No Need to Mind the Wonk Gap

The “wonk gap”… Until last night, I had not heard of this term, though I have often heard the idea it represents. It refers to the apparent gap between the number of political wonks (detail-oriented, informed, and apparently unbiased political analysts) who lean left and the number who lean right. According to Paul Krugman, who alluded to the term in a NY Times article titled (rather unimaginatively) “The Wonk Gap,” liberals have far more wonks on their side than conservatives do. He opined (fitting for an op-ed piece I guess) that the modern conservative movement retains its base of supporters through a highly effective—though irrational and baseless—program of propaganda. He writes:

Modern conservatism has become a sort of cult, very much given to conspiracy theorizing when confronted with inconvenient facts.

Krugman, however, did not come up with the term “the wonk gap.” He borrowed this term from an article—also entitled “The Wonk Gap”—[1] by Ryan Cooper. This article, focusing its ire entirely on the in-retrospect-it’s-pretty-obvious-this-guy-isn’t-the-right-candidate Mitt Romney climaxes with this flabbergasting pronouncement:

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. . . The right has us licked on the propaganda front. As I was saying before, when it comes to catchy slogans premised on their ideological assumptions (“job creators,” etc.), lockstep message discipline, and mind-numbing repetition, liberals just can’t compete.

I don’t know how he said that with a straight keyboard. Every one of the assertions he made concerning the conservative propaganda machine could be (and has been) turned right around and applied to the liberal propaganda machine. One example: Exactly what is “Hope and Change”? Is it not a catchy slogan premised on ideological assumptions[2] beaten into the public with mind-numbing repetition?

Perhaps the most hilarious thing about the wonk gap is how transparently both sides claim the gap is in their favor. Who got Obama elected? Oh, yeah: “low-information voters” who display a cult-like loyalty to their messiah despite all contravening facts.  This classic breakdown from Ace of Spades HQ sums it up quite nicely:

Liberals are forever congratulating themselves on how nuanced and complex their thinking is. Every time they fail in the marketplace of ideas, they excuse their failure by noting that they are engaging in lofty, arcane reasoning, and that their dreaded foes only won the debate because they trafficked in thuggishly simpleminded sloganeering. [Sound familiar?] . . .

This has always been a pretty stupid claim. The liberal argument is easily grasped by children, because it rarely includes the ideas of costs or tradeoffs. That’s why children and teenagers tend to be liberal in their thinking. Do you want to feed the hungry? Clothe the naked? Heal the sick? Boy do I!!! These are very simplistic propositions, and furthermore come from a place of pure emotion—empathy. Their is little intellectual thrust behind these impulses. And certainly there is none of the higher-order mathematical-type thinking involved in cost-benefit analysis and risk management and moral hazard and unintended consequences and the free-rider problem and so on.

So there you have it. Both sides are wonky. On that I can completely agree. But there isn’t a wonk gap, as far as I can tell, because a true wonk doesn’t choose sides. A true political wonk is an equal-opportunity critic. Krugman and Cooper certainly don’t fit that bill. Political pundits in general don’t. Because for most people busying themselves with politics, the whole point is coercion. And why would you need to bend someone’s ear with civil discourse when you could just twist his arm with civil force? True story.

  1. Which is why I said Krugman’s article was entitled unimaginatively. Sigh. []
  2. For example, that we needed hope and change because what came before was hopeless and in need of being changed. []

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About the author

Michael Minkoff

Michael Minkoff writes, edits, and typesets from his office in Powder Springs, Georgia. He honestly does not prefer writing about politics, but he sincerely hopes you enjoy reading about it. He also wonders why he is typing this in the third person.

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