For the last few years the message we’d heard from our relatively liberal media is about how powerful is the U.S. president and how important are leader motives in determining policy outcomes. Specifically, we’ve heard that U.S. outcomes are bad because of Bush’s despicable motives [
The Groseclose and Milyo paper you linked to is, in my judgment (and I've spoken to Groseclose and corresponded with Milyo), fundamentally flawed. This isn't the forum for going into it, but I felt the need to throw it out there.
Bush has destroyed Iraq for profit of friends and because his PNAC doesn't like non-Christians. Obama does not serve the PNAC.
Bush mildly delayed the NO rescue by not immediately firing incompetant officials (like the horse trainer who didn't set up a command centre). Do you really think Obama's mother would tell the American people: people living in the Superdome are doing good for themselves (I really hope Barb just meant to say: good, given the situation)?
GWB campaigned on a platform that no one would tempt the US thirst for oil. He actively has lobbied for big oil and supressed scientific discovery so badly, I'm almost willing to give the Chinese super-power model a try, for all its warts. Obama has a $150 billion ten-year enviro-trust in the planning. He has enough measured caution in his stated biofuel and nuclear platforms, that he might even avoid/divest these pyrhic "solutions".
The US deficit is primarily a Republican tax-cut and Iraq War creation. Bush's Iraq War added $5/barrel to oil prices and maybe he unleashed inflation or USD flight that added another $5. Not much. His corn biofuel subsidies doubled corn prices and increased most other crop prices....
I doubt B.Obama would utilize racial profiling of Arabs as much as Bush is. I say this because he has friends (such as the Reverand) who should keep him grounded from his upbringing. It would be neat to see Obama institute a law that all whites must spend a day a year in a federal prison, like "Waldon Two" or the Soviet gulag. I'd bet 1/2 (drug possession, THC distribution, consensual sex with a mid-teen, not rapes and murders) the black inmates get immediately released in the aftermath...on the downside, Hepatitas, MRSA and HIV rates among affluent free whites would rise.
I agree its more a systemic than a leadership issue. If he was so bad, he wouldn't have won in 2004. My own belief for the CNN flip-flop, is the network realized just in 2008 it was responsible for helping to dumb-down American 2000/2004 voters, and it didn't want to unleash a third harm on the US people. CNN is remorseful.
komponisto, your beliefs that there was an intelligence failure, and that virtually every intelligence service believed that the Hussein regime possessed stockpiles of prohibited weapons, is a belief that is not supported by current evidence; nor is it supported by the contemporary evidence of the U.N. weapons inspectors under Hans Blix.
President Bush made statements he knew to be false with the intent of securing the consent of the American Congress for a war he chose.
Robin, do you believe Bush was, or was not, personally responsible for making torture American policy?
The study Hanson cites is possibly unreliable when it comes to measuring media bias in comparison to the population of America, but it does a decent job in measuring comparative media bias, e.g. X media outlet is more ___-leaning than Y media outlet. Except even that assumes two things: 1) there's a roughly equal distribution of think tanks across the spectrum, and 2) there's a roughly equal distribution of trustworthy think tanks across the spectrum. And in adjusting for these, you then have to assume that media outlets prefer credibility over ideological compatibility (or at least desire it significantly).
Media bias is hard to measure because political leanings themselves are hard to measure. I really don't think that the media is too biased either way you look at it. Considering the types of people who get into journalism (young fresh-out-of-college adults with a lot to say), the places where news is more likely to be covered, and other factors, I'd assume that American media as a whole, if anything, is a little left-of-center in comparison to America's spectrum as a whole.
[Bush] lied in public about the evidence to go to war.
I don't mean to get into a political flamewar, but this is simply not true. There was an intelligence failure. That's not the same as the president lying. It just isn't.
I get that you don't like Bush's policies, but that doesn't make him a liar or a criminal. Bush, like virtually everyone else (including the intelligence services of countries that opposed the invasion), believed that the Hussein regime possessed stockpiles of prohibited weapons. At the time, that was an eminently reasonable belief. Learn to accept this.
There's a missing link here, which is that Bush has pushed a Nixonian theory of the unaccountable executive and consolidated major powers under the executive. Look at his signing statements, for instance, which were blank checks to himself to ignore the rule of law. He bears the responsibility when the executive branch defies the legislative branch and the will of the people. Throughout, he has used "national security" as a fig leaf to operate in defiance of the law and in secret.
So yes, he controls the executive branch, not typhoons or the economy. Let's look at what he's done with just his branch.
Bush filled the federal bureaucracy with incompetent timeservers, cronies, and patrons. There is a reason all the crap is hitting the fan now: in a real emergency, heckuva-job chair-wasters are not smart and they do not get things done.
Hurricane Katrina was a natural disaster no one could control. FEMA was a human disaster controlled by a doofus. Bush was mugging for the cameras with McCain and country western stars when the water hit the top of the levees.
Bush replaced US attorneys on politically sensitive investigations, at the behest of his political team. Alberto Gonzales took the fall for the President, but the current AG is refusing to file contempt charges handed over by Congress for Rove and Miers.
He restarted TIA in defiance of a law that declared it illegal, recreating a vast information-sucking operation. This goes hand in hand with his defiance of FISA, a quite explicit law forbidding the wiretapping of Americans without particularized warrants. He told the NSA to start sucking up call data and Internet traffic indiscriminately, and he did so repeatedly. Even now he and his supporters in Congress are trying lamely to shut down lawsuits by EFF, ACLU, and others to get to the bottom of things.
There is a very real trail of evidence that Bush couldn't have cared less about whether Iraq, but was determined to invade from early in his presidency. See, eg, the Paul O'Neill book by Ron Suskind. He bent the national security apparatus to his will to do so, then lied in public about the evidence to go to war.
The so-called liberal media (see mediamatters.org for another side of the story) has been his pliant co-conspirator, with the exception of some ignored voices out on the fringes.
The list actually goes on. So to answer your question, I hardly know whether the media will make excuses for the ups and downs of an Obama presidency. But there is plenty to lay at the feet of an active and malevolent presidency, including the elephant in the room, detainee treatment, Abu Ghraib, and torture.
[Brown] warned Bush there were problems, but was ignored.
You can defend Brown by saying Bush ignored him, but that hardly supports your original contention that Bush had little control over the outcome.
if they had been super competent they might have fixed [the major problem], namely the crummy shape of the levees in New Orleans, a problem that had been publicly known and reported on for a long time.
Since the problem was so well known, I'd say that ordinary competence ought to have sufficed.
Let's not get lost in the weeds, though. My main point is that modern presidents past, present and future may not have a lot of direct control over the particular outcomes, but do exercise a great deal of influence just by picking who runs what. The corollary is that it is fair to hold a president responsible for his staffing picks.
but a massive correlated group of people is a collective failure and it can only sensibly be blamed on collective or institutional action (or some charismatic leader).
That's a remarkable statement. If I approach a single stupid and greedy person with a get-rich-quick offer, and they accept, they are responsible for making a bad choice. But if I approach a group of stupid and greedy people individually, and each accepts the offer, there is now a collective action responsible for their choices? Even though their choices were made independently?
How exactly do you intend to prevent legally competent adults from entering into contractual obligations that will likely hurt them, since they cannot be considered capable of being responsible for their own actions? Being responsible for their own actions is what being 'legally competent' means.
It seems that demand accumulates for posts that mention politics, giving commentors an excuse to talk about politics. Perhaps we should make this a regular feature, like our monthly open thread. :)
Joined by Eliezer, if he can figure out a) if he is alive or dead, and b) which universe he is in.
