February 26, 2003

Our Idiot Ottoman Sultan Problem

After the death in the sixteenth century of Suleiman the Lawgiver, the Ottoman Empire went rapidly downhill. One cause was the... peculiar system by which the subsequent Sultans were chosen and trained. It became apparent to ruling Sultans that to allow more than a single one of one's sons to gain experience as a provincial governor or an army commander led to disaster: each son would desperately try to build a faction of clients and soldiers, and each Sultan's death would be followed by a brutal and destructive civil war (if, that is, the sons did not preempt and start the civil war before their father's death. So the sons of the Sultan were kept inside the palace all their life. However, the eldest-son principle being weak, all that did was shift the struggle from outside to inside the palace. Each son (and his mother) would wage a war of intrigue against the others, trying hard to assemble a sufficient coalition to support his accession to the Sultanate when the time came. On the death of one Sultan, all but one of his sons would be executed. Only the one son who had the support of enough clerics, bureaucrats, and--most important--janissary officers would survive, and would become Sultan.

Needless to say, to have spent your childhood and youth trapped in a very large palace preparing for the day when you and your faction could kill all your whole siblings, half-siblings, and their mothers, other kin, and supporters did not prepare Sultans-to-be to rule an empire that extended from Budapest to Basra.

After the death in the twentieth century of John F. Kennedy, the American Empire... did not go downhill. There is, as Adam Smith said, "much ruin in a nation." And we are immensely strong. But we have evolved a... peculiar system by which our Presidents are selected and trained. It has become apparent that Washington experience is the kiss of death for anyone who wants to be President. Of all our Presidents elected since 1972, only once--George H.W. Bush's accession to the throne of Ronald Reagan--has a candidate who has previously spent any time at all in Washington been elected. You see, to spend time in Washington is to have to make choices about national political issues. And to make choices is to make enemies. And enemies have long memories.

It is much, much better to have spent one's previous political career completely outside Washington. Then each national-political faction can imagine that you have their interests at heart (especially because you will make friendly noises to them). They will project their hopes onto the blank screen which is their lack of knowledge about what went on back in your home state. And so you can assemble a large enough coalition to win the party nomination and then the presidency. Since 1972, to be an unknown governor--usually southern--is the way to become an American President.

This is not a partisan point: it applies to Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton as well as to Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush. In all four cases America--American voters, the American press corps, and other American politicians--had virtually no clue about what they were voting for. All of these Presidents turned out to have extraordinary weaknesses--weaknesses that, had they been widely known before their election, would certainly have disqualified them from serious consideration for the office. Some have turned out to have remarkable and unexpected strengths as well: either dumb luck, or evidence that Divine Providence really does safeguard the destinies of fools, children, and the United States of America.

Moreover, all of these Presidents have come into office drastically underbriefed. They not only don't know what they think of the big policy issues, they barely know what the big policy issues are: they've been governors, not senators, committee chairs, or cabinet secretaries, and the issues that state governments deal with have relatively little overlap with those that the federal government has to deal with. Moreover, the unknown governors whom we elect President these days have a very hard time getting up to speed: they're overscheduled politicians with their days overfilled with ceremonies, meetings, fund-raising trips, state visits, and so on. Only one of the four unknown governors--Bill Clinton--ever got up to speed enough to make the administration his administration following his policies, and even then not until three or so years had passed. (Ronald Reagan might have been able to get up to speed--but I think that by halfway through his first term he was already being hobbled by the early effects of his Alzheimer's Disease.)

So what, then, does a modern President do? He does what an underbriefed and underqualified Ottoman Sultan did. He picks a Grand Vizier (or several Viziers for different issue areas). He picks a Vizier whom he, personally, trusts--not a competent one, or a generally trustworthy one, or a brilliant one. And if he chooses well, things work. If not, things don't. Bill Clinton chooses the less-than competent Ira Magaziner as Vizier for Health Policy. Ira proceeds to mislead the President (and himself) about the likely degree of support for comprehensive health-care reform from the Congress, the interest groups, and the media. Things go badly indeed. Bill Clinton chooses the very, very competetent Bob Rubin to be Vizier for Economic Affairs. Things go well.

