I wanted to comment briefly on a topic that came up during my appearance on VPR’s with Jane Lindholm this afternoon. At some point I referenced Gallup Poll data on Senator Leahy’s proposal to create a “Truth Commission” to investigate various facets of Bush’s handling of the war on terror. I noted that the data showed Americans were divided over how to proceed.
Here’s the Gallup Poll data I referenced.
Jane (who was a very gracious and well-informed host) quite understandably suggested that the data also showed that most Americans supported some type of inquiry into Bush’s handling of the war and terror. But that is not the same as saying 60% of Americans support ANY type of investigation into Bush’s handling of these issues. As longtime readers of this blog understand, polling data like this has to be interpreted with care. In particular, we need to be careful not to collapse answers into one category when they are providing different response options. In this case, we can’t infer that those who support Leahy’s “middle way” of investigation by an independent panel would automatically opt for a criminal investigation if the Leahy option was removed. It’s quite possible that, given a choice between a criminal investigation or no investigation at all, that at least some of these respondents would prefer no investigation at all. And that’s why I think it is a mistake to suggest that some 60% of Americans support Leahy’s proposal, as some media outlets are suggesting. Given the time constraints, and the topic, I didn’t think it appropriate to clarify the polling data during the Vermont Edition segment. But you should be on guard for media outlets that interpret the data the way Leahy reports it in his own op-ed piece in Time magazine: “A recent USA Today/Gallup poll showed that more than 60% of Americans agree that investigating the failed national-security policies of the past eight years should be considered:” In fact, the Gallup question said nothing about “failed policies”. And the data could as easily be reported as 60% of Americans oppose criminal investigations into the Bush war on terror. As a general rule of thumb, it’s best not to say more than the polling questions has asked for.
The broader point I tried to make today is that beginning a search for “truth” with the presumption that Bush and/or his appointees are guilty of crimes is probably not going to produce much agreement, never mind reconciliation. This is not to say that Congress has no obligation to hold the executive branch accountable for past actions. But my guess is that there won’t be much support in Congress for Leahy’s proposal, particularly since members of Congress,including Democrats, were briefed on various parts of the War on Terror. Keep in mind that many of these issues have been already thoroughly debated, and others are currently subject to criminal proceedings and separate inquiries.
Careful listeners will note that Jane preempted my use of the word “cowbell” – clearly she peeked at the blog and was determined to beat me to the punch. I should send her a “It’s the Fundamentals, Stupid” t-shirt. As it was, I was so flustered I forgot to talk about her show as a radio “juggernaut”, and of course completely missed the obvious “the truth commission has the faint aroma of a political ploy.”
I’ll be on later tonight with an attempt to live blog Obama’s speech.