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February 13, 2009

About the Census

Reagan-era Census Bureau Director Bruce Chapman explains the giant pile of dog shit the President just stepped in:

But the legal issues will remain even if a willing partisan is nominated and confirmed as Commerce Secretary. There is a 1999 Supreme Court ruling that would make sampling-based adjustment difficult in the absence of compelling evidence that the customary hard count would be less credible. And that evidence not only is lacking, but a three year statistical study that was finished in 2003 to respond to this issue concluded just the opposite: adjusting the Census numbers through sampling and computer models could lead to a less credible Census result. A hard count has always been legally defensible. A fuzzy "adjusted" Census--where figures at the Census tract and block level would be demonstrably erroneous in many cases--could invite endless litigation and bad will.

Another problem for the Obama White House if it wants to change the Census approach: planning for the 2010 Census has been underway for years and now is in preparation for testing. The disruptions caused by an Administration decision to change those plans would cause great problems and probably agitate the resistance of career statisticians charged with responsibility for conducting the Census.

Finally, one wonders if the President understands that the Census is a function of government that requires not only integrity in fact but also the appearance of integrity. The reputation of the Census should not be compromised. It is hard enough to get people to cooperate in the conduct of the Census without creating a reputation for politicization.

There is an echo here from the presidential debates. Senator McCain kept saying "What my colleague from Illinois doesn't understand is..." and variations thereof about everything from the economy to the war in Georgia. During one debate Obama became visibly annoyed that anyone would think or imply that he is ignorant.

But it's a legitimate question. Does the president have any idea what he is doing and why is he acting this way? It's entirely possible, from what I've seen, that he doesn't. At the beginning, I suppose we could just put it down to Bambi shakily finding his feet. But the President claims to have been preparing the transition for months. The transition is over, he's in power, now it's time to lead.

I'll tell you what his problem has always been. He has no vision of his own, so he's just getting jerked around by everyone who's got his ear. That's why he keeps nominating folks without vetting them. Because he's been told to. That's why he wanted to have the Census Bureau Director report to the White House. Minority groups with Emanuel's phone number complained, so he did what he was told.

Will the President ever grow up and actually take power? Would we even want him to?

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posted by Gabriel Malor at 01:38 PM

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