The Radicalism of The Articles of Confederation

I was amused by a LA Times article by Joseph Ellis, a well known and respected historian. The article is Tea party wants to take America back — to the 18th century, from about a year ago (October 15, 2013). I’m not familiar with his politics, but going by this article he sounds like some variety of liberal or progressive, although in some other writings he can come off as the most dour of conservatives.

In the last part of the article, Ellis writes:

“But their ultimate destination, I believe, is the 1780s and our dysfunctional government under the Articles of Confederation. The states were sovereign in that post-revolutionary arrangement, and the federal government was virtually powerless. That is political paradise for the tea partiers, who might take comfort in the fact that their 18th century counterparts also refused to fund the national debt. Their core convictions are pre-Great Society, pre-New Deal, pre-Keynes, pre-Freud, pre-Darwin and pre-Constitution.”

I don’t think this is fair as a generalization. Most Tea Partiers aren’t really far right libertarians or any other variety of radical minarchists. Sure, some might like to push the country back, but the Tea Party is too diverse of a movement to base broad generalizations about.

Ellis thinks, “This is nostalgia on steroids, and an utter absurdity, defying more than 200 years of American history.” That probably is accurate for many attracted to far right rhetoric. They call them reactionaries for a good reason. Still, this seems too dismissive. I know some Tea Partiers and they aren’t merely nostalgic.

That said, I would agree that many on the political right “truly believe that government is “them,” not “us.”” — or are at least prone to being persuaded by the rhetoric that expresses this view. But as far that goes, I might agree with them on this issue, in a general sense, if not the specifics.

I would argue that we don’t have a genuinely and fully functioning democracy, not to say those on the right want democracy, assuming they even knew what it means. To broaden the issue, it is safe to say the US isn’t at present either a liberal democracy or a conservative republic, not making morally principled people on either side happy with the status quo. If we aren’t already a banana republic, a corporatist police state, and a military-industrial empire, we are coming damn close to it. I have little faith that the government represents “us” (the People, both left and right) to any great degree. With big money campaigning, lobbying, regulatory capture, and revolving doors, I must admit the government feels more like “them” than “us”.

Does that make me a Tea Partier? Or else a libertarian? If so, I’m fine with that. Just as long as I can be left-liberaltarian Tea Partier.

“The heartening news is that their like-minded predecessors over the last two centuries have lost every major battle, starting with the Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia in 1787 and ending with the congressional vote and the Supreme Court decision on Obamacare.”

Yes, the opponents of big, centralized, and oppressive government have been losing battles for a long time. I find this to be a sad conclusion to come to. I suspect it saddens Ellis as well.

I’m not inspired by the Cosnstitutional Convention that betrayed the very ideals and values the revolution was fought for. Does that make me a nostalgic reactionary? I don’t think so. It just makes me a concerned citizen who actually believes in what originally inspired the founding of this country. This country was founded on the Declaration of Independence and the Articles of Confederation, not the Constitution. The only purpose the Constitutional Convention was intended to serve was to improve, not replace, the Articles of Confederation.

“The historical pattern is perfectly clear. They are going to lose again because they are running against the main currents of history. But along the way they are making all the rest of us pay a heavy price for their delusional agenda. And they really don’t care.”

We are in a quagmire. Those defending the status quo are part of the problem. And too often even those who are critical of the problems aren’t able to see and think clearly, for all the fog of propaganda and spin, for all the historical ignorance and hagiography. Most Americans, left and right, are almost completely clueless about our country’s origins.

“Dysfunction this deep strikes me as a new low in American history. This is not what the founders had in mind.”

We are at a low point, but I’m not sure how new it is. As for the founders, I’m surprised to see a historian make that statement. The founders were constantly disagreeing and arguing about almost everything. Ellis is falling into the same ideological trap that many Tea Partiers fall into. He talks as if the founders were of one mind.

Ellis is practicing rhetoric here for the sake of making an ideological argument. But as a historian, he knows better (American Creation, Kindle Locations 1488-1498):

“If Washington was right, the burgeoning American empire required a fully empowered central government to manage its inevitable expansion across the continent. But such a national government contradicted the most cherished political values the American Revolution claimed to stand for. From Washington’s perspective the Confederation Congress appeared “little more than an empty sound” or “a Nugatory body” destined to “sink into contempt in the eyes of Europe.” From the perspective of the vast majority of American citizens, however, the inherent weakness of the Articles of Confederation was a shining example of republican principles, since a strong central government replicated the distant and despotic political power against which they had recently rebelled.3

“The gap between these two political camps was an unbridgeable chasm separated by a fundamental difference of opinion over the true meaning of the American Revolution. The outright nationalists, of whom Washington and most officers in the Continental Army were the most outspoken advocates, were a decided minority at war’s end. The staunch confederationists, on the other hand, were a clear majority who also enjoyed the incalculable ideological advantage of knowing that a powerful American nation-state violated the hallowed political principles embodied in “the spirit of ’76.””

Why be dismissive of any attempt by Americans to focus on the revolutionary era? Any interest in history should be encouraged, not criticized. Even if imperfect, the impulse behind the Tea Party is correct. That impulse is to go back to first principles, to remind ourselves why a revolution was fought in the first place.

* * * *

Political rhetoric aside, I wanted to engage more fully this issue of the Articles of Confederation. It has been on my mind this past week. This seems like a sore point for some Americans, those informed enough to even know what the Articles are and what led to their demise.

The Articles represent one of the first great failures of the revolutionary era. It wasn’t just a failure of a particular governing system, but a failure of the of the very principles of the “Spirit of ’76”. The United States was founded on two documents — firstly, The Declaration of Independence and, secondly, the Articles of Declaration. The Constitution (or rather the second constitution, following the Articles) came much later and was a very different kind of document, a product of fear and uncertainty, not of hope and idealism.

The Constitution was the Great Compromise, leaving no one entirely satisfied. Worse still, the second constitution was unconstitutional according to the first constitution. The Articles, unlike the Constitution, was agreed to unanimously, freely, and openly. Also, keep in mind the full title: The Articles of Confederation and Perpetual Union. It was deemed to be perpetual and to be a union, that is to say an everlasting confederation. It was created unanimously which means by the consent of the governed and so its revocation would also have to be unanimous, as described in the Articles themselves.

In another article, Ellis admits to the sorry state of affairs from which our constitutional order began:

“[O]nce you understand how the Constitution was created, all rosy myths evaporate. Fifty-five white males gathered in Philadelphia, imposed complete censorship over the deliberations, regarded slavery as the ghost at the banquet (it could not be openly debated), and then had the audacity to send the document to the states under the rhetorical mantle “We, the people.” If our modern values of inclusiveness, transparency and diversity were imposed on the founders, the Constitution would never have happened.”

For some reason, Ellis seems unwilling or unable to take these historical figures on their own terms, at least in this case.

The Anti-Federalists were fighting for these precise “modern values”. This the basis of the criticisms the Anti-Federalists had of the Constitutional Convention and of the Federalist-Nationalist ideology it represented, and hence their demanding a Bill of Rights.

It isn’t we Americans today who are anachronistically projecting our values onto the past. Our present values in basic form came from the revolutionary era. The American Revolution was an event of modernity and of the making of modernity. The values of “inclusiveness, transparency and diversity” formed much of the background and inspiration to the Articles of Confederation, both in terms of Dickinson’s Quaker-inspired original draft and in terms of the final draft edited down to better fit the Anti-Federalist vision.

A number of things make the Articles of Confederation distinct from the Constitution. In final form, the Articles described the condition of the states with terms such as free, independent, and sovereign. The federal government couldn’t tax the people directly. It was the state governments that represented the people and so taxed the people. The federal government taxed the states as representatives of the people.

This constitutional vision was turned on its head with the Constitutional Convention. The consent of the governed was changed from reality to mere symbol. In practice, all consent was gone. Consent of the governed wasn’t required nor was it allowed to be refused or retracted. Constitutional authority was declared by fiat, no unanimity involved. The aspiring ruling elite found consent of the governed to be too messy, as they learned from Shay’s Rebellion. The People had to be put in their place and a large central government had to be placed over them, by military force when necessary. The exact same arguments the British Empire used to keep the colonists in line were now being used by the US federal government.

