Friday, October 5, 2012

Q Day 7: Politician Skills

An anonymous commenter asks:

You talk a lot about how being a good President is largely about being a good politician. One of the reasons you think Carter was a poor president, I take it, is that he viewed himself as above politics and did not take seriously, once in office, the job of leading his party and fighting partisan battles.

That said, my question is this: Did Obama's debate performance on Wednesday change your opinion on him? Joe Klein said something like, it's hard to imagine this Obama (i.e., the debate version) even being able to communicate effectively to do his job.
I wanted to respond to this one not just because it gives me an always-welcome chance to bash Jimmy Carter, but to talk a bit about the skills politicians need.

In particular, we tend to overemphasize those things which are easiest to see, of which public speaking style is probably #1. The press is particularly guilty of this, which is natural; after all, they're in the business of communicating, and it's natural to believe that it's important. And sure, it's important.

But it's only one political skill. It's probably not as important as, say, bargaining abilities. Probably not as important as, for want of a better name for it, political instincts -- recognizing the interests and incentives of other political actors. It's probably not as important as understanding political processes, whether it's budgeting or how nominations work or how agencies run.

The Carter anecdote that goes with this is that the "malaise" speech didn't actually hurt him; it was his actions in the aftermath of the speech which (further) alienated everyone in Washington, which in turn alienated voters.


  1. I always feel bad when Jimmy Carter's bashed, because I feel it would have been such a better world now if we'd kept to his advice then -- particularly the gas-guzzling advice.

    But I can't help but wonder if Romney might be prone to the same political missteps that Carter made; both hold world views strongly shaped by their religious beliefs, and I suspect that both, in trying to define what their jobs as president demand, view bringing citizens to a more moral place as part of their ministry.

  2. zic -

    This presupposes that Romney actually has some sort of moral code. In all seriousness, is there any evidence for that?

    Johnathan -

    Your last para presupposes that voters are influenced by the beliefs/opinions/actions/[help me out here] of Washington insiders. Is there any evidence for that?


    1. Yup, plenty, at least if Washington insiders affect media coverage, either direction or indirectly.

  3. President Obama did not perform well in the debate. Period. To call everything about him into question based on this one event is--let's just say non-productive. The idea that he can't communicate is especially specious given the counterevidence, beginning with his first moments on the national stage.

    One format, on one day, says nothing at all. Apart from its political effect, if any.

  4. It seems that neither Boehner nor Cantor view Obama as a good negotiator, at least based on Woodward's book. If the same parties are negotiating after the election, both in the lame duck fiscal cliff or in the next Congress, I wonder how the documentation of that opinion affects the future negotiations? I suppose it's thinking too many steps ahead in the chess game to believe that either of them took that into consideration in deciding what to say to Woodward.


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