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September 26, 2012

File Under "Your Confirmation Bias is Showing"

Author’s note: Jonathan Swift did not really want Irish people to sell their children for food in 1729; George Orwell did not really want the clocks to strike thirteen in 1984; Paul Ryan, I am sure, calls Mitt Romney something more dignified than “Stench” and Microsoft did not invent PowerPoint as a means to euthanize cattle. At least I am pretty sure Microsoft didn’t.

- Roger Simon

Last night the Editorial Staff could not sleep. About 4 am, the coffee pot started up and we began taking small breaks from editing technical papers, pausing to surf Memeorandum and other frequent haunts. This is how Memeorandum looked at 4:35 this morning as we were snorting our first cup of coffee:


We read Roger Simon's piece at Politico and nearly inhaled 4 ounces of dark roasted Java. "Love it! He's mocking the credulous morons who just spent two days crowing over how Mitt Romney is so dumb he doesn't realize plane cabins are pressurized!", we thought to ourselves, mostly because at 4 am anyone with the sense God gave a grapefruit is firmly wrapped in the arms of Morpheus instead of reading Politico. Or maybe he was mocking thick headed conservatives like myself? Either way, it seemed self evidently self-evident even in my sleep deprived state that somebody was being mocked:

The Los Angeles Times story that relayed Romney's airplane remark to the world was based off a pool report written by the New York Times's Ashley Parker. When we asked Parker this morning whether it seemed as if Romney made the mark in jest, she left no doubt. "Romney was joking," she e-mailed. Parker told us that while the pool report didn't explicitly indicate that Romney was joking, it was self-evident that he was. "The pool report provided the full transcript of his comments on Ann's plane scare," she said, "and it was clear from the context that he was not being serious."

The Blaze hears the same thing from William Everitt, who attended the Saturday night Beverly Hills fund-raiser where the remark happened:

"Basically he was retelling the story and when he said ‘I don’t know why they don’t have roll down windows on airplanes,’ he looked at the audience and everyone laughed,” Everitt told TheBlaze. “It was a clearly delivered joke … There were 1,000 people there that will tell you the same thing.”

I guess you had to be there :p

The thing is, these folks really are eminently mockable. It was funny, even at 4 am after a sleepless night full of mind numbing editing and formatting and number checking. And then I made the mistake of reading Joe Gandelman's reaction:

Are we now witnessing the second Vice President on a Republican ticket in four years “go rogue”? Is Paul Ryan fed up with what some see as his Romneyization by the Romney camp? Is he following 2008 Vice Presidential nominee’s advice to “go rogue”? Or both? Yes, expect Camp Romney and Camp Ryan to try and paper over this report. But the Politico’s Roger Simon is a trustworthy, experienced reporter. And his report is getting a lot of buzz:

...Have we ever heard of a winning Presidential ticket in American politics that had a Vice Presidential candidate have an attitude like this about his running mate? Talk about a total lack of deference (or respect).

How does it feel, I wonder, to live in a bubble so impenetrable that phrases like "a state where people are polite even to soybeans" and "PowerPoint was released by Microsoft in 1990 as a way to euthanize cattle" elicit not a laugh, but a sneer?

Where passages like this bounce right off the pompous superiority that protects us against things that are so patently - in the words of one young lady who mistakenly relied on the intelligence of her readers (or perhaps just some misguided sense of decency) - "self-evident" that they do not - or should not - need to be stated explicitly?

Conducting a PowerPoint presentation is a lot like smoking a cigar. Only the person doing it likes it. The people around him want to hit him with a chair"

How can you not laugh? Anyone who has ever sat through Death by PowerPoint has to get it. After reading Gandelman's post, and one like it at Gawker, suddenly I wasn't laughing anymore.

I was just disgusted beyond words. I have seen too many wild rumors and tasteless jokes and lurid stories about Barack Obama that "just happen" to confirm my low opinion of the man over the past few years, but I have passed on them because they seemed just too close to my darkest thoughts. Thoughts everyone has, because we're all human. Thoughts I'm not proud of.

But these people are so sure of themselves; of their insular, inbred world view. These are the folks who amused themselves during the Bush years by calling him a moron, by saying he was intellectually incurious and close minded (despite plentiful evidence to the contrary from critics who - having met the man - were surprised to learn he had not only studied their criticisms but instructed his staff to do so as well):

George W. Bush, whatever else one might say about him, has been a most remarkable President: Historians will be debating his legacy for decades to come. If past patterns hold, their conclusions will not necessarily correspond to the views of current critics. Consider how little is now remembered, for example, of President Clinton’s impeachment, only the second in American history. Or how President Reagan’s reputation has shifted from that of a movie-star lightweight to that of a grand strategic heavyweight. Or how Eisenhower was once believed to be incapable of constructing an intelligible sentence. Or how Truman was down to a 26 percent approval rating at the time he left office but is now seen as having presided over a golden age in grand strategy—even a kind of genesis, Dean Acheson suggested, when he titled his memoir Present at the Creation.

Presidential revisionism tends to begin with small surprises. How, for instance, could a Missouri politician like Truman who never went to college get along so well with a Yale-educated dandy like Acheson? How could Eisenhower, who spoke so poorly, write so well? How could Reagan, the prototypical hawk, want to abolish nuclear weapons? Answering such questions caused historians to challenge conventional wisdom about these Presidents, revealing the extent to which stereotypes had misled their contemporaries.