This relates to why Ellis found it odd that so many Tea Partiers claim the Constitution as a protection of states rights. There is the Tenther movement that invokes the 10th amendment to attack what they consider government overreach, but obviously these people haven’t read it very closely:

“The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the states, are reserved to the states respectively, or to the people.”

That “or to the people” is a loophole large enough to drive a truck through. In the very making of the Constitution, a symbolic and empty “We the people” was assumed to justify the secretive process the ruling elites used to push through their agenda. The Constitution didn’t make it all that clear who precisely represented the people, but obviously the Constitution was based on the claim of representing the people.

The 10th amendment offers absolutely no protection whatsoever. To clarify this point, consider its equivalent in the Articles of Confederation:

“Article II. Each state retains its sovereignty, freedom, and independence, and every Power, Jurisdiction and right, which is not by this confederation expressly delegated to the United States, in Congress assembled.”

The Articles makes this point as clear as possible. No loopholes stated or implied.

There were definitely challenges to the Articles of Confederation. Those pushing for a new constitution saw the Confederation as a government failure. However, most Americans didn’t see any problem with it at all. It was an alliance formed during war time. It’s purpose was constrained by design, and so wasn’t a failure. In fact, it was a grand success by its own defined intent.

Once war was over, the alliance became less important. They didn’t need a central government to tell them how to govern themselves or to tell them they had rights. Because of colonialism, the states had long-established governments of their own and as a cultural inheritance they simply assumed they had rights.

The reason they sought independence from the British Empire was the same motivation behind Anti-Federalism, both cases being a response to those supporting large centralized government. For quite some time, the colonies were governed very loosely by the distant and initially weak British Empire. Colonists got used to solving their own problems with their relatively independent colonial governments. Each colony had its separate political traditions that had become integral to the local communities.

Colonists didn’t want to give up their traditions of self-government when the British Empire decided to get heavy-handed. Likewise, the colonists turned revolutionaries continued to demand self-governance.

* * * *

Two points should be made.

First, the American Revolution began before the so-called founders got involved and it continued long after the new ruling elite declared it over. The Long American Revolution began at least as early as the War of Regulation and continued at least as late as Shay’s Rebellion. It was always as much of a civil war as it was a revolution. The founders were forced to join the revolution or else become enemies of it.

This brings me to the second point. The Revolution always had a component of class war as well. In saying that, I don’t mean “class” in a simple sense. Economics is only one part of class. It isn’t simply about how much money one makes or much consumer goods one can buy. Rather, it is about an entire social order. Not all societies are class-based or equally class-based. Class only has effective significance to the degree it can be enforced by a specific kind of system of power and authority.

Class war is yet another issue that Ellis doesn’t understand. In a different article, he reviews Harvey J. Kaye’s Thomas Paine and the Promise of America. He makes the argument that,

“Ironically, the very feature of Paine’s mentality that Kaye most admires — its radicalism — is precisely the feature his most ardent critics at the time found most troubling. Kaye, the author and editor of several books, including ”Are We Good Citizens?,” tends to label Paine’s enemies elitists, wealthy aristocrats deaf to the authentically egalitarian ethos of his working-class politics. But this quasi-Marxist gloss obscures the fundamental ideological difference between Paine and most of the other founders. John Adams, for example, who was the son of a shoemaker, loathed Paine. Adams regarded the effort to implement the full revolutionary agenda immediately as a path leading over the cliffs of Dover.

“What separated Paine and Adams was not class so much as a classic disagreement over how to manage and secure a revolution. Adams believed in gradual change, in an evolutionary revolution. Paine believed that the revolutionary agenda, ”the spirit of ’76,” did not need to be managed, only declared. Adams regarded the Revolution as the Big Bang in the American political universe, which should radiate its radical energies and implications only slowly into the future. The Paine approach was, in fact, the more radical course followed by the French Revolution. It ended up, as Adams predicted, in barrels of blood and Napoleonic despotism. Paine himself nearly perished in the process he had helped to start, saved from the guillotine only when a prison guard neglected to remove him from his cell on the day of executions. Perhaps this is the reason one scholar named Paine the ”Peter Pan of the Age of Reason.””

That comes off as not only an ideologically slanted take on history but also not even historically accurate, entirely ignoring the larger context while also dismissing out of hand the other side of the story. That is quite the criticism to make against a man who makes his livelihood as a historian, both in writing and teaching. Let me break it down to explain my complaint.

There was good reason for Paine’s radicalism. He didn’t begin that way. The conditions of his early life prepared him for what he would become, but he wasn’t aspiring to be a rabblerouser. He worked as a civil servant for the British government at one point and sought reform within the system. Only after that failed, did his path slowly move him more fully beyond the social order he was born into. Along the way, he experienced death of loved ones, unemployment, homelessness, poverty, and all forms of oppression. In London, he saw the dregs of society and he saw the beginnings of working class organizing.

Someone like John Adams may have learned a trade just like Paine, but the life he knew was one of comfort and safety. To know a trade in the colonies meant something quite different. There was a smaller class divide. Compared to Britain, the colonial poor had more opportunity for upward mobility and the colonial aristocracy had less concentrated wealth. The social order was also less oppressive in the colonies because local government was weaker and one was always free to live off the land, something entirely impossible in England during that time of the land enclosure movement that led to food riots.

Class war was an ever-present reality in London where Paine spent many influential years. This gave Paine an insight and a moral righteousness lacking in most American colonists. It took Paine to explain to the colonists precisely what was wrong about the British Empire, precisely what they needed to fight against.

The problem with the oppressed in England was that oppression was all they knew. The problem with those who thought they were being oppressed in America is that they didn’t know what real oppression was like. Paine sought to bridge the two societies and that is why he was so radical.

Ellis portrays Paine as an anarchist, a naive anarchist at that. This is where Ellis’ conservative side shows itself. He presents a Federalist view of Paine, and so he shows his ideological bias.

The Federalist ruling elite started off as the colonial ruling elite. Their power and authority originally was backed by the British Empire. Having severed ties from the very justification for their social position and wealth, they had to create a new social order to re-establish the social order they were accustomed to. As such, they feared what they perceived as ‘anarchy’.

Even Ellis is able to offer a more nuanced view in response to this Federalist fearmongering. He discusses this in his book, American Creation (Kindle Locations 1558-1572):

“James Madison was one of the critics who did grasp this frustrating fact: “The question whether it is possible and worthwhile to preserve the Union of the States,” he warned in 1786, “must be speedily decided one way or other. Those who are indifferent to the preservation would do well to look forward to the consequences of its extinction.” The word that Madison, along with most critics of the current confederation, used to describe the consequences of inaction was “anarchy,” a term suggesting utter chaos, widespread violence, possible civil war between or among the states, and the likely intervention of several European powers eager to exploit the political disarray for their own imperial purposes.11

“While we can never know for sure, since history veered sharply in another direction at the end of the decade, the most likely outcome if the Articles of Confederation collapsed was not anarchy but dismemberment into two or three separate confederacies. Madison himself acknowledged that the gossip mills in both Europe and America were predicting that the imminent dissolution of the Articles would probably lead to “a partition of the states into two or more Confederacies.” An article in the Boston Independent Chronicle envisioned a regional union of five New England states, leaving “the rest of the continent to pursue their own imbecilic and disjointed plans.” The most probable scenario was a tripartite division of regional alliances that created an American version of Europe. New England would be like Scandinavia, the middle Atlantic states like western Europe, the states south of the Potomac like the Mediterranean countries. How this new American trinity would have fared over the ensuing decades is anybody’s guess. Whether it would have become a mere way station on the road to civil war and foreign invasion or a stable set of independent republics that coexisted peacefully and prosperously is impossible to know. But separate confederacies, not outright anarchy, appeared the most likely alternative if and when the Articles dissolved.12”

Paine’s ideals and activism (along with Anti-Federalism in general) seems rather reasonable when put in this context. What was all the fearmongering about? Considering the problems that have plagued the US government ever since, maybe it would have been good for the states to have maintained their sovereignty as have European countries. I personally wouldn’t mind living in a Midwestern version of Scandinavia.

Why is Paine’s influence in France supposedly to be blamed for the ensuing social chaos but his even greater influence in America is no big deal? There was no actual threat of anarchy, as Ellis admits. There is no honest argument to be made in claiming Paine somehow caused or even contributed to the Jacobin Reign of Terror, especially considering that Paine sat on the right in the French Assembly which was opposite of the Jacobins who famously sat on the left. Paine risked his life in opposing the Jacobins at every turn.

