Sunday, July 15, 2012

Politics stripped bare

Andrew Sullivan published the following email sent to him by a reader regarding the Obama campaign's use of the outsourcing issue to bash Mitt Romney:
This is politics, not a peer-reviewed research essay. Is Obama's insinuation not 100% above board? Sure. But it's a half-truth that's in the service of a much larger and more important truth: that Romney is the very epitome of financial sector's arrogance and lack of accountability which is largely responsible for destroying the US economy, and the American middle class, while preserving the gains of the rich at any cost. You can worry about Obama's fidelity to detail all you want. 
The guy isn't a journalist; he's a politician, and the argument he's making against Romney does reveal Romney's true core as another arrogant Master of the Universe who takes it for granted that he lives by a separate set of rules from everyone else. If Obama has to exaggerate and oversimplify to get there, then so be it.
This is worth pointing out not to bash the writer's economic ignorance of the under-handed nature of the Obama campaign, but rather to illustrate the nature of politics. Political campaigns are not contests in which both sides simply advance their best arguments, all the while hewing carefully to truth and honesty. Rather, they frequently appeal to people's basest motivations and ignorance. In the quest for power, many people will do whatever it takes to prevail (note the sentiment expressed in the letter's final sentence), with truth a secondary consideration. The ends justify the means.

On a related note, Don Boudreaux has published a letter he recently sent to The Hill:
Sen. Harry Reid (D-NV) – a leader of a party whose members publicly preen themselves on their alleged devotion to science and realism – throws a conniption fit because the uniforms to be worn by U.S. athletes at the 2012 Olympics were stitched together in China rather than in America (“Burn US Olympic uniforms because they’re made in China,” July 12). 
Mr. Reid’s outburst reveals his ignorance of a foundational conclusion of economic science, namely, that people are enriched when they’re free to purchase from whomever they choose regardless of political boundaries. Yes, there are economists who emphasize (mostly purely theoretical) exceptions to the case for free trade – none of which are relevant here – and even a few fringe economists who reject that case altogether. But economists’ overwhelming, non-partisan, and research-based consensus today is, as it has been for years, that free trade (even when unilateral) is beneficial. Mr. Reid’s temper tantrum proves that he is either inexcusably dimwitted about matters on which he legislates, or interested, not in science and realism and truth, but in scoring political points by appealing to the uninformed emotions of constituents.
As Boudreaux points out, Reid is either being honest and revealing that the man who stands as Senate Majority Leader is an economic nitwit, or he is engaging in deliberate dishonesty in order to help his political standing. Take your pick. Anyone who thinks Reid is unique or alone in such behavior is sorely mistaken. 

This is the reality of politics: election by deceit and governance by charlatans and ignoramuses. Why would we want such a system to have any more influence over our lives than what is absolutely necessary?

Update: Paul Krugman acknowledges the necessity of pandering to the lowest common denominator:
Why not run a campaign based on that substance, and leave Mr. Romney’s personal history alone? The short answer is, get real. Look, voters aren’t policy wonks who pore over Tax Policy Center analyses.
The idea that campaigns are purely a battle of ideas is illusory; it's about perception and pandering. Voting is the process by which we hand over considerable power over our lives to our rationally ignorant/ill-informed neighbors. 

Meanwhile, another New York Times article about a prominent supporter of President Obama exposes the reality of government:
For Mr. Obama, Ms. Pritzker’s wealth and business experience are huge assets but also potential liabilities. He considered nominating her for commerce secretary but did not, because her fortune risked making her radioactive.
Think about that: the Secretary of Commerce is a rather senior government post, and the president should logically seek out the best possible candidates to staff such a position. If this report is accurate, it stands to reason that the American public was deprived of a worthy candidate due to purely political considerations rather than actual qualifications. Or, who knows, perhaps she was barely qualified in the first place and only given consideration owing to her considerable wealth? Either way, this is how the sausage gets made. 

No comments: