When Ignorance Is Not Bliss, Just Ignorant

How many times have we been through this? Pollsters will ask people what they think of President Obama’s X Proposal, and they mostly disapprove. But when asked about the individual provisions of the X Proposal, a whopping majority think they’re grand.

We went through this with the Affordable Care Act, and we’re seeing it again with the jobs plan. What does this tell us?

I think it tells us something very simple. It tells us that most of the people polled have no clue what’s actually in the policy they’re being asked about. They just know they don’t like it, because that’s the vibe they feel sluicing out of their radios and TV sets and computer monitors.

The Noise Machine is well stocked with well-funded pundits — and some angry liberals — who declare over and over again what a failure President Obama is and how disappointed we’re all supposed to be and how he doesn’t know what he’s doing, blah blah blah. So, naturally, when people are asked about the President’s X policy, they dutifully repeat what Everybody Else says, which is that it’s probably a bad idea.

But why then do they approve of the individual parts of the policy? Because probably they had no idea that’s what’s in the bleeping policy. Hearing the individual provisions for the first time from a pollster, they say yeah, sure. Good ideas.

But then all the headlines and sound bites of the story say people don’t like Policy X, which reinforces the impression that Policy X is bad.

Really, people, polls don’t tell us anything about how good or bad a policy is. They are tests of the effectiveness of the Noise Machine. The degree to which the public says what it’s conditioned to say tells us how well the propaganda is working.

So, for once, I think Steve Benen doesn’t quite get it

This may seem counter-intuitive — if people like the parts, they should like the whole — but it makes a lot of sense. Indeed, we saw the exact same thing during the fight over health care reform when Americans said they didn’t like the Affordable Care Act, but strongly supported all of the ideas in the proposal. The problem is one of political perceptions — the president is struggling, so when folks are asked about his plan, the question becomes a referendum on him. But when asked about specific ideas, it turns out most Americans agree with Obama and his plan. (Likewise, during health care, folks were misled by attack ads and lousy media coverage, and came to think poorly of the proposal, but they actually liked what’s in the plan.)

But I don’t think most Americans understand what’s in the Patient Protection Act to this day, which is why it still polls fairly poorly. Big whopping chunks of the electorate may say they like the individual parts when asked by pollsters, but they still aren’t associating those individual parts with the PPA.

Put another way — if you were to give America a pop quiz on what’s in the PPA or the jobs plan or just about anything else the President has proposed — we’d flunk. Solid F. There aren’t enough of us who understand the proposals to make up for the vast ocean of cluelessness that is the American public.

As I’ve said in the past, I don’t blame the public as much as I blame news media for doing a crappy job covering political issues. Most people don’t have time to spend hours on the Web every day looking up information about things. They need issues explained to them, clearly and succinctly, and nobody is doing that. Or, I should say, the very few who are doing that are being drowned out by the Noise Machine of propaganda, so little actual information reaches most folks.

And it doesn’t help that most of the Left with any kind of megaphone is more or less echoing the Right’s argument — Obama’s a disaster, let’s primary him, yadda yadda. Hey, you don’t have to like him, but if you want to make America a place where progressive ideas are heard, honestly discussed, and even implemented, progressives need to stop whining about Obama and start trying to educate people about how progressive ideas can help them.

I think the biggest reason the President hasn’t been as effective as we wanted is not that he was a secret wingnut all along, but that he is cautious about overreaching what he can sell to Congress and the public. And the political climate is screaming at him to be cautious. You want a more progressive president? Make this a more progressive country.

We progressives may console ourselves that the public really is on our side because people agree with our policy ideas, but that’s not going to mean squat come election time, because the public won’t know anyone is proposing those policy ideas. They’ll just know they are disappointed in President Obama. Everybody says so.

25 thoughts on “When Ignorance Is Not Bliss, Just Ignorant

  1. Right on the nose, sadly. However, I think if we gave America a pop-quiz on ANYTHING, they’d be leaning over to see what their neighbor wrote.

