Sunday, June 30, 2013

If Perception Were Reality, It Wouldn't Be Perception

On  Real Time Friday night, Bill Maher carried the torch (video, below) for the right to vote.   He began by arguing that individuals such as Donald Trump, Sarah Palin, and Newt Gingrich are "worst racists" than Paula Deen and practice "real racism." He went on to refer to a piece by 7th Circuit Court of Appeals Judge Eric Posner in which the Judge noted that Chief Justice Roberts in his majority opinion struck down Section IV of the Voting Rights Act on the basis of "the principle of equal sovereignty." Posner described that as "a principle of constitutional law of which I had never heard (because) there is no such principle."

Noting that Posner stated "the opinion rests on air," Maher remaarked "In other words, Justice Roberts just pulled [it] out of his ass."    Conservative commentator Horace Cooper responded in part

There is no just Voting Rights Act enforcement law that doesn’t single out places like Chicago and Philadelphia for voter fraud.   By the way, the people that are losing their rights in Philadelphia and Chicago tend to be overwhelmingly Black, and Democrat. It’s not about race, it’s about it not serving the political needs of the administration to go after those ‘Blue state’ jurisdictions. It’s much better to go after the ‘Red states.

The Chief Justice has nothing on Horace Cooper for pulling things out of his ass.   Whether extensive voting fraud exists is arguable, and a complicated proposition.  But Cooper- as with most Republicans- refers to voter fraud, typically in big cities with large minority populations. That simply does not exist.   In 2007 The New York Times reported

Five years after the Bush administration began a crackdown on voter fraud, the Justice Department has turned up virtually no evidence of any organized effort to skew federal elections, according to court records and interviews.

Although Republican activists have repeatedly said fraud is so widespread that it has corrupted the political process and, possibly, cost the party election victories, about 120 people have been charged and 86 convicted as of last year.

Most of those charged have been Democrats, voting records show. Many of those charged by the Justice Department appear to have mistakenly filled out registration forms or misunderstood eligibility rules, a review of court records and interviews with prosecutors and defense lawyers show.

In Miami, an assistant United States attorney said many cases there involved what were apparently mistakes by immigrants, not fraud.

In Wisconsin, where prosecutors have lost almost twice as many cases as they won, charges were brought against voters who filled out more than one registration form and felons seemingly unaware that they were barred from voting.

But Republicans are less interested in whether significant voter fraud exists than in maintaining the fiction among the voting public that it does.  It is a central tenet of free market, conservative thought:  if it sells, it's legitimate.  This was illustrated last week by a quarrel between Red State proprietor Eric Erickson and Nobel Prize-winning economist Paul Krugman about the Acela Express.  Digby summarizes the exchange:

The rest of America is nervous about where their next meal and paycheck are coming from, how they are going to afford to bail their kids out of crumbling schools, and the price of a gallon of milk and loaf of bread that keep going up though Ben Bernanke tells them there is no inflation. 
Paul Krugman drops some Bureau of Labor Statistics data to show that the price of milk and bread haven't actually gone up at all. And asks:

So, how does Erickson know that the prices of bread and milk are soaring? Has he been carefully keeping track? Or is it just fake populism, an attempt to sound like Everyman while actually just whining? 
UPDATE (9:43 a.m.): Erickson emails POLITICO:

Paul uses a chart to try to disprove the reality that Americans with small kids actually experience at the grocery store. His problem is he thinks I'm attacking the Democrats and wants to defend them, when the criticism is broader and bipartisan. And if he hung around moms and dads with kids more often he'd hear a lot more real world complaining about bread, milk, and other grocery item prices going up while paychecks are staying the same. Not everything is academic or chartable and sometimes the accuracy of the chart isn't as real to people as the perception they have that their grocery store bills are getting more expensive though their shopping habits haven't changed. 

And later adds... 

Seriously, Paul's point is correct, but it is an issue of perception of people versus the reality of his chart.  He can certainly go tell people milk prices haven't gone up, but good luck getting them to believe him. 
UPDATE (12:59 p.m.): Krugman responds on his blog: "Ok, this is awesome":... 

Erickson’s response is, hey, it isn’t true, but people feel that it’s true... Notice, by the way, the implication that I don’t appreciate the problems real people (who don’t eat quiche or ride the Acela) are facing; actually, I do, but those problems are lack of jobs and stagnant wages, not rising prices. And if you want to solve problems, getting the nature of those problems right matters. 

But then, only elitists want to solve problems; true men of the people just vent, and what matters is perception, not truth.

In the world of the right's communication machine, perception trumps truth and there is no penalty for a blogger who makes up things about inflation, a pundit who misleads people about voter fraud, or a Supreme Court Justice who creates a constitutional principle out of thin air.

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