Paine believed in democracy, and in fact was one of the few people in the colonies who would openly use the word “democracy” in a positive sense, as most colonists had little knowledge and no experience of what democracy even meant beyond ancient histories such as about Socrates’ death. The failure of the French Revolution can’t be blamed on Paine any more than the failure of the American Revolution. He was but one voice in a cacophany of voices. Anyway, he made it clear that the onus of responsibility was not on the radicals who promoted democracy but on the reactionaries who resisted it. If the French revolutionaries had put forth a democratic constitution as the Americans did with the Articles of Confederation, Paine argued, then the catastrophe of Reign of Terror could have been avoided.

Ellis’ historical knowledge of the French Revolution, going by what he states in that quote, is about as unimpressive as is found among the typical American. I expect more insight and understanding from a practicing historian. Heck, I’m just a working class schmuck who dropped out of college and I apparently have a better grasp of the French Revolution, a set of events immensely more complex than Ellis appreciates (see: Failed Revolutions All Around, Revolutions: American and French along with Part 2, and The Haunted Moral Imagination).

Ellis shares the conservative attitude toward the French Revolution. He sounds downright Burkean.

* * * *

I came across a decent analysis of the views of Burke and Paine. The author (George H. Smith) discusses a number of issues, from Lockean contract theory to constitutionalism, but most relevantly he brings up the notion of an anarchistic state of nature, the bogeyman of every argument for large centralized government, be it monarchistic imperialism or federalist nationalism. It must be remembered that Burke didn’t just attack the French Revolution but did so in order to defend the French monarchy as a morally good and stable social order, although ultimately what Burke was defending by proxy was the English monarchy.

Here is what Smith has to say:

“If, as Paine argued, the people create a government through the mechanism of a constitution, then (in accordance with the Lockean version of a social compact) they must first agree unanimously to incorporate themselves into a political body that is thereafter governed by majority rule. Without this foundation of unanimous consent, “there can be no such thing as majority or minority; or power in any one person to bind another.” As Locke himself conceded, no one may be compelled to abandon the state of nature and obey the will of the majority in political decision making. Thus, according to Burke, no constitution ratified by a majority of the people may be deemed legitimate unless every individual under the jurisdiction of that constitution has previously agreed to become a member of that civil society called “the people.” Only this prior consent can morally obligate individuals to obey the will of the majority. Therefore, according to Burke, Paine’s notion of a constitution based on the consent of the governed “must be grounded on two assumptions; first, that of an incorporation produced by unanimity; and secondly, an unanimous agreement, that the act of a mere majority (say of one) shall pass with them and with others as the act of the whole.”

“Having taken Lockean social contract theorists at their word, Burke had no problem demonstrating that the Paineite defenders of the French Revolution failed to fulfill their own criteria for a legitimate constitution. A revolution, by dissolving the current government, places individuals in a state of nature—a condition in which they may refuse to incorporate themselves once again into a civil society and so have no moral obligation to obey the will of the majority. After a revolution, the process of incorporation that creates “the people” (in a legal sense) must begin anew, and a new civil society, in the Lockean scheme, requires the consent of every member who is to be governed by the majority. Thus a constitution, even if it is directly ratified by a majority of the people, cannot bind individuals who never agreed to become members of that civil society in the first place.

“Of course, Burke intended his critical analysis of majority rule to apply to more than the French Revolution and its defenders. Burke’s attack was meant to undermine the very foundation of Lockean social contract theory by showing that it is unable to rescue us from the anarchical state of nature. Like previous critics of political individualism, Burke maintained that those philosophers who begin with natural rights in a state of nature are forever doomed, theoretically speaking, to remain in that anarchistic condition, because the requirement of unanimous consent has never been met—whether in France, America, or any other country. By Lockean standards, therefore, no government in history was or is legitimate.”

What Smith failed to add was that Paine was influenced by Quaker constitutionalism. In a footnote to Observations on the Declaration of Rights, Paine writes that,

“There is a single idea, which, if it strikes rightly upon the mind, either in a legal or a religious sense, will prevent any man or any body of men, or any government, from going wrong on the subject of religion; which is, that before any human institutions of government were known in the world, there existed, if I may so express it, a compact between God and man, from the beginning of time: and that as the relation and condition which man in his individual person stands in towards his Maker cannot be changed by any human laws or human authority, that religious devotion, which is a part of this compact, cannot so much as be made a subject of human laws; and that all laws must conform themselves to this prior existing compact, and not assume to make the compact conform to the laws, which, besides being human, are subsequent thereto. The first act of man, when he looked around and saw himself a creature which he did not make, and a world furnished for his reception, must have been devotion; and devotion must ever continue sacred to every individual man, as it appears, right to him; and governments do mischief by interfering. “

Although a professed deist, Paine often made recourse to his early Christian education. This included the influences from his Quaker father. He was attracted to religious dissenters going all the way back to his time in England when he lived in a town that was a major center of religious dissent during the English Civil War. Once in America, he found alliances with radical Free Quakers.

With Quaker constitutionalism, the state of nature for humanity is not anarchy. The people isn’t a product of government for it precedes and is a prerequisite for government. Humans are social creatures. For Quakers, this was expressed as a covenant with God, the essence and inspiration of constitutionalism. They believed in a living constitution for they believed in a God alive in the hearts of men (and women). This is also why they didn’t believe in natural law, an unchanging set of divine legal rights set down for all of eternity. Instead, a people’s covenant with God changed as their relationship to God grew and developed.

As explained by Jane E. Calvert in Quaker Constitutionalism and the Political Thought of John Dickinson (Kindle Locations 10068-10077):

“The mechanism by which change could happen – whether in the case of Pennsylvania or America – was premised on the idea that the people were already constituted regardless of what paper documents did or did not exist, and that the power to discern the law lay with the people as a body. Samuel Beer explains, however, that Western political thought had historically rejected popular rule in favor of hierarchy. “Classical philosophy had taught the rule of the wise,” he says, “Christianity taught the rule of the holy.”104 The latter was also true of Quaker political thought. The crucial difference was that, in the Quaker view, all could be holy. Divine competence was in the people. They had what Beer calls a “constituent sovereignty”; that is, when a government dissolves and must be renewed, the people do not return to a state of nature, a state of anarchy.105 Rather, the power that they invested in the law-making body reverts to them and they can recreate – reconstitute – their political arrangements.”

This wasn’t a radical idea for Quakers. It was their tradition and so part of their established order. Quaker constitutionalism was at the heart of the political experiment in Pennsylvania. John Dickinson, a Quaker-raised Pennsylvanian, shared Paine’s Quaker-inspired constitutionalism even as he didn’t share Paine’s radicalism. Quite the opposite, Dickinson sought to defend the social order that had protected religious minorities like the Quakers. This was his motivation for using Quaker values in writing the original draft of the Articles of Confederation.

Quakers were not supporters of Lockean social contract theory. Just as they were not supporters of Lockean natural rights. Burke’s criticisms do not apply to Quakers or those who base their views on Quaker political values and traditions. Burke acted as if Quaker constitutionalism didn’t exist, as if there were no other options besides civil law and anarchy. Ellis shows a similar disregard toward or ignorance about the Quaker position.

* * * *

I’m not just arguing about history. This is relevant for the public debate about government that has been ongoing for centuries now.

Quakers weren’t and still aren’t individualists. They take seriously the idea of “the people” as a community, not just an aggregate of individuals. This Quaker view has come to have major impact on progressivism. Quaker constitutionalism is probably also behind the liberal view of a living constitution, a covenant of a people that is greater than mere words and legalese.

To seek out first principles is to seek out the living “Breath of God” behind the words. Worshipping the words of long dead men isn’t something the Anti-Federalists had hoped for. Jefferson thought there should be a new constitution every generation, which is to say about every 20 years. The Anti-Federalists believed that government was for the living since only the living could consent to being governed. Making the US Constitution into a dogma written in stone like a modern Ten Commandments is to entirely miss the point.

The Spirit of ’76 is a living spirit. Where it lives is in the heart of those who still believe in the inspiration of the American Revolution. Constitutions come and go. Compromises are made and governing systems eventually fail. But the quest for a more perfect union is a neverending quest.