  2. BINGO!
    And a great title for the post, too!

    To give an example of the MSM’s ginormous shortcomings, let me tell you what I heard on CNN yesterday evening as I was walking by the TV my parents were watching. That insipid spineless nebish Wolf Blitzer was asking a guest (and no, I don’t know who it was) the following question, “This past week Michele Bachmann… blah, blah, blah… cervical cancer… blah, blah, blah… met a woman who claimed her daughter became retarded after being innoculated. What’s YOUR OPINION?”
    Nothing from the AMA.
    No statistic from the WHO.
    Nope. Just ‘What’s your opinion?’
    I looked at my Father, who still tries to defend the MSM when I tell him a large part of the problem in this country is that the public is either under or mis-informed because of that MSM, and said, “That! That right there is a perfect example of what I’m talking about. Who care’s what that person’s OPINION is? Where are the facts? Why won’t he bring on someone who can easily debunk Bachmann?” I wanted to add that opinions are like assholes, but he and my Mother say I curse too much – I can’t even say ‘damn,’ let alone get off any really good ones. 🙂
    (In fairness to my Father, he wasn’t alway reliant on Cable TV and Network News shows – he bought and read the NY Times every day of his life until recently. But now, we can’t afford $2 a day for it, so I only buy it for us on Sunday’s).
    My father looked at me, and just shrugged his shoulders. I think he understood my point – that the news needs to give us facts, and not just opposing opinions.

    Maybe it’s just me.
    What’s your opinion?

  3. This is why Obama do well to campaign on the Healthcare Act, with CLEAR talking points. It ain’t perfect (no single payer), but it IS a money saver in the long term; good for business (since it shifts some burden for healthcare off them onto Gov’t, which has a bigger risk pool, as we see in other countries); and it has a lot of really helpful provision (re: keeping your kid on your plan longer, pre-existing conditions).

  4. Yeah, how true.
    Last week, a co worker was on a rant about how screwed uo “Obama Care” is; I politely asked him if he understood what is in the Act, his response is that nobody does, it’s too big to read.
    Most people I know get their news from FOX or CNN, when I’m staying in a hotel or in a sports bar type restaurant, FOX is usually on; the free newspaper in the A.M. is USA Today.
    The righties I know go to Newsmax, FOX, and listen to Limbaugh and Beck.
    I’ve always held the belief that if it sounds too fantastic, it usually is.

  5. Is there a law outlawing political campaigning on election day? I think there’s one outlawing it near or in the vicinity of where voting is taking place on election day. If so, does anyone know why. I’m guessing that if there is a ‘why’ it may be clear why people can so easily be moved to vote for someone dependent on how well and how recently the ‘someone’ was able to snow them. Maha’s ignorance -is-not-bliss-just-ignorant is right on.

    Another problem with the endless campaign/poll results is that poll results actually effect how people will/may vote. High numbers for a candidate, or an issue can, often will attract people to the more ‘popular’ candidate only because people like to get in line behind a ‘winner.’

  6. Obama’s proposing a new tax rate for those making more than $1million, and the real class warriors are accusing him of class warfare.


    Two of the loudest voices screaming about class warfare are those of that closet gay, Lindseed,”There’s No Man Like That Man I Love, Man – Lieberman” Graham, and that young blue-eyed sociopath Privatizing Ryan.

    I do hope they keep screaming about ‘class warfare,’ because I think Obama picked the right amount.
    $1 million is a nice round number that even some inbred, trailerpark-living ‘moran’ can figure out is some real money, and the that the $20,000 they got from unemployment and meth-making don’t make them rich, unlike when they rationalize a percentage and say “You know Louella Sue, when them Demoncrats talk ’bout taxin’ the rich, you’n me’s fer sure in the top 2-3% of wage earners ‘n the country.”

    • The Faux News team will tell viewers that Obama is raising taxes and just leave out the little detail “on millionaires.” Probably most of them won’t know the tax won’t apply to them.

  7. Fox ‘N Friends will be broadcast from “The Villages”(that bastion of grand old pricks in Lady Lake Fl.) this week. Rumor has it one of Gretchen’s boobs will wrestle a ‘gator.
    I’m rootin for the reptile (with four legs).

  8. What’s going on here in the US? Fox is in deep doo-doo in England and I thought their was supposed to be an investigation here.

