Most politicians are shockingly ignorant

Matt Yglesias writes this as an apology to Mike Pence, because he had originally thought Mike Pence was a moron and found out that he’s one moron in a chamber full of them. It’s not that these people aren’t smart, it’s that the way they see their jobs gives them little incentive to actually know anything about policy.

I don’t thikn he’s totally right about the staff thing though. If your staff knows things, that doesn’t mean you know things and it certainly doesn’t mean you understand anything. Matt Yglesias didn’t become a policy wonk by hiring a staff. None of our best Dopers have a staff. The purpose of a staff isn’t to teach you things and I thikn it says a lot about how bad things are that we’re resigned to politicians beingless knowledgable than your average Doper.

“Not being set up for individual members to be well-informed.”

I should be pointed here that the Republicans under Newt Gingrich made a lot of that current setup possible.

IIRC Newt later claimed that the reason was that it was not needed to have an internal group to analyze issues that involve science, because they now could find their own experts furnished by the interest groups they consult.

What could go wrong? :smack::smack::smack:

I agree with Holt there, but that’s not knowledge either. Looking something up doesn’t make you understand anything. True understanding of issues comes from being involved with and thinking about those issues, often outside the box, for years. We elect older people to office because presumably their lives have involved learning about these things. Instead, they rely on 20 year old staffers.

He was a scientist too so I would think he had knowledge. :slight_smile:

The point as Iglesias said is that:

Knowing how inadequate that framework is it means that there should be offices that would help reduce that ignorance in congress. Because unless we become a technocracy we will continue to have congress critters that are ignorant and with staffers that are also.

No, Rush Holt has knowledge. He’s one of the genuine geniuses in Congress.

But that won’t make much of a difference because they don’t CARE. Being knowledgeable does nothing for their political career. Serving the interest groups they need to please in their district or state is where their expertise lies. There are some exceptions. We call them “mavericks”.

BTW, before this was as important as it is now noted, staffers and even congress people had a chance to ask questions directly to the experts in the science office. They got direct explanations about issues dealing with science.

One reason why the Republicans did not like it is that many times they did not confirm the biases they were bringing with the Newt revolution. So Newt and others decided to vote for ignorance. And then we started going on this path in congress. And the rest is history… that should not had been there but thanks to ideology.

As I saw once an expert that was interviewed for the Ebola emergency say: “eventually politics has to yield to science”. Following interest groups has limits when the use of the manufactured contrarian information from lobbyists does harm to all.

But do you think that Congresspeople have the amount of time to discuss the issues on message boards that the average Doper does? We may know more intricacies about issues not because we’ve done the grunt work and research, but because we all bring our areas of expertise together and someone who is an expert in a field may make an argue and cite a website, giving us information we wouldn’t normally have…

Hmmm… that kinda sounds like what Congressional staff does ;).

You can’t be universally knowledgeable. You can’t be deeply knowledgeable on more than a handful of issues. There simply isn’t enough time in a day. Congress has never been a cadre of subject matter experts, not at any time in its history.

I’m doubtful about how much of an expert Matt Yglesias is on those issues you consider him a policy wonk on. I used to read him regularly when he was at Slate. He had strong opinions, but I disagreed with much of what he said, not on ideological grounds but because they were poor, half-thought-through remedies.

He only has one thing to do with his time. Congress is supposed to deal with hundreds or thousands of the most complicated issues in the world. You expert better of them than him?

GIGObuster is correct. Congress had better internal non-partisan sources of information at one time. They were eliminated because reality has a liberal bias. Non-partisan facts are normally antithetical to conservative ideology. If you don’t like what Congress has become, look in a mirror.

Congressmen have something much better than message boards:

  1. Life. In 40-60 years, these folks should have learned an awful lot, both from their usually high level of education and also with valuable life experiences and their careers. I just don’t get how so many of these folks come in as mostly blank slates. Oh wait, they are often lawyers who didn’t even practice. They have no life experience worth talking about, they have no career experience other than politics. But in theory, there are a lot of people who could bring a ton of valuable knowledge into Congress: teachers, police officers, accountants, IT professionals, military, doctors, financial experts, scientists, etc. Very few politicians come from those backgrounds.

