Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Time Horizons: Obama Edition

Michael Gerson picks up on a quotation of Obama:
"Part of the reason that our politics seems so tough right now," he recently told a group of Democratic donors in Massachusetts, "and facts and science and argument [do] not seem to be winning the day all the time is because we're hard-wired not to always think clearly when we're scared. And the country is scared."

The root of this is pretty simple -- Obama is a liberal and so he has short time horizons. Sure, he thinks he's making good choices for the long run with political consequences in the short-term, but his entire way of seeing the world is short run and largely static.

Indeed, this quote is entire emblematic of short-term-ism. He beleives that facts and science imply conclusions, as if there were no values involved. And he is so blind to valuing the future that any concerns not about the present and tangible state of the world are irrational.

Gerson explains it this way:
The calculation of risk and a preference for proven practices are the conservative contributions to the survival of the species. Whatever neuroscience may explain about political behavior, it does not mean that the fears of massive debt and intrusive government are irrational.

But look at all the memes going around in the lefty blogosphere to explain the upcoming defeat -- the Republicans are lying, there's all sorts of soft money, the Tea Party is racist, people are scared. What do these all share? They all exist entirely in the present. Republicans are lying right now. Soft money is flowing in right now. The Tea Party is racist right now. People are scared. Scared about what? Their economic circumstances right now.

But what if people are scared right now about where the country is heading? Where these beloved Democratic policies will lead us? FLG realizes that liberals believe that health reform is good. Or at least it's a slight improvement. They've been repeating the mantra that once people understand it, then they'll like it. But what if that's wrong, as FLG believes it is?

Conservatives wanted Social Security private accounts, but the people balked. It wasn't just Democratic propaganda or money or whatever. It's that the people don't seem to want private accounts. FLG thinks they're wrong, but that's not what matters. Democrats would be wise to take a page from the Republicans on this one and recognize that maybe the people don't like what they are selling. And rather than simply looking for proximate causes, they ought to look at legitimate fears about longer term trends. Maybe opposition to your policies isn't because people are stupid, confused, or being lied to. Maybe they don't like what you are doing.

The problem is that liberals would have to contemplate the long run as a dynamic system, which is difficult for them because of their worldview.

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