Welcome to Behind the Lines, a weekly conversation with Salt Lake Tribune cartoonist Pat Bagley and BYU economist Val Lambson.
Lambson: A thought-provoking cartoon, if one cares to delve (and I know you do). No doubt, many ditto-heads listen to Limbaugh without thinking, and there are similar bird brains on all sides of politics. The issues are complex and we all have to rely on experts, who frequently disagree among themselves. We can’t all get PhDs in economics and geology and political science and international relations and so on and on and on. It has been said that most people have far more rational beliefs than if they thought for themselves and, further, an idea should not be held responsible for its proponents.
Bagley: Never has so much information been at our fingertips. The answer to almost any question is just a few key-strokes away. The best minds of ours, or any, generation are easily accessed with a click. The TED talks are a good example of the good that media can do — the brightest people in their fields sharing years of hard-won knowledge and experience. But enough high-mindedness, I need to get back to the real reason for the Internet: cat videos on YouTube.
Lambson: Arguments among economists in the professional journals are often subtle and require substantial investment in mathematics and statistics. The differences in conclusions can be enormous, yet economists are actually in agreement on most things. The arguments can be made quite intuitive to thoughtful people. On the other hand, wrong answers can also be made intuitive. I suspect other subjects are similar.
Bagley: The cat videos are winning out. In layman’s terms, what are you saying about Limbaugh and his traveling “take back America” snake oil show?
Lambson: I don’t listen to talk radio much, but my impression of Limbaugh is that he has at least a basic understanding of economics, that he is a Republican partisan, and that he is a very successful entertainer. These are not always consistent. I have heard him explain basic economic concepts, such as the unintended consequences of minimum wages, correctly and intuitively. This is a public service and contributes to expanding the debate beyond what it would otherwise be.
Bagley: Once in a while I listen as well and must respectfully disagree. Rush gets almost everything wrong. He was wrong about Iraq, he was wrong about Obama coming to take your guns, and he is wrong about Obamacare being “the largest tax increase in the history of the world.” Three and a half years ago he predicted that the stimulus would lead to 1920s German-style hyperinflation. Wrong again. Limbaugh may just be an entertainer, but the GOP dances to his tune. Being labeled a RINO (Republican in Name Only) by Limbaugh on national radio is a political death sentence for a Republican bold enough to get crosswise with The Great One.
Lambson: My goodness! What a lot of power you ascribe to one talk show host! I might point out that when two are dancing together, it can be difficult to determine who is leading. Incidentally, it is much too early for you to assume he is wrong on Obamacare. Government programs tend to grow far beyond initial estimates, and this promises to be no exception. And certainly a political cartoonist should allow a talk show host a little hyperbole!
Bagley: No one is actually going to think that Limbaugh is a bird based on my cartoon. Limbaugh’s listeners, on the other hand, accept his nonsense as gospel truth. Dittoheads are likely to believe that Obama is a dictator who has secret plans to destroy Christian America and impose sharia law. Talk about cartoonish. I have to say that I appreciate that you are careful with your facts. I only wish others, like Rush, would be as well.
Last weeks Top Comment was from slippast:
“The one thing the Republicans always have on the Democrats is a strong grasp of Public Relations. They fully understand the broadcast mantra that you should always make your statements simple, as if you’re speaking to a 5th grader.”