Jonathan Chait

You'll Never Guess Today's Wehner Fallacy Winner

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It's repeat winner Pete Wehner! I assure you that the staff of Jonathan Chait is scouring the internet daily for non-Wehner applicants. But nobody seems to be able to compete with the master himself, who writes today:

The big difference between now and 1994 is that Democrats have Obama instead of Clinton as the head of their party. And that may turn out to be very bad news for Democrats. The Democratic party is in worse shape now than it was at a comparable period then. The mistrust of government runs deeper. The anti-incumbent tide is stronger. And the public uprising is greater.

The Clinton years and Bill Clinton’s undeniable political gifts are looking better and better to Democrats with every passing week.

Democrats indeed have got Obama, and they have Obama’s agenda as well. Could the political millstone be any heavier?

So Wehner's thesis is that mistrust of government runs higher now because the unpopular Obama, rather than the beloved Clinton, is head of the party. First, let's consider Obama's role in fostering public mistrust of government. As it happens, political scientist John Sides has just put together a graph correlating this phenomenon with economic conditions:

Sides writes:

People trust government when times are good. They don’t trust it when times are bad. ... The relationship is striking. The economy explains about 75% of the variance in trust.

Now, as Sides notes, the economy doesn't explain 100% of public trust toward government. So maybe having Obama rather than Clinton is part of the problem. But a very recent Pew survey refutes this assertion, too:

opinions about Barack Obama are not nearly as negative as were views of George Bush in 2006 and are somewhat better than opinions of Bill Clinton were for much of 1994. Currently, slightly more voters say they think of their vote as a vote for Obama (24%) than as a vote against him (20%). Throughout most of 2006, roughly twice as many said they were voting “against” Bush as “for” him. And in three surveys during the fall of 1994, slightly higher percentages said they thought of their vote as against Clinton rather than for him.

The good news for Wehner is that there are still several fields of social science that have not produced any work directly refuting his claims in the last few days.

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