We should respect the Articles of Confederation for the reason that it was the first expression of a new vision of society. It was a radical vision then and it remains a radical vision to this day. The American Revolution never ended for the original American experiment has yet to fully begin.

* * * *

After sleeping on it, one more thought came to mind.

The Lockean influence on the American Revolution isn’t absolute. The one thing that has become clear to me is that the colonies represented diverse influences right from the start (see David Hackett Fischer and Colin Woodard for detailed analysis). This doesn’t just apply to radicals like Paine or forgotten figures like Dickinson, but also founders like Jefferson.

A number of scholars have questioned Thomas Jefferson’s relation to Lockean natural rights. It is far from certain that Jefferson, in writing the Declaration of Independence, was referring to Locke when he wrote about “Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness”. Locke’s own formula included “life, liberty and estate”. There is a vast difference depending upon what the final emphasis is placed, estate or pursuit of Happiness. That is “Happiness” with a capital “H”, in case a mere lowercase wasn’t emphasis enough.

In previously discussing this, I concluded that,

As for Jefferson’s personal view, a fundamental right related to happiness had to do with consent. A government earned consent by ensuring the happiness of citizens. When that happiness abated, so did the requirement of consent. This puts “pursuit of Happiness” in a whole other context.

The Constitution certainly didn’t require the people’s consent, much less happiness. As far as that goes, the Constitution makes only one mention of property and that in referring to public property. Commerce gets discussed twice, but only in stating its being regulated. This is hardly a document of laissez-faire capitalism. This is made clear by the early use of tariffs made by the federal government, “the main source of all Federal revenue from 1790 to 1914″. Tariffs made markets heavily regulated, some might say manipulated even.

The Articles of Confederation did speak of property while even going so far as putting it into context of trade and commerce. However, the preceding Declaration of Independence didn’t mention property (or estate) at all and yet mentioned happiness twice. The second mention of Happiness placed it in relation to Safety. This is something Quakers of the time would have approved of as they knew through direct experience the relation between freedom for minorities and protection of minorities. As minorities, many Quakers resisted severing their ties with the protection offered by the Crown and Quakers like Dickinson hoped to quickly reestablish protections with a government powerful enough to enforce them.

There were many contested understandings for all these terms. Liberty, in particular, always was a vague term with its origins in Roman slave society. As I’ve mentioned before, Jefferson’s Virginia was shaped by the Cavalier heritage of Roman values. The Declaration and the Constitution refer to liberty and freedom, often seemingly interchangeably, sometimes using freedom as the opposite of enslaved which is the Roman conception of liberty. Quite uniquely, the Articles use freedom as a touchstone while never mentioning liberty even once. That demonstrates a major difference, the Declaration having been written by a slave-owning, liberty-loving aristocrat from Cavalier Virginia and the Articles having been written by a Quaker-raised Pennsylvanian who freed the slaves he inherited.

Governing charters are written with words. Words like freedom and liberty aren’t mere abstractions. They are grounded in entire worldviews, cultures, and social orders. Without understanding this deeper context, we lack the key to unlock the meaning of old debates that underpin our entire society. We are a conflicted people for we debate without understanding the terms of the debate. Rhetoric, too often empty, takes the place of meaning.

The ideal of federalism was borne out of the original Confederation. The so-called Federalists who turned against the Confederation weren’t actually promoting federalism, but instead some form of nation-state or even proto-imperialism. The relationship the US government has to the states is not much different from the relationship the British Empire had to its colonies. Every government claims to represent its citizens, but representation in a practical sense is a very different thing. Just ask those early Americans when, following the Revolution, still only a few percentage were given the right to vote.

Many of the Anti-Federalists argued that they were the true Federalists. The evidence is strongly in their favor. If we wish to continue to believe our government’s propaganda about Federalism, maybe we should take it seriously enough to live up to those claims and demand our government to apply. Maybe we should once again act as if it mattered whether or not we consent to be governed.

The debate is far from over. Let’s make sure it is an informed debate.

 

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Let the Dissection of the Tea Party Corpse Begin

I’ve only skimmed this, but it looks worthy of a deeper study. It apparently is the first large-scale political science survey of the Tea Party. It’s published in The American Prospect and written by Abby Rapoport.

Three New Facts about the Tea Party

For a movement that’s helped to reshape the Republican Party—and by extension, reshape American politics—we know shockingly little about the people who make up the Tea Party. While some in the GOP once hoped to co-opt the movement, it’s increasingly unclear which group—the Tea Party or establishment Republicans—is running the show. Politicians have largely relied on conjecture and assumption to determine the positions and priorities of Tea Party activists.

Until now. The results of the first political science survey of Tea Party activists show that the constituency isn’t going away any time soon—and Republicans hoping the activists will begin to moderate their stances should prepare for disappointment. Based out of the College of William and Mary, the report surveyed more than 11,000 members of FreedomWorks, one of the largest and most influential Tea Party groups. The political scientists also relied on a separate survey of registered voters through the YouGov firm to compare those who identified with the Tea Party movement to those Republicans who did not. (Disclosure: The political scientist leading the survey was my father, Ronald Rapoport, with whom I worked in writing this piece.)

For the first time, we can now look at what a huge sample of Tea Party activists believe, as well as examine how those who identify with the Tea Party differ from their establishment GOP counterparts. Here are the three biggest takeaways from the study:

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Tea Party Welfare

Books About Conservatism and the Tea Party
By Timothy Noah, The New York Times

“Today, nearly all political centrists are Democrats. And with the rise of the Tea Party, Republicans are experiencing another 1964 moment. Indeed, Theda Skocpol and Vanessa Williamson report in their exceptionally informative book, “The Tea Party and the Remaking of Republican Conservatism,” more than a few Tea Partiers “dated their first political experience to the Goldwater campaign.” But there are important differences between the two movements. For one, the Tea Party, unlike the Goldwater insurgency, has managed to win elections and thereby obtain some power at the national and state level. For another, the Tea Partiers’ anti-­government ideology is tempered by quiet support for Social Security and Medicare. That’s because the activists themselves tend to be middle-aged or older. Tea Partiers aren’t opposed to government benefits per se, according to Skocpol and Williamson; rather, they’re opposed to “unearned” government benefits, which in practice ends up meaning any benefits extended to African-­Americans, Latinos, immigrants (especially undocumented ones) and the young. A poll of South Dakota Tea Party supporters found that 83 percent opposed any Social Security cuts, 78 percent opposed any cuts to Medicare prescription-drug coverage, and 79 percent opposed cuts in Medicare reimbursements to physicians and hospitals. “So much for the notion that Tea Partiers are all little Dick Armeys,” Skocpol and Williamson write. The small government Tea Partiers favor is one where I get mine and most others don’t get much at all.”

“This poses a particular problem for a conservative Republican like Rep. Paul Ryan, who favors privatizing Medicare and shifting more of the financial burden onto recipients. But it’s also a problem for anyone seeking to lower the budget deficit, because it’s the “earned” benefits like Social Security and Medicare that are mainly responsible for runaway government spending. On the other hand, although Tea Partiers, who tend to be comfortably middle class but not wealthy, hate paying taxes, they don’t necessarily mind when other people pay taxes; the South Dakota poll had 56 percent of Tea Party supporters favoring a 5 percent increase in income taxes for people who earn more than $1 million a year.”

This is what I’ve been pointing out again and again.

The Tea Party conservative (and the fiscal conservatives who support them) isn’t against big government and isn’t against welfare. Rather, they are against big government that helps other people who aren’t like them: minorities, immigrants, and the young.

The GOP strongholds are the Deep South and the Far West which are the regions that receive the most federal benefits, meaning they receive more federal taxpayer money than they pay in federal taxes. The Far West, in fact, has been dependent on government funding since the 19th century simply to make the region habitable.

I see the same thing in Iowa. Eastern Iowa isn’t as dependent on farm subsidies and so Eastern Iowans don’t elect politicians to make sure they get this type of government welfare which means they more often vote for Democrats. Western Iowans, however, are dependent on government welfare through farming subsidies and so they vote for Republicans who always get federal funds for their constituents.

These kinds of conservatives will complain about spending other people’s money. Yet they are perfectly fine with other people’s money being spent on themselves and on what they care about (e.g., abstinence-only sex education, oil subsidies, military, etc). There is this fundamental disconnect from reality that is mind-blowing. If the Tea Party got rid of government, it is people like the Tea Party supporters (along with others living in Republican-voting states) who would be among those who would suffer the most.

