As featured on p. 218 of "Bloggers on the Bus," under the name "a MyDD blogger."

Monday, May 18, 2009

A Poll Is Not Written In Stone

Chris Cillizza is adept at regurgitating conventional spin, taking a GOP poll to adjudicate the torture question on behalf of the citizenry:

Even as the debate over the treatment of terrorism suspects during the Bush administration continues to roil political Washington, a new poll conducted for Resurgent Republic suggests that the American people -- including politically critical independent voters -- by and large support the use of "enhanced interrogation techniques" on suspected al-Qaeda operatives.

Asked whether such tactics were justified, 53 percent of the overall sample said they were and 34 percent said they were not. While Democrats strongly opposed the use of these controversial methods and Republicans strongly supported them, independent voters were slightly more divided than partisans of each side, with 51 percent expressing support for the tactics and 31 percent opposing them.

On the question of whether such techniques have yielded information that has made the country safer, 52 percent of all respondents said they had while 39 percent said they had not. Independents' views on the issue mirrored the overall sample, with 51 percent saying the tactics had made the country safer and 39 percent saying they had not.

Jamison Foser finds the flaw - "enhanced interrogation techniques" is a buzz-phrase designed by conservatives to absolve conservatives of torturing. And the wording of these questions would be laughed out of any serious polling outfit. It amounts to asking "Would you punch a bully to save your child?"

But what we've seen over the past several years is that Democratic strategists view polls as immutable realities that cannot be changed through bold messaging and opinion leadership. As Digby notes, Democrats are stuck in decade-old pathologies that they shouldn't apply to the current political landscape:

...these national security issues accrued to Republicans' benefit earlier in the decade but that Iraq eroded peoples' confidence in them on the issue. I'm not sure that Democrats have ever fully absorbed that last fact, because it does seem that they are running scared on this because of the polling. This poll, of course, is self-serving, but other polls have shown independents giving at least a slight majority in favor of torture, which has Democrats in a panic. But then they have been scared to death of the conservatives on national security going all the way back to Truman and "who lost China" through Johnson and Vietnam to Clinton and DADT to Iraq and now --- torture. It's a political pathology that's so ingrained they can't even take a stand against torture for fear the Republicans will make the American people believe they're wimps.

Of course, the traditional media in DC actively aids the GOP in this "game of chicken" by both promoting these polls to give Democrats a Pavlovian response, but just shutting down any talk of accountability by repeating over and over that Democrats ought to be worried by what comes out of an investigation. Their thumbs are on the scale because of their OWN culpability in all of this, and the threat that their establishment buddies could go down in a real torture investigation. They don't want their presumptions challenged.

Matt Yglesias argues that this strategy to shut down any investigation could backfire, since now Nancy Pelosi has a more forceful reason to move forward on one. And Digby later holds hope that the conventional wisdom could be upset by dogged investigations in the independent media. Jonathan Landay at McClatchy has become the Woodward and/or Bernstein of this story, and his drip, drip, drip of articles could spark things.

I'm not optimistic. Because a real investigation would require top Democrats to read those polls and actually look at them as something they can move rather than something they can't. I don't believe they have it in them. Happy to be wrong, however.

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