Two articles of note have appeared in the media over the last week. In my opinion, both should be read by each and every student of politics.
The first is James Fallow’s analysis of the Obama administration – Obama, Explained. It is the cover story of this month’s edition of The Atlantic. He has three themes in the piece. First, the behavioral and psychological Obama. Second, how do we view the administrative successes and failures of the last 3+ years. Third, a temporal look. For the last, he references a memo written by James H. Rowe Jr., at the time a young official at the Bureau of the Budget (what is now the Office of Management and Budget) to President Harry Truman. Rowe’s memo could be written today and still be mostly accurate about the political setting in which Obama finds himself today. The lesson is twofold – the political strategy of opposition (by Republicans in both cases) is totally predictable and, given the political strategy, political stalemate is inevitable. If Obama is going to enjoy a second term, we can pretty much predict how the campaign will unfold no matter who the Republican nominee is.
The second piece appeared in the New York Times last week. The Geography of Entitlements interactive map is illustrative of the hypocrisy of much of the political debate in the current primary season. Those areas that most depend on federal funding for social programs, retirement benefits, Medicare and Medicaid and other federal benefits are, in large part, the same parts of the country that support candidate that would reject government in general. The map does not show military spending but trends would be the same.
In his NYT column today (3.17.12), Paul Krugman cites work by Aaron Carroll of Indiana University. Carroll points out that “in 2010, residents of the 10 states Gallup ranks as ‘most conservative’ received 21.2 percent of their income in government transfers, while the number for the 10 most liberal states was only 17.1 percent.” For those economists that assume rational economic man, they need to explain why large parts of country are willing to vote against their economic self-interest.Others have written about this seemingly illogical political stance - notably Ben Barber, Walt Whitman Professor of Political Science Emeritus, Rutgers University.
Psychologists tell us that when cognitive dissonance gets bad enough, we typically seek to resolve it. I’m waiting for the collective dope slap from supporters of Rick Santorum, Gingrich, and Romney but I’m not holding my breath.