Just Above Sunset
March 21, 2004 - The Limitations of Empiricism in Politics
Do you want to be outraged? No?
Try this little investigation of how the need of those in power to maintain their power trumps this empiricism business.
Timothy Noah is always
a fun read.
"Facts are stupid things," President Ronald Reagan said in a famous self-parodying moment. (He'd meant to say "facts are stubborn things.") At the time, a common criticism of the Reagan presidency
was that the Gipper tended to ignore facts and act instead according to the dictates of ideology. Since then, sentimental revisionists have come to praise Reagan for paying facts little heed.
Well, that’s not
nice at all.
[O]ne recurring theme in the exercises was the risk of civil disorder after the fall of Baghdad….
The CIA… considered whether a new Iraqi government could be put together through a process like the Bonn conference,
which was then being used to devise a post-Taliban regime for Afghanistan. At
the Bonn conference representatives of rival political and ethic groups agreed on the terms that established Hamid Karzai
as the new Afghan President. The CIA believed that rivalries in Iraq were so
deep, and the political culture so shallow, that a similarly quick transfer of sovereignty would only invite chaos.
Yeah, well, that was
on the money.
Representatives from the Defense Department were among those who participated in the first of these CIA war-game
sessions. When their Pentagon superiors at the Office of the Secretary of Defense
(OSD) found out about this, in early summer, the representatives were reprimanded and told not to participate further. "OSD" is Washington shorthand, used frequently in discussions about the origins of
Iraq war plans, and it usually refers to strong guidance from [Defense Secretary Donald] Rumsfeld, [Deputy Secretary Paul]
Wolfowitz, [Defense Undersecretary for Policy Douglas] Feith, and one of Feith's deputies, William Luti. Their displeasure over the CIA exercise was an early illustration of a view that became stronger throughout
2002: that postwar planning was an impediment to war.
Yep, these guys with their
study didn’t have the right attitude.
1.) The political hack in question blocked information output, not input.
Prohibiting output is worse than prohibiting input because when you prohibit input there's at least the hope that a
third party (say, the CIA) will make use of the shunned information. When you
prohibit output, nobody gets the information. According to White House
spokesman Scott McClellan, not even President Bush had a clue that his Medicare bill cost in excess of $100 billion more than
he'd thought until long after he signed it into law.
Well, these guy play hardball. And they were backing the president. And
they did, after all, get the bill passed.
According to "EPA veterans" consulted by Hamburger and Miller, this is "unprecedented for a major rulemaking."
And they ran down Russell Train, a Republican who headed the EPA during the Nixon and Ford presidencies, who called
Holmstead was present when Wehrum rendered his pronouncement, and remained silent while EPA staffers objected. This resolute stance may owe something to the fact that Holmstead and Wehrum, before
coming to the EPA, were attorneys at the law firm Latham & Watkins, where Holmstead represented a utility group called
the Alliance for Constructive Air Policy. As it happens, several paragraphs in
the proposed rule were lifted word-for-word from a memo prepared by Latham & Watkins.
Anyway, Noah says this "EPA End Run carries the logic of the Medicare Lockdown one exquisite step further." The idea is that rather than prevent the dissemination of information, Holmstead and Wehrum took care that no such information be generated in the first place.
You see that pattern here?
Someone studies something and the conclusion suggests your war may be whole lot more expensive and messy than you’d like? You don’t want to know. It would be unpatriotic to know such things, or at least it would be so negative to think that way. A positive attitude works wonders? Maybe.
Someone has financial facts that would mean you’d lose the vote because the damned Medicare bill is too expensive? Let that someone know if any member of congress asks him for the numbers, and he tells them the truth, he’ll get fired.
The proposed regulation of something toxic might cost your political contributors a bundle? Make sure the science isn’t done – forbid any studies on the matter.
Facts? Who needs them? Ignore them as “defeatist.” Or make sure they never get out. Or make sure they’re never developed at all.
As I said, I’ve always been kind of fond of empiricism. I am living in the wrong century.
But Noah may be wrong regarding Bush and his crew.
Any organization with any power does such things. Vote Bush and this crew out? Kerry might do the same, or Ralph Nader, or Lyndon Larouche. To think otherwise is to be naïve. The need of those in power to maintain their power trumps this empiricism business.
This issue updated and published on...
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