They benefit from the welfare such as farm subsidies created by progressives and attack progressivism. They’ll tell the government to keep its hands off of their Medicare. Where do they think Medicare comes from? Who do they think pays for it? It’s just plain bizarre.

‘We Are The 99 Percent’: Grassroots Populism?

In light of the recent protests, the following article makes a very good point:

http://www.good.is/post/we-are-the-99-percent-is-the-best-populist-message-we-ve-had-in-years/

“This simple concept—that the vast majority of us are getting screwed because of policies that protect the rich minority—is the best populist message I’ve heard in years. Unlike Occupy Wall Street’s official declaration, which couches the movement’s many demands in terms of “they”—the rich—this slogan draws attention to “we,” to the people’s sheer numbers, and therefore our power. It distills the movement’s huge range of issues into one devastating phenomenon: the wealth gap. It reclaims populism from conservatives and the Tea Party in a very literal way, yet it doesn’t divide the country along political party lines.”

 – – – 

This made me think of what defines grassroots activism of the populist variety. How can one tell that a political movement is authentic in this sense? Two things came to mind.

First, populism is by definition what is popular. Populism can’t be based on a minority position, can’t be dominated by partisan activists on either of the far wings of the political spectrum.

The Tea Party, for example, wasn’t populist. They were in fact further to the right than the average Republican. Their original message of fiscal responsibility appealed to independents and even some liberals and left-wingers, but the movement was taken over by vocal social conservatives: God, guns, and gays. This criticism of those who co-opted the Tea Party comes from even some of the early leaders, organizers, participants, and supporters of the Tea Party.

A movement can’t claim to be populist when it is funded by big business (Koch brothers) and promoted by a partisan major news company (Fox News). These big money funders helped put on some of the ‘protest’ events (including paying for buses to transport people to the events) and heavily covered them in the media. They sent some of their best media pundits to lend support. They even at times tried to pump up the crowd in the way they would do with a studio audience and used fake footage to make events look larger.

Second, populist grassroots movements will never be treated fairly or positively by most of the mainstream media. Typically, this is how it works. Populist grassroots movements are initially ignored. If they won’t go away and can’t be ignored, they will only be briefly mentioned in a way that draws the least amount of attention as possible. If the movements actually grow in numbers and influence, the MSM will increasingly refer to them dismissively and try to portray them negatively.

Obviously, a populist grassroots movement wouldn’t be treated in the way the Tea Party was treated. It’s not so much if a movement is treated positively or negatively when it first starts. Rather, the first sign to look for is if the movement gets any significant media attention at all. The Tea Party received immediate attention whereas the Wall Street Occupation was initially ignored.

 – – –

To demonstrate these two points, consider the anti-war protests during the Bush administration. It was the largest and most wide-spread protest movement in US and world history.

Was it non-partisan? Yes. It included Ron Paul libertarians and left-libertarians, right-wingers and left-wingers, anarchists and socialists, social justice Christians and pacifists, and on and on.

Was it treated fairly by the MSM? Of course not. Relative to its size, it received very little attention and most of that attention wasn’t positive.

As the largest and most wide-spread protest movement ever to exist, one would expect that it would have been taken more seriously and that it would have had greater impact on Washington. A real populist grassrooots movement wouldn’t likely get so many politicians into power so quickly as the Tea Party did, and certainly if they did those politicians wouldn’t be so partisan as the Tea Party politicians are. Tea Party politicians are simply right-wing Republicans.

 – – – 

In the context of the above, is the Wall Street Occupation a populist grassroots movement?

I don’t know enough about it at present, but it seems to closer to the anti-war protests than to the Tea Party protests. So, I’ll be watching the news about the protests with all of this in mind. I certainly hope it is and remains a populist grassroots movement. That is what we need right now. Eventually, there will be a breaking point. The Tea Party failed, but maybe it was a learning experience for some activists which will help them avoid the same pitfalls.

As a sign of what seems like a more grassroots populism, I noticed two things following my posting the above. First, I read a number of articles in the alternative media praising the Occupy Wall Street movment and I also noticed some more establishment media articles (including from liberal sources such as Mother Jones) that criticized the movement. Second, I noticed one particularly interesting thing in a short article with a video:

http://politics.salon.com/2011/10/06/the_99ers_meet_the_99_percent/

“In our first episode: The 99ers are a small but determined movement of the long-term unemployed  (whose unemployment benefits ran out after 99 weeks). One  NYC band of 99ers went on Friday to join Occupy Wall Street, where the occupiers have taken to  calling themselves “The 99 percent.” Watch what happens:”

Midwestern Values of Community & the Common Good

Here is a video about a local shooting of a man in his home by an officer. You might think this would lead to outrage, but these Midwesterners in typical fashion are calm. Instead of outrage, they simply want resolution and understanding. That is the complete opposite reaction of what I’m used to seeing, especially in other parts of the country.

In my post about the North/South divide, I made an argument that there are cultural differences between Northern and Southern states. Specifically, I wrote about my experience of living in Iowa as compared to my experience living in South Carolina. One difference I noted was that Southerners tend to treat their family as their community and Northerners (or, at least, rural Midwesterners) tend to treat their communities as family.

In watching the above video, it jumped out to me how important ‘community’ was to these people. They explicitly talked about community rather than about individual people or individual families. This is an event they all are experiencing together. And it is an event that threatens the fabric of their community. To attack the officer for his actions would feel like an attack on the whole community.

These people may become more angry later if it turns out the shooting was unjustified or if the officer doesn’t act adequately remorseful. But, for now, their immediate concern is ensuring a sense of community is maintained.

This community-obsessed culture makes sense when you consider the history of the region. Small family farmers in these rural areas were extremely isolated early on when these towns first formed. They depended on and still depend on one another. This is the origin of Midwestern neighborliness.

It’s easy to forget communities like this still exist. This is the most clear example I’ve seen in a while.

It reminds me of the speech Zach Wahls gave. Zach is a native-born Iowan who was raised by gay parents. Some might find it strange that Iowa would be one of the first states to legalize gay marriage, but along with the community-centered culture there is an egalitarian sense of everyone deserving to be treated equal.

Zach naturally used a conservative defense of gay marriage. He didn’t portray his life as being special nor that he wanted special treatment. He didn’t portray himself as defending gay rights but as defending human rights. There is a conflict-avoidance in this attitude. It’s not us vs them but us together as a community (and society just being community on the largescale). Zach made it even more clear by stating that his family was a normal Iowan family and by describing himself as a hardworking Iowan. He said, “And if I was your son, Mr. Chairman, I believe I’d make you very proud.”

Growing up in the Midwest, this way of viewing the world is a part of my sense of reality. It’s not that Iowa doesn’t have it’s own ideologues that like to fear-monger and stir up trouble, but such people just seem against the grain of the culture here. They are more the exception than the rule. I made this argument in another post. As evidence I quoted a Tea Party speaker to show how different the Tea Party is in Iowa as compared to other states:

Doug Burnett, the event’s first speaker, urged the crowd to stress the positive rather than the negative.

“Let’s watch our words.  Thoughts become attitudes, attitudes become words and words become actions.  I hear too often people saying, ‘I’m scared.  I’m scared for my country. I’m scared for my way of life’ and I don’t doubt the sincerity of that sentiment, but I do question the accuracy of the words.

“Scared is negative.  It’s powerless.  It’s debilitating.  Scared is what happens when you wake up in the middle of the night to that bump, right?

“We’re frustrated.  We’re angry.  We’re concerned and trust me, many times I look at our elected leaders and I see the boogey man, but we are the Tea Party and we aren’t scared of anything.  Are you scared?  We don’t do scared.

“Think of words that are positive and accurate, like ‘I’m engaged. I’m empowered. I’m moved to action.’”

A Tea Party that is positive instead of fear-mongering. Watching the mainstream media, it’s hard to believe such a thing exists… and yet it does exist, at least here in Iowa. Even the Tea Party in Iowa isn’t interested in dividing the community.

Whether a defender of gay rights or member of the Tea Party, Iowans seek a common vision to unite the community. When something threatens that sense of community, the response is to bring community closer together.

