No bias, no bull, not really.

27 March 2009

The RNC’s 2009 Membership Survey is a wonder to behold. The same people who have bemoaned and blasted the “liberal media elite” for its skewed perspective and unbalanced coverage continue to prove themselves incapable of neutral discourse and totally shut off to new ideas.

In the email accompanying the survey, Michael Steele instructs members to “be honest and candid in your answers–there’s no need to sugar-coat your responses after our Party’s performances in the last two elections.” But what followed was a poorly constructed, unabashedly biased questionnaire that will simply spoon-feed the RNC whatever it wants to hear.

The first few questions were promising. Although they contained responses with which I disagreed, and left out a few important ones, they all came with an “other” box so that we could diplomatically democratically First-Amendmently write in our own answers.

Things quickly disintegrated into questions like the following:

5. Should Republicans unite to block new federal government bureaucracy and red tape that will crush future economic growth?
Yes, No, Undecided.

Should Republicans unite against battle droid technology and the Separatist forces of evil that will crush the Galactic Empire…FOREVER!? Yes or no will suffice.

I can’t see many less-informed Republicans voting Yes, I should like to see more red tape crush future economic growth. What kind of useful data is gathered from this question? Are there really more pro-economy-crushing liberals than conservatives?

9. Should we resist Barack Obama’s proposal to spend billions of federal taxpayer dollars to pay “volunteers” who perform his chosen tasks?

Expanding and institutionalizing public service does not amount to the creation of an army of Obama-minions performing his “chosen tasks.” What about a real conversation about the future of public service in this country? From those who might fear that public service may in fact become a billion-dollar operation to carry out Barack Obama’s personal agenda, what about a call for greater oversight?

11. Should bureaucrats in Washington, DC be in charge of making your health care choices instead of you and your doctor?
Once again, this question sidesteps the substance of the issue. It’s almost insulting to the reader. In addition, the GOP has repeatedly tried to interfere with health care provider’s right to provide complete and accurate information to patients about reproductive services and other issues.

Other questions are phrased just as ludicrously. One refers to the “so-called ‘fairness doctrine. Another accuses Obama of trying to “gut the USA PATRIOT Act and other important laws that promote the safety and security of all Americans,” never mind that the PATRIOT Act was the biggest intrusion of government into the rights and lives of citizens in recent history, and I didn’t know anyone was still defending it. The survey names names, making villains out of Democrats instead, once again, of providing real information or gathering real feedback on the issues.

The language of the survey is childish, mocking, and hateful, and it interferes with the exchange of real information. A membership survey is not in itself the problem, but it provides good insight into the problems we run into discussing government policy.

I heard an interesting/excellent lecture the other day on public policy and the media. Among other things, the speaker brought up the obvious transition from “traditional” media to new media (Huff Post, Drudge, blogs). New media is much less centrist than traditional media, and we also decide based on personal preference which online media sources we will be exposed to. So we increasingly run into “selective exposure bias,” in which we seek out news sources that confirm our pre-existing political beliefs. And as a result we become, unsurprisingly, even more partisan.

Reading that survey was fairly alarming but, in light of the above ideas, somewhat eye-opening. We’re less and less exposed to perspectives and information and might challenge our own. There’s really no issue right now that isn’t highly polarized, so much that conversation isn’t about the exchange of ideas so much as fiercely defending one’s pre-existing beliefs. Scary.

This was wordy like no other. Thanks for hanging in there.

-S

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