06 May 2007

The Press Is Not The Public

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David Broder, in today’s Washington Post, claims the left has a mandate for defeat, surrender, and withdrawal.

The gap between public opinion and Washington reality has rarely been wider than on the issue of the Iraq war. A clear national mandate is being blocked — for now — by constraints that make sense only in the short-term calculus of politics in this capital city.

The public verdict on the war is plain. Large majorities have come to believe that it was a mistake to go in, and equally large majorities want to begin the process of getting out. That is what the polls say; it is what the mail to Capitol Hill says; and it is what voters signaled when they put the Democrats back into control of Congress in November. …

The question that naturally arises is why the strongly expressed judgment of the people — responding to news of increasing American casualties in a seemingly intractable sectarian conflict — cannot be translated into action in Washington. …

One way or another, public opinion ultimately will be heeded on the war in Iraq. It is hard to imagine the Republicans going into the presidential election of 2008 with 150,000 American troops still taking heavy casualties in Iraq.

It’s true that the democrats won control of Congress last November, but many other issues and factors besides the war, and a number of Republican scandals, undoubtedly also played a role in that election’s results. The democrats gained a very narrow Congressional majority, and can hardly be described as possessing a mandate to do anything other than avoid taking bribes and molesting pages.

Which mandate alone should represent a more than adequate challenge, requiring all the moral resolve and political will the democrat party can possibly muster, if not more.

One hears the claim a lot these days that public opinion thinks this, and public opinion demands that, as if opinion polls conducted by news organizations represented some sort of meaningful, objective, binding, and official process. This sort of claim represents the grossest sort of attempt by journalists to usurp political authority.

The poll Mr. Broder cites in his own editorial was conducted by two notoriously biased news organizations, the Washington Post and ABC News. And its results are based on the responses of a mere 1082 adults, including an intentional “oversample of African-Americans.”

Opinion polls of 1000 or so of the people willing to talk to pollsters on the phone prove basically nothing. Opinion polls are typically artfully crafted. The questions they contain steer answers in the direction their creators desire.

That WaPo/ABC poll, which Broder cited, asked:

Do you think (the United States should keep its military forces in Iraq until civil order is restored there, even if that means continued U.S. military casualties); OR, do you think (the United States should withdraw its military forces from Iraq in order to avoid further U.S. military casualties, even if that means civil order is not restored there)?

But if I asked instead:

Do you think (the United States should abandon the civilian population of Iraq to Islamic Fundamentalism and sectarian violence, if that means destroying our future credibility in the eyes of both our friends and our adversaries abroad): OR, do you think (the United States should keep its word and implant stable and democratic government in Iraq, even at the cost of US military casualties)?

the poll results would be quite different.

Mr. Broder’s polls never can produce anything resembling a mandate. They only represent propaganda, typically created by dishonest and dishonorable advocates.

The only opinion polls which count occur officially and in November. The last election was inconclusive, as are the war’s current results.

Members of the left and its allies in the punditocracy looking for a mandate for surrender, withdrawal, and defeat need to look for it in the results of the 2008 election, and stop claiming that they already possess it.

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