Saturday, August 20, 2011

The Reasonable President

I had some fun watching Obama's townhall meetings. Especially this one. Go fast forward to 42:10.

Firstly, the questioner is really good. Secondly, the answer to this question is probably the key to understanding this president. He honestly believes that just being reasonable and not playing any games at all is what he should do.

And, ironically, that makes him a rather good politician. In the US's two-party system there's just no acceptable alternative to him. Will this help him win the next election? It probably does. The votes he loses on the left don't go to his opponent, but the votes he gains in the center and, frankly, on the traditional republican territory not only help him, but weaken his opponent. Also, if left voters were reasonable, they would vote for him, anyway.
Most importantly, he pushes his opponents ever more right, the more he himself moves to the right. Mrs. Merkel governs similarly here in Germany. It leads to low popularity and certain reelection.

So, I don't think being reasonable the way he understands it is the worst reelection strategy. But it makes him a bad president. For some reason he assumes that telling people to become more reasonable helps. As if voters were reasonable. Churchill was right when he said:
The best argument against democracy is a five-minute conversation with the average voter.
Perhaps what the US needs is a change of the political system. The current one doesn't seem to be as efficient as it has been a hundred years ago.

By the way, apparently Churchill also said:
You can always count on Americans to do the right thing — after they’ve tried everything else.
So, perhaps Americans will indeed elect one of those Republican candidates. The following years could be fun to watch - from afar.

Unfortunately, as the reasonability-strategy turns into the unpopular, but rather effective become-your-opponent-to-defeat-him strategy, the country also loses something: A honest discussion of good ideas. I just read Mr. Stiglitz latest book. And I agree 80%. My guess is that the President also agrees 80%. But his reasonability-approach prevents the country from discussing good ideas. The public dabate is all about how bad/good republican ideas are, and nobody is talking about any other ideas. That's bad for America.


  1. re "The current one doesn't seem to be as efficient as it has been a hundred years ago."

    The founding father went to extreme lengths to make sure the US government was *not* efficient. With "checks and balances", three distinct branches of government, bicameral legislature, much effort went into restricting the ease with which government can accrue and exercise power. This has a negative impact on efficiency.

    A hundred years ago, a national income tax was not even legal in the United States. ( 16th amendment ratified in 1913 )

    At least from my perspective of codewords in American political discourse, your sentence mixes sentiments.

    I would interpret a call for "efficient" government as code for a larger, more involved (or productive or intrusive) government and would be used by "the left."

    i would interpret a call for a return to the governments of the past as a code for a much, much smaller government and would be used by "the right" and especially the Tea party.

    Of course, every budget plan from any side uses considerable amounts of "waste, fraud and abuse" savings to fudge the numbers for their plan.


    As an aside, today I read on the internet (so it must be true) that Apple's market capitalization is now 75% of the market capitalization of the entire European Banking Index. When a baseball star was asked in 1932 about making more money than the president, he replied "I had a better year." It's easy to argue Apple is better run than Western banks.

  2. Hagu, I'm all for checks and balances. But there needs to be a balanace between checks and balances and the possibility to get something done. This balance may be required to change when technology increases communication to lightning speed.

    Apple isn't better run than banks. Actually, I bet there's a hell of a lot of waste there. Apple just has a monopoly on a few very popular products. For creating these products with patents we should congratulate them, not for running anything 'efficiently'.

  3. I agree completely with your analysis that "being reasonable" is a good election strategy, but a bad governing one in current circumstances.

    As to the system, many of the checks and balances rely on "gentleman's agreements." And only one side is committed to that. The "filibuster" in the Senate being a classic example. It was "understood" to mean it was only to be used in the most extreme, but now it's the defacto for every vote.

  4. How did you summarize my feelings so succinctly? I voted for Obama, he was the best candidate in 08, and it looks to be the same in the next election. He expects his rivals and his party to be reasonable and honest, and it seems he is alone in this.

    My two copper.