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Making decisions

Via TBOGG comes an excerpt of some remarks the President made today about the recent massive antiwar demonstrations. Bush said that paying attention to the massive number of protesters would be "like deciding, 'Well I'm going to decide policy based up on a focus group.'"

Actually, it would be more like having a functioning democracy, but that's not really the goal here.

Ari Fleischer also had something to say. From the story:

[Fleischer] also told reporters that former President Franklin Roosevelt overcame protests from isolationists to lead American into World War II.

"Often the message of protesters is contradicted by history," he said.

First of all, is Fleischer comparing GWB to to Roosevelt, or is he comparing the imminent war with Iraq to World War II? I don't know where to begin listing the things that are wrong with either comparison.

Second, I think what Fleischer means by the tortured phrase "the message of protesters is contradicted by history" is that protesters sometimes (frequently) take a position against something that eventually happens. Well, duh. But Fleischer is implying that certain protests are fundamentally wrong or unsupported by eventual outcomes. How does Fleischer know?

One of the things that makes studying social movement interesting, and frustrating, is that outcomes are notoriously difficult to measure. Identifying when a movement "wins" or accomplishes some significant objective is a fairly daunting task. (For example, see a brief summary of movement outcomes I wrote.)

Anyway, unless Fleischer has access to some alternative bizarro world, evaluating the outcomes of things that never happened is rather absurd. And, at the same time, he ignores the numerous spectacular successes of protest projects that have been a part of achieving change. Women suffrage, civil rights campaigns, and anti-Vietnam protests were an great deal more than "focus groups."