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Surrealist politics

Several days ago James Vega carefully deconstructed one example of the way in which polling data can be distorted by commentators to support an "Americans say both side are equally to blame" argument even when the data itself shows nothing of the kind. At the same time, however, political commentators can also present arguments that ignore empirical data entirely and express what can only be described as a weird kind of political surrealism.

Case in point, Mike Murphy in Time:

...Saying the words ["Some beneficiaries pay more" and "lower benefit increases over time"] would mean the President is finally serious about facing the soaring cost of entitlements, with adjustments to future cost increases in Social Security and Medicare as well as a modest increase in what some must pay into the programs.


The Democratic leadership will violently oppose this, but if the President really aspires to use his political capital, as he says he does, then he must use it on his own party, where it can actually accomplish a result.

The President should not forget that the Republicans are also willing to do very unpopular things to confront the national-debt crisis. He should take advantage of that rare impulse of theirs, not dismiss it.

When one tries to unpack this argument, it comes to this:

To combat the riding cost of entitlements the president should do things that are unpopular with public and which will outrage and infuriate his political base.

After all, the GOP is equally willing to do very unpopular things to combat the rising cost of entitlements -- things that are unpopular with the public but which will delight and thrill their political base.

The president would be foolish not to take advantage of this "rare" opportunity.

What? The commentary asserts the existence of a parallel "willingness to do unpopular things" between GOP and Dems where in fact no actual parallel exists, it proposes that Obama should prefer to expend his political capital fighting with his own party instead of fighting for his own agenda (the exact opposite of what Republicans think political capital should be used for when they are in power) because that is "where it can actually accomplish a result," and it describes as a "rare" opportunity a proposal for him to do something that will please his opponents, anger his friends and antagonize the public all at the same time.

Even if one sincerely believes that reducing the cost of entitlements represents a critical national problem, this argument simply makes no logical sense. It is a verbal version of a surrealist painting. From a distance it appears as if it is actually presenting a rational political argument but when one looks more closely it dissolves into a completely incoherent cluster of words.