Elephants, Donkeys, and Coins

September 18, 2008 By: erik Category: Internet, Politics, Stuff I Found, USA 380 views

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The other day, I was reading this Slashdot article about a study personally commissioned by Dilbert author, Scott Adams, to survey 500 economists about the economic policies of McCain and Obama. The results of the study are somewhat interesting; the most interesting part being how honestly Adams dealt with the inherent bias in such studies.

Even more interesting to me were two particularly perceptive comments left on Slashdot. While I have not verified that their central theses are correct, I highly suspect that they are.

Academia Breeds Liberalism

Education tends to lead people to liberalism, especially at colleges comprised of a more diverse student body beyond the local community or beyond state lines.

This is why there is a corrosive undercurrent of anti-educationism occasionally cropping up in conservative dialog. It is pretty much a cliche, the small town teenager goes off to college somewhere and the parents are horrified to see him come home with more liberal attitudes. People in the community see the neighbor’s kid come back from college with more liberal attitudes. Conservative parents in the community start developing an attitude against sending their kids college, or at least to keep them in the local community college.

If you look at liberalism vs conservatism, there is exactly one overriding determining factor. The population of urban and suburban areas are liberal even in the Reddest of states, and in rural areas people are conservative even in the Bluest of states. Urban and suburban areas in Red of states vote Democrat, rural areas in Blue states vote Republican.

The cause is interaction and familiarity with people from different backgrounds and with diverse ideas. It leads to liberal social tolerance and acceptance of diversity. Experience that people of other races and religions and national origins and sexual orientations are not scary, Learning that the best way for everyone to get along is that you let them live how they wish to live and they let you live how you wish to live. A socially liberal live-and-let-live attitude. If two people want an interracial marriage, I’ll let them live how they want and they’ll let me live how I want. If two people want a gay marriage, I’ll let them live how they want and they’ll let me live how I want.

A larger college is like a mini-city bringing together diverse people from a wider area.


Republicans Suck At Balancing Budgets

The only presidents since 1963 to have ever submitted balanced budgets to Congress are Johnson and Clinton. At no time since 1945 when Republicans have been in charge of both Congress and the White House have they ever reduced spending.

The vast majority of the national debt to date was accrued during the Presidencies of three men: Reagan, Bush I and Bush II, all Republicans. In Reagan’s case, he was working with a Republican Senate for his first 6 years in office, and Bush had Republicans controlling both houses for 6 years as well.

The Bush II years have seen tax cut after tax cut that were, in theory, supposed to result in increased growth and therefore reduced deficit. Instead, he has posted record deficits year after year. And still, the fiction that large tax cuts will somehow reduce the deficit persists.

The idea that Democrats are the big spending party and Republicans are fiscally responsible is pure fiction, and it boggles the mind why people continue to believe it despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary. Even the “big spending” LBJ was more fiscally responsible than the Republicans of the past 28 years.

If people would treat politics less like religion maybe they would make decisions based on actual historical data rather than what their party keeps telling them is the truth.



  • Paul

    I think increased acceptace of diversity is one reason children sent away to college return home more liberal, but let me offer another for discussion. Could it be that intelligence and selfishness are inversely correlated? Certainly babies epitomize both selfishness and non-intelligence.

    But then so does Bush, and he went to college.

  • I also had the “only smart people go to college, and smart people are more likely to be liberal” thought myself. I suspect that, as in most psychology, there are many factors at play here.

    Going to college and studying with the mixed masses is one thing. Going to college and drinking with the frat boys of the same race and socioeconomic status as you is another. Methinks Georgie did more of the latter.

    As an extension of this, I’d bet that there are very, very, very few conservative expats. If you are of the conservative mindset, it sure seems like there’s no way you can be happy living in another country. Living (and traveling, to some extent) abroad is a huge exercise in humility and open-mindedness, two of the core liberal values.

    I’d love to see some non-military foreign absentee ballot statistics.

  • Paul

    I wish that college made you smart, instead of smart people go to college, but that is just the idealist in me.

    Georgie may have done more of the latter. I split my time pretty evenly, although some of my frat boys had afros. I’m reminded of the time when, at age 20, only slightly underage, I went bar-hopping with a black and blind friend of mine in South Beloit. As we sat at a table in the middle of the full room at a bar he chose, I noticed that I was the only white guy in the place. It was quite peculiar to realize that my concern was that the strangers might not know my friend knew I was white. But I digress.

    Yes, I imagine it would be extremely hard to be a Jesus-fearing moose-hunting abortion-banning expat. Good thing you were reared right.

  • Good thing you were reared right.

    You mean “left”.

  • Paul

    Well centered.

  • interesting article, interesting results, but hardly surprising seeing that 48% of the people polled were registered democrats (as Adams himself points out)…. my problem with the whole exercise is that it doesn’t tell me anything, and the problem lies in the question. “Who would do the best job on [insert issue here]?” is a terribly loaded question and left wide open to individual interpretations of what would be “best” (and for whom)…

    and re the “smart people are more likely to be liberal”, i’m sorry to say that i’m getting more cynical with every passing year, and agree with erik on that one… i wish i didn’t!

    i can’t help thinking that if you passed the adams poll around spain that the results would be somewhere in the 70-80% “no difference” column, as most overly cynical spaniards (well here in the north anyway) seem to be of the opinion that there is little difference between the two candidates.

    my final comment, as a non north american, is that i wish i didn’t have to care quite so much about how americans will vote come november….