Regarding "Brownie," later reports came out that in fact he was not nearly as incompetent as he was portrayed in the media, although almost certainly less competent than most of his predecessors. He warned Bush there were problems, but was ignored. However, at best there might have been a better handled evacuation and more emergency equipment and supplies in sooner, with probably some lives saved. But the major problem ran much deeper and was not obviously the fault of Brownie or Bush, although if they had been super competent they might have fixed it, namely the crummy shape of the levees in New Orleans, a problem that had been publicly known and reported on for a long time.
To my earlier post:Pre-Katina projections of fatalities if New Orleans were a Katrina strength hurricane were over 10,000. I should add:The people who made those projection would probably not have bet on it.
"the tsuyoku naritai response"
Individual people, one at a time, are held responsible for their banking decisions all the time, but a massive correlated group of people is a collective failure and it can only sensibly be blamed on collective or institutional action (or some charismatic leader).
A million individual failures add up to a million individual failures and nothing else, just as if you keep adding 2s, they will always add up to 2*n no matter how many 2s you add. When I'm at the bank, with my pen poised over the sub-prime mortgage contract, every single one of the firing neurons that affect the decision whether to make my mark or not is inside my own head. My neighbour might have influenced me, the newspaper might have influenced me, the market might have influenced me, but at the moment of decision, none of their thoughts or beliefs directly affect the movement of my arm.
If it turns out that they influenced me badly, then the tsuyoku naritai response is "I must pay less attention to bad influences", not "someone should have saved me from myself".
institution designing committee... reliably generate synthetic demagogues... truth-seeking to half-competent truth-seekers... significantly centralizing power over major governmental functions... parallel academic structures... competition would tend to be bureaucratic.
You are Sir Humphrey Appleby and I claim my five pounds.
Good comment Mark Geddes!
Caledonian, actually on this point I think Douglas Knight's recent point and Phil Goetz's point about people as a gas hold pretty well. Individual people, one at a time, are held responsible for their banking decisions all the time, but a massive correlated group of people is a collective failure and it can only sensibly be blamed on collective or institutional action (or some charismatic leader). By the fact that others in their circumstances acted in the same way we know that the individual people were not individually responsible in the only relevant sense, that of their actions reflecting disposition rather than situation. When possible, try to be on guard for the fundamental attribution error.
Collective activities can be awesomely effective, but collectives generally lack human style deliberation and initiative. Structuring them to do what will have good effect is a job for human experts, but unfortunately a highly politicized one, nearly guaranteeing that it will usually be done by demagogues or their pseudointellectual equivalent instead. It seems to me that we thus need an institution designing committee of economically secure and only modestly needy (to minimize politicization) experts in designing institutions or collectives who can reliably generate synthetic demagogues prone to acting either beneficially or significantly less harmfully than the natural kind and who can also reliably reject or at the minimum nicely ignore pseudointellectuals (ideally while shunting them into some sort of status contest that doesn't look very truth-seeking to half-competent truth-seekers OR have much impact on policy so they don't keep causing trouble) while pushing their institutional designs or design improvements into reality (preferably initially in small local laboratories). Intuitively, new federal bureaucracies in medicine and education might emerge fairly soon, significantly centralizing power over major governmental functions with significant current state autonomy, large budgets, and relatively powerless but publicly high status parallel academic structures into which pseudointellectuals could be shunted. High level positions in such bureaucracies might be great places to place such an institution of experts. It would be low profile, and competition would tend to be bureaucratic. Better than the National Parks Commission! What's really needed to make this work is some sort of autonomy for such roles such as that enjoyed by the fed.
Let me just second chance's post -- the consensus view isn't on Bush's motives -- its definitely on his utter incompetence. Now if you said Cheney -- well, than there is a lot of talk about how he is pure evil. BTW, its really, really hard to argue that the Bush administration did not forcefully start the war in Iraq. Its hard to imagine a president Gore would have pursued the same route. Maybe, once a president decides on a course of action, he loses control on the outcome, but its pretty clear that that one decision was Bush's and his alone.