If you're like me, you get pretty infuriated when you see some Republican candidate say that health-care reform is the greatest threat to individual liberty since the Nuremberg Laws, when that same person was unconcerned about things that constitute actual threats to personal liberty, like warrantless wiretapping. Well it isn't just the politicians. Look at this remarkable graph from Gallup (via John Sides):
What happened to send the line for Democrats and the line for Republicans in opposite directions? Oh yeah -- a Democratic president took office.
This really shouldn't be all that surprising. Our partisan predispositions affect not just what we think about candidates, or about policy proposals, but how we think about the objective facts of the world. People rate the economy as doing better when their preferred party is in power, for instance. Elites also play an important role here -- they cue people as to what conservative or liberals are supposed to believe. And since Barack Obama got elected, Republican elites have been telling them that our freedom hangs by a thread.
But look at the line for independents. It hasn't moved at all. There's a lesson there for journalists. The next time you get an urge to say that the country is gripped by a belief that government is dangerously out of control and that it's threatening our freedom, remind yourself that the country is not in fact gripped by those beliefs. Republicans are gripped by those beliefs, and the fact that they're yelling them very loudly doesn't mean they're shared by everyone else.
-- Paul Waldman
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