  • aquariumdrinker

    There are a lot of assumptions lurking on this thread that ought to stand up and identify themselves. Like, for instance, what’s the objective good in a balanced budget? It’s a favorite hobby horse of Republicans, but really only as a way to put pressure on Democrats to limit spending. There are other reasons to demand a balanced budget, but I think most of them come down to people being unable to tell the difference between the operation of the federal government and a personal checking account.

    There are also a lot of different ways to be conservative. Today’s Republican party is really a coalition of groups. They have found some success together, but there is nothing fundamental to the core beliefs of the component constituencies that makes the coalition necessary or even obvious. To take a few of the big ones one at a time:

    There are the cultural conservatives who are not, on the whole, very bright. They hate baby killin’ and homos gettin’ married and evolution being taught in schools, to name a few examples of areas where a little education is almost guaranteed to make someone less conservative. Send these folks abroad or to college and, as long as they don’t have a strong reactive backlash, they come home much more reasonable. (More on academia breeding liberalism in a separate comment.)

    There’s the “Us vs. Them” foreign policy crowd, the “national greatness” conservatives, who believe that the United States is a special country with special powers and responsibilities. They run the gamut from isolationists like Pat Buchanan to (not so) crypto fascists (like three of any five Fox News foreign policy commentators) who want to build an empire to neo-conservatives (national greatness conservatives who otherwise identify as Democrats) who see America as uniquely positioned to solve the world’s problems (and tasked to do so). This last group, the Thomas Friedmans of the world, are the ones who were sold on the Iraq invasion by tales of humanitarian crisis. Some of these people (but not the fascists) tend to be pretty bright. Whether the most powerful nation the world has ever known (in absolute terms, anyway) has a moral obligation to throw down dictators and spread democracy and capitalism is essentially a moral question about which reasonable people may disagree.

    Then there are the plutocrats, who know a good thing when they see it. Why should the party of creationists and empire builders also be the party of deregulation and laissez faire economics? Because they’re winning, and business knows how to pick a winner. Also because the other party has labor and other social justice constituencies. (But rest assured that if the Democrats assemble the kind of winning streak the Republicans have been on for the last half century, CEOs will find a way to make peace with labor and environmentalists in the big blue tent.) These guys and gals are smart.

    Then there are libertarians, but let’s be honest—libertarianism is a mental condition, not a governing philosophy. It can be cured with pills and therapy.

  • aquariumdrinker

    Young people trend liberal, and colleges in the U.S. also happen to be the home of much of the remnants of the lefty movements of the 50s-70s. If you go in liberal, you won’t find it hard to come out more liberal.

    But we see plenty of kids rejecting liberalism in college. In the 60s and 70s, a lot of people found the entrenched liberalism of the prior generation to be casually extreme and generally above meeting opposing arguments seriously. In academia, at least, the liberals had won, and did not rule with a light hand. A lot of kids (rebellious rapscallions) found fresh ideas and a healthy disrespect for the establishment in the Weekly Standard and the National Review. They worked the phones for Nixon and came out big time for Reagan. Recall that in the 80s, when someone said “the party of ideas”, they meant the Republicans.

    (In the great network television tradition of delivering biting social commentary about ten years too late, NBC gave us Alex P. Keaton as an example of this thread in American politics.)

  • Wow! Who filled the aquarium with Red Bull™?

    I agree with all that, of course. Attending a university probably won’t diminish the “Us vs. Them” belief system (if anything, it might increase it with sports team competitiveness), but non-military traveling and living abroad definitely will. Assuming no backlash, as you rightfully mentioned. I didn’t realize how much “the US is the best country in the world” indoctrination I had in me until I lived abroad.

    As for Libertarianism, I think the Big Government vs. Small Government is at the heart of the Liberal–Conservative debate. Both sides have good arguments and it’s an individual choice which pros outweigh which cons.

  • aquariumdrinker

    Re: big vs. small government, you can say the same thing about dinner portion size. But people who say you just shouldn’t eat are, in fact, crazy.

    Re: red bull, witness the power of my aversion to the work I needed to get done this morning!

  • Daniel Helbling

    It takes a great deal of budget to quiet al Qaida and run Club Gitmo so that we expats don’t get splattered on the bus or the train. And don’t forget how a recent D-pres and congress balanced the budget: raised taxes and reduced expenditures in places like Rwanda. (And I know the present administration has saved billions in non-expenditures in Sudan.)

    Some expats do bring conservative mindsets to Europe and endure the slings and arrows of outrageous ad hominem in conversation and media presentation. Presenting simplified argument about intelligence and frats doesn’t make us go away or shut up. Nor does it build dialog. But Scott Adams’ survey is a great discussion starter. And I enjoy this discussion and love making the table actually round.

  • Thank you, Daniel, for rounding off our little table here.

    It takes a great deal of budget to quiet al Qaida and run Club Gitmo so that we expats donÂ’t get splattered on the bus or the train.

    This implication is not at all clear to me, since the opposite seems true. It’s highly debatable and impossible to prove either way.

    And donÂ’t forget how a recent D-pres and congress balanced the budget: raised taxes and reduced expenditures in places like Rwanda. (And I know the present administration has saved billions in non-expenditures in Sudan.)

    This is an excellent illustration of what aquariumdrinker was talking about with the “moral obligation to throw down dictators and spread democracy” position. Again, debatable and no right answers.

    I can see how being a US Conservative in Europe would be tough. Even the most conservative European politicians are more liberal than the most US Democrats.

    As for the intelligence arguments, aquariumdrinker has also done a good job of restricting them to the constituents they belong to. There are many intelligent reasons to be Conservative, and I’m always curious to find out more of them.

    Again, thanks for weighing in, Daniel.