The neo-Know Nothings

Richard Cohen sums up the essence of the Palinized Republican Party: “Vote for me, I know nothing and hate the same things you do.”

Richard Cohen nailsthe essence of modern Republicanism:

Ignorance has become more than bliss. It’s now an attribute, an entire platform: “Vote for me, I know nothing and hate the same things you do.”

Mitt Romney, of course, isn’t an ignoramus. But he plays one on TV debates.

Footnote Of course, in order to maintain his inside-the-Beltway cred Cohen has to add the nonsensical prediction that some Democratic politician will figure out the same formula. The only problem with that is that there’s very little market for that sort of thing on the Democratic side; that’s why left-wing talk radio is a fringe activity while right-wing talk radio has taken over the GOP.

Symmetry is often a useful heuristic, but in fact everything is not isomorphic with everything else.

Second footnote The original Know-Nothings were bigots, but the name didn’t reflect Palin-style pride in ignorance. It came from the conspiratorial nature of the Know-Nothing organization: when members were asked about the party’s activities, their stock answer was “I know nothing of it.”

Author: Mark Kleiman

Professor of Public Policy at the NYU Marron Institute for Urban Management and editor of the Journal of Drug Policy Analysis. Teaches about the methods of policy analysis about drug abuse control and crime control policy, working out the implications of two principles: that swift and certain sanctions don't have to be severe to be effective, and that well-designed threats usually don't have to be carried out. Books: Drugs and Drug Policy: What Everyone Needs to Know (with Jonathan Caulkins and Angela Hawken) When Brute Force Fails: How to Have Less Crime and Less Punishment (Princeton, 2009; named one of the "books of the year" by The Economist Against Excess: Drug Policy for Results (Basic, 1993) Marijuana: Costs of Abuse, Costs of Control (Greenwood, 1989) UCLA Homepage Curriculum Vitae Contact:

29 thoughts on “The neo-Know Nothings”

  1. The current know-nothings will also believe Justice Scalia when he speaks:

    Key passage:

    Scalia reminded the audience it was Gore who took the election to court, and the election was going to be decided in a court anyway—either the Florida Supreme Court or the U.S. Supreme Court.

    “It was a long time ago, people forget…It was a 7-2 decision. It wasn’t even close,” he said.

    For those of us who remember the decision was 5-4, this is unsettling.
    But this is good enough for Scalia’s audience.

    1. Those of us with less selective memories recall that it was 7-2 in finding an equal protection violation by the Florida Supreme court, and 5-4 on the remedy, and are accordingly not disturbed by Scalia’s incomplete, but hardly inaccurate, characterization of the decision.

      1. Good ol’ wiki:

        “Five justices agreed that December 12 (the date of the decision) was the deadline Florida had established for recounts (Kennedy, O’Connor, Rehnquist,[31] Scalia and Thomas in support; Breyer,[32] Ginsburg, Souter[33] and Stevens opposed). Justices Breyer and Souter wanted to remand the case to the Florida Supreme Court to permit that court to establish uniform standards of what constituted a legal vote and then manually recount all ballots using those standards.”

        IOW, Scalia is selective. What a shocker.

        1. Shadowfox, “they” did indeed start it; That was what 7 out of 9 Supreme court justices agreed on. It’s just that a couple of those Justices preferred that there be no remedy.

          My own position, repeatedly expressed, was that the proper constitutional remedy was the one the Florida legislature already had in motion: Send in their own slate of electors reflecting the election as run under the laws the legislature had enacted prior to the election, perhaps impeach the Florida judges responsible for the mess, and then let the House sort the mess out. A wrong was committed, but it was not the Supreme courts’ to remedy.

          None the less, Scalia has accurately described the case, albeit incompletely. The desire among Democrats to ignore that 7-2 vote not withstanding.

          1. I find it fascinating that you are so attached to the concept of equal protection in one instance in which it helped the candidate you preferred and yet stay so very, very quiet about low income areas in many states, notably Ohio in 2004, have fewer resources with which to conduct elections and thus end up with conditions that make it harder for some people to vote than others.

            You also remain quite quiet about the fact that the equal protection problems that existed in Florida without the recount. Different counties used very different systems to tabulate the votes in the first place. Where is your outrage? And then there is the ultimate equal protection problem, namely the badly flawed list of “felons” ineligible to vote, many of whom were no such thing and yet were prevented by the state from exercising their rights. Again, where is your outrage, Brett?

            As for the proposed solution of just letting the Legislature appoint whatever electors they desired, I would hope that you would have the decency to fail to keep a straight face as you typed that as a resolution to an equal protection problem. Honestly, you think that it’s an improvement to effectively prevent all Florida voters from participating in a Presidential election, which that would entail? The Legislature, as required by the Constitution, set down the rules by which electors would be chosen. You advocate that they should be allowed to set aside those rules and create entirely new ones *after* the election has taken place. Do you really not understand how toxic that would be to democracy?

