by Will Wilkinson

Here is one of the most spectacular shifts in public opinion in our lifetime.


What explains this?

Don’t ask the psychologist and social scientists who study political opinion. They don’t know.

One family of influential theories says that our political opinions are “motivated” by certain deep-seated emotional needs. According to one version, the “system justification theory” of Jon Jost, variation in the need to justify the status quo distribution of goods and power in society determines whether one has a broadly liberal or conservative worldview. In other versions of the needs-based theory, our opinions are said to be fixed by the degree to which we are or are not dominated by a need to preserve comforting illusions, or, alternatively, the need to manage uncertainty and fear.

A related line of inquiry posits that variations in political opinion arise from ingrained differences in personality and moral sensibility. Jonathan Haidt’s “moral foundations theory” is probably the best-known. Variation on the six foundations of the moral sense explains whether you have a liberal, conservative, or libertarian cast of mind. All these theories imply that our “values” and corresponding political views reflect idiosyncrasies of personality more than material interests. Indeed, the current consensus view among political psychologists and public-opinion researchers is that, contrary to older tradition in economics and political science, self-interest explains very little about our political alignments and commitments.

What is often overlooked is that both old-fashioned self-interest theories and new-fangled personality-based theories of political opinion are pretty much useless in accounting for the sort of sea change in opinion captured by the chart above. Was there a wild change in people’s interests between 1996 and now? No. Did the distribution of personality types in the American population undergo a rapid transformation. No. It’s a lot simpler than that. People changed their minds.

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What Choice Did Sony Have?

Dec 19 2014 @ 3:20pm
by Dish Staff

Frank Rich feels that that Sony’s hand was forced:

We are witnessing, in Alan Dershowitz’s phrase, the “Pearl Harbor of the First Amendment.”

But this story is far bigger than the threat to the First Amendment. And the vituperation being aimed at Sony for canceling the film’s release — coming from both the left and the right — is a sideshow that misses a bigger point. Before Sony capitulated, every major movie theater chain in the country had pulled out of showing The Interview. The Wall Street Journal reported that the nation’s largest cable company, Comcast, would have refused to show the film — and no doubt would have been joined in this veto by all the other cable and satellite providers if Sony had considered such a distribution alternative. So if Sony canceled a film that couldn’t be shown anyway, was that a cancellation or just a certification of reality? If Sony is a coward, they all are.

Stephen Carter defends Sony and the theaters:

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Putin’s Pugnacious Presser

Dec 19 2014 @ 2:59pm
by Dish Staff

Dish alum Katie Zavadski graciously watched Putin’s annual three-hour press conference (yes, the above video is a trailer for a press conference) so the rest of us don’t have to:

Putin denied accusations that he is inciting a major international conflict in Ukraine, accusing the West — particularly the U.S. — of being in a pot-calling-the-kettle-black situation. “Our budget is $50 billion — the Pentagon budget is 10 times higher. Does anyone listen to us at all? Does anyone have a dialogue with us? No,” he said. “All we hear is ‘mind your own business.’ In the Ukrainian crisis I believe we are right and our Western partners are wrong.” …

But weighing most heavily on the minds of everyone in attendance was the ruble’s recent downward spiral. At the Wednesday low, one U.S. dollar was buying 79 rubles, though the free-fall appears to have stabilized. For some, Tuesday’s value drop called to mind a similar incident 20 years ago, now known as Black Tuesday. He attributed a significant portion of these ongoing economic woes to Western sanctions, introduced in part because of his annexation of Crimea. But the president also told Russians not to worry, assuring them that the economy would rebound. (Indeed, the ruble was up to 61 to a dollar during his address.) “Our economy will overcome the current situation. How much time will be needed for that? Under the most unfavorable circumstances I think it will take about two years,” he said.

Cassidy sizes up that forecast:

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What Does Cuba Mean For 2016?

