Tuesday, February 5, 2008

Political Position Tests

I love those tests that tell you where you fall on the political spectrum. I don’t necessarily take their conclusions as gospel. I find it interesting what they say about the test makers. The questions people choose to ask, and how they ask them, tells you a lot about how they view politics. It wasn’t hard to tell what my congressman was after when he’d poll us on questions like “Are you against wasteful government programs?” No, I’m for waste, give me all you got. It’s also easy to see the question doesn’t really address anything substantive, or allow for a full range of responses. Political questions are often like this, being variations of “have you stopped beating your wife?”, tacitly sneaking in any number of assumptions, the most basic being that the issue is important enough to be asked about. It was with this in mind I looked at the test on vote chooser, which was a fairly decent test with mostly reasonable questions, save two. Being on a Republican site, I thought it revealed much about the Republican mindset going into these most important elections, at least of the testmakers.

After asking if invading Iraq was a mistake, and whether and when troops should be withdrawn, came this:

“The people that need tax cuts most are:

Lower and Middle Class Americans
Middle Class Americans
Lower, Middle, and Upper class Americans (ie everyone) “

Now there is a question. Two things jump right out of that one. The middle class is in all three answers. Perhaps they should have been clear and asked “who, besides the middle class, deserves tax breaks?” And where is the response for “more taxes”? It continues to be one of the great ironies of modern American politics that the self-proclaimed “party of fiscal responsibility” is also the party that makes its unofficial party platform the notion that the income side of the equation is never to be increased. Those who would assert that government should be run like a business are going to run that business by never raising prices? That could lead to incredibly large debts, right? Oops.

America, especially the right wing, needs to understand that we are in an unprecedented financial crisis, and must face the reality that if we lower taxes, we will have to reduce government spending even more, and that means YOUR pet project. And if we aren’t willing to do that, then increased taxes it must be. So no pretending tax reductions are a given. FOUL!

The rest of the test covered the usual points, abortion, immigration, health care and education, before hitting us with this doozie:

”The best way to save the environment and gain energy independence is:

Giving companies more incentives to be energy efficient
Developing alternate energy sources
Both of the above
Allowing citizens to protect their land by suing polluters”

Um, gee, they completely left out the most direct route, stiffer government regulations on pollutants. Now to be clear, I’m not promoting more regulation as the answer. Government regulation is the rectal exam of politics: only done when no other alternatives exist, and I’m not convinced we’ve exhausted those other possibilities. But leaving such an option off an opinion poll is inexcusable. It seems some of my free-market brethren need a refresher on the tragedy of the commons. The free market deals very well with decisions where what is good for the individual is good for the group. But when what is good for the individual is bad for the group, the market fails us, and we need an outside body to intervene, and in our imperfect society, that body is government (and in the end, rebellious, grassroots force). The case of pollutants seems a classic example, where one individual’s polluted gain is everyone else’s loss. With whatever pollutant ceiling we have, the pie is indeed fixed.

Watch those test questions. If you want an answer that isn’t there, it isn’t you, it’s the test. Or rather, it is the test maker, attempting to get you to frame the question in your mind the way he wants you to.

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