          2. That wasn’t a solution to an equal protection problem. That was a solution to an Article II, Section 1, paragraph 2 problem: “Each State shall appoint, in such Manner as the Legislature thereof may direct,” Not, notice, “as the state judiciary thereof may direct”.

            There were basically two problems going on in Florida.

            1) The judiciary were changing the election rules the legislature had established. They were not constitutionally entitled to do this.

            2) They were doing so in a manner inconsistent with equal protection. That is to say, it was not just the case that ballots in different precincts would be treated differently, per rules established before the voting. They specifically set up a system where the people counting were permitted to treat two identical ballots, in the same precinct, counted sequentially, differently. At a time when everybody knew how close the election was, and how many votes had to be moved to swing it.

            That wasn’t just accidentally permitting the possibility of partisan bias in counting. It was encouraging it. You could literally, consistent with the judges’ order, issued over specific objections on this point from Bush counsel, count hanging chads as non-votes while encountering Bush votes, and when you came to a Gore vote, decide that a dimple counted as a vote. Then go back to hanging chads not counting when you were counting Bush votes again. Or the converse, depending on the partisan preferences of the person doing the counting.

            That was what caused 7 of the 9 Justices to declare an equal protection violation, even if 4 of them hadn’t wanted to vote on the matter or find any remedy for the violation. Care to defend it? Because that’s what you’re attacking Scalia over.

          3. Then the solution was to conduct a statewide recount under one set of rules. And you are equating the judiciary trying to figure out (perhaps incompetently in the case of the Florida Supreme Court) the rules set forth by the legislature for how to conduct elections and just changing the rules after an outcome that the legislature doesn’t like.

            I know what Article II, Section 1, paragraph 2 says. That’s why I said “The Legislature, as required by the Constitution, set down the rules by which electors would be chosen.” Did you miss that part? But what the Florida legislature was doing went far beyond that. They had already declared the Manner in which their state’s electors would be appointed. That’s what the election was. It turned out that they didn’t like the results of the Manner they had chosen, perhaps because they wrote the rules incompetently. Faced with those results, they said, “You know what, we changed our minds. We’re going to write an entirely new set of rules and use those instead.” I’ll ask again: do you really not see how incredibly toxic that would be to the entire idea of democracy? If you schedule an election, you had damned well better hold it and you had damned well better live with the results, no matter how hard it makes your life to deal with them.

            And I note that you didn’t even bother to defend your very selective outrage over equal protection issues.

      2. And those with still less selective memories recall that the initial stay of the recount was ordered by a 5-4 majority, on the astonishing basis, quoting Scalia, that continuing it would “threaten irreparable harm to petitioner Bush” by “casting a cloud” over his election.

        Well, considering the author, maybe the opinion was not so astonishing.

        1. Thus reenforcing the point: 7 of the 9 justices agreed there was a violation, 2 of those justices simply didn’t think anything should have been done about it.

          Which is essentially correct: There was a problem, and it wasn’t the Supreme court’s to solve.

          1. Did you understand that, after the stay, when the case was actually tried, 7 of 9 Justices found that there was indeed an equal protection violation?

            That’s the 7-9 vote Democrats want tossed down the memory hole, that Scalia was talking about.

          2. And do you understand that the stay itself was a sad joke – an absolutely lawless decision by the conservative majority to stop a recount because it might have shown that Gore was the winner in FL? With that decision, the court’s majority lost all credibility as impartial arbiters. They wanted Bush to win, and did what was necessary to achieve their goal.

          3. Thus reenforcing the point: 7 of the 9 justices agreed there was a violation, 2 of those justices simply didn’t think anything should have been done about it.

            This is simply a lie. Full stop. Breyer and Souter did not want to do nothing; they wanted to tell the Florida Supreme Court that it had to create uniform standards for counting and then have a statewide recount. This is so far from the position of the majority that anyone lumping them together is either completely ignorant and the decision or fundamentally dishonest in talking about it.

            Which are you, Brett?

          4. J, you’re right about that; It’s been a while, and I got that point wrong.

          5. “Did you understand my comment? Or what the stay was all about?” Byomtov, you might as well argue with an answering machine. I knew he was going to be unresponsive, which is why I kept my statement short.

  2. Yes, it does seem the Republican brand is zeroing in on the stupid vote! Their constituency seems to believe freedom is slavery, ignorance is strength, and war is peace!

    A joke about a full set of teeth seems appropriate!

    1. “it does seem the Republican brand is zeroing in on the stupid vote.”

      So you’re saying they will win an overwhelming victory?

  3. I’m usually less partisan than Mark, but I think he fell into nonpartisan error: “that’s why left-wing talk radio is a fringe activity while right-wing talk radio has taken over the GOP.”

    Left-wing talk radio has some similarity to right-wing talk radio. For instance, it dispenses generous dollops of partisan red meat (or perhaps I should say “tofu.”) Both kinds of partisan radio are fond of ridicule, and both spin the facts. But leftie radio generally stops with spinning. Left-wing talk radio leaves falsity, ignorance and willful denial of reality to the right-wing shows. Since Mark is talking about nescience, he has drawn a false comparison. Lefty radio is partisan, but not nescient.

