When people on the Left get caught doing something truly disgusting—putting forth a presidential candidate who has palled around with the country’s most famous terrorists, or egging on the IRS to target the President’s critics, or arresting a video-maker in order to hide the success, on your watch, of Al Qaeda, or lying about the effects of Obamacare in order to get it passed—they often cry “Conspiracy theory!” If you see corruption, you’re just one of those kooky conspiracy theorists.
After the New York Times exposed the Census Bureau’s plans to change the way that the uninsured are counted—a change that will make it much harder to track the harm caused by Obamacare—it was, as you might expect, Obamacare opponents who led the outcry about the change. That, in turn, inspired Andrew Rosenthal, editorial page editor of that same newspaper, the New York Times, to write a note entitled “The Birth of a Conspiracy Theory,” in which he pointed out that the new method is (arguably) more accurate. “Heinous! An outrage!” he declared sarcastically. Move along, nothing to see here.
“If you spend enough time on the Internet you’ll eventually encounter a conspiracy theory. If you watch closely enough, sometimes you can actually see one being born,” Rosenthal wrote.
We’re so conditioned now to think of a “conspiracy theory” as something ridiculous that we forget how often such theories turn out to be true. Lincoln, it turned out, was killed as the result of a conspiracy. The Mafia, it turned out, really existed. The Soviets really did have agents in key positions in the U.S. government, ranging from the Treasury Department official who co-created the post-World War II international money system to the State Department official who negotiated the boundaries of post-war Europe. Even the assassination of President Kennedy turned out to be a conspiracy of sorts, in that Lee Harvey Oswald was carrying out the stated wish of his idol Fidel Castro for JFK’s death.
Of course, not all wrongdoing is the result of conspiracy. In politics and public policy, much that seems to be a conspiracy is the result of random events to which Darwinian selection is applied. Here’s what I mean:
In Darwinian theory, mutations happen by chance. Most mutations are harmful, and the affected individuals die before reproducing, so those mutations disappear from the gene pool. On rare occasions, the mutations are beneficial in the sense that they help an organism survive long enough to reproduce, or otherwise help the organism to have more offspring, and it is those mutations that propagate (spread through the population) and lead to new species.
Apply that concept to public policy. Say you’re a public official trying to make it easier for people to vote, because you believe that increased voter participation is good for democracy. They are many ways to increase voter participation, some of which are more likely to turn out conservatives, Republicans, working-class people, or small-business-class people, and some of which are more likely to turn out Democrats or Progressives, members of the privileged elite, or people who depend on aid from taxpayers. If you propose a method for increasing voter participation that turns out the “wrong” people, your method is rejected by the media and by most of the organized interested groups. The Justice Department might label you a racist and sue your pants off. On the other hand, if your method does the opposite and turns out the “right” people, the policy gets put into effect; you are proclaimed a hero to the cause of social justice, you get interviewed as such on the “Today” show, and you become eligible for a MacArthur “genius” grant or for an award named after a member of the Kennedy family.
If a government agency—say, the IRS—applies heightened scrutiny to groups that favor the President’s agenda, and that President is a Nixon, officials get called before congressional committees to answer for their abuse of power, they get roasted in the media, and they lose their jobs and go to jail. If, on the other hand, the IRS goes after Tea Party groups for warning people about the effects of monumental deficits and Obamacare, well, that’s just a case of officials making sure the laws regarding nonprofit organizations are strictly enforced.
Of course, given the behavior of Lois Lerner (her e-mail that suggested an intent to repress the President’s adversaries, her unsuccessful attempt to invoke the Fifth Amendment), the FBI (claiming to investigate the scandal while declining to contact the scandal’s victims), and President Obama (denouncing the scandal as an outrage, then denying that it ever happened), a person could assume reasonably that the IRS targeting was the result of an actual conspiracy directed from the White House. The truth of the matter is for future investigations to determine.
My point is that, while conspiracies do occur, such corruption can occur with a conspiracy. Sometimes corruption is just a result of the Darwinian process I described above.
That’s probably what happened in the case of the Census Bureau changing the way questions are asked about insurance in ways that will make it difficult to judge the effects of Obamacare. Indeed, such changes had been in the works for a long time, in part because (as conservative “conspiracy theorists” had claimed) the existing methods artificially increased the number that were counted as uninsured. Now, having used the fake figures to push Obamacare through, people on the Left are perfectly happy to see the Census use methods that are supposedly more accurate and that will reduce the number of uninsured. Thus, a change that, it can be argued, would improve accuracy, ultimately serves the purpose of those who are trying to deceive the public.
Any social scientist worthy of the label “scientist” would demand that both the old and new methods be used for the foreseeable future, so that it’s possible to compare future data to past data. Otherwise, the results will be as fake as the Census Bureau’s “racial” categories, which change every few years in ways that invalidate the bureau’s projections. [See the note below.]
The Census Bureau has been caught cooking the books time and time again—overstating the number of same-sex couples by as much as 400%, attempting to use sampling despite the Constitutional requirement for an “actual enumeration,” running political-style campaigns to make sure the desired mix of people turn up in the count, and so forth. So there’s no reason to trust them on this. But, as real as conspiracies sometimes turn out to be, there’s no reason to cry conspiracy when Darwinian selection explains government officials’ manipulation of statistics or other wrongdoing.
Regarding the Census Bureau’s projections about the future demography of the United States:
How many times have politicians, agencies, nonprofits, and the media cited Census projections about America being a non-white country by the 2040s? In fact, those projections depend on a neat statistical trick, the recent wholesale creation of a quasi-racial group, Hispanics/Latinos, that never existed before as a separate group. It appears that about 90 percent of Hispanics/Latinos think of themselves as “white” and that about 75 percent reject the idea of putting them into a Hispanic/Latino category, but the Census Bureau disregarded their wishes in a way that created the false impression of an unprecedented demographic shift.
It’s absolutely true, as the Census Bureau claims, that America will be a majority non-white country by mid-century based on the fashionable “racial” classifications of the year 2000. What they fail to mention is that America was a majority non-white country by 1950 based on the racial categories of 1900 (East European Jews, Irish, Italians, and hillbillies were non-white) and America was a majority non-white country by 1850 based on the racial classifications of 1800 (Germans, French, and Swedes were non-white). Only about nine percent of America’s collective ancestors are from groups that have always been considered white, roughly the same percentage of our ancestors who came from Africa (almost entirely from those groups of sub-Saharan Africans who are called black).
That’s right: In a very real sense, we’re nine percent “white,” nine percent “black,” and the rest, something else. “There is not a black America and a white America and Latino America and Asian America; there’s the United States of America.” A famous politician once said that. He was lying, in that he didn’t believe it, but it’s true.