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Sunday, June 12, 2005

U 2 can B smart if U read The New York Times Magazine

Jeffrey Rosen sports degrees from Harvard, Oxford, and Yale, and he's a tenured Professor of Law at The George Washington University Law School. His short biography on that law school's website reveals that he's the legal affairs editor of The New Republic, and he's a contributor to The New York Times Magazine, The Atlantic Monthly, and The New Yorker (where he has been a staff writer). Clearly, this is a man so smart that he can choose to work and write only for institutions that include a capitalized indefinite\*/ article as part of their names. I almost feel like I should refer to him as "The Jeffrey Rosen."

Prof. Rosen's latest effort is in today's The New York Times Magazine. In an essay called "Center Court," Prof. Rosen takes this data for his premise:

An independent poll conducted by Quinnipiac University found that 55 percent of respondents thought the filibuster should be used to keep unfit judges off the bench, as opposed to 36 percent who thought it should not... [And i]n the days before [what Prof. Rosen earlier has described as "the compromise reached by a bipartisan group of senators last month that defused, or at least delayed, a showdown on judicial filibusters"], a CBS News poll found that 68 percent of respondents said that Congress ''does not have the same priorities for the country'' as they do. By contrast, the Quinnipiac poll found that a 44 percent plurality approved of the way the Supreme Court is handling its job.

Now, although I never have attended Harvard, Oxford, or Yale, I do claim to have heard of them before. But I'm certain that it must be some deficit in my own education which prompted my puzzlement over Quinnipiac University. The power of Google has permitted me to learn this morning that Quinnipiac is "a community of more than 8,000 students, faculty and staff located in Hamden, Connecticut." And in the case of CBS News' poll in particular, I'm reminded of a bit of wisdom that I'm told is a part of the core curriculum at Harvard, Oxford, and Yale: "Even a blind hog can sometimes find an acorn." So let us presume and stipulate for purposes of my own essay this afternoon, gentle readers, that Quinnipiac University and CBS News are both trusted and respected institutions whose polling results, as quoted and compared by Prof. Rosen, may safely be taken as gospel — a sound basis from which to draw profound conclusions about the current state of the American polity, including its public's opinions of and relations to various branches of its federal government.

For that is what Prof. Rosen has done. He writes (boldface mine):

[I]t would seem that, on balance, the views of a majority of Americans are more accurately represented by the moderate majority on the Supreme Court, led in recent years by Justice Sandra Day O'Connor, than by the polarized party leadership in the Senate, led by Bill Frist and Harry Reid. Congressional Republicans and Democrats are pandering to their bases, wooing conservative or liberal interest groups that care intensely about judicial nominations because they're upset about the current direction of the Supreme Court. Meanwhile, the country as a whole seems to be relatively happy with the court and appears to have no interest in paralyzing the federal government over a confirmation battle that would do little to affect the court's overall balance — a battle that is likely to take place this summer if Chief Justice William Rehnquist steps down.

How did we get to this odd moment in American history, when unelected Supreme Court justices are expressing the views of popular majorities more faithfully than the people's elected representatives?\**/

And he restates his conclusion a few paragraphs later, in case you missed it the first time:

[T]he conservative interest groups have it exactly backward. Their standard charge is that unelected judges are thwarting the will of the people by overturning laws passed by elected representatives. But in our new topsy-turvy world, it's the elected representatives who are thwarting the will of the people, which is being channeled instead by unelected judges.

Well, golly. This struck me at first as more than just a little bit odd, momentary or not. As I once heard the Chancellor of Harvard University say (or maybe it was the Dean of the Yale Law School), "I never woulda thunk it!" But lookie at Prof. Rosen's proof, friends and neighbors: not one, but two — two! — polls. One of them has a "plurality" — and that sure sounds to me like a bunch.