  2. Study. A lot of people love learning stuff. I would hope that the next generation of politicians actually has spent a lot of time on discussion boards like this one, writing a blog, and being kept up at night because you just thought of a way to fix the Agriculture Department and you can’t wait to flesh it out more fully and run it by people who are also interested in how to fix the Agriculture Department. And when they explain to you why your idea sucks, you’ll learn a lot of new things you didn’t know in that process.

That’s a great point too. But there are some things you HAVE to know to be a good legislator, and the example Yglesias points out, “moral hazard”, is one of them.

Well yeah, because he’s a young guy and most smart young guys think they are smarter than they are. But that quest for knowledge leads to real understanding down the road, which is why Matt Yglesias at 50 would probably make a heck of a Senator. What will actually happen is he’ll be a staffer, because if you have brains that’s what you do in Washington. Or go work for a think tank.

That’s part of it, but the other part is simply that most Congressmen probably didn’t care. Knowing about science doesn’t win you votes. Knowing that there’s a lot of anti-vax sentiment in your district is important though. The other part of that is that one doesn’t have to UNDERSTAND the views of your constituents, you just need to know what they are. Most scientific subjects cannot be legislated on simply based on a report you got from some experts. It’s better than nothing, to be sure, but aside from Rush Holt, no one’s going to read one of those and actually be able to write a climate change plan the next day. And even Democrats aren’t interested in a scientific climate change plan. Democrats are interetrd in a climate change plan that works POLITICALLY.

Another aspect of REAL knowledge is knowing who to ask and what questions to ask. An ignorant person might say, “Okay, I want to fix climate change, I’ll consult climate experts.” A person who actually knows what they are doing will say, “I need to consult climate change experts, then I need to consult economic experts since we’re trying to change economic incentives here and we don’t want to hurt the economy, then I need to consult government experts to see what challenges will be faced in implementation.” And that’s just what I know and I’m a dumbass who just reads and thinks a lot. I’m sure there are a lot more people who need to be consulted that I’m not thinking of. Oh yeah, such as “how did climate change plans in other nations work?”

A Congresscritter could do worse than to have a staffer or two who were covert members of the Dope, lurking or initiating topics. Of course, they’d have to be Democrats…

$2.5M is petty cash. It’s sad that they couldn’t open the purse-strings that little bit.

Now that is a bit ignorant indeed. The IPCC has gone for advising us to not go cold turkey, and not just for political reasons, but because they do not want to sent us back to the stone age indeed.

Too bad that the Republicans in congress do think that the whole thing is a hoax.

Regardless of the Democrat plans, even scientists do know that the weakest link are the Republicans that are in the way of effective legislation.

If you were aware of what is going on, you should know that the Republicans avoid to ask the proper experts at all the levels you mentioned.

Even economic experts are willfully ignored. In the next link William D. Nordhaus who later became president of the American Economic Association had to explain how misinformers got his study wrong. Misinformers that BTW have been found more often than not to be paid shrills by conservative think tanks helped in turn by fossil fuel money. Many of those have been used by Republican congress people as “experts” in congressional hearings no less.

Could you explain your point in one syllable words? I don’t understand what you’re saying or even what you think you’re trying to say.

Politicians prioritize poiltics even when they know better.

You cannot learn enough about issues just by consulting people or Googling, no matter how good the sources.

That is why there are experts out there. The problem is when a politician denies even that reality and thinks that science is just pick and choose an “expert”. And then one should wonder if that kind of congress does represent what even their constituents do want.

But that’s why the pick and choose “experts”. If your knowledge of basic scientific principles wouldn’t win you $1000 on an episode of “Are you Smarter than a 5th grader”, then you have no way of analyzing the information you get.

What about knowledge of transportation issues? Of infrastructure issues? Of trade issues? Of banking issues? Of gun issues? Of abortion issues? Of poverty issues? Of education issues? Of budgets and national defense and terrorism and ecology and farm subsidies and Native American reservations? Repeat ad nauseum for the several thousand issues that Congress must deal with.

Of course politicians prioritize politics. Have you just suddenly realized it? Has something just changed in reality? That’s why I’m asking you what your point is. What world have you been living in? Why are you saying this now?