The Public Philosopher is going on holiday break, with only sporadic posting until January 3. We hope you’ll rejoin us then.
A Daily Dish reader makes an important point about the relative ambiguity of Obama’s philosophical roots and the political need to convey a compelling theme:
Obama’s philosophy could be called “pragmatism,” but the problem is that while pragmatism might reorient how things get done in Washington, it won’t reorient the country’s political philosophy because it won’t connect with the public …
Voters knew where Reagan would come out on an issue, even if they disagreed with him. If voters ask themselves what Obama will do to address a problem, and the answer is “Whatever government programs/regulations he can get thru Congress,” they will both disagree with him (he’ll “betray” liberals and anger conservatives) and have no sense of what compromises he will make on subsequent issues.
In an age where government actions is needed, Obama needs to have a simple hook with voters to explain his philosophy, something along the lines of “Not big or small government, but effective governance.”
I think it’s right to just suggest that at this point, liberals and conservatives would probably agree that Obama’s approach involves something like “pragmatism,” compromise, and political charisma – but many on both sides would likely view the resulting policies as failures. Liberals saw his election as an opportunity to enact needed basic changes – repeal DOMA and DADT, pull out of Iraq, pass universal health care (with at least a public insurance option), and adopt significant measures to combat climate change. Thus far, Obama is batting a very low average in the eyes of so-called “purist” progressives.
While some moderate conservatives are praising the president’s piecemeal approach to change, many on the right instinctively oppose the initiatives of a Democrat-dominated government, and as this reader says, are likely to view even severely compromised policies as leftist encroachments.
Obama is left with no real ideological “base,” then, and must rely instead on the strength of his practical methodology. But is “realism” enough to sustain popular support in America? My sense is that pragmatic successes are the stuff historians and political scientists appreciate, but that political victories in real time require the kind of compelling philosophical message that FDR, JFK, and Reagan (arguably) exemplified.
Just one day after I posted on compromise and President Obama’s positions of health care and climate change, The New York Times goes and publishes a news analysis piece on just this issue. The article titled: “Compromising on 2 Issues, Obama Gets Partial Wins” begins: “President Obama’s chief of staff, Rahm Emanuel, likes to say that the only thing that is not negotiable is success. The last 48 hours offered a case study in how the president applies that maxim to governing.” The article then goes into a detailed discussion of how and why Obama compromised on health care and climate change and how this helps us understand his governing philosophy.
Then on Monday, I get an email from the President (I’m going to assume this went to a much wider distribution list than just me), claiming victory on health care report, arguing that “as with any legislation, compromise is part of the process…. we are now on the cusp of making health insurance reform a reality in the United States of America.”
Both are interesting reads. If only the reporter and the President would acknowledge their inspiration.
Yesterday I discussed in depth whether American officials should fight the murder conviction by an Italian court of Amanda Knox. The NYT’s The Lede wrote last week on a British Court, which issued an arrest warrant for former Israeli foreign minister Tzipi Livni, alleging she committed war crimes during the 2009 war in Gaza. The case of Livni adds two new dimensions to this complex issue. First, does it matter if the alleged crime was committed by someone acting in their capacity as a government official? Second, does it matter if the crime they are convicted of occurred outside of the territory in which they are being prosecuted?
The Independent Medicare Advisory board is making the rounds on the blogosphere. Reactions range from the hilarious to the sober, with the former category represented by the Weekly Standard (via Yglesias).
Democrats are protecting this rationing “death panel” from future change with a procedural hurdle. Could it be because bureaucratic rationing is one important way Democrats want to “bend the cost curve” and keep health care spending down?
The policy justification for the panel is to remove cost decisions from the political process, where they will be subject to strong lobbyist pressure. If costs are ever really going to go down on a per-procedure basis, such an independent voice is likely necessary. Controversially, there are provisions included that make it procedurally difficult or impossible to amend or repeal this provision.
