Only a third of Americans (34%) correctly say the Troubled Asset Relief Program (TARP) was enacted by the Bush administration. Nearly half (47%) incorrectly believe TARP was passed under President Obama. Another 19% admit they do not know which president signed the bank bailout into law. Notably, there is no partisan divide on the question.
Fortunately, according to Pew, most Americans know what Twitter is (85%). (You can take the Pew quiz yourself, here.)
This may be a symptom of what Jason Kuznicki has described as ‘managed ignorance’:
Ignorance has become a feature where it used to be a bug. Formerly it was the job of the media to correct ignorance, insofar as it was possible (and, truthfully, it wasn’t very possible). Now though it’s increasingly the job of the media to manage ignorance. To make a space for the ignorant, and to ensure that those kept in managed ignorance get just enough news, and never more than they need to remain exactly where they are.
We were probably due for some measure of managed ignorance, what with the already stupefying mix of rational ignorance, the cable news cycle, cognitive dissonance, and in-group loyalty that shapes public opinion today. But still, consider: We found WMD in Iraq. We only tortured really, really bad people, we did it only in non-fatal ways, and they provided us worthwhile information. Same-sex marriage is going to force churches to do things they don’t believe in. There will be death panels deciding your grandma’s fate. Climategate destroyed global warming science forever.
All are untrue, but there are those who believe every one of them, and these people’s opinions about where to go from here don’t count any less just because they’re based on untruth. Those who propagate such beliefs know them to be untrue, and they know it’s not worth the average person’s time, cognitive investment, and loss of group loyalty to discover otherwise.
Yes, these examples all show conservatives as the beneficiaries of managed ignorance. I’ve tried hard to resist the conclusion, but conservatives seem to bank on it a lot more than liberals. More than anything else, it’s this style of politics that turns me away from the Republicans. I’d pick “well-informed on basic facts but ideologically divergent” over “mis-informed on basic facts and ideologically divergent” every single time. Not that I’d enjoy the choice. But what other alternatives are there?
This is one reason why I’m not a Republican either, and why I’ve stated quite explicitly that left-leaning libertarians (or progressive conservatives even) would be better off working with Democrats than Republicans in most instances. This doesn’t mean I’m particularly fond of the Democratic party but at least it seems to care about governance. That may not always be the case of course. Managed ignorance can happen in the other direction, too. Any ideological camp can succumb to the rust of groupthink.
There’s been some comments here and in other threads which basically boil down to ‘pick a side!’ or which suggest that because I find flaws with both sides or arguments from both sides, that I’m somehow taking the easy middle road. This is not entirely true.
Two points – first, picking a side can actually be quite a lot easier. People who pick a team get all the perks of belonging to a team. When you don’t, you get hell from all sides. Second, I’m really just a lot more concerned with ideas than with ideology. I’m not trying to be pretentious either. I just think there are a lot of really good ideas floating around between all the bad ones. It’s more interesting to me to go searching for those ideas than to cheer on the Republicans or the Democrats or what have you.
Some people have said in the comments “You’re obviously a Democrat why don’t you just own up to it.” Others have written me off as a rabid right-winger. Look – I don’t know what I am. I’m not really worried about it. I voted for Obama in 2008. In fact, I have never voted for a Republican. I think there are major problems with the Democratic party, but that doesn’t mean I trust the GOP to do any better. I don’t know who I’ll vote for in 2012. Probably not a Republican, because as you are all so fond of pointing out – the Republican Party is not a very serious or honest or reliable or trustworthy party at the moment. I think there are some very smart conservatives out there, and some very reasonable conservative positions as well, but few of these belong to the GOP. If anything, my politics probably align better with the UK’s Liberal Democrats or maybe some Christian Democratic parties in Europe than with anything even remotely like the GOP. Eventually, I hope the ‘conservative’ party here in the United States is a lot more like the Lib-Dem/Tory coalition in the UK (which has brought the best out in the Tories and which looks a lot more like a Lib-Dem government than a Tory one thanks to Cameron and Clegg’s remarkable similarity).
But it’s not. It’s not even anywhere close. When it comes down to it, I always ‘pick a side’ when I cast my vote. In between those times I try to learn more and I try to traffic in ideas and argumentation. Sometimes I’m right, sometimes I’m wrong. If you think that’s bullshit for whatever reason, that’s fine, too. But increasingly I think this is the way many, many Americans feel and I think that’s a good thing. This whole Republican/Democrat duopoly may be inevitable but it’s not unshakeable.
I don’t think it’s bullshit at all, but I do think that you’re not trafficking in argumentation when you repeatedly come down on both sides (right and center*) of an issue in your conclusion. That’s just centrism as practiced on the Washington Post editorial page, or “High Broderism” if you prefer the lefty derogatory characterization. And it’s turning into a cliché.
I don’t know if you’re shooting for some sort of Hegelian thesis-antithesis-synthesis structure, or looking for solutions through some sort of balancing between a Manichean duopoly of left and right, but it’s getting predictable.
Perhaps instead of “pick a side”, I should have said, “Just state your conclusions plainly and forcefully instead of cushioning them between strawman perceptions of left and right ideologies.”
A couple things. Yes, I can see how this could become predictable, or could be seen as ‘high Broderism’. I think partly this is because I’m new here, I’m trying to explain where I’m coming from, etc. I’m learning how to navigate a largely new readership, finding my shaky feet, trying to show where I think consensus can occur – I’m not trying to have it both ways. Part of the reason this occurs, I think, is this false taxonomy of ‘right’ and ‘left’.
Or else it’s a symptom of not having made up my mind entirely and of working that out, to some degree, in real time. But I take the point. (On things I care passionately about, I think I do write quite forcefully. Like torture or immigration. Or magic. Certain things I have made up my mind on. But on many questions, I remain uncertain…)