal immigrants are in, they've already broken the law — and should not be rewarded from so doing.
Do you support the death penalty?

Yes 91
No 4
Not Sure 5
Again, no comment from Kos.
Should openly gay men and women be allowed to serve in the military?

Yes 26
No 55
Not Sure 19

Should same sex couples be allowed to marry?

Yes 7
No 77
Not Sure 16

Should gay couples receive any state or federal benefits?

Yes 11
No 68
Not Sure 21

Should openly gay men and women be allowed to teach in public schools?

Yes 8
No 73
Not Sure 19

Oof. That's some serious neanderthal action going on. Gays can't serve their country, teach children, get married, or even have civil unions. That's the GOP agenda for gays, which makes the existence of the Log Cabin Republicans that much more of a mystery.
A lot could be said on all of these questions. Note that what to a leftist is simply a "gay man or woman" (like a woman per se or an African-American or an Asian) is to many other people a "gay activist" and yes, it's true that we believe (and we have good reason to) that activism (homosexual or other) gets in the way, among other places, in schools and in the military. Moreover, a number of us believe that activists often mix rights up with privileges.

But to take only the last matter, the question "Should openly gay men and women be allowed to teach in public schools?" sounds innocuous until you realize that, in many minds (and not just in Republicans'), schools are failing, people feel that it is scandalous that there no longer is a concerted effort to teach the 3 R's (readin', writin', and arithmetic), and indeed they have in their stead brought in leftist social goals, not least of which is homosexual proselytizing, as in the mandatory reading of the book Heather Has Two Mommies and as with what has led to the ongoing scandal of Kevin Jennings. It's nor unfair here to say that the question that people heard was, "Should gay activists be allowed to teach in public schools (in which case the follow-up question becomes, to teach the 3 R's or to teach the GLSEN agenda)?"

Now, I will not judge here to what extent it is true that Obama's openly gay Safe School (sic) Czar is a member of NAMBLA and to what extent it is true that he really has held classes in which he has taught schoolkids about fisting although it seems an undeniable fact that he once failed to protect a 15-year-old from a child predator — all I can say is that parents have a right not to like what they read about Jennings and they have a right to think that all this social activism and all these agendas (whatever the cause, gay or any other, and whether they can be termed extremist or not) are not what schools are about, not primarily and not even secondarily. To quote Matt:
I agree that every child should be valued and respected regardless of sexual orientation and that there should be no bullying in the schools, period. However, I do not feel that the schools should be promoting a gay lifestyle and or any particular lifestyle. They should stick to teaching the fundamentals of Reading, Writing, Math, Science, and History.
Think about it this way: "Should openly Muslim men and women be allowed to teach in public schools?" Most people, Republican or otherwise, would say yes (even on army bases), I believe, as long as we are pretty much sure they do teach reading (and not the Koran), they do teach writing (and not jihad), and they do teach arithmetic (and not about the 72 virgins that believers will get as a reward for killing infidels).
Should sex education be taught in the public schools?

Yes 42
No 51
Not Sure 7

Should public school students be taught that the book of Genesis in the Bible explains how God created the world?

Yes 77
No 15
Not Sure 8

In all of these questions, respondents from the South are slightly crazier, and those from the Northeast slightly less crazier, than the average. In these two questions, the differences are particularly exaggerated. In the South, the sex-ed question comes out 39-56, compared to 47-45 in the Northwest. For the creationism question, it's 82-9 in the South, compared to 70-23 in the Northwest.
"Less crazier"? First, this may come as a surprise to Kos, but humans have mated for tens of thousands of years (unless you accept the version that says humanity is 4,500 years old or so), and have done so without the need of teachers and schools (public or otherwise). This may also come as a(nother) surprise, but — again — some parents simply want the schools to teach, basically, the 3 R's and leave other things best done at home… Whatever you think about creationism and evolution, notice that in the second question, the parents are not asked whether public schools should teach creationism (or even if they should teach creationism alone, i.e., and nothing else) but whether they should teach what the Bible says — not an entirely indifferent matter.
Are marrigiages equal partnerships, or are men the leaders of their households?

Men 13
Equal 76
Not Sure 11

Should women work outside the home?

Yes 86
No 4
Not Sure 10

Should contraceptive use be outlawed?

Yes 31
No 56
Not Sure 13

Do you believe the birth control pill is abortion?

Yes 34
No 48
Not Sure 18

Do you consider abortion to be murder?

Yes 76
No 8
Not Sure 16

Over a third of Republicans believe the birth control pill is abortion, which explains why nearly a third of them want contraceptive use outlawed. This is so wingnutty, it's hardly believable. But it's true, just a bare majority oppose outlawing contraceptives.
Is it truly beyond argumentation to say that abortion is akin to murder? As usual, Kos makes no argument against another position. All he does is say it's wingnutty, it's unbelievable, it's non-progressive, it's reactionary, it's crazy, etc… He states the politically correct position and assumes that all others are nutty, adding — in shock — that the very fact that there are undecided votes is a scandalous travesty.
What we didn't ask was whether the 76 percent who consider abortion to be murder would advocate executions for women who have them. Since 91 percent of respondents support the death penalty.
This, again, is thinking that Republicans — that people in general — are robots (come to think of it, that does seem to be what many élites do happen to think, doesn't it?) who if they think one thing (A) must think another thing (B — but certainly not C) as well. For one thing, all murderers need not automatically be assigned the death penalty — it depends, or it may depend, on the circumstances — and the usual reason for standing for this position, in any case, comes not from a desire to punish a given woman but to prevent society — i.e., its doctors — from offering the procedure, and thus encourage the woman to change her behavior. (Note that I say this not as someone who believes sine qua non that abortion is murder but as someone who believes sine qua non that conservatives, of whatever bent, should not be grotesquely caricatured.)
Do you believe that the only way for an individual to go to heaven is though Jesus Christ, or can one make it to heaven through another faith?

Christ 67
Other 15
Not Sure 18

Two-thirds of Republicans assume anyone that is not a Christian is going to hell. It certainly makes it easier for them to dehumanize their enemies, either real or perceived.
Although that is hardly an unreasonable conclusion to make, notice that hell is not mentioned anywhere in the question, nor is any type of hellish (or devilish) language. Also, correct me if I'm wrong, but offhand, I think it is not unfair to say that Christians do not believe unbelievers should go to hell; they believe they will go to hell, which (they further believe) is nothing if not an unfortunate state of events. Offhand, Christians — certainly not, today's Christians — do not believe that they should help unbelievers go to hell, or act actively (and zealously) to send them there — which (are you listening, Kos?) is all the difference between Christians and conservatives on the one hand, and the Taliban and other members of militant Islam on the other.

And if anyone has been dehumanized, and demonized, these past years, these past decades — as enemies of (progressive) America, as enemies (real, not perceived) of the entire planet — it is America's Republicans and conservatives…