2010 MidTerm Elections: My Liberal View

Here are some videos and commentary about the Midterm election results:

That is interesting. The two most shared videos were a video that was for Democrats and a video against the Tea Party. That further corroborates my own intuition. Polls also show Republicans have less support than Democrats. Twitter data seems to show two things (although it’s not entirely clear from the video): 1. the Tea Party is unpopular with most people (or most people using Twitter, i.e., a younger demographic); and 2. many people were voting against rather than for something.

That confirms everything I was thinking. Most voters are voting against (Democrats mostly) than are voting for. This is shown by polling of Americans who say they support Republicans less than Democrats. So, Republicans being elected is far from being a mandate of anything.

It’s not surprising the Tea Party is unpopular on Twitter. The Tea Party is an older demographic and people using Twitter is a younger demographic. Look to social media like Twitter if you want to see future trends.

I’m a liberal with a civil libertarian bent. The above video expresses my own views perfectly. The polls show Americans hate Republicans more than they hate Democrats. They were voting out Democrats. The voting in of Republicans was just an accidental side result. It’s pretty stupid. Americans gave the popular vote to Obama because many of them were voting against the unconstitutionality and ineptitude of Republicans. Now, Americans vote back in those they voted out previously. Americans are sheeple.

The election of Republicans certainly wasn’t a mandate of anything.

Some defenders of Obama will say that a lot has been accomplished and that Americans are misinformed/uninformed and just plain impatient. As Jon Stewart summarized it in his interview with Obama, defenders of the Obama administration are saying “Please baby, one more chance.”

It’s true that the Obama administration did accomplish a fair amount, but it’s also true that the Obama administration failed to communicate those accomplishments and the mainstream media mostly just played up the narrative of Obama as weak and incompetent. Of course, there is plenty of blame to go around and Americans aren’t completely stupid.

I understand all that. Still, much of the frustration Americans feel can be blamed on Obama and Democrats in general.

Here are some comments from that video:

  • gothatfunk obama inherited such a mess, its unreasonable to expect striking results after 21 months. but there IS a lot of stuff he’s compromised on he didnt have to, and campaign promises that have been not just ignored, but he’s done the opposite of what he said. like for example he should have repealed the Patriot Act. but he’s instead drawn more power to the executive than did GWB. so yeah, acknowledge the good, criticise the bad. its not all or nothing.
  • CiphersSon @gothatfunk i here ya its very gray area i voted for obama but he’s just doing the same old thing. lockstep with special intrest as they all do. Change? but the one good thing is getting health care particaily implemented. When it comes to the dept… even the next prez is still oging to be head deep in that shit. There all lies im just so disillusioned buy the hole ide of it all theres this idea of ” the land of the free” but its more land of the money and power. Not the citizenry.
  • CiphersSon @gothatfunk not to mention back room deals on ATCA and net neutrality.
  • jakluk4 @gothatfunk yes indeedie.
  • onlywhenprovoked @gothatfunk those promises you mention…. to undo the unconstitutional, privacy rights violating, humans rights violating, power expanding bullshit that bush did – was all i wanted from obamas long list of unfulfilled promises.
    apparently i wanted too much.

Here is what I’d say along these lines.

Obama could’ve tackled economic problems in a way that would’ve helped average Americans. As long as economics creates societal unrest, the population will tend toward conservatism and so vote against Democrats. That is just plain commonsense. The economic stimulus that Obama did pass mostly helped big business just like the healthcare reform he passed helped insurance companies more than the average American. Most Americans wanted healthcare reform. Most Americans wanted public option. What Americans got was change, but it wasn’t all that impressive.

I don’t like Ed Schultz that much, but I agree with his assessment of Obama’s halfhearted hope for compromise (does even Obama still believe what he says?). Rachel Maddow shows why compromise is such a joke. And I always enjoy Michael Moore’s take on things… courage of convictions instead of weak compromise? Imagine that.

To be fair, I don’t think Obama’s message of compromise is a complete failure. In some ways, Obama’s sticking to the bipartisan message has helped him win the narrative war or at least hold his own. I think Obama could be given credit for the results of Republicans being even less popular than Republicans. Most Americans admit that Obama doesn’t deserve primary blame for all our problems, that the problems started before he took office.

My point is that our entire political system has become a compromise with corporate wealth and power. Who cares if Obama wins the narrative war if the narrative that wins turns out to be propaganda and spin.

If for some reason you want to know the analysis of a Canadian anarcho-capitalist, here you go:

So, who are the real winners in these elections?

Even on the local level of my home state of Iowa, big money from out of state was victorious over judges defending the Iowa constitution.

But let me end on a different note. Here is an interesting take on the election results. His conclusion is that the Tea Party, as represented by Sarah Palin, can hardly be seen as victorious. Quite the opposite, in fact.

To the extent Republicans might merit their victories, the credit certainly can’t be given to Palin. As a politician, she is a failure and a quitter. As a campaign promoter, her support is the kiss of death. Palin is just another celebrity.


Dems Facing Disaster in 2010 Elections?

Is Bill Maher right that Americans are stupid or is the power elite just extremely effective at propaganda?

Either way, Americans are sheeple. I’m not only blaming the GOP and Tea Party. Democrats failed to keep their promises which relates to Chris Hedges’ criticisms of the liberal class. Even so, it makes no sense to vote Republican. If all the outraged people had any brains, they would vote in some third party or independent candidates.

I haven’t lost faith in US politics. I’ve lost faith in the American people.

O’Reilly & Polls: Old vs Young

I love polling data, but I only fully trust data when multiple sources agree. I dislike both people who dismiss data because it disagrees with their views and people who rely on only data that agrees with them. Here is an example of someone doing both. Bill O’Reilly cites research unquestioningly when it makes him personally look good, but then dismisses out of hand a scientific study because he didn’t like its conclusions.

As for the data O’Reilly righteously dismissed, I still don’t understand his claim of subjectivity. O’Reilly doesn’t cite other scientific research that comes to different conclusions. He simply cites an opinion piece. Anyway, I immediately remembered having written about this study and having put it in context of other data: . If you’d like to decide for yourself, here is the article I think O’Reilly is referring to along with a response by another commenter, a response by the researcher, an interview with the researcher, and a response to the responses by the first author.

 – – –

Tea Partiers Racist? Not So Fast
By Cathy Young

The Tea Party’s racial resentment
Reason’s Cathy Young says backers don’t hold racially tinged views, and when they do, they’re politically justified
By Joan Walsh

Race and the Tea Party: Who’s right?
White Tea Party supporters blame black disadvantage on not working hard enough, not the legacy of discrimination
By Christopher Parker

Pollster Responds to Your Questions
By Tom Schaller

The “racist Tea Parties” debate
By Cathy Young

 – – –

As for the data O’Reilly happily cited, what I found interesting is that it doesn’t fit in with what is known from other sources. I haven’t looked at this data close enough to have a conclusive opinion, but I must admit O’Reilly’s smugness (combined with his occasional anti-intellectual attitude) irritates me to no end. I have a knee-jerk suspicion of anything that comes out of O’Reilly’s mouth. Here is some commentary about the poll from the first video.

 – – –

Politico poll claims Fox personalities have the ‘greatest positive impact’ on political debate
By Raw Story

 Politico poll claims Fox personalities have the greatest positive impact on political debateIf there was a poll that made you wonder who was doing the polling — or what kind of sample was being surveyed — this one might be it.

It begins fairly enough: more Americans get their political news from Fox News than any other source. This seems consistent with reality: Fox News has a larger audience than any other cable news channel, and a larger share of voice than any American newspaper (though it’s still lapped by network news broadcasts).

According to the poll — conducted by Politico and George Washington University — 42 percent of those watching cable news consider Fox their “main source,” with 30 percent said to be reliant on CNN and just 12 percent watching MSNBC.

This doesn’t, however, seem to jibe with ratings reports. According to cable news TV ratings released last week, Fox News beat MSNBC in the key 25 to 54 demographic with a rating of 333 to 127. CNN came in with last place ratings, at 118 for the main CNN network and 119 for CNN’s Headline News. That would put MSNBC ahead of CNN in the ratings race.

In primetime, Fox beats MSNBC by about two times: 574 to MSNBC’s 251. If the “main source” of news is primetime television, then MSNBC should have done considerably better in the Politico poll than just 12 percent.