  9. Maha,

    While you’ve made a valid point that most people don’t know much about what is actually in the Affordable Care Act, and that the MSM does a woeful job of informing people (if not engaging in outright propaganda), I have to ask how ANYBODY is supposed to understand a piece of legislation that is 2409 pages long? I actually doubt that YOU understand it. Yes, you probably know some of its key provisions, but have you tried to sit down and read the 2409-page monstrosity? Is there a single member of Congress, or even Obama himself, who has read it? Tolstoy’s “War and Peace” is a tough read at 1350 pages, but at least the story is interesting enough to hold your attention if you’re determined.

    Even worse is that I understand the ACA cites numerous references to other pieces of legislation, which you would have to go read to know what it means. I doubt that anyone has worked out how much reading you’d have to do to take it all in. Perhaps 10,000 pages? Who knows? It will take a team of lawyers a couple of years to comb through the bill to find out what it actually says, and the lawsuits will fly thick and fast as we approach 2013 when the bill is supposed to go into effect.

    But yes, I’m sure that if you pull out individual paragraphs from the monster, you can find parts I agree with, such as not denying coverage to people with pre-existing conditions. But what I do know about the ACA is that it’s stuffed full of sections inserted by lobbyists for the health insurance industry. Despite claims to the contrary, it’s unlikely to do anything about cost control – indeed, almost as soon as it passed, the HMOs all uniformly raised their rates. Pronouncements that it will “save money” I would take with a grain of salt. The same claim was made (by Bush) for privatizing the military, and we know how that worked out (very well, for Halliburton). I know ACA has no public option, and “single payer” doesn’t even get lip service. Forgive me if I feel underwhelmed by this “great accomplishment” by Obama.

    More maddening is the fact that Rep Alan Grayson introduced his own 4-page healthcare bill at the same time that would have accomplished much more. His bill simply allowed all Americans to buy into Medicare, with the stipulation that rates would have to be set high enough so that it didn’t cause Medicare to lose money. This would have been the ultimate public option. Of course, the bill never made it out of committee, and Obama never said a word to support it. The MSM had a total news blackout on that. The health insurance industry is terrified of such legislation.

    Then there is the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform Consumer Protection Act, a mere 848 pages (until you delve into all the other pieces of legislation it refers to) which accomplishes next to nothing, but was touted by Obama as “financial reform.” Yes, I’m sure you could pull out a few paragraphs from this absurd legislation that I would agree with. But it pales against Rep Maurice Hinchey’s 20-page Glass-Steagall Restoration Act which would have restored the 1933 legislation that did such a superb job of curbing Wall Street shenanigans for 66 years until Bill Clinton and congress repealed it 1999 (Clinton has since said this was his worst mistake in office). Hinchey’s bill, of course, died in committee, without a word of support from Obama.

    • I have to ask how ANYBODY is supposed to understand a piece of legislation that is 2409 pages long? I actually doubt that YOU understand it.

      That’s right-wing propaganda — oh, it’s so long, nobody understands it, blah blah blah — and I’m surprised you’re repeating it.

      The legislation is not long for the sake of being long. It’s very complex; it has a lot of parts that work together. It has some extraneous stuff, also, but not that much. I’ve been looking at parts of it and writing about parts of it for more than a year now, and I understand it pretty damn well, thank you.

  10. Hell is being stuck in a car driven by someone flaming on about how the “stimulus was a waste of money that didn’t do anything” on a road to a bridge both under repair because of, as the big sign next to the exit said, “The American Reconstruction and Recovery Act.”

  11. Maha said:

    That’s right-wing propaganda — oh, it’s so long, nobody understands it, blah blah blah — and I’m surprised you’re repeating it.

    That’s strange, because I NEVER read that anywhere. It’s just my own feeling. But since you said it’s right-wing propaganda, I started googling to see if I could find anything like that (righties claiming the bill was too complex). I came up mostly empty-handed. The best I could come up with were a couple of articles by financial analysts trying to assess what effect the bill would have on the overall economy, and saying that it was “too complex” to be completely sure. Another article I found said that it would be very difficult to assess its constitutionality when it hits the Supreme Court, because of its complexity. Here are a couple of examples:



    But if you can come up with a couple of wingnuts arguing that the bill is too complex, please post a link.