So what might shift contemporary impressions of President Bush? I can only speak for myself here, but something I did not expect was the discovery that he reads more history and talks with more historians than any of his predecessors since at least John F. Kennedy. The President has surprised me more than once with comments on my own books soon after they’ve appeared, and I’m hardly the only historian who has had this experience. I’ve found myself improvising excuses to him, in Oval Office seminars, as to why I hadn’t read the latest book on Lincoln, or on—as Bush refers to him—the “first George W.” I’ve even assigned books to Yale students on his recommendation, with excellent results.

Life, if you are truly open to new thoughts, new experiences, is full of surprises like this. Your first, or second, or even third impression of someone turns out to be entirely wrong. It turns out that you're not nearly as smart as you thought you were. You have the marvelous opportunity to say, "I was wrong", and the gift of seeing the world through new eyes. This morning I was depressed. One would have thought that having been punk'd once this week, these folks might have learned something, taken stock, gained some tiny measure of humility.

Felt slightly ashamed of themselves, perhaps. Resolved to think for a moment before shooting off their mouths.

The thing is, they're not. They feel betrayed, you see. Two of their own placed too much trust in their readers' good sense. Two humiliating reminders in as many days probably won't even make a dent in that giant bubble they're living in. They'll just close ranks and find someone else to blame for their own refusal to think.

Hatred means never having to say those three little words. I was wrong.

I'm sorry.

Posted by Cassandra at September 26, 2012 04:37 PM

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"One would have thought that having been punk'd once this week, these folks might have learned something, taken stock, gained some tiny measure of humility."

//shakes head//
Nein! Un sometimes und idjot is just und idjot.

Posted by: Zigman Schadenfreude at September 26, 2012 05:42 PM

Why would they apologize for achieving their intent? Their intent isn't accuracy, but caricature. The politics of personal destruction is the norm in the Democrats culture. They do it to each other and then ten-fold to their Republican opponents. They're all about the ad hominem and the straw man.

Posted by: Eric at September 26, 2012 05:43 PM

Ok, I'll forgive you. But first give me three Hail Mary's and a Power Point presentation comparing the social theme of Fyodor Dostoyevsky's The Idiot to any song by Bert Bacharach.

Posted by: spd rdr at September 26, 2012 05:46 PM

Confirmation bias going the other way:

Ralph Nader recently accused Obama of being a "war criminal" who's worse than Bush on the issues that the Democrats most strongly criticized Bush. What has been the reaction from Democrats and the media to Nader's criticism of Obama? Those issues, which were horrible transgressions with Bush, are now non-issues with Obama. If they directly respond to Nader, it's shut up and go away.

Posted by: Eric at September 26, 2012 07:10 PM

The politics of personal destruction is the norm in the Democrats culture. They do it to each other and then ten-fold to their Republican opponents. They're all about the ad hominem and the straw man.

I see quite a bit of that on the Dem side of the blatherosphere, but also quite a bit of it on our side. This campaign has been full of it - so much so that I'm often too disgusted to write and have to do something else for a while to get the bad taste out of my mouth.

There are sites I will not link to on the right because they regularly engage in this sort of nonsense. Not that I'm a big linker anyway - I generally try to avoid reading too much blog commentary because I want to figure out what I think first, and do not want to be swayed by personal loyalties or verbal dexterity. The combined pull of those last two, when combined with my natural sympathies, is difficult to withstand.

Posted by: Cassandra at September 27, 2012 08:06 AM

By the way, just so's I'm crystally clear, the "those sites" bit was not aimed at anyone here :)

I argue a lot with Grim because I suspect that when I'm not vexing him past all human endurance, he relishes a good fight. In general, I hate to argue with friends because doing so makes me literally sick to my stomach, and will do so only on matters I think are vitally important.

Sometimes I get that sick feeling when I argue even with Grim. I suspect this is a female failing I will never entirely get past :p Or maybe I'm just afear'd of his big knives and guns...

/running away

Posted by: Cassandra at September 27, 2012 08:11 AM

Ok, I'll forgive you. But first give me three Hail Mary's and a Power Point presentation comparing the social theme of Fyodor Dostoyevsky's The Idiot to any song by Bert Bacharach.

John Donovan used to tease me about having the best commenters in the blogosphere. As much as I hate to admit it when a man is right, you all never cease to delight and amaze (or was that amuse?).

Posted by: Cassandra at September 27, 2012 08:13 AM

Hey, "Live to fight, love to fight."

There's a general problem with the way we're organizing as a society. I was reading somewhere that Romney's "47 percent remarks" were still playing badly on Twitter. (Or maybe it was Akin's remarks; or maybe I read both of those stories). I can't imagine why anyone would think otherwise. Twitter (a) is limited to slogan-length thoughts, and (b) makes it very easy to "re-tweet," meaning simply to repeat and rebroadcast, an existing remark. Naturally once someone comes up with a clever slogan, it's going to become the conventional wisdom for those who live in that medium.

We've been doing this for years with the news ("sound bites") and with political ads (30 seconds or fewer). I think people have become accustomed to making snap judgments on very little information, and we've built in systems to help make sure those snap judgments are repeatedly re-broadcast until they solidify.

Posted by: Grim at September 27, 2012 08:38 AM