Dec 19 2014 @ 2:42pm
by Dish Staff

Cuba Parties

Rand Paul came out in support of President Obama’s historic opening with Cuba yesterday, putting him at odds with his putative primary competitors:

“The 50-year embargo just hasn’t worked,” Paul said. “If the goal is regime change, it sure doesn’t seem to be working, and probably, it punishes the people more than the regime because the regime can blame the embargo for hardship. “In the end, I think opening up Cuba is probably a good idea,” he said.

The senator’s approach separates him from several potential Republican presidential hopefuls, including former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, Govs. Scott Walker of Wisconsin and Bobby Jindal of Louisiana and Paul’s Senate colleagues Marco Rubio of Florida and Ted Cruz of Texas. His more libertarian outlook could win him support in agricultural states like Iowa, which holds the nation’s first presidential caucuses. Paul’s comments also parallel those of Democrat Hillary Rodham Clinton, who wrote in her book “Hard Choices” that the embargo was a failure that gave the Castro regime “a foil to blame for Cuba’s economic woes.”

Kilgore expects Paul to pay a political price for that position:

Perhaps Paul is calculating that no one will care about Cuba policy by the time the 2016 nominating contest gets serious, and that could be true. But if, say, Marco Rubio is in the field, I don’t think Paul will be able to avoid the issue.

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Losing Your Faith In Santa, Ctd

Dec 19 2014 @ 2:20pm
by Dish Staff

Readers join Dish staffers in sharing their stories:

Around age 5, my father took me to the mall for some shopping and the ritual Santa visit. Whatever it was he needed to buy, the journey was unsuccessful on that front, and we traveled enhanced-buzz-13665-1354006755-0 directly to another mall to try again. Of course, there was at this second mall another Santa, one with somewhat different facial features and proportions. I quickly deduced these could not both be Santa, and, QED, Christmas was a fraud.

Pinned with the sudden outburst of my doubts, Dad didn’t miss a beat. “Well of course Santa can’t be at every mall,” he said nonchalantly. “He’s a busy guy, making toys. He has a lot of helper Santas he sends out to find out what people want for Christmas. They’re called ‘subordinate Clauses.'”

Maybe he’d been waiting his whole adult life to make that pun. Maybe it came to him in a brilliant flash. Needless to say I didn’t get it for many more years. But I bought the substance when it counted, and the benevolent illusion was preserved.

Not for this reader:

I believed in Santa until I was five or six. Then I learned about gravity, and I wasn’t sure how the sleigh could fly, since reindeer don’t have wings or jets. The more I thought about the logistics of Santa, the more they bothered me. How did Santa get around the world in one night? The Polar Express, which I loved, implied that he didn’t even get started until after midnight, and that made the whole thing seem even more implausible.

This story has an unexpected twist:

I have an older brother, by 3 years. As with most older brothers, mine delighted in ruining anything I believed in or liked.

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What Can We Do To North Korea?

Dec 19 2014 @ 1:58pm
by Dish Staff

Given how little trade most of the world does with North Korea, further economic sanctions aren’t really an option:

Trade North Korea

Peter Singer, mercifully, rules out war:

We didn’t go to war with North Korea when they murdered American soldiers ​in the 1970s with axes. We didn’t go to war with ​North Korea when they fired missiles over our allies. We didn’t go to war with ​North Korea when one of their ships torpedoed an alliance partner and killed some of their sailors. You’re going to tell me we’re now going to go to war because a Sony exec described Angelina Jolie as a diva? It’s not happening.

As Will noted, Chait recommends that the government make Sony whole. Ambinder disagrees:

I wondered online if Sony could argue somehow that it is too big to fail — that if the attack is tied to a country, then perhaps the company can be indemnified from lawsuits arising from its own alleged neglect. The answer is no.

