Wednesday, June 07, 2006

Marquette Student Government Speaker Reveals Self To Be Crackpot

Shortly before the 2004 Election, Marquette University Student Government invited Robert Kennedy, Jr., liberal and environmentalist activist to give a talk, paid for out of student activity fees.

Conservatives and Republicans, needless to say, were not happy with what seemed like a blantantly partisan action.

Perhaps more important, however, is the fact that Robert Kennedy, Jr. is looking more and more like a crackpot.

In the current Rolling Stone, he claims:

A review of the available data reveals that in Ohio alone, at least 357,000 voters, the overwhelming majority of them Democratic, were prevented from casting ballots or did not have their votes counted in 2004 — more than enough to shift the results of an election decided by 118,601 votes. In what may be the single most astounding fact from the election, one in every four Ohio citizens who registered to vote in 2004 showed up at the polls only to discover that they were not listed on the rolls, thanks to GOP efforts to stem the unprecedented flood of Democrats eager to cast ballots. And that doesn’t even take into account the troubling evidence of outright fraud, which indicates that upwards of 80,000 votes for Kerry were counted instead for Bush. That alone is a swing of more than 160,000 votes — enough to have put John Kerry in the White House.
When one lists numbers like this, they seem to imply precision. But in fact, the numbers are wacky.

The decisive dismantling of Kennedy’s nonsense is found in, of all places, the liberal online e-zine, Salon.com.

Space allows only a taste of the thorough debunking from Farhad Manjoo. For example:

If you do read Kennedy’s article, be prepared to machete your way through numerous errors of interpretation and his deliberate omission of key bits of data. The first salient omission comes in paragraph 5, when Kennedy writes, “In what may be the single most astounding fact from the election, one in every four Ohio citizens who registered to vote in 2004 showed up at the polls only to discover that they were not listed on the rolls, thanks to GOP efforts to stem the unprecedented flood of Democrats eager to cast ballots.” To back up that assertion, Kennedy cites “Democracy at Risk,” the report the Democrats released last June.

That report does indeed point out that many people — 26 percent — who first registered in 2004 did not find their names on the voter rolls at polling places. What Kennedy doesn’t say, though, is that the same study found no significant difference in the share of Kerry voters and Bush voters who came to the polls and didn’t find their names listed. The Democrats’ report says that 4.2 percent of Kerry voters were forced to cast a “provisional” ballot and that 4.1 percent of Bush voters were made to do the same — a stat that lowers the heat on Kennedy’s claim of “astounding” partisanship.

Such techniques are evident throughout Kennedy’s article. He presents a barrage of seemingly important, apparently damning data to show that Kerry won the race. It’s only when you dig into his claims that you see what thin ice he’s on.
Marquette University Student Government should be embarrassed at having invited Kennedy to campus.

It’s not that crackpots should never be allowed to speak on a college campus. Indeed, any college worth its salt has at least a few crackpots on the faculty!

The problem is: is it a good use of money extracted from students to invite crackpot speakers?

Kennedy’s wild pronouncements on the Ohio election cast a lot of doubt on his claims on the environment. Is it better to have a credible speaker on an important issue, or a celebrity who is reckless in his use of facts?

We don’t think that MUSG intentionally invited an environmentalist crackpot. We think that people in MUSG simply aren’t able to distinguish responsible speakers from members of the tin-foil hat brigade.

Certainly, MUSG made a major blunder in inviting a leftist documentary maker to campus and claiming that was done to placate Republicans who were demanding ideological balance.

A little more research needs to be put into speaker selection in the future.

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