27 April 2011

Is That So?

Thomas Sowell makes a claim:
Why has Trump surged ahead of other Republican candidates and potential candidates in the polls? It is not likely that his resurrection of the issue of Barack Obama's birth certificate has aroused all this support.
The birth certificate issue does more political damage to Obama's critics than to the president himself, because it enables the media to paint those critics as kooks. Nor are Donald Trump's political positions such as to create a stampede to his cause. [Emphasis added.]
I respect and admire Dr. Sowell.  Indeed, he’s the reason I’m an economist, and I’ve found his work to be profound and thought-provoking.  However, he appears to have made an error in his thinking.  Namely, he asserts that “the media” holds the key to political success or failure.  There are two problems with this assertion.

First, he uses “the media” too generally to be correct.  There are various forms of media with a plethora of viewpoints.  Specific members of each medium will vary in bias and approach, and so lumping them together is simply disingenuous.  One member of the media, World Net Daily, has been prominent in bringing up Obama’s birth certificate issue.  There are others as well.  Thus, “the media” as a whole does not paint Obama’s critics as kooks.

Second, America is nominally a democracy.  What “the media” thinks is nowhere as relevant as what actual voters think (be they legal or otherwise), at least in terms of “political damage.”  (This is especially true in light of the fact that American elections are decided by secret ballot.)  The only political damage that matters in America is elections.   As such, Dr. Sowell should be concerned with what actual voters think about those who criticize Obama over the birth certificate issue.

As it stands, Dr. Sowell’s assertion that the birth certificate issue does more damage to Obama’s critics is false, at least for the reasons given.  In fairness, though, it should be noted that the reasons he gives for Trump’s success appear to be correct (or, at least not obviously incorrect).  Ultimately, what Dr. Sowell should have asserted is that criticizing Obama is not the only possible explanation for Donald Trump’s current political popularity.  This would be a legitimate assertion that would allow him to bring up other reasons for Trump’s success, which was the whole point of the article anyway.

(Addendum:  Vox has an explanation as to why the assertion that criticizing Obama over his birth certificate paints said critics as kooks is false.)

UPDATE #1: Obama has released his alleged long-form birth certificate.

UPDATE #2: Karl Denninger analyzes Obama's alleged long-form birth certificate.


  1. An alternative reason for Trump's popularity: He conveys the image of a straight shooter not afraid to buck the party line.

    Doesn't mean I like him, but I do find his unafraid polemicism to be refreshing.

    "Namely, he asserts that “the media” holds the key to political success or failure."

    I dunno. The fourth estate has a huge amount of power to control the flow of the information that goes out to the public. While their power has weakened in recent years, due to the rise of the blogosphere, I think the bulk of the citizenry still get their news and opinion from the boob tube.

    Is there any doubt that nearly all of the MSM was in the tank for Obama in 2008?

  2. I think Dr. Sowell winds this debate. The birth certificate got released today, and all the "birther" politicians just took a blow to their credibility.

  3. @EW- There is no doubt that the MSM was in the tank for Obama. However, Dr. Sowell's assertion was concerned with "the media." The "MSM" is not equivalent to "the media." There is too much variance in the media to claim that the media acts as a single entity. Additionally, do you really think that McCain would have beaten Obama if it weren't for the media?

    "Doesn't mean I like him, but I do find his unafraid polemicism to be refreshing."

    That's because everyone loves an alpha male.

  4. @anonymous- please be so kind as to link to an article that provides hard data demonstrating how "birther" politicians are worse off politically as a result of Obama releasing his birth certificate.