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What’s the Difference Between a Smith and a Doorknob? Not Much.

When you visit the webpage of We Need Smith, the public relations operation masquerading as a movement, you’ll see a list of questions. The answers to these questions are supposed to tell you whether you ought to support the as-yet unnamed congressional and presidential candidates they’ll be propping up with mystery money in 2016. Here are the “Are You Smith” questions, followed by the percentage of survey respondents who answered “Yes” to those questions:

1. Smith believes political leaders on both sides fight to protect their own power and privilege, at the expense of the nation’s well-being. Do you? Yes: 89% No: 9%

2. Smith believes that if Congress doesn’t pass a budget, members of Congress shouldn’t get paid. Do you? Yes: 95% No: 3%

3. Smith believes the poison of political corruption is eating away at American democracy. Both Democrats and Republicans in Washington are allowing powerful interests to rig the system for themselves at the expense of every American. Do you? Yes: 83% No: 17%

4. Smith believes we need new leaders from mainstream America – Citizen Smiths – who take on the political elites and special interests and put the American people in charge again. Do you? Yes: 84% No: 12%

5. Smith believes we need tough limits on politicians and their staffers taking lobbying positions in Washington. Do you? Yes: 91% No: 6%

6. Smith believes that the economic policies of both parties have failed and the only way to strengthen the middle class is policies that grow the economy and provide real jobs and better wages. Do you? Yes: 94% No: 4%

7. Smith believes that every congressional bill must publicly list every “special deal.” Do you? Yes: 93% No: 5%

Huge numbers agree with these nice-sounding, absolutely vague statements. Is that a miracle? “We Need Smith” seems to think so, gushing breathlessly that “Frankly, in over forty years of public opinion research, we have never seen results so startling, so consistent at such stratospheric levels of agreement.” But these “stratospheric levels of agreement” are not a miracle. They’re the result of how the questions were asked, peppered with suggestive adjectives but almost entirely devoid of specifics. “We Need Smith” didn’t ask the following questions, but they might as well have come right out and added these:

Smith believes in passing good laws and getting rid of the bad laws. Do you?
Smith believes that Washington can do better. Do you?
Smith believes it’s time to stop malfeasance in our government. Do you?

Those three questions are downright dopey, aren’t they? Now go look at the questions “We Need Smith” actually wrote and you’ll see the same problem: there’s are no ideas specific enough to disagree with — so of course people don’t disagree with them.

Almost everybody wants to good things to happen. Almost everybody wants bad things to come to an end. Almost everybody wants to get tough on nonsense. Almost everybody wants real jobs and better wages and to improve the nation’s well-being. Almost everybody despises “special deals” and “special interests” and “corruption.” The reason why we have conflict in the United States and disagreement about candidates is that we disagree about what “good” and “bad” and “tough” and “real jobs” and “well-being” and “special deals” and “special interests” and “corruption” mean when you make actual, specific policy. As long as “We Need Smith’s” hypothetical “Candidate Smith” stands for nothing specific and sticks to lovely adjectives in his or her own fictional universe, people who are given nothing else to judge by will admire the lovely choice of adjectives. As soon as any candidate (including “Candidate Smith”) is forced to act like a real politician and make specific proposals, public approval of that candidate will fall to normal levels.

Perhaps the TV pundits and public relations professionals behind “We Need Smith” didn’t understand this when they commissioned their poll. Perhaps, on the other hand, they know perfectly well how silly their questions are. Perhaps they just think we’re foolish enough to fall for the trick. Either way, this doesn’t seem to be a campaign funding and independent expenditure jaunt movement worthy of a skeptical person’s cash support.

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