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Do opinion pieces ever change your opinion?

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Mr. Westen's research reminds us how little of our political behavior reflects conscious thought, judgment, or deliberation. And he brings us back to the granddaddy of American political commentators, Walter Lippmann, who anticipated Westen's findings nearly a century ago.

As America grew in size and complexity, Lippmann wrote, the average citizen lacked the time, inclination, and ability to understand important public questions.

Specifically, Lippmann urged, Americans must abandon "the intolerable and unworkable fiction that each of us must acquire a competent opinion about all public affairs." Most people made political judgments on a whim, without real information or consideration. Better to cede complex issues to a "specialized class" of experts, Lippmann argued.

Of course, this solution spawned questions of its own. Who would select and certify these experts? Wouldn't the experts possess their own biases and blinders? And what would happen when they disagreed with one another?

Most important of all, wasn't his proposal deeply antidemocratic? How could Lippmann's "specialized class" govern without proper checks and controls from an informed, engaged citizenry?

It was impossible, as even the hardboiled Lippmann was forced to admit.

That's why he concluded his magnum opus, "Public Opinion," with a paean to the same common man that the book had disparaged.

"It is necessary to live as if good will would work," Lippmann wrote.

It was a lukewarm endorsement of average citizens, to be sure. But Lippmann could not live without them.

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