The enduring myth of Americans' dislike of investigations

Bush followers and media stars dislike investigations of the administration. Therefore, they claim -- falsely -- that "most Americans" oppose such investigations.

Published August 22, 2007 4:15PM (EDT)

In discussing Congress' low approval ratings yesterday, I noted that Bush followers and media pundits simply invent facts about these ratings that are plainly false. In particular, they repeatedly claim that Congress' low approval ratings are due to its excessive investigations of the administration -- which, they never tire of telling us, Americans do not like -- as well as Congress' failure to co-operate with the President in a bi-partisan way. That is a pure expression of conventional Beltway wisdom.

On cue, former Bush official Peter Wehner, writing on the Commentary blog, asserted that these negative Congressional polling numbers reveal that "Democrats are paying a high price for their hyper-partisanship. They appear angry, zealous, and vengeful, far more interested in investigations than legislation." Right-wing blogger McQ cited as one reason for the unpopularity that Democrats "spent all their time investigating marginal, and to most Americans, unimportant things while accomplishing nothing of importance."

Glenn Reynolds linked to this post conclusorily mocking my analysis of Congress' unpopularity by suggesting that Congress has investigated far more than most Americans want. And Reynolds himself then added: "YEAH, THAT'S THE TICKET: Why's Congress polling so badly? Because they haven't launched enough investigations. Uh huh."

All of these "analysts," making the same point (one heard frequently on television), have one thing in common: namely, not one of them cited a single piece of evidence, poll, or anything else to support their claim that Americans dislike investigations and/or that Congress is unpouplar due to too many hearings or too much obstructionism. Instead, they just literally make that up and then say it without having any idea if it's true.

Many people who assert that Americans dislike investigations of the President are just slothful; they sit around hearing television and newspaper pundits repeat this cliche -- which they do endlessly -- and then uncritically absorb and repeat it. For others, it is just a matter of extreme self-absorption; they reflexively assume that their own opinions are always the same as what "Americans believe." Thus, because they themselves don't like Congressional investigations of their Leader or think that the specific scandals are insignificant, they just assume, and then assert, that most Americans share this view.

But the overriding attribute evident here is a willingness to believe things about the world based not on evidence or reality but on what they want the world to be. They don't want George Bush investigated, and thus, they simply want to believe that Americans dislike investigations (exactly the same way they wanted to believe things were going well in Iraq, so they were, and reports to the contrary about "violence" and "civil war" were media fabrications).

Thus, they didactically assert, over and over, that Congress is in trouble for investigating Bush too much even though that claim is overwhelmingly contradicted by the actual evidence:

CNN poll, August 30-September 2, 2006:

Do you think it would be good for the country or bad for the country if the Democrats in Congress were able to conduct official investigations into what the Bush Administration has done in the past six years?

Good - 57%

Bad - 41%

Unsure - 2%


From Rasmussen Reports, July 12, 2007:

Have there been too many investigations of the White House, not enough investigations, or about the right amount of investigations?

Too many - 32%

Not enough - 39%

About right - 19%


From the USA Today poll, March 23-25, 2007:

14. Do you think Congress should -- or should not -- investigate the involvement of White House officials in this matter [the U.S. attorneys firings]?

Yes, should - 72%;

No, should not - 21%

15. If Congress investigates these dismissals, in your view, should President Bush and his aides -- [ROTATED: invoke "executive privilege" to protect the White House decision making process (or should they) drop the claim of executive privilege and answer all questions being investigated]?

Invoke executive privilege - 26%;

Answer all questions - 68%

16. In this matter, do you think Congress should or should not issue subpoenas to force White House officials to testify under oath about this matter?

Yes, should - 68%;

No, should not - 24%


From Rasmussen Reports, July 12, 2007:

Is Congress really seeking information about the firing of U.S. attorneys, or is Congress simply seeking to harass the White House?

Seeking information - 43%

Harass the White House - 32%

The only ones who oppose investigations are the 30% who support the administration in all circumstances. But Americans generally want investigations and oversight of the President; they overwhelmingly favor investigations of the U.S. attorney scandal; and substantial numbers believe that Congress in general is investigating too little.

This lazy, corrupt practice -- whereby commentators simply assert as fact cliches they hear without having any idea if they are true -- is quite common among our media pundits, among whom it is virtually an Article of Faith that Americans dislike Congressional investigations of the President. They repeat that over and over. Bush followers, wanting it to be true, then do the same. None of them ever bothers to see if what they are saying has any basis in reality. It just never occurs to them to do that.

The fact that, as Gallup itself noted, Congress' low approval ratings are due almost exclusively to unusually high levels of Democratic anger at their own Congress further bolsters the conclusion that Congress is so unpopular due to their failure to stand up to the administration.

The same is true with regard to Congressional efforts to stop the war. Beltway analysts frequently speak of the danger to Democrats from "over-playing" their hand by "obstructing" the President's war policies too much, even though polls show exactly the opposite is true:

From Rasmussen Reports, July 2, 2007:

Have the Democrats in Congress done too much to change President Bush's policies in Iraq, not enough to change President Bush's policies in Iraq, or about the right amount?

Too much - 26%

Not enough - 53%

About right - 13%

Think about how devoid of intellectual integrity a person must be in order to run around pronouncing that "Americans believe X" or "Americans dislike Y" without engaging in the slightest efforts first to determine if what they are saying is true. This is one critical reason why there is such a large and growing gap between the Beltway and the views of Americans. There are all sorts of Beltway platitudes like this about what "Americans want" that are the opposite of reality. Thus, the more our Beltway elites repeat and adhere to those platitudes, the more that gap grows.

By Glenn Greenwald

Follow Glenn Greenwald on Twitter: @ggreenwald.

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