[…] The Politico piece remarks wryly, “The results of the poll… also reflect a trend that many commentators and media analysts find disconcerting: Voters are turning to media sources that reinforce their political worldviews rather than present them with more objective reporting that might challenge their assumptions.”

“As more people get news from cable channels and websites that offer a particular point of view 24/7, it becomes increasingly important for viewers to sample multiple sources in order to best understand the issues and proposed solutions,” the piece quotes a George Washington University professor as saying. “This trend is only increasing.”

Politico poll headline hides good news for Democrats
by truthseeking missile

Last week a Gallup poll showed Democrats evenly split with Republicans among voters on a Congressional ballot. When I diaried about it, many readers argued that it was an outlier. Since then other polls have shown the same trend. The new Associated Press poll put the generic dead even among registered voters 47 percent Democratic, 47 percent Republican — and the New York Times/CBS News survey released yesterday gave Republicans a narrow 40 percent to 38 percent edge.

Along comes another poll today by  POLITICO/George Washington University  showing the same results in the battle ground states, where Democrats are running even with the big, bad Republicans. It points to great news for Democrats in several key regions with numerous House and Senate seats in play. In the Midwest and Northeast they hold a 5-point advantage.

How then do you explain the headline on the story:

Poll: Voters see GOP takeover of Congress 
By: Charles Mahtesian and Jim VandeHei 
September 16, 2010 04:50 AM EDT

Voters, by a 9-point margin, believe Republicans will pick up both the House and the Senate, even though they are evenly divided over whom they intend to back in six weeks, according to a new POLITICO/George Washington University Battleground Poll.

In a generic matchup between the two parties, those surveyed were split 43-43 when asked if they would back a Republican or a Democrat on Election Day. This is good news for Democrats and at odds with many other public polls, which have shown Republicans holding a single-digit edge.

http://dyn.politico.com/…

I continue to question the motives behind this media soap opera. Why is the media burying great news for Democrats? Does the media believe they have the power to create political momentum and sweep people into power by simply creating polls to suit their agenda and looping it ad nauseum until voters cave in and accept a media created reality?

 – – –

Even if Fox News had managed to brainwash most Americans into believing their propaganda/spin, I would take that as a rather negative accomplishment. Large corporations like News Corp, which owns Fox News, have been buying up media at a fast rate. Today, most of the media is owned by a handful of companies, but it wasn’t always that way. Before the Fairness Doctrine was repealed, there used to be more diversity of media, more small business owners of media, and more local control of media.

 – – –

The Structural Imbalance of Political Talk Radio
By John Halpin, James Heidbreder, Mark Lloyd, Paul Woodhull, Ben Scott, Josh Silver, S. Derek Turner

There are many potential explanations for why this gap exists. The two most frequently cited reasons are the repeal of the Fairness Doctrine in 1987 and simple consumer demand. As this report will detail, neither of these reasons adequately explains why conservative talk radio dominates the airwaves.

Our conclusion is that the gap between conservative and progressive talk radio is the result of multiple structural problems in the U.S. regulatory system, particularly the complete breakdown of the public trustee concept of broadcast, the elimination of clear public interest requirements for broadcasting, and the relaxation of ownership rules including the requirement of local participation in management.

Ownership diversity is perhaps the single most important variable contributing to the structural imbalance based on the data. Quantitative analysis conducted by Free Press of all 10,506 licensed commercial radio stations reveals that stations owned by women, minorities, or local owners are statistically less likely to air conservative hosts or shows.

In contrast, stations controlled by group owners—those with stations in multiple markets or more than three stations in a single market—were statistically more likely to air conservative talk. Furthermore, markets that aired both conservative and progressive programming were statistically less concentrated than the markets that aired only one type of programming and were more likely to be the markets that had female- and minority-owned stations.

 – – –

One thing that connects all of this is the fact that there is a connection between Fox News and the Tea Party. Fox News pundits like O’Reilly almost always go to the defense to the Tea Party. I saw in one of the articles I was perusing a mention of a poll that showed the strongest common denominator, stronger than any particular value or policy position, among Tea Party supporters was that they tended to be viewers of Glenn Beck’s show. I couldn’t find that article again, but here is some other info to show this close relationship.

 – – –

Survey: 40% Of Republicans Watch Fox News Regularly
By David Bauder

At the same time, 7 percent of conservative Sean Hannity’s Fox News Channel viewers and 9 percent of Rush Limbaugh’s listeners say Obama is doing a good job, the survey said. Three quarters of Limbaugh, Hannity and Glenn Beck’s audiences identify themselves as tea party supporters.

DeMint Credits Fox News With Recent Tea Party Victories
By Alex Seitz-Wald

“[A]t least twenty Fox News personalities have endorsed, raised money, or campaigned for Republican candidates or causes, or against Democratic candidates or causes, in more than 300 instances and in all 50 states,” according to a Media Matters survey conducted in April. Meanwhile, a recent Pew research survey finds that Fox News’ viewership has increased in recent years due almost entirely to an influx of Republicans, 40 percent of whom now say they regularly get their news there. That’s up from just 25 percent in 2002. Of course, Fox’s parent company also recently gave $1 million to the Republican Governors Association.

 – – –

One interesting fact about Fox News is that their audience is the oldest of any cable channel. In order to put this in context, the average age of cable viewers is already up there around retirmenent age.

 – – –

Median Age of Fox News Viewers is 65 – Average Dittohead Is a 67 Year Old Man
By Jon Ponder

It took some googling but I found a reliable source that confirms that during the 2007-2008 television season, the most recent season for which figures are available, the average age of Fox News viewers was 65:

According to a study released by Magna Global’s Steve Sternberg, the five broadcast nets’ average live median age (in other words, not including delayed DVR viewing) was 50 last season. That’s the oldest ever since Sternberg started analyzing median age more than a decade ago — and the first time the nets’ median age was outside of the vaunted 18-49 demo…

Among ad-supported cable nets, the news nets (along with older-skewing Hallmark Channel, Golf Channel and GSN’s daytime sked) sport the most gray, with Fox News Channel’s daytime and primetime skeds the absolute oldest, clocking in with a median age above 65. (Emphasis added.)

As usual, I don’t precisely know what all this means. But let me point out a few thoughts. 

The age factor relates to both the issue of popularity and racial prejudice. Fox News has the most popular cable channel and cable channels are more popular than the networks, but this is meaningless when considered in isolation. The Fox News audience, despite it’s relative size, is a tiny fraction of a percentage of the total population. The fact is most of the population doesn’t watch any of the mainstream media for news. In particular, the younger generations get most of their news from the internet and the New Media (a category rarely measured in most polls). So, O’Reilly’s smugness about being a trusted news source among very old people isn’t saying much. Furthermore, the Tea Party and Fox News both share this older audience which is relatively more racially prejudiced than younger generations.

Here is what interests me. This audience of the mainstream media mostly consists of the Boomer generation. They were the largest generation ever to be born… that is until the Millennial generation was born. Boomers have always been known for being loud and for getting their way. They’ve dominated politics for most of their lives and now as they enter retirement they want to continue to maintain their influence. The Old Media profited greatly from this generation and this demographic remains their loyal base.

What many people don’t see coming or would rather ignore is that all of this is going to change in the coming years and decades. Obama didn’t win because of the older white audience of Fox News and the rest of the MSM. It was the multicultural Millennial generation that made it’s debut by voting Obama into office. If you want to know what young, white, and low-income voters (i.e., the opposite of the Tea Party), ignore what you hear at Tea Parties and on Fox News and instead check out the data: .

The last piece is the element of race. Older people are both more white and more racially prejudiced than younger people. White kids in school right now are already the minority among their peers. The younger generations have grown up with multiculturalism and interracial dating/marriage, with multi-racial friends and with those who are openly homosexual.  Research shows that when kids grow up with diversity that they end up having more accepting attitudes of those who are different. Or, in other words, they grow up to be socially liberal. Millennials are a larger generation than even the Boomers. Conservative outrage (whether expressed by Tea Party protesters or right-wing pundits) won’t be able to stop this massive change on the horizon.

Trust & Compromise, Science & Religion

I noticed several different sets of data about trust in terms of public opinion. (My thoughts here are somewhat a continuation of my thoughts in one of my other recent posts: .)

The first piece of data was something I’ve come across before. Basically, Democrats tend to trust government whether or not they’re in power and Republicans only trust government when they’re in power.