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The End of Serial, Part Three

Dec 19 2014 @ 1:42pm
by Michelle Dean

Without Rabia Chaudry, a civil rights attorney in Maryland, there would have been no Serial. Chaudry is the family friend of Adnan Syed’s who approached Koenig about doing the story in the first place. She is personally convinced Syed is innocent, and had hoped Koenig would come to advocate for his release the way she had. At TIME yesterday, she recorded her disappointment with the way it played out instead:

A few weeks ago Koenig visited me do a follow-up interview. None of that interview made it into the remaining episodes, but at that time, and on the mic, she told me that after a year of investigating, she had failed to find a smoking gun. She found nothing that either condemned Adnan for certain, and nothing that exonerated him for certain.

It was not a punch to the gut, necessarily, but a quiet closing of a chapter that I had held open for 15 years. In the midst of the enormous coverage of the case and show, of hearty congratulations for staying on it, of lots of movement by the different teams of lawyers now working to help Adnan, I felt like a failure.

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by Dish Staff

Previous input from the in-tray here. Another reader gives a shoutout to Francis: “For the pope to be a broker for the deal makes the whole story even more interesting.” Another looks at the opening of Cuba with realist eyes:

There is no hypocrisy in maintaining normal relations with China, Saudi Arabia, and other violators of human rights while denying that status to Cuba. Saudi Arabia has lots of oil and a strategic position in the world producing world. It is a relationship of economic convenience, and both sides understand that. China offers huge trade opportunities, and in the beginning of our relationship, a counter to the Soviet Union. You have diplomatic relations with states when it is necessary and prudent.

Cuba offers nothing to the USA or its citizens other than another tourist destination, cigar, and rum. There are practically no consequences to US citizens for not normalizing relations other than opening up yet another Caribbean tourist destination, and providing access to cigars, and rum. Just because Cuba has not liberalized its society doesn’t make our foreign policy a “failure” any more than other nations who have diplomatic relations with Cuba “failed” to effect an opening.

I’m not opposed to ending the travel ban, but we should have gotten a lot more out of Cuba for normalizing relations. At a minimum, Obama should have required Castro to lift all restrictions for Cubans to have Internet access.

Update from a reader:

Normalizing relations doesn’t give us anything in terms of security? Really? Here’s a simple thought experiment: is it better to have friendly relations with neighbors or antagonistic relations with neighbors?

Another relates to Will’s criticism:

Just amazes me how the left romanticizes Cuba, even as it attempts skepticism. I just got off the phone with a friend from Cuba. Her family is sending a blood pressure machine to a relative in Cuba because none are to be found.

Another provides some family history:

Nothing steams me up more than one of the comments from your reader:

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Is Obama Due For A Comeback?

Dec 19 2014 @ 12:58pm
by Dish Staff

Earlier this week, Beinart made the case that Obama is bouncing back:

This year’s dominant storyline was about Obama and the midterm elections. Most key Senate races took place in red and purple states where Democratic candidates distanced themselves from Obama, thus magnifying the media’s perception that he was a political pariah.

Next year, however, the story won’t be 2014 but 2016. And the Democratic story, in all likelihood, will be Hillary Clinton’s march toward her party’s nomination. While Obama was certainly unpopular this fall in states like Kentucky, he remains quite popular among the liberal activists who play an outsized role in Democratic primaries. In fact, Obama retains a connection to many them that Hillary Clinton has never enjoyed. The closer she comes to the nomination, the more nostalgic some of those grassroots liberals will become about Obama. And this new context—Obama versus Hillary among Democratic activists—rather than Obama versus Alison Lundergan Grimes among Kentucky midterm voters—will cast him in a more favorable light.

That may be true, but Waldman isn’t expecting Obama to win the approval of many Republicans:

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“Stephen Colbert” Signs Off

Dec 19 2014 @ 12:40pm
by Dish Staff

A reader writes:

I didn’t know before I saw the episode last night that Andrew was going to be in the star-studded finale of the Colbert Report. When I saw him there, it felt like a friend had made it into the inner circle. I was more excited to see him than any of the other guests, like he was “one of us”. Just sending this because I wonder if other Dishheads felt the same way.

In his review of the series finale, James Poniewozik calls Colbert “America’s greatest, most genuine phony”:

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