Friday, December 10, 2010

Policy Deafness and Converse

About a month back, I wrote: "[Obama] does not seem capable of recognizing a policy failure, imagining a policy success, or understanding why policy success might lead to political success." & this is still the case with his horrific huge-tax-cuts-for-small-stimulus deal. It represents, I think, growth for Obama: it has at last dawned on him that policy affects elections. He still hasn't gotten important points: as Krugman points out, this proposal sets his administration up for hard times in the 2012 campaign.

The work of the Presidency, surely, is not educating the President?

If Obama is, perhaps, learning to listen, many of his supporters are still deaf. I've read a lot of this over at Balloon Juice, which is a home for Obama supporters who still love the man regardless of the consequences of his policies. It's as I said previously: if the Democrats keep making large concessions to the rich, while only getting small concessions for the rest of the public, the end result is an impoverished nation. Yet many of Obama's supporters do not see this. I'm struck by the attitude of one strident black woman who sees all policy criticism of Obama as rooted in racism. That is only the most extreme version of the attitude, though: Obama has plenty of other supporters, white and black, who take any criticism of the man's policies as disloyalty to be opposed, regardless of the consequences of those policies in their lives. It is not, really, any different from the "working-class" supporters of Republicans or the Tea Partiers, voting against their own interests. And then it dawned on me: like Obama, these supporters do not see policy as the result of politics. For these people, to a greater or lesser extent, politics is about fighting for the team, and there is little attention to what the team captain is fighting for, or how well the team's goals are being achieved.

This is, of course, nothing new. It is implicit in Converse's results. A substantial faction of participants in a democracy are making their political decisions based on personal loyalties, or dislike of persons. If  candidates for public office were as they presented themselves, this would not be a problem, but of course they are not. Many politicians only pretend to represent their constituencies, represent at most a faction of their constituencies, or lack sufficient policy insight to pursue political goals with any success. How, then, is democracy to be ordered so as to result in, "Government of the people, by the people, for the people?" Because that is not what it is producing now, not in most of the world. How are leaders to be worthy of the loyalty of their supporters to be found?

[2010.12.18: one awkward word removed.]

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