Monday, September 9, 2013

Catch of the Day

Look, this isn't rocket science:  the opposition party will always be more skeptical of administration policy. Throw in a nation that's pretty sick of war and pretty hostile to taking action in Syria and this is a no-brainer position to adopt for most Republicans.  This is particularly true since I suspect enough Republicans will join with most Democrats to give the administration the necessary authorization.

Old foreign policy hands will likely cluck a bit and disparage the shifting ideologies of GOP members of Congress in the name of political self-interest.  To which I say:  hooray for political self-interest!!  It's not like the status quo in GOP foreign policy thinking had been serving them all that well over the past few years. This isn't to say that I agree with the GOP on this issue, but for once, the American political system appears to be working as intended. 
Key point -- and one of my favorites -- is that for politicians, trying to do the right thing is highly overrated, if doing the right thing means trying to understand the policy the way that a scholar might, and choosing the best option in that sense. If we wanted a system that put the experts in charge, we could easily do so. But part of the reason for a democracy (as I argued over at the Prospect last week) is a bet that it actually generates better policy outcomes than simply turning things over to the experts would yield. That happens (if it does) when politicians use their strengths: chiefly, their skill at sniffing out the political advantages and disadvantages of a position.

Anyway: nice catch!


  1. But, isn't claiming such expertise one of a number of ways in which an MC might campaign, and therefore, possibly quite central to representation in given cases?

    One might point to John McCain: he has pretty much promised to be a foreign policy expert over the years, whether specifically or indirectly ("I was tortured for 5 years, so I'm an expert in international affairs")

    Or, one could also claim Price and Lipinski, by simple dint of their PhDs, have such as part of their "representative contract."

    1. I'm not against some Members of Congress, and politicians in general, using their subject-matter expertise, and I'm as always fine with whatever they choose to promise as part of representation.

      I'm just not entirely convinced that it produces better policy.

  2. I'm a locally-elected political office holder for a water district in the San Francisco Bay Area.

    My assessment is my political interests would be best served by opposing fluoridation and by opposing water imports from the SF Bay Delta region. I think both of those popular positions in my area would be very bad ideas.

    We could set up a system that puts policy experts in charge, sure. We could also set up a system that just polls the public and makes decisions accordingly.

    What we've got is something else.

    1. Is it really true you would be better off politically with those positions? Would it involve breaking promises to your constituents -- either explicit policy promises, or promises about how you would conduct yourself in office? If so, would you risk losing some of your strongest supporters?

      (In fact, IMO the evidence is that many politicians overrate the actual danger in breaking promises - but that helps make the system work).

      That's one set of questions.

      Another is: I don't think that politicians should always take the most popular position; I think they should be good representatives. That involves making and keeping promises (both policy-specific and other), along with explaining what they did in the context of those original promises. Unless you promised to always do whatever the voters thought was best, or otherwise would be breaking a promise by taking the positions that you think are the correct ones, then I don't think anything anti-democratic or bad in any way is happening.

      And third...I'm open to arguments that specialized positions such as this one may be different. Don't see it going in, but I'm open to hearing a case for it.

    2. For me, it's not about breaking promises (didn't make any on those issues) but that of the relatively small number of people who would notice what I did on those issues, the majority would prefer the "wrong" action.

      On promises that I did make, I think it's best to keep them or at least cast my vote that way, not just for the voters but also psychologically for me. That's not a bright line but it's a good rule.


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