Sowell, Carlson, Barone: fools, knaves, or simply victims of a cognitive illusion?: A colleague writes:
I saw your article on the geographically varying relationship between income and political party. A few years ago I noticed a rebuttal to Thomas Sowell’s claim that Democratic voters must be rich since, in selected states, the richer counties are more Democratic. Classic ecological fallacy. I wonder, though, if you’re right to say that journalists come by this misconception by simple exposure. Isn’t it possible that the idea that Democrats tend to be wealthy is actually part of a disinformation campaign? Sowell, Carlson, and Barone may not be impartial observers of their surroundings, and the idea of rich Democratics—“limousine liberals”—serves a political agenda. Different authors may even have picked the idea up from a common source. It would be interesting to trace this meme’s appearance in journalistic outlets and blogs and see if there’s any evidence for coordination.
I dunno. My guess is that Sowell and Carlson don’t care much about the facts, one way or another. Sowell, at least in his political writings, is an ideologue, and Carlson is a hack. It would be interesting to hear how they would reply to being confronted with their mistakes, but I have a feeling they’d manage to talk their way out of it, one way or another, without admitting they made a mistake. (I could be wrong, though; any of you can feel free to contact either of them and see. I already have Jonathan Chait pissed off at me, so why not add a couple more pundits to the list?)
Barone, though, is a different story. His authority rests on his expertise with election statistics. It’s hard for me to believe he’d want to get these things wrong on purpose. I think he just made a statistical error which happened to coincide with his worldview, so he had no reason to suspect it. (I did send him an email a few years ago to ask him about this income/voting thing, but he didn’t respond. He probably gets so many emails that he doesn’t even see all of them.)
Here I think Gelman is wrong. I don't think Barone has any authority--I think he mortgaged it when he bet big time on Gingrich, and was foreclosed on long ago.
Mark Schmitt on Michael Barone:
Michael's Poor Almanac: The Almanac [of American Politics] has always been what reporters scan before interviewing a member of Congress. The reason is simple…. Its distinctive selling point is an attitude and voice. Since the very first Almanac, published in 1971 on the cusp of an ideological and generational shift in Congress, its preeminent voice has been that of Michael Barone…. By assuming that the most relevant fact about a member of Congress is the place he or she comes from, it allows for a profile of politics that it is about the nation, not Washington. The Almanac’s beautifully crafted descriptions of dying Rust Belt cities and new suburbs are not for political junkies or teenagers alone. At their best, they are reminiscent of John Gunther’s 1947 masterwork, Inside U.S.A.…
The Almanac’s profiles of the early Republican revolutionaries—Newt Gingrich, Bob Walker, Vin Weber—were admiring and enlightening. At a time when many dismissed them as irrelevant hotheads, Barone treated them correctly as the equals in skill of Downey or Rostenkowski…. Barone’s recognition of Gingrich’s skills, and his own abrupt move to the political right, culminated in the most extravagant of all his introductions, bearing a title and crazy wrong brilliance worthy of Gingrich himself: “The Restoration of the Constitutional Order and the Return to Tocquevillian America.” In 23 dense pages, Barone argued that the 1994 election had “settled the argument” between New Deal historians like Arthur Schlesinger Jr. who believed that politics turned on economic questions, and those who believed it was a high-stakes “cultural war… in which propagators of liberal values have used government to impose them in every segment of American life.” Not only was the interpretive argument settled but so was the culture war itself: Americans had rejected once and for all the “educated elite” and their weak “culture of caregiving.” Barone in 2003 admitted that his post-1994 introduction had failed to foresee President Clinton’s electoral recovery, but said it was still “in some ways my favorite.” And mine as well, because just as the early Almanacs reflected the temper of that first great turn in the modern Congress, this one is very much a document of the second turn, with all its vicious hubris.
Since the mid-1990s, three developments have challenged the Almanac’s relevance. First, much of the information that was once available nowhere else is now a Google search away…. Second… in an era of strong and ideological political parties and the restoration of the imperial presidency, the “beliefs and idiosyncrasies” of 535 people don’t seem quite as important as they once did…. There is remarkably little payoff in learning the precise differences in temperament and background among Jeb Hensarling, Thelma Drake, Louie Gohmert, and Phil Gingrey—all Republicans with carbon-copy voting records. And the districts they represent are less likely to embody distinct communities than they once did. As in past volumes, many write-ups in the current Almanac begin with a vivid rendering of, say, Jacksonville or Austin, only to admit a few sentences later that the actual district contains only parts of that city, plus a narrow strip of counties extending hundreds of miles out…. Third, Barone’s political evolution didn’t stop at Gingrich—he just kept going, so that he now occupies the rightmost corner even in his current haunts at AEI and Fox News. It’s a strange kind of conservatism, which seems based largely on the conviction that liberals are soft and stupid. Barone also seems to be consciously rejecting everything about his younger self…. [T]he man who in the 1974 Almanac called Nixon “the politician who presided over the most lawless presidential campaign in American history,” now sees Nixon simply as a victim, like Bush, of liberal vitriol and a long campaign to delegitimize conservative rule and the presidency itself.
More significant for the Almanac, Barone has come to embrace a strict dualist view… the culture war between educated elites and “Tocquevillian America”… an incoherent distinction between “crunchy” and “soggy” policies and politicians… books, ideas, policies, and politicians are classified as either “Hard” (good) or “Soft” (bad)…. The early Almanacs were a celebration of America’s pluralism, its 535 idiosyncratic legislators and 50 governors, and the magnificent fluidity of a democracy… what place is there for such pluralism in a world of Hard and Soft, Crunchy and Soggy? If everything is darkness or light, what’s the use of an Almanac of American Politics? What do you really need besides an up-to-date Enemies List?…