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Department of Information--Who You Gonna Trust?

And hard on the heels of my post below on totalitarian leftists who want the government to establish our facts for us comes the news that Elena Kagan, when she was in the Clinton administration, wrote language for the supposedly independent, scientific ACOG to include in its statement on Partial-Birth Abortion. Their previous language wasn't politically useful enough for her in the abortion wars. ACOG adopted her suggested language, and their statement was then cited as that of lofty, independent, unquestionable scientific determiners of fact by courts in (at that time) striking down a partial-birth abortion ban.

Let's revisit these words, from a pretendedly "ironic" proposal for a Department of Information:

The federal government should create a Department of Information whose responsibility it is to determine the facts behind any decision that confronts our country. I know what you're thinking: This sounds like something that belongs in a totalitarian regime. But the reality is that someone has to decide on what is factual and what is not. So who can we trust to give us the most accurate information available? Big Business? Traditional media? The blogosphere? I certainly wouldn't trust any of them.

Though our government is far from perfect, it does exist, at least in theory, to serve the best interests of the American people. That's more than can be said for any other influences in our society; everyone else has a self-serving agenda.

Yep, that's right. Everyone else has a self-serving agenda. Just let Elena determine your facts.

Comments (9)

Oh, nice juxtaposition! It seems there is a part of government that everybody naturally distrusts (and which I'm sure Dr. Taylor couldn't have meant, even in a joking manner) and a part of government which is generally considered more trustworthy. I'm just saying this as a sort of cultural confession. As I'm thinking about it, it seems the dividing line is at the point of appointments in the executive branch. The bureaucracies generally seem to have a reputation for unbiased attempts at truth (although they also have a reputation for dreadful inefficiency). Think about it, there is a sort of idea of the boring government worker in the boring suit cranking out boring statistics. This stereotypical person is way too boring to be biased. The appointed levels and congress, on the other hand, have a well-earned reputation for dishonesty.

Is this characterization at all correct? Maybe partially, I don't know. But it does help to explain the lackadaisical responses to this story that I've seen on other posts which seem to imply that Elena was in the part of government which we expect to lie to us.

Yeah, but do we expect ACOG to lie to us? It was their blatant willingness tamely to allow their "expert" opinion to be written for them by a political hack that was really shocking. And they are exactly the sort of group that is supposedly trusted, as witness the subsequent use of their opinion by the courts.

Yeah, but do we expect ACOG to lie to us?

Aren't there plenty of such organizations who do? I'm disgusted but not shocked. I'm not even shocked that the truly revolting aspect of this is that Kagan and ACOG were blithely parsing words to provide a justification for the most depraved evil, in the same way that they might strategize concerning the wisdom of a line-item veto.

Perhaps I should not have said "we." I'm a cynic, too. And I would say in response to Justin Ennis's first remark that actually, there are _no_ parts of government that I consider generally more trustworthy.

Now, ACOG is not part of government. That's part of the point. It's not related to government in any way, shape, or form. It's supposedly a totally independent entity--a professional organization of obstetricians and gynecologists. (And please, let this count as a preemptive strike against what I've gathered is being spun out frantically by the liberal spin machine as equivalence in something or other the Bush administration did. Just bag it, liberal commentators. I'm not interested.) So, while I'm a cynic like Bill even on medical professional organizations, it's somewhat more understandable that their pronouncements were treated by the courts as, you know, the actual result of knowing medical facts rather than the result of an outright conspiracy with the Clinton administration to justify PBA. (And, yeah, I used the word "conspiracy," because in this case, you actually had people communicating back and forth, strategizing on how to make this work, including groups of people who ostensibly were doing no such thing.)

So I guess the "we" in the question about who "we" expect to lie to us should be something more like "the courts." Or maybe it should have something to do with the special burden on a group like ACOG _not_ to do something like this, a burden that goes beyond anything a government department bears.

Elena was in the part of government which we expect to lie to us.

