On gaming the political spectrum
If Bill Gates visited a homeless shelter with nine people, the Washington Post would predictably report on a gathering of tycoons with an average net worth of $123 million.
Why do I say that? Read this from today’s WaPo:
Tony Kreindler, spokesman for the advocacy group Environmental Defense Fund, sent an e-mail to reporters Tuesday morning cautioning that the bill likely would change markedly in the coming weeks as the Senate Finance and Agriculture Committee weighs in, along with several centrist legislators who want to modify it, such as Sen. Thomas R. Carper (D-Del.) and Joseph I. Lieberman (I-Conn.)
Centrist legislators. Centrist legislators?!
Pardon me for getting all Andy Rooney here, but Joe Lieberman is a centrist only in the sense that penniless people in a room with Bill Gates are multimillionaires. In the case of Gates the fallacy comes from taking the total amount of money possessed by the people in the room and dividing that by the number of people there. In statistics it’s called the “mean.”
With Lieberman, the flawed logic is almost the same, only less obvious.
You need to special order a political spectrum that has had its left two-thirds amputated. Once that’s done, the center of the spectrum naturally shifts rightward. Voila: without changing his clearly conservative views an iota, Senator Lieberman now sits in the center of the (mutilated) spectrum.
This is not a new trick. Ronald Reagan used it all the time. Today, it’s Glenn Beck’s favorite con. Those who agree with him are called “The Real Americans.” Those who disagree have fallen off Beck’s minuscule spectrum. I’ve never heard the phrase “unreal American,” so, the implication is they are simply not Americans.
Indeed, this is the logical fallacy driving the Birthers.
Real Americans are white. Barack Obama is not white. The only way to reconcile these two facts is to conclude that Obama is not an American at all.
It’s bad enough that McCarthy wannabes like Beck use these tactics. But shouldn’t we demand that journalists remain reality-based? After all, the fate of the climate bill in the Senate will be determined in large part by how it is framed — by where it is positioned on the political spectrum.
Maybe our national — and global — interests would be best served if the media covered the debate that spans a far larger spectrum than the sliver they now accept as the full story.
UPDATE: “Centrist” Senator Thomas Carper (D-Del) just voted down the public option for health care reform.