The observations and opinions of a person who has no discernible insights or ideas.

Friday, July 13, 2007

"I pose a conundrum to you, a riddle if you will" 

While I enjoy political discussion, including some of it that I find to be very wrong-headed, I have little patience for the talking heads. I'm not sure why, but I suppose that it's because so many people take them seriously.

One of the most perplexing pundits that I hear about lately is CNN's Lou Dobbs. Like his colleagues, he tends to focus on a small handful of his favorite issues (immigration seems to be one, and I can't really say what the others are). I am bothered by the way that he twists language. A recent example was a CNN.com editorial about how he'd like to see all the bums in congress get thrown out in the next election, but he doesn't think that the electorate will be able to mature enough to learn how bad they are (he stops short of accusing the voters for the problem, since his whole style requires him to pander to his readers).

The basic idea of his column is that the presidency, all of the House, and a third of the Senate are lame ducks, since they all are up for reelection in the next general election (only 16 months away! mark your calendars!), except for the president who is constitutionally restricted from running again. In Bush's case, he is right. George W. Bush will not run again for the office of President of the United States, and it is unlikely that he will run again for any elected office (after all, where do you go after being the leader of the free world?). In the case of the legislature, most of them will run again next year, and most of those will probably win. They are not "lame ducks" in any sense of the expression (except for Congressman Daffy, who has been having knee troubles).

I take similar exception to Mr. Dobbs' use of the term "middle class". He often describes a war on the middle class, apparently to stir up the middle class into an (electoral) revolt against the ruling parties.

The problem with this sort of demagoguery is that the term "middle class" is inherently vague. If you ask an economist, you may be given a fairly specific definition of who is in the middle class. If you asked 100 of them, you'd come to some reasonable consensus of what it means. If you ask Lou Dobbs, he may even give you some meaningful definition of the term (although I suspect that he'd respond with some non-specific stuff about an average American).

The term is not vague when used by experts or even one individual. The problem arises from the fact that "middle class" is something that each reader (or listener) personally defines it to be, and almost everybody considers themselves to be a part of the middle class. If you ask a person who makes mid-six figures, they would probably say that they are (upper) middle class. If you ask a person who makes $20,000 a year, he too would consider himself to be in the middle class.

What's more is that most people probably perceive the middle class to be a minority in this country. Each person would see the middle class as including a fairly narrow band of incomes near theirs (possibly with as much range as -50% to +100%, which is essentially within an order of magnitude). When they perceive an attack on the middle class, they see it as the big guys trying to stomp on their own particular minority group.

That is the cunning thing that Lou Dobbs has done. He has taken almost everyone in the country and made them think that he is talking to them and that they are part of a small minority. All the while, he appears to be a champion of the average person, and they never notice the subtle way in which he ropes everyone.

At least that would be the case if more people read or listened to him, and if he wasn't so tired.

(Note: What is the difference between a congressman who lost his seat and a mallard with a broken leg?)

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