Imbalance of Trust
By Charles M. Blow

Is it partly the utter gullibility of some people? Sure. Is it partly deep-seated resentment of the black man in the White House? No doubt. But it’s also about something more fundamental: fluctuations of basic trust in the federal government.

These fluctuations highlight a peculiar quirk of recent American politics — according to an analysis of The New York Times/CBS News polls from the past 33 years, Americans seem to trust the government substantially more after a Republican president is elected than they do after a Democratic one is elected — at least at the outset.

Since 1976, the polls have occasionally included the following question: “How much of the time do you think you can trust the government in Washington to do what is right — just about always, most of the time, or only some of the time?”

The first poll taken in which this question was asked after Ronald Reagan assumed office found that 51 percent trusted the government in Washington to do the right thing just about always or most of the time. For George H.W. Bush, it was 44 percent, and for George W. Bush it was 55 percent. Now compare that with the Democrats. In Jimmy Carter’s first poll, it was 35 percent. In Bill Clinton’s, it was 24 percent, and for Barack Obama’s, it was only 20 percent. (It should be noted that the first poll conducted during George W. Bush’s presidency came on the heels of 9/11.)

Surprisingly, Democrats’ trust in government was the same or higher after a Republican was elected than it was after a Democrat was elected. That in spite of the fact that all three Democratic presidents came into office at the same time that their party had won control of both chambers of Congress.

There are two parts to this data.

First, Republican administrations are trusted more for the very reason that Democrats trust government in general. Democratic administrations can’t win because Republicans won’t trust them from the moment they take power, no matter what they promise or accomplish.

Second, Democrats are seemingly more open to being self-critical. Maybe this is because Democrat voters have high expectations of Democratic politicians. Or it could be that the Democratic Party is big tent and the Republican Party is small tent. It’s easier for the GOP to keep it’s narrow base satisfied. The diversity of Democrats, on the other hand, will always contain much disagreement.

This relates to another poll which shows the differing views on compromise. Unsurprisingly, the small tent Republican Party dislikes compromise and the big tent Democratic Party likes compromise. Independents are halfway between the two parties, but what is interesting in that same poll Independents identify more with the Democratic Party than with the Tea Party which would seem to imply that Independents realize a party that compromises (however imperfectly) is more likely to represent them. The Tea Party likes compromise even less than the Republican party which corresponds with data showing the average Tea Party supporter is more conservative than the average Republican.

Many Say Ending Tax Cuts for Wealthy Would Hurt Economy
The Pew Research Center

There is little agreement among the public about compromise in politics. About half (49%) say they most admire political leaders who stick to their positions without compromising, while slightly fewer (42%) say that they most admire political leaders who make compromises with people they disagree with.

The latest Pew Research/National Journal Congressional Connection poll, sponsored by SHRM, conducted September 16-19 among 1,005 adults, finds that Republicans, in particular, admire politicians who stick to their positions (62%) over those who compromise (33%). Although independents are more divided on the question, a majority (53%) says they favor leaders who do not compromise; four-in-ten independents (40%) say they most admire leaders who compromise. The balance of opinion is reversed among Democrats; 54% of Democrats say they prefer politicians who compromise with those they disagree with, while 39% say they prefer politicians who stick to their positions without compromising.

The next poll I came across (The AP-National Constitution Center Poll) dissected how much trust people had in various institutions and news sources. The data shows a split between what is trusted and who trusts it. There wasn’t a majority trust any of them, but here is the order of most trusted (least mistrusted) to least trusted (most mistrusted):

  1. Military
  2. Small and Local Business leaders
  3. Scientific Community
  4. Organized Religion
  5. Broadcast News Media
  6. Print Media
  7. US Supreme Court
  8. Local Government
  9. Public Schools
  10. State Courts
  11. Organized Labor
  12. State Government
  13. Federal Government
  14. Independent or Citizen Media
  15. US Congress
  16. Banks and Financial Institutions
  17. Major Companies

AP-NCC Poll: Not Much Trust in Major Institutions
By Alan Fram and Jennifer Agiesta

Republicans most trust the military, followed by small business and religion. Democrats prefer science, small business, then the military. Just one in five Republicans expressed strong confidence in science, about the same proportion of Democrats who said so about religion.

Only 10 percent of Republicans expressed strong confidence in state governments, despite frequent GOP demands that Washington cede more power to the states.

Just 10 percent of Democrats voiced strong trust in Congress, even though their party controls it.

The print and broadcast media were strongly trusted by just 13 percent, only slightly more than the 8 percent with faith in blogs. Those under age 30 were far likelier than older people to voice confidence in what they read.

I would criticize one part of this poll, especially as it was described above. The poll lumped the professional New Media with the blogosphere. Some blogs are good and some aren’t. Some blogs are written by professional journalists and some aren’t. Anyway, the New Media isn’t limited to blogs. Cenk Uygur has been running an online news show for years and has been a guest on the mainstream media. Of course, most people don’t trust blogs written by often anonymous people. But I’m willing to bet that if New Media would be higher on the trust ranking if it were categorized separately from the blogosphere.

This seems indicated by the fact that the younger generation has more trust in non-traditional media. The reason for this is probably because the younger generation is able to distinguish the New Media from the general blogosphere. Older people don’t trust anything on the internet because older people know less about how to vet sources. As a side note, liberals are the demographic that gets more news from the internet than any other demographic and this goes along with the present younger generation being more liberal than other generations at the same age. This younger, liberal generation is also more trusting in general of big government and big business. So, public trust will probably be increasing in the coming decades.

What some might find surprising is that both Republicans and Democrats trust small businesses. Republicans are always trying to portray Democrats as anti-capitalist, but other data (Beyond Red vs Blue) shows Liberals have high rates of small business ownership and high rates of trading in stocks and bonds.

Not surprising is that Democrats trust science more than religion and Republicans trust religion more than science. I was glad to see that Americans in general trust science more than religion (or at least organized religion). So, on this issue, Democrats are in line with the majority position.

This issue of public opinion about science is what got me started on this whole line of thought and the research that ensued. I heard on NPR about a global poll about science. The global data should offer clear context for where US public opinion stands and how Democrats and Republicans respectively compare to people in other parts of the world.

Scientific beliefs vary by culture, says global poll
By Margaret Munro

Americans are far more pronuclear and willing to trust flu experts than Europeans, and much less concerned about genetically modified crops, according to a survey by Scientific American and the journal Nature.

But the most notable difference was between East Asia and the rest of the world. The survey found 35 per cent of Japanese and 49 per cent of Chinese respondents agreed there is “reason for doubt” that evolution can explain the incredible variety of species on Earth. That view was shared by about 10 per cent of respondents from the rest of the world.

Japanese and Chinese respondents were also less likely to say that they trust scientific explanations of the origins of the universe. And almost one-third of Chinese respondents said that scientists should stay out of politics, compared with about 10 per cent of respondents from other countries.

That would seem to put US conservatives more in line with Asians and US liberals more in line with Europeans. I don’t know what that means, but it’s interesting. I was glad to see that the world’s overall trust in science is strong and growing stronger. And liberals would seem to be in line with people worldwide in trusting scientists more than religious authorities.

The survey did find some common ground. Worldwide, respondents agreed that scientists are more trustworthy than other public figures. Religious authorities were deemed least trustworthy, followed by politicians and company officials.

And more than 70 per cent of respondents agreed science funding should be spared in tough economic times. When asked what should be cut instead, defence spending was the overwhelming choice — 82 per cent of Canadian respondents favouring cuts to defence over cuts to education or social-welfare programs.

And despite a recent controversy over leaked emails by climate researchers and the UN’s climate panel, the survey found climate change denial is in decline. Among Canadian respondents 41 per cent said that over the past year, they’ve become more certain that humans are changing the climate, compared with 12 per cent of respondents who have grown more doubtful.

In conclusion… well, actually I don’t know if I have any conclusion. I just found the data interesting and even more interesting when compared. The closest to a conclusion I could offer you is that there are distinct demographics (such as those belonging to the two parties) which have consistently distinct positions and attitudes. Most significantly: among Democrats, there is a correlation between trusting the government and trusting science; and, among Republicans, there is a correlation between being against compromise and being in favor of religion. Maybe that doesn’t provide any grand insight, but it does provide data to back up what many would suspect to be true.