Science, expert opinion, who needs it?

Certainly not President Bush.  Not when he can just rely on what he knows to be true (that's obviously worked so well in Iraq).  The lede of this New York Times story seems pretty innocuous:

President Bush has signed a directive that gives the White House
much greater control over the rules and policy statements that the
government develops to protect public health, safety, the environment,
civil rights and privacy. In an executive order published
last week in the Federal Register, Mr. Bush said that each agency must
have a regulatory policy office run by a political appointee, to
supervise the development of rules and documents providing guidance to
regulated industries.

As Steve Benen points out, though, this is far from harmless:

Experienced policy experts were helping set regulations on worker
safety, for example, at the Occupational Safety and Health
Administration. Through this new executive order, the president has
said cut career employees out of the picture, so inexperienced
political hands at the White House can gut those worker safety
regulations. The same goes for every other federal agency.

A few years ago, former domestic policy advisor John DiIulio said,
?There is no precedent in any modern White House for what is going on
in this one: a complete lack of a policy apparatus. What you?ve got is
everything ? and I mean everything ? being run by the political arm.
It?s the reign of the Mayberry Machiavellis.?

As it turns out, DiIulio was off a bit. He made this comment in
2003, when there were still some civil servants with power in the
executive branch. Now everything is being run by the political arm.

Sadly, this just continues the 6 year pattern of ignoring the advice of career experts in favor of dubious political appointees (I might also mention here that the Coalition Provisional Authority in Iraq was staffed by persons who had to prove their conservative bona fides on gay marriage and abortion– two issues obviously crucial to the reconstruction of Iraq). 

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Does your political opinion count?

It depends upon how rich you are.  So argues Larry Bartels, one of the smartest political scientists I have had the privilege to meet.  In an analysis of Senator's voting records in relation to the opinions of their constituents, here's what he found:

Senators appear to be considerably more responsive to the opinions of affluent constituents than to the opinions of middle-class constituents, while the opinions of constituents in the bottom third of the income distribution have no apparent statistical effect on their senators? roll call votes.

In a sense, most of us probably already assume this to be true, but when backed up by Bartels' first-rate analysis (i.e., believe me, you can trust these results), it is really an amazingly damning statement about how our democracy works. 

Shamefully, rather than coming across this paper through my job as a political scientists, I actually just learned of it in a great New Republic article by Bradford Plumer that makes a pretty good case for why we have government by the rich.  With the recent populist tone of the Democratic party (e.g., Jim Webb's excellent response to the State of the Union), conservatives have been firing back by arguing that economic inequality does not matter.  Alas, one thing political scientists do know with pretty good certainty is that economic inequality really does matter, and Plumer lays out the case in the article.  Not even good liberals are going to argue that we need income equality, but certainly the greater disparity in income between rich and poor the greater disparity in political representation– something which really should be more equal. 

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