    All the wingnut web sites I saw were arguing against “Obamacare” because it’s “Marxist” or “Nazi health care” or because of “death panels.” I didn’t see any complaints about complexity. On the left, arguments against the bill are mainly that it has no public option, and that it requires people to buy health insurance from rapacious corporations. The fact that the share prices of health insurance companies immediately rose after the bill was passed ought to tell you something.

    MY (and it’s only MINE) big complaint is that the bill is so complex that I don’t know what it says, other than some parts that have been publicized. I looked at it – I can’t read it. I don’t believe anyone else can either. What I do know is that I was able to read Alan Grayson’s 4-page health care bill, and understood it, and knew it would do more than the monstrous ACA. I also know that Obama did nothing to help Grayson’s bill.

    And as for financial reform (which for me is even more important than health care legislation), it was the same. Obama threw his support behind an incomprehensible bill touted as “major reform”, but it seems to do little. Meanwhile, a 20-page bill that was REAL reform was allowed to whither and die, with no support from Obama. And THAT is what pisses me off.

    • That’s strange, because I NEVER read that anywhere.

      You don’t live here. There’s a lot going on here that you’re not seeing. Believe me, the “it’s too long and nobody can read it” thing has been said millions of times.

      I’m not discussing this further. I don’t have time for this.

  12. I’m a retired Federal Government employee. I have read a lot of bills/laws. I haven’t read the ACA because I don’t wish to; but, I probably could read it and understand it. It has to be somewhat understandable or the lobbyists who helped write it wouldn’t get their money. I agree with Maha and that you are just spouting rightwing propaganda. Most of Congress never read the laws they enact; they have staff to do that.

  13. Candide,
    Believe me, its length was certainly ONE of the talking points. They droned on and on about it.

    Here’s a TPM piece, from earlier this year, about Herman Cain walking back from HIS talking point about making all bills under him, if he were President, having to be 3 pages or less:


    So, you can see, that even 2 years after ACA was signed, the length of it is still a dog whistle.

  14. Well, perhaps I’m wrong and it was made an issue, but I never heard it. Maha is correct that I don’t live in the USA, and probably missed a lot. I am blessedly out of range from Fox News and Rush Limbaugh. I only read one right-wing web site on a regular basis, market-ticker.org, because the level of discourse on there is at least tolerable (even though about 80% wrong).

  15. Hell is being stuck in a car driven by someone flaming on about how the “stimulus was a waste of money that didn’t do anything” on a road to a bridge both under repair because of, as the big sign next to the exit said, “The American Reconstruction and Recovery Act.”

    Something similar happened to me this weekend. A friend was furious that the American Rural Agriculture Board (not sure of name) had ballooned from 19 to 69 employees last year and that that wasn’t the way to create jobs – they were just getting a government handout. “What?” I said, “You think they just shuttle all those people to a room somewhere, make them watch cartoons and hand them a check at the end of the week? They had a grant, the grant got funded…” Of course, I couldn’t get through.

    Then I drive by a section of town and there’s a big sign, along with back hoes and water pipe, about how that same agency was improving the rural water line along the mesa. I guess those aren’t acceptable jobs.

  16. Candide, trust me, you’re wrong on this one, the bill being too big and complex for anybody to read was definitely one of the big right wing talking points for a good long while. Still is, when it comes up. I don’t even watch Fox news and I don’t read right wing web sites, but I must have heard it about a thousand times, just doing stuff like trying to find something on the radio.

    I agree that just expanding Medicare would be a way to get to single payer, but I don’t see it ever happening in this society. We are too influenced by money, and the health lobby has too much of it. No way they’ll ever let themselves become obsolete. However, I can easily see us ending up something like Germany … a patchwork of private insurance companies, but HEAVILY regulated and subsidized, to the point that it becomes in effect universal health care.


  17. Candide, does one have to know every line of code in Windows 7 to determine whether or not it’s a good operating system? Do you actually believe that Alan Grayson’s gimmicky 4-page bill would have been sufficient all on its own to effect the kinds of changes we need in our system? I guarantee you it would require at least another 2405 pages of implementing regulations to make it actually work.

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