Which is totally unacceptable. At least, it should be.

And please, let this count as a preemptive strike against what I've gathered is being spun out frantically by the liberal spin machine as equivalence in something or other the Bush administration did.

Which is a totally unacceptable response. It's a maddening and terrifying thought. This is a concrete example of someone letting their ideology stand in the way of science. Where's the outrage from the left? Haven't they declared war on Christians who they perceive to be doing the exact same thing?

I ask these questions rhetorically because I'm much more at the point of despair than the point of really caring for the liberal response. I'm so weary of people putting the party line ahead of the truth. They exist on both sides, and in the political world they ARE each side.

They know who they are.

Kagan seems to have dodged this, but both she and ACOG need to say more. It's hard for her to deny she was plenty involved.

In a short handwritten note in 1997, Kagan told her superior Bruce Reed that the ACOG memo turned out "a ton better than expected." She added "I'll let you know in person what happened."

Bruce Reed is now CEO of the Democratic Leadership Council and he co-authored a book with Rahm Emanuel. While he'd be the right man to ask about this issue, there's little reason to think he'd clear things up if anything had been improper.

(Click my name for the full info and a copy of the image.)

Think about it, there is a sort of idea of the boring government worker in the boring suit cranking out boring statistics. This stereotypical person is way too boring to be biased.

Actually, my experience is that there are different cultures in different agencies. Throughout all the agencies there are people who are there simply and solely to punch a ticket and get a pay check. But this is true of private industry as well. Outside of these, there are often a small-to-medium cadre who actually are energized by the thought of doing the work their agency's mission involves, and take pride in furthering that mission. The critical difference, I think, is the degree to which the agency has found it (a) preferable, or (b) acceptable, or (c) unfortunate but unavoidable, to muzzle and constrain and hound this cadre into despair and submission to become bureaucratic paper-pushers. There are, sometimes, agencies that have (at least at times and in some locations) found ways to UNshackle this cadre, and let them use their energy to create better ways of serving the public. My town's local DMV office has done this: My typical wait for routine stuff is 5 to 10 minutes, and the people are cheerful. I think that the success of the energetic cadre (even if is relatively small) can transport over to the ones just there to punch a ticket, and these latter at least make a show of helpfulness and personal interest in achieving the mission of serving the public. The last time I had to call the IRS about something, I ran into a person who didn't know the answer to what what I needed, but cheerfully told me that he would work his way toward a better answer than he had at the moment; and then he did just that: he looked stuff up in a couple sources, ran a tentative answer by me, and tried again. Then he passed me along to someone more knowledgeable, who confirmed his last answer. Tell me THAT would have happened at the IRS 25 years ago. Ha! Apparently, they have modified their culture enough for a person to be able to admit they don't know an answer.

How does that relate to bias and fact-bending, Tony? I mean, it's good to energize people an' all, but if that means (as it might well in this administration) energizing them to be more effective at producing propaganda, perhaps we'd rather they stayed un-energized.

I'm not sure. There are always political appointees over the large agencies, but other than the top few executives, the rest of the agency employees are civil servants not beholden to the election-winning party, and they see the winners come and go. Other than a few select agencies (HHS, EEOC, and EPA come to mind) that have managed to accumulate a significant core cadre of already biased civil servants, the general makeup of any agency is not itself likely to be biased in a coordinated way in one direction, (except biased toward career maintenance) and is unlikely to become biased as a group under the machinations of the political appointees, due to inertia and the appointees' limited time to work: the constraints on civil service hiring and promotions make this very difficult. Without a committed core cadre that is already biased, it would be difficult for political appointees to get civil servants moving effectively toward biased goals, at least without a fairly pointed law to back them up, a law whose explicit provisions include such biased goals.

What is unfortunately likely, for a new Department of Information, is that the original types of people chosen for it would themselves be attracted to the notion of controlling the information that flows to the rest of the country, not a general cross-section of civil servants. Bad idea. Foxes guarding the coop.

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