September 14, 2011

Political Reasoning: Often Not Very Smart

The prospects for an Obama reëlection are not good. The Democrats’ one hope is that the Republicans, driven by Tea Party extremists, will nominate a candidate who will be unappealing to everyone not occupying the far right of the political spectrum. This could give Obama a win, perhaps even energizing dispirited voters to vote against the Republican, if not for the Democrat. Of course, this scenario could also yield the worst possible result, a Rick Perry or Michele Bachmann in the White House.

The U.S. electorate has its dyed-in-the-wool Democrats and Republicans who will pretty much vote their party irrespective of who is running. The large majority of voters, however, even if they identify with one or the other major parties, can, in the right circumstances, be induced to vote for a candidate not of their party. They are sometimes easy prey to the fallacious arguments of one party or another.

Americans are often eager to throw the “bums” out when things seem to be going badly, irrespective of the party to which the “bums” belong. Especially vulnerable is anyone running under the party banner of the party controlling the White House when the economy is in bad shape. This very ingrained habit clearly works against Obama and the Democrats.

Although the reasoning behind the “throw-the-bums-out” strategy is not completely irrational, it is not a strategy guaranteed to improve things, either. A candidate who fails to be reëlected after raising the ire of constituents may be a replaced by someone who is better, worse, simply different, or perhaps even indistinguishable from the former office holder.

Consider our current economic situation. It is grim and, if improving, it is hardly doing so at a rate likely to be noticed by the average citizen. The obvious logic in this situation is: If a Democrat is in the White House and the economy is in bad shape, then the next President should be a Republican. It is difficult for anyone but a dyed-in-the-wool Democrat to resist this logic. One hears from the Republicans over and over that whatever the President is doing is not working, so it is time for a change. Perhaps it is. But which change?

There are two obvious errors in the Republican logic. First is the assertion that Obama has done nothing to improve the economy. The Republican mantra is that government stimulus projects do not work. Many economists, however, believe that what stimulus the President has been able to get through Congress has worked, at least in the sense that it has kept the economy from getting even worse. Remember that Obama inherited a poor economy from George Bush.

The second logic problem is the assumption that the President can, by arm-twisting, sheer force of will, or by some other means, impose his will on the country. Republicans have become every President’s nightmare, however, and, lately, it seems that nothing can pass Congress unless it is approved by the Tea Party. Our Founding Fathers would be appalled by this development. It is clear that, if the Republicans were not opposing everything because they want to see Obama fail, the President would be proposing bolder plans than he has. In particular, the stimulus bill passed at the beginning of his presidency would have been bigger had Republicans not been so oppositional.

Alas, most voters are not particularly analytical thinkers, nor, in many cases, do they have ready access to the facts that would make deeper analysis possible. It is clearly true that the government stimulus that President Obama has been able to get written into law has not made our economy healthy. Whereas the Tea Party concludes from this that no stimulus is beneficial, it is just as easy to conclude that more, not less, stimulus was needed. Tea Party types do not even consider the latter possibility, as it does not support their preconceived notions of how government should operate. Republican opposition may well have prevented a more effective stimulus program from being passed.

In fact, the question of whether more or less of some government action is indicated if the action so far has not had the desired result, is not uncommon. Interestingly, tax cuts have occurred under the Obama administration, and the fact that the economy has not recovered after those tax cuts were enacted might suggest that they were ineffective. One could as easily argue for eschewing future tax cuts as useless fiscal policy. On this matter, however, the Tea Party faithful argue that we have simply not cut taxes enough. Do you see a pattern here? It is clearly not one involving objective analysis, but one of believing what you believe and ignoring the facts.

May God help us. We are clearly incapable of helping ourselves.

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