THE PLANK NOVEMBER 25, 2009
I don't normally read Victor Davis Hanson, who's a fruitcake even by the standards of National Review Online, but i was intrigued by the headline of his latest column, "The New War Against Reason." Hanson's thesis holds that, despite promising to heed science, the Obama administration has gone to war against empiricism. Since this is one of the few things the right has not previously accused Obama of doing, I thought I'd see what Hanson's evidence is. Here we go!
For decades, the government’s Bureau of Labor Statistics has maintained a rational, scientifically based, and nonpartisan system of reporting the nation’s “seasonally adjusted unemployment rate.” Presidents of both parties respected its metrics. Their own popularity sunk or soared on the basis of officially released jobless numbers, as tabulated and computed by the nonpartisan Bureau. The public trusted in a common standard of assessing presidential job performance.
The BLS is still releasing its monthly report, but alongside it the Obama administration has created a new postmodern barometer called jobs “created or saved.”
Over the last nine months, the official government website Recovery.gov has informed us how the stimulus has saved jobs — even as hard data reflected the unpleasant truth of massive and spiraling job losses.
In other words, not the real number of jobs lost, but rather the supposed number of jobs saved by Barack Obama’s vast dispersion of borrowed money, was to be the correct indicator of employment.
Ok. Hanson doesn't say that the Obama administration has suppressed or altered the BLS's calculation of unemployment. He charges it with creating another website that attempts to calculate how many jobs were saved by the stimulus -- a premise that is shared by the major macroeconomic forecasting firms. Hanson seems to further believe that this figure is intended as a substitute for the unemployment level, betraying an inability to grasp the distinction between the current unemployment rate and how many jobs were saved as a result of the stimulus. How can anybody not understand the difference between these two things? His chain of reasoning is just so wildly illogical you can't even refute it.
Hanson's second data point is that the Obama administration advocates the view that increased carbon dioxide emissions increase average global temperature:
These controversies could be adjudicated through substantive debate, but instead politically correct hysteria again has followed. “Good” informed people — like those who adhered to every doctrine of the medieval church — “know” the planet is heating up, thanks to the greed of carbon-based industry. “Bad” heretics challenge official environmental dogma and exegesis. In such an anti-empirical age, if the “truther” Van Jones had not been there, ready for Obama to tap as green czar, he would have had to be invented.
If you click through, there's a lot more fulminating against climate science, oddly dressed up as a defense of empiricism against superstition when it's actually the exact opposite.
I point these sorts of things out periodically because I think a lot of people, even people who follow politics very closely, fail to understand just how low the standard of conservative discourse is, even at mainstream outlets like NRO. The debate is just dominated by ignorant cranks. It's frightening that this is the intellectual movement that dominates one of our two major political parties.