Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Ruth Ann Dailey's contribution to C-D

Jeeze, I didn’t realize how long it had been since I posted here. And its late, so I can’t stay long …

My site meter reported no visitors last week. Can you hack site meters? Probably. Probably ticked someone off.

So, I have been commenting some on 2PoliticalJunkies on Ruth Ann Dailey’s columns about Nancy Pelosi’s plane. She’s done the two. I realized I really *had* to say something here about what she had written because it really is a pretty good example of cognitive dissonance. It started as a pretty juicy story in the Washington Times. Pelosi asking for a big converted 757 (I think) military plane to take her back and forth between DC and SF, and probably to ferry family and friends as well. Ruth Ann wrote a column, apparently based on a Washington Times piece, talking about this. Apparently the story unraveled a bit when the House Sergeant at Arms said that he had made the request, and the size of the plane was based on the need for a longer range given that the last Speaker’s (Denny Hastert) district is about half as far away. The Speaker of the House is, I believe, third in line of Presidential Succession. Now, Ruth Ann’s first column started with the notion that democrats are sometimes as corrupt as republicans. Not a bad notion, something that honest observers of politics should agree with, and indeed, a good reminder to liberal citizens to keep a sharp watch on the politicians they like, to help keep them in office. Ruth Ann also I believe quoted from the Washington Times about some statements/threats Jack Murtha might have made if Pelosi didn’t get her plane. I believe Murtha could have made the statements, he is increasingly striking me as a bit of a loose cannon. An important loose cannon, because of his status as a former democrat hawk and because of seniority, but still a loose cannon. Still, after Ruth Ann wrote the first column, the story seemed to unravel a bit.

The interesting thing was the second column, because at this point Ruth Ann had to admit that the facts were reported differently in several other media outlets. Even the White House had largely dismissed the story. What Ruth Ann did was to hold fast to her original viewpoint: “Close reading of all the news available, however, reveals that none of the reports cancels others out.”

Now, frankly, on 2PJ I expressed the opinion that the House Sergeant at Arms might be sucking up to the new Speaker, and I say this because I know savvy bureaucrats in fact to suck up to legislators, since the legislators tend to control purse strings. On the other hand, the common sense arguments about the Speaker being safer flying non-stop are pretty compelling. Now, is Pelosi likely to take constituents and family on this plane? If she can, but remember that Air Force One also takes people besides the President on trips, and the President routinely uses Air Force One to fly to fund raising events, something we are not likely to see the Speaker do with her airplane.

The thing is that Ruth Ann was unable to concede that the Speaker’s motives were in fact *not* political or corrupt, or perhaps that the Speaker had not even had motives since she was not one to ask for a particular type of plane. Ruth Ann had to explain away the behavior of the White House and what was said in virtually the entire main stream media in order to hold onto her view of Pelosi.

Richard Cottom introduced me to the idea of cognitive dissonance and perceptual motivation in political behavior. In one example, Cottom expressed it in terms of people’s individual realizations that though they had considered themselves part of the fight against communism for more than two decades, one by one they realized the war in Vietnam had nothing to do with that fight (or at best very little). They had explained every action of the Vietnamese (and us) in cognitively dissonant ways, everything tracking back to Moscow (and our needing to destroy Vietnam in order to save it). Eventually, though, Americans simply ran out of ways to look at that fight in the cold war context. Ruth Ann’s second column was like a flashback to the conservative holdouts in the Vietnam war era, the people who said that just because the facts were contradictory didn’t mean that it wasn’t Moscow behind the scenes, or that we weren’t the good guys. Of course, this brings up an unwanted sense of déjà vu. Apparently we couldn’t have won Vietnam, yet if we somehow had, would America have been as disillusioned in the Seventies (or as Dazed and Confused)? If we were actually winning in Iraq, would the democrats have done as well in the ‘06 midterms?

All that aside, Ruth Ann’s second column is as naked an example of cognitive dissonance as I have seen recently. A fine lesson and a cautionary example for us all.

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