Republicans Old and New

It’s been a long time since I’ve heard much about former President Gerald Ford, and I’ve tended to consign him to the bad old days of pre-Reagan Republicans. But, as Blog of the Week Betsy’s Page notes, Ford, at 92, is standing by his former Chief of Staff and Secretary of Defense, Donald Rumsfeld. The AP quotes President Ford’s statement:

Allowing retired generals to dictate our country’s policies and its leadership would be a dangerous precedent that would severely undermine our country’s long tradition of civilian control of the military.

It would discourage civilian leaders at the (Defense) Department from having frank and candid exchanges with military officers. And, today, at a time of war, such an effort sends exactly the wrong message both to our troops deployed abroad and to our enemies who are watching for any signs of weakness or self-doubt.

Ford correctly diagnosed, I think, the cause of dissension on the part of seven (or possibly even more!) out of 7,000 retired generals:

[President Bush] knew that Don, who had been in the job before, was extremely well-suited to take on this challenge and contend with a bureaucracy that has a built-in resistance to change. The president knew that successfully carrying out these missions, against stiff resistance, takes someone with a certain amount of steel.

Well done, Mr. President.

Betsy’s Page also comments on a study that purports to show that entry into a market by Fox News increased Republican voting between 1996 and 2000. The study concludes, somewhat hilariously:

Our estimates imply that Fox News convinced 3 to 8 percent of its viewers to vote Republican. We interpret the results in light of a simple model of voter learning about media bias and about politician quality. The Fox News effect could be a temporary learning effect for rational voters, or a permanent effect for voters subject to non-rational persuasion.

Given that the researchers are from Berkeley and the University of Stockholm, those comments about “rational” voters are not surprising. I would draw, though, a somewhat different lesson. Let’s accept the authors’ unsubstantiated claim that their study somehow evaluated “media bias.” If you’ll remember, prior to the 2004 election a prominent Democratic pundit–who was it? One of our readers will no doubt remember–acknowledged that the media are liberal and favor Democrats, and estimated that this factor gives the Democrats a 15 percent advantage at the polls. He later recanted. But if it’s true that the introduction of a single non-liberal news source can sway 3% to 8% of its viewers (a sample much smaller than the entire voting population) then it is quite plausible that the overwhelmingly liberal tilt of all the broadcast networks, CNN, and virtually every daily newspaper and news magazine could produce a 15% advantage for the Democrats.


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