(I'd have looked up that word "plurality" on Google, but I got distracted by a sidebar in Prof. Rosen's article that quotes the results of another poll, this one by some outfit called Gallup, which sez that 16% of the public trusts the Supreme Court "a great deal," and 25% trust it "quite a lot." Another 38% trust it "some," sez this Gallup group. And 19% of Americans trust the Supreme Court "very little to none." This got me all confused into thinking that if you take five average Americans, two will give the Supreme Court a thumbs-up, and three won't. But I apologize for this diversion. Math isn't my strong suit, and certainly the clever editors of The New York Times Magazine wouldn't print a poll showing that the, umm, biggest single chunk (whatever that's called) of Americans only trust the Supreme Court "some" — certainly not in the very same article where Prof. Rosen has already proved that the Supreme Court and the whole danged American public are purty much exactly on the same wavelength.)

But the really important thing that Prof. Rosen has taught me from this logical exercise, gentle readers, is how you can take these poll results from Quinnipiac and CBS News and use 'em to prove even more. Now, I'm not quite sure how he gets there — maybe the editors trimmed out the math part — but Prof. Rosen warns us that if "the president and Congress may try to push the courts toward the extreme right to please their base," then

the Supreme Court, over the long term, could become just as much in the thrall of ideological extremists as the White House and Congress. And then the views of a majority of the American public might not be represented by any of the three branches of the United States government — an alarming prospect for the world's leading democracy.

I'm going to step way out of line here and criticize Prof. Rosen for one thing: He's figured out and proved, it appears, that the White House and Congress are "in the thrall of ideological extremists" and that neither of them represent the views of a majority of the American public! Now that's big news, it seems to me! It ought to be up at the top of his article, I'd say. And I think the editors of The New York Times Magazine should have left in the math parts where Prof. Rosen proves that a majority of the American voters last Nov. 2004 actually voted for John Kerry and the Democrats.

That leads me to one last thing I need to explain, though, so that Prof. Rosen's points will all be clear to you. You may have heard, from time to time, people talk about "polls" meaning those places where people vote in elections to pick presidents and senators and congressmen and such. Those aren't the same kind of "polls" that Prof. Rosen's article is based on. He uses the ones that really count — the ones from CBS News and Quinnipiac University. Don't get confused by that. If you'd been to Harvard, Oxford, and Yale and were a Professor of Law and wrote for all those "The" publications, you'd understand pretty much automatically that those "vote"-kinda polls, where everyone who's registered can cast a ballot, don't matter. And if you pay attention to them, you'll just get all confused, and then you won't understand that Sandra Day O'Connor and The Jeffrey Rosen know what you're thinking even better than you do.


\**/I don't want to give away here the surprise answer that Prof. Rosen's come up with to this question, but I'll give you a hint: It's mostly due to the efforts of a former exterminator from Sugarland, Texas. But don't worry, because The Terminator will save the day in the end.


UPDATE (Sun Jun 12 @ 4:30pm): Andy McCarthy makes the same points I did, and some more, but with way less snark.

Posted by Beldar at 01:32 PM in Humor, Politics (2006 & earlier) | Permalink


Other weblog posts, if any, whose authors have linked to U 2 can B smart if U read The New York Times Magazine and sent a trackback ping are listed here:

» Beldar Snarks from Patterico's Pontifications

Tracked on Jun 12, 2005 8:42:30 PM

» For All Your Jeff Rosen Bashing Needs... from Villainous Company

Tracked on Jun 19, 2005 6:07:31 AM


(1) zeppenwolf made the following comment | Jun 12, 2005 2:37:27 PM | Permalink

The Jeffrey Rosen must have a doctorate in working backwards from a conclusion ology.

Apparently most Americans support a constitutional right to partial-birth abortions... they just don't know it yet.

(2) Fred Newtz made the following comment | Jun 12, 2005 4:13:09 PM | Permalink

My question is how did "The" Jeffrey Rosen figure out what the 55% of respondents that thought the filibuster should be used to keep unfit judges off the bench meant by the term "unfit". Also, why won't someone give examples of radical right wing judges social deliberations that are out of the mainstream.

