Thursday, January 16, 2014

The Reality Based Community

Back during the Bush administration, Ron Suskind reported a conversation with an unnamed Bush aide who purportedly described Suskind as part of the reality based community, as opposed to the Bush people who were creating their own reality. The line was picked up and extensively repeated by people hostile to Bush and delighted to identify themselves as part of the reality based community, in contrast to him and his supporters.

It occurred to me at the time that there was a small problem with their position. The only evidence for the quote was the report by Suskind, obviously a hostile source, and he did not even identify the person he claimed to be quoting, making it impossible to check his story. Those who took his account as gospel demonstrated, by doing so, that their beliefs were based on what they wanted to believe, not on what they had good reason to believe. 

Or, in other words, that they were not part of the reality based community.

Someone recently pointed me at a piece by Jacob Weisberg, editor-in-chief of the Slate group and author of a book on the Bush administration, that supports my suspicion. By his account, based mostly on what Suskind wrote more recently about the Obama administration:
at this point, Suskind should no longer be treated as a "controversial" journalist as much as a disreputable one. His fellow journalists no longer trust him. Readers shouldn't either..

P.S. On the subject of whether or not the left half of the U.S. political spectrum is the reality based community, I cannot resist one piece of evidence I recently came across:
"What we do know is the temperature around the globe is increasing faster than was predicted even 10 years ago."
(Obama in 2012 press conference)
The actual data, courtesy of the NOAA


Marcel said...

I hate these comments but... the link is broken.

Brandon Berg said...

I just had exactly the same thought about a week ago, i.e. the irony of the fact that the term "reality-based community" is derived from an apocryphal story.

dWj said...

I always had the impression that the term was supposed to echo (and contrast with) the "faith-based community" of which Bush was fond of extolling. (I had not been aware of its supposed origins within the White House itself.)

Anonymous said...

Hi David. On balance, your recent blogging has been much harsher on Democratic politicians in general and the Obama administration in particular than upon Republican politicians in general and the Bush administration in particular. I know you try to avoid political punditry, but I'm genuinely curious about your views: Do you really have a hatred for Obama and the Democrats, or did I just happen to start following you before a random string of Democrat-hostile posts? Do you really think that Obama's presidency could ever turn out to be even half as terrible as Bush's was?

Anonymous said...

"Reality based community" humorously suggests that it's the opposite of a community of delusional people. That's why the phrase caught on, but of course that's not remotely what it means. The quote (whether real or not) was contrasting a conservative approach to foreign policy with an activist approach.

Anonymous said...

It's often the case that people who adopt titles such as 'realist', or 'rationalist', or 'skeptic' with too much self-congratulatory enthusiasm don't embody the virtues implied by them. For people to call themselves 'reality based' doesn't break this pattern.

David Friedman said...

I suppose I'm being harsh on Democratic politicians mostly because a Democrat is in the White House, but I think it's at least arguable that Obama has managed to be even a worse president than Bush.

Bush was worse on foreign policy, since he actually started substantial wars while Obama has only started a small one (Libya) and continued a sizable one (Afghanistan). But Obama managed to run an even bigger deficit, and expand spending more, than Bush, and I think the ACA is doing more damage than any of Bush's domestic policies I can think of. On issues such as transparency Obama has, I think, been worse than Bush, going to quite a lot of trouble to try to punish whistle blowers and reneging on various of his campaign promises about openness. And on the NSA question, I think Republican politicians have been mildly better than Democratic politicians, although both parties have people on either side of the issue.

I'm not sure how much weight to give to deliberate dishonesty, but it's at least possible that Bush really believed Iraq was working on weapons of mass destruction. It is not possible that Obama believed his many times repeated promise that if you like your health plan you can keep it.

It's to Obama's credit that he has permitted, perhaps encouraged, private space development. But then it was to Bush's credit that, in defiance of his own party, he took a generally pro-immigrant position. I wouldn't give a lot of weight to either of those, however.

susupply said...

Bush also cut marginal tax rates, held federal spending down to 20% of GDP, and had reduced the yearly deficit to under 2% of GDP (until the 2008 financial crisis hit).

He also overthrew two tyrannies; Stalin admirer Saddam Hussein and the religious fanatics in Afghanistan who used to execute homosexuals and adulters by stoning.

All of the above promoting freedom.

Tibor said...

Could you please give (below the picture, or here in the comments) description of the symbols in the graph?

I guess that the red columns are the real data, the black interval shaped columns are confidence intervals of the predictions based on a model from somewhere around 2002? And the blue line is a smooth function based on either the real data or the predictions? Is that right?

Anonymous said...

why is there no temp rise in 50s and 60s and 70s?

Anonymous said...

Obama managed to run an even bigger deficit, and expand spending more, than Bush

Bush ... reduced the yearly deficit to under 2% of GDP (until the 2008 financial crisis hit).

Umm... Do you have a source for those facts? According to my data, Bush took office with a nearly-balanced budget; deficits grew rapidly in his first several years, dipped slightly for a few years, then grew again, reaching an all-time (inflation-adjusted) peak in 2007-2008, most of which was before the financial crisis. The deficit doubled in 2008-2009, due to a combination of the financial crisis, Bush's attempts to fight it, and Obama's attempts to fight it. Deficits shrank rapidly for the next several years, and are now finally back below 2007-2008 levels. See here.

Tibor said...

Upon examination it seems that the blue line is a spline based on the projection rather than the real data. Still, is the study from 2002?

Anonymous said...

@gusgutosky:i think that for many libertarians the opinion about reps vs dems is roughly in accordance with the famous tray parker(creator of south park) quote: ''"I hate conservatives, but I really f#$&*g hate liberals.''