Technology with attitude

LEO Comes to Donklephant

13

First of all I wish to thank Justin Gardner for the opportunity to participate in the Donklephant experience, hopefully as a regular contributor. In particular it is my sincere desire that these contributions will be fruitful and beneficial for overall political discourse.

Before we get into the meat of this next series of articles an introduction is in order. I am a instructor and student of politics. My educational background is largely in political theory and philosophy and I am fortunate enough to be working in my field. I currently teach government survey courses full-time at Mountain View College in Dallas TX, and because of this responsibility finding the time for independent research has been a challenge. However, this challenge is one I have chosen, for better or worse, to accept.

Over the past four months I have maintained a record of my research from the last year-and-a-half, and have published some of the findings on a weblog I call The LEO Test. The object of this research has been to develop a rubric whereby one may submit various political actors to a test of ideological preference. At the outset, the demands of this test were that it be:
1.accurate enough to serve as a “yardstick� by those interested in discerning political ideologies,
2.reliable enough to provide a means by which interested observers may make an informed political decision regarding political candidacies or political speech, and to advise caution when an extremist ideological position is indicated,
3.flexible enough to apply to a broad range of individuals who publish their political opinions, and
4.simple enough to be applied and interpreted by a non-academic audience. (This requirement is a particular challenge for many in the academic world.)

A fifth possible requirement for this rubric is that it be unencumbered by one’s own political or ideological bias. As a professional student of politics, this is perhaps the most significant caveat, and indeed one of the most difficult to overcome. However, in the interest of advancing genuine knowledge of political things it is perhaps the most crucial demand.

After a careful and patient reading of some of the major ideological literature which has influenced the American political experience one way or another, a descriptive model emerged with three distinct preferences: liberty, equality, and order (LEO). Once this preliminary model had presented itself, it was necessary to discern a means for testing and refining the model using individual samples of political language from known ideologues, and thereafter applied to other political actors.

That said, here is the method of observation:

I intend to count references to liberty, equality and order in each subject put to the test to determine the subject’s primary concern. In future analyses I may require that both positive and negative references to liberty, equality and order be included to get a clearer picture of the subjects’ core ideological focus, but for the time being, simple reference to these three principles will have to suffice.

A qualitative measurement would include a consideration of the context of the terms used, and the force with which the ideas of liberty, equality, or order are either defended or disparaged. A somewhat more quantitative approach would involve a simple gathering of references to liberty, equality, or order from a sample of the subject’s rhetoric.

For most American politicians on the national scene, a ready resource for measuring the degree to which a subject addresses liberty, equality, or order is available via their internet presences, i.e., their official webpages or weblogs. Otherwise, I may find collections of speeches or writings available from a variety of print sources.

To provide for consistent application of this yardstick, one must define references to “liberty,� “equality,� and “order.� One must also ensure that each measuring tool included the same number of discrete terms in order to avoid an unbalanced or skewed measurement. Reference to liberty should include synonyms and ideas or phrases that are unequivocally connected with the idea of “liberty� and a similar model would apply to measuring tools for “equality� and “order.�

For a preliminary measuring tool, I have chosen specific words or simple phrases to use which are commonly associated with “liberty,â€Â? “equalityâ€Â? and “order”. Some of these terms may only indirectly point to the root concept, such as “ownerâ€Â? and “optionâ€Â? for liberty, “accessâ€Â? or “fairnessâ€Â? for equality, or “traditionâ€Â? and “safeâ€Â? for order. However, at the heart of each of these terms a connection to their associated concepts may be clearly discerned. A more rigorous method of identifying rhetorical flags for liberty, equality, or order must be developed through an analysis of texts whose express subjects are liberty, equality, or order. In the meantime, however, I am using four separate but linked word lists or ‘dictionaries’ to measure quickly the frequency of ideological indicators in each sample.

After all, politics waits for no one.

So who can be put to the test? Just about anyone who has published a political opinion.

Who will be put to this test? There are the usual suspectsâ€â€?congressional leaders, presidential hopefuls, the traditional “talking headsâ€Â? of the mainstream media. But then there are those who up to now have avoided this kind of scrutiny: perhaps online news sites, perhaps our own neighbors in the blogosphere… perhaps even ourselves.

Stay tuned.