(3) vnjagvet made the following comment | Jun 12, 2005 5:34:22 PM | Permalink

Anuther exeample that intelugence don't = jujmint.

Aint that right huh?

(4) ed made the following comment | Jun 12, 2005 5:51:11 PM | Permalink


Clear and convincing evidence that intelligence is not a survival trait.

In other news I ran an informal poll of 1 out of 1 blog readers and discovered a 100% tendency to think the good professor is full of it.

That's unweighted of course. When I apply CBS News weighting system it turns out it's actually 55 out of 1 blog readers think the good professor is entirely on the money.

I'm certainly impressed.

(5) antimedia made the following comment | Jun 12, 2005 6:51:04 PM | Permalink

Advanced degrees are only proof on one thing - the ability to earn advanced degrees. The ability to think logically is another thing entirely.

(6) actus made the following comment | Jun 12, 2005 9:56:29 PM | Permalink

" Quinnipiac University"

They poll alot.

I do think at least on abortion jurisprudence, the court is very much in touch with a sizeable majority. Most people want some abortion legal, most people want some restrictions on late terms, and most people want exceptions for the life and health of the mother.

And I don't think these are narrow majorities.

(7) Patterico made the following comment | Jun 12, 2005 10:31:41 PM | Permalink


When did you last check the polls on partial-birth abortion? Or parental notification?

(8) LazyMF made the following comment | Jun 13, 2005 11:27:42 AM | Permalink

Beldar - If you would have been a proper University of Texas sports fan this month, you would have learned about Quinniapiac U over a week ago. Their baseball team came down to Austin for the NCAA baseball regional.

Poor Quinnipiac lost to UT by the score of 20-2, then followed the next day with a more embarrassing loss to Miami of Ohio by the score of 35-8 (that is not a football score).

The Bobcats were outscored by a whopping 55-10 margin in 2 games. No word yet on whether their pollsters are any better.

(9) ttyler5 made the following comment | Jun 13, 2005 1:15:00 PM | Permalink

Beldar, the liberal political minority is in the position of having to constantly "demonstrate" that the "majority" is "really" on its side, regardless of messy little details like GOP control of the White House, the Unite States Senate and the U. S. House of Representatives.

But don't you get it? Liberalism is a word game, based on the idea that we actually do create concrete reality through invocation.

(10) Dave made the following comment | Jun 13, 2005 1:18:26 PM | Permalink

I hate to sound snarky, but "The" is a capitalized definite article, not indefinite.

Quinnipiac does a lot of regional polling in the tri-state area. If you want polling data on Connecticut or New Jersey politics, they are a good place to go, but I suspect for a national question, their samples might skew a little Northeastern liberal.

(11) Steve Malynn made the following comment | Jun 13, 2005 1:40:46 PM | Permalink

By Prof Rosen's thinking, we should be Spartans:

"A new Gallup Poll just released of public condidence ratings shows that the written and televised press is enjoying all time lows in public confidence. Big business, the Congress, and HMO's fared even worse. Those having "a great deal" or "quite a lot" of confidence in various institutions were as follows;
74% The Military
63% The Police
53% Organized Religion
44% The President
41% Supreme Court
28% Newspapers
28% TV News
22% Big Business
22% The Congress
17% HMO's
Pretty sad, really. The most disturbing number that I see is the Supreme Court's confidence rating of only 41%. Time for some changes, I'd say."

Mark in mexico noticed, I cut & pasted http://markinmexico.blogspot.com/2005/06/low-expectations.html

When does the good professor call for the Generals to take over?

(12) Ben made the following comment | Jun 14, 2005 2:39:58 AM | Permalink

That's definite article. "A" is indefinite, "The" is definite.

(13) Doc Tarantula made the following comment | Jun 15, 2005 12:10:40 AM | Permalink

I like the first quote box.

2% is alot in politics

(14) Beldar made the following comment | Jun 15, 2005 3:32:55 PM | Permalink

Dave and Ben, duly corrected in the text. Thanks!

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