Friday, March 4, 2011

Cunning Plans or Crazy Capers

Your super-duper all-caps MUST READ of the day is Ezra Klein's post about how muddling through, and not careful plotting, is what characterizes most of what happens in politics and government. A taste:
I tend to be shocked at how sophisticated it isn't. Communication between various political actors -- a crucial ingredient in any serious plan -- is surprisingly informal and inadequate. Members of Congress and their staffs don't really have access to secret, efficient networks of information. Instead, they read Roll Call and the Hill and The Washington Post and keep their televisions tuned to cable news, turning up the volume when a colleague involved in a bill they're interested in appears on the screen. Then everyone sits around and speculates about what they just heard. Most every political reporter can back me up when I say that it's extremely common for key players on both sides of the aisle to ask you what you're hearing or how you'd rate the chances of their bill -- and this typically happens when you're sitting down to ask them the very same questions. It's terribly disappointing and, I'm convinced, 100 percent genuine.
Klein also points out what regular readers here will recognize as an Iron Law of Politics -- that, as he puts it, "everyone always thinks everyone else is efficiently and ruthlessly carrying out complicated plans. Partisans are very good at recognizing disarray and incompetence on their side of the aisle, but they tend to think the other side is intimidatingly capable and unburdened by scruples or normal human vulnerabilities."

Yesterday was Newt Gingrich day...Newt is a great example of how a politician can use this general bias -- that if something happened it must have been planned. Newt Gingrich did one thing in his career brilliantly, which was to claim credit for the 1994 GOP landslide. In fact, his contribution was very small; basically, he seems to have done some solid candidate recruitment, which isn't nothing. But the actual election was a consequence of a number of things that Newt had nothing to do with. To the extent that anyone on Capitol Hill was responsible, it was Bob Dole, who invented the notion of a 60 vote Senate and thereby killed off Bill Clinton's economic stimulus bill and much of the rest of the Democratic agenda. Mostly it was just the normal workings of politics. However, Newt did a great job of credit-claiming, and in doing so acquired the aura of magic that even his years as an inept Speaker couldn't completely dissipate, at least for a lot of reporters (and a fair amount of movement conservative rank-and-file, too).

Anyway, you'll want to read, as they say, the whole thing.

1 comment:

  1. Where I'd disagree is on how much credit to give Gingrich for 1994. You're absolutely right that all he did was help recruit candidates, but GOPAC had built a solid farm system. And without such a farm system in place, the GOP couldn't have taken advantage of the favorable environment in 1994. I think that, absent Gingrich, the pickup would have been smaller, maybe a dozen fewer or more.

    But you're 110% right that what Gingrich is really good at is taking credit for things. The Contract could almost be seen as an attempt to create a mandate amongst the press corps for the upcoming victory.


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