    I’d say that the reason leftie talk radio is a fringe activity is that the left is not driven by ressentiment, and does not need constant tribal validation.

      1. You’ve certainly set a new standard of optimism regarding the intelligence of the voting public.

        My guess is not a lot of voters have read Kahneman, but since it’s a pretty academic/intellectual type of book, the Democratic-leaning readers would outnumber the Republican,. Because of his reputation in economics rather than some hard scientific discipline, it’s possible the skew would not be as dramatic as that associated with understanding evolution, say. But it’s an empirical question which no one will bother to do the research to answer.

    1. I agree, ES. I think this statement is, at least for the most part, a false equivalency.

      Disclaimer: I am not familiar with ALL “left-wing talk radio” but what I’ve listened to (Hartmann, Goldman, Maddow, Press, Rhodes) seems fact-based (often including actual citations from trustworthy sources), and even issues corrections when warranted, FAR from a description of “right-wing talk radio.”

      Ranting can be both legitimate and deserved, especially these days, and unlike what’s broadcast on the right, the left often rants against actions taken by Democrats too, when warranted. I do not think it is accurate to describe any of the names mentioned above as “ignorant.”

      1. No Dave Emory?

        Quaint fact: all through the nineties I listened to him for the
        pure entertainment value of listening to a paranoid lib gone mad.

        Then came the oughts. And everything he had said and continued
        to say, uh, turned out to be true.


      2. Goldman, Rhodes, and Schulz have pretty simplistic pitches and spin. Maddow and Hartmann don’t. Miller is very funny and varies a lot in sophistication, but usually chooses jokes over factuality, which is fine.

        1. One host is notable by his absence–Malloy. He’s big on rage and short on facts. Still, even he is more factual than either the right-wing blowhards or the libertarian conspiracy theorists (e.g., Alex Jones). And Malloy is most certainly the fringe. I also disagree with the characterization of Miller–her coverage is extremely factual, down to reading excerpts from sources. This, however, is then covered with a layer of jokes, which is what BS notes. In fact, I would take Miller over Hartmann any day.

          But there is another layer of difference between the right-wing and left-wing radio. Right-wing talk radio is a part of a carefully crafted machine that is designed to hide the manufacturing of the stories. Some “sources” are the fake think-tanks that are created to combat individual issues–such as the moronic outfit that first floated the “carbon dioxide is good plant food” meme, long before Little Ricky picked it up yesterday. Other sources are the radio hosts themselves–the talking points are often created on one radio show, then passed along to other radio shows or newspaper columns, then make it back to more radio and TV shows, perpetuating the cycle of falsehood. Even the underlying facts are debunked, they are usually debunked as presented by a particular show or author, leaving the rest of the clowns untouched and free to distribute the zombie lies. Lou Dobbs was particularly notorious for such blunders, virtually always not only using demonstrable false assertions borrowed from right-wing radio, but often amplifying it further–and, even when debunked, he would come back with the same falsehoods a while later, as if nothing happened in the interim. That is, in a microcosm, the world of right-wing radio. It’s not meant to offer facts or independent sourcing–it’s meant to reinforce the delusions, if not seed them outright. As such, they are intellectual heirs of Communist propaganda organs–closely resembling the operations of such outfits as Xinhua in the 1960s and 70s.

          But most interesting is the performance of the little twerp Cohen–the manufacturer of the false equivalence, in this case. Like his senile predecessor, the late David Broder, Cohen, unable to come up with a real non-Republican example (largely because there isn’t one!) simply spins the balance out of thin air. Unfortunately, this contortion is representative of the intellectual castration of the MSM who appear to have bought into the right-wing meme of the “liberal media”. Instead of stopping at the logical point where it makes sense to conclude that there is NO symmetry, Cohen keeps going until he can say something–anything–negative about the “other” side. Although here the result is truly ham-fisted, it differs from Cohen’s usual confusion only in degree.

  4. Kathleen is too kind but absolutely correct, there are some brilliantly smart ‘left-wing’ talk radio voices.

    You’re slandering many smart, excellent allies of the left, Kleinman, it’s just sleazy right-wing enabling.

    What is your anti-factual BROAD BRUSHED SMEAR based on: Ignorance, bigotry, just plain stupidity, or a willingness to smear smart allies of ‘the left’ because many of those smart lefties recognize and are willing to call out right-wing enabling jerks like Richard Cohen?

    UPDATES (aren’t footnotes, by the way): That you missed Cohen’s grotesque false equivalency, Cohen’s standard right-wing enabling tactic that he’s been using to falsely smear ‘the left’ for years, suggests something about who you really are.

    UPDATE 2: Hint: You’re either a closet right-wing enabler or just plain dumb?

    UPDATE 3: When you attack entire groups with a sleazy smear, don’t whine when specific behaviors of yours are called to account.

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