There’s a scene in “Annie Hall” in which Woody Allen starts lecturing some loudmouth in a movie-theater line about how little he knows about Marshall McLuhan. When the guy protests, Allen brings the actual McLuhan over. “You know nothing of my work,” the scholar says.
In politics, these McLuhan Moments pop up from time to time. When Mitt Romney cited Jared Diamond as support for his views on international affairs, for example, Diamond responded soon after, explaining that Romney had no idea what he’s talking about.
This week, Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) had a McLuhan Moment of his own. The Republican senator continues to argue that extending federal unemployment benefits to jobless Americans would be bad for those already struggling, and cited economist Rand Ghayad to bolster his claim.
So why does [the senator] want to end unemployment benefits for people who have been out of work for 6 months or longer? Well, Paul cites my work on long-term unemployment as a justification – which surprised me, because it implies **the opposite** of what he says it does.
Now, we clearly have a long-term unemployment problem. The question is why. Paul says it’s all about incentives. He thinks extending unemployment benefits does a “disservice” to the unemployed by encouraging them to stay unemployed for too long. And as a “big-hearted” member of a party that cares about the jobless, he wants to protect them from making such mistakes – by cutting their benefits, of course.
But Paul misreads my work to try to back up his argument.
Ghayad’s piece in The Atlantic fleshes out the details nicely, but the bottom line remains the same: what Rand Paul considers proof that backs up his argument on the merits is actually evidence of how wrong he is. Ghayad added that good policy “requires more than a cursory or selective reading of the research.”
There’s a superficiality that seems to dominate Rand Paul’s understanding of current events and policy debates. It’s not an appealing quality in an ambitious senator.