Last month Arnold Kling wrote a great post:
The following thought occurred to me recently. Suppose we look at writing on issues where people tend to hold strong opinions that fit with their ideology. Such writing can
(a) attempt to open the minds of people on the opposite side as the author
(b) attempt to open minds of people on the same side as the author
(c) attempt to close minds of people on the same side as the author
So, think about it. Wouldn’t you classify most op-eds and blog posts as (c)? Isn’t that sort of pathetic? …
I think that’s right, and worth remembering when writing to persuade. More importantly, he wrote about Tyler Cowen:
Tyler is good at paying attention to the strongest arguments of those with whom he disagrees. Focusing on weaker arguments instead is a classic (c) move. …
That is exactly right, and it’s the antithesis of partisan politics. It’s the primary reason I despise partisanship.
With the new perpetual election season, but specifically the imminent 2012 election, we’re stuck with this. The current example is Rush Limbaugh pretending that the villain in the new Batman movie, The Dark Knight Rises, is a liberal swipe at Mitt Romney because the character’s name is Bane, which is similar to Bain, the venture capital firm Romney ran. So, Limbaugh is a radio DJ who said something obviously ridiculous. Therefore, we get to indict Republicans for believing this.
To believe that Bane is a Hollywood conspiracy to elect Barack Obama, you’d have to believe that Bane co-creators Chuck Dixon, Doug Moench, and Graham Nolan* (COINCIDENCE?!?!?!) anticipated prior to Romney even announcing a run for public office that Romney would eventually win the GOP primary in 2012, or that Christopher Nolan, anticipating all of this, chose to pick a villain whose name sounds like the company Romney used to work for. On the other hand, if you’re the kind of Republican who believes Barack Obama’s parents placed a fraudulent birth announcement in a Hawaii newspaper in order to shore up his claim to American citizenship in the event he might someday run for president, this probably doesn’t sound like the dumbest thing ever.
Rush Limbaugh is estimated to have around 15 million listeners. Fifteen million.
If you’re that kind of Republican, of course you’re that gullible. But if you’re that kind of person, you’ll believe anything your partisan friends spew. You want to believe. That’s powerful in hiding the truth.
Even if we assume all 15 million listeners of Limbaugh’s program believe every stupid thing he says, we’re left with 294 million Americans who don’t listen to him. Are they all Democrats? If so, President Obama has nothing to worry about. If not, then presumably the goal is to convince the non-Democrats that President Obama is the best choice. Using this as a tool for anything other than mocking Rush Limbaugh is focusing on the weaker arguments.
It’s also worth asking whether or not it’s possible to find 15 million Democrats who believe stupid, irrational nonsense about Republicans.
P.S. The Limbaugh transcript should get this treatment.