But Megan McArdle at the Atlantic has an important process-oriented objection.
But process matters. What if your select commission runs amok? Or what if 80-90% of Americans simply hate it and don’t want it? It is neither practically nor ethically desirable to appoint a dictator. Nor is any man so wise that he should be able to enshrine his preference into unchangeable law for all time.
Luckily, a friend who has covered senate procedure in other contexts assures me that this probably will not work: as a law, it’s unconstitutional, and Senate rule changes require a 2/3rds majority that they are not going to get.
Although I doubt that Reid’s objective is a diabolical means of making his agenda permanent, I do think there are real dangers with senate rule changes like this; permanent legislation would remove all democratic accountability from the commission as well as hamstringing ability to redress unforeseen policy concerns. The risks run more towards slippery slope as opposed to present dangers of the provision at hand, but they exist all the same.
Indeed, the objections seem so obvious it’s really surprising that the language was included in the bill, critical as it may be. Maybe there is something to be said for the conspiracy theories asserting that the bill’s great length hides all sorts of diabolical provisions. (Probably not.)
Image courtesy Wiki Commons
If you haven’t heard of Bloggingheads.tv, you should check it out. It’s basically a huge archive of videos in which two “experts,” sometimes famous, sometimes not, discuss important political topics. There are some great ones between Robert Wright and Christopher Hitchens, Anne-Marie Slaughter and Steven Walt, and so on. Here’s a snippet of a conversation between law prof Eric Posner and Heather Hurlburt of the National Security Network on moral arguments surrounding climate change policy.
Should American officials fight for the release of Americans convicted abroad?
A week and a half ago, Seattle native Amanda Knox was convicted in an Italian court of the November 2007 murder of her English roommate Meredith Kercher. Knox who was on study abroad from the University of Washington at the time, originally confessed, but later recanted, claiming her confession was made under duress and police abuse. Her conviction caused outcry in United States and elsewhere, with Washington Senator Maria Cantwell, saying she has “serious questions about the Italian justice system” and even securing a meeting with Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to discuss the case.
This all raises an interesting question: under what circumstances, if any, should American politicians and diplomats challenge the convictions of Americans convicted of crimes abroad?
One position is that the U.S. government should never spend political capital challenging the conviction of Americans abroad. Each country has a right to create and enforce its own laws, the argument would go, and anyone traveling within that country has a responsibility to understand and follow its laws, just as we would expect foreigners in the U.S. to follow our laws.
But for most, I imagine, it is possible to find at least some situations in which we would want the United States to intervene. Read more
See? My 2009 obsession with the ethics of public conduct wasn’t crazy. Check out this nifty Politico piece on the “The Year of the Scandal“:
Yes, there have been years that saw bigger sex scandals. But 2009 will still be remembered for the steamy news that rocked the political world. A governor confessed to having an Argentine mistress. A senator became snared in an ethics mess after admitting he had an affair with a staffer – who was married to another staffer. And still, it all looked tame compared with Tiger Woods.
Julian Sanchez has some lucid thoughts about an ongoing discussion at the Daily Dish regarding free will:
We can say something similar about the folks who weigh in with dire concerns about what the rejection of free will means for moral judgment. Our particular intuitions about its content may benefit from theoretical reflection, but it’s just backwards to suggest that the “wrong” answer to a metaphysical question about agency or the nature of the mind could somehow require us to throw out the whole language of value and meaning. And while it would require a long post of its own to really cash this out, I think it’s a good sign that something’s wrong with your value theory if it does depend in this crucial, systemic way on the answer we give here.
The New York Times Magazine has an article on professor of jurisprudence Robert P. George, “the countries most influential Conservative Christian thinker.” George is Roman Catholic, but he
rests his ethics on a foundation of “practical reason”: invoking no authority beyond the authority of reason itself
There is lots of interesting philosophical discussion in the article on abortion, gay marriage and health care and educations as rights.