Policy becomes a byzantine struggle between high federal officials for the President's ear and confidence. Master of Soldiers for the East Zbigniew Brzezinski conducts a war of character assassination against Minister for Barbarian Affairs Cyrus Vance, and U.S. foreign policy wavers erratically and inconsistently as first one and then the other is shown Jimmy Carter's favor. Good Vizier Colin Powell establishes his dominance and wins the trust of the Sultan, and people sleep more easily for a while. Master of the Treasury David Stockman tries to convince Ronald Reagan that balancing the budget should be priority number one, but loses influence as it is revealed that he has been talking too openly with Atlantic Monthly reporters, and the chance to keep the exploding federal budget from becoming a severe drag on the economy is lost.

Now things aren't, in the grand historical perspective, all that bad. George W. Bush's erratic business career followed by six years as Governor of Texas made him much better prepared to be President than Selim the Sot was prepared to be Sultan. The penalty for losing the struggle for the Sultan's ear in the Topkapi Palace was death. the penalty for losing the struggle for the President's ear in the West Wing is to be invited to spend more time with one's family. In the Byzantine and Ottoman Empires a major mode of politics was assassination. In turn-of-the-twenty-first-century Washington the major mode of internal executive-branch politics is character assassination.

Nevertheless, there is a sense in which American politics since 1976 (save for the Reagan-Bush transition of 1989) has had a distinct Byzantine or Degenerate-Ottoman flavor. A new Sultan takes office. He is an unknown quantity: he has never dealt with these issues before, he has little experience with government on this scale, even his preferences and ideological beliefs are unknown, having been largely hidden from view by the necessities of the campaign. He picks his initial Grand Viziers. Other competing Vizier-candidates are jealous, and work to undermine them. The Viziers in favor flatter the Sultan, and try to strengthen their hold over him. Disasters happen. The Sultan's temper flares. A coterie around the Sultan decides that somebody has to go, and policy shifts as a new Vizier takes the reins...

We can do better. We ought to do better. We need to find some way to elect known, respected politicians with serious Washington experience--rather than unknown, underbriefed, and underqualified governors--to the Presidency.

Posted by DeLong at February 26, 2003 01:07 AM | TrackBack

Comments

I guess this is a bad time to ask if you're going to endorse Howard Dean.

Posted by: Dan on February 25, 2003 08:21 PM

____

:-)

He has been chair of the National Governors' Association--the interface between the governors and Washington--so he's... less ill-prepared than most.

Besides, I'd much rather have a Democratic unknown governor who can learn an the job than a Republican ex-unknown governor who doesn't seem to be able to...

Posted by: Brad DeLong on February 25, 2003 08:33 PM

____

Very interesting. I can imagine your pain in saying nice things about Reagan.

A few reactions:

Quoting here:

You see, to spend time in Washington is to have to make choices about national political issues. And to make choices is to make enemies. And enemies have long memories.

It is much, much better to have spent one's previous political career completely outside Washington. Then each national-political faction can imagine that you have their interests at heart (especially because you will make friendly noises to them). They will project their hopes onto the blank screen which is their lack of knowledge about what went on back in your home state.

My guess is that the "enemies with memories" factor is MUCH less important than the "blank slate" factor. And don't we say "tabula rasa", at least at crossword puzzle time?

Secondly, I wonder about your next-to-last paragraph:

A new Sultan takes office. He is an unknown quantity: he has never dealt with these issues before, he has little experience with government on this scale, even his preferences and ideological beliefs are unknown, having been largely hidden from view by the necessities of the campaign. He picks his initial Grand Viziers. Other competing Vizier-candidates are jealous, and work to undermine them....

That probably captures the spirit within the new team, but seems to overlook the enthusiasm with which the policies of the previous administration are discarded or ignored. Some of that is inevitable if a change in party has occurred, but my impression is that some policies are scrapped just because they "weren't invented here".

Finally, going back in time: LBJ and JFK came from Washington. Ike did not, Truman had been a Senator, FDR was an outsider, sort of (a failed VP run in 1920?), Hoover had Cabinet experience, Coolidge was an outsider, Wilson was Governor of the great state of NJ, and it is getting late.

So, pre-1972, insiders 4, outsiders 4.

Well, I am inclined to agree with you that this is a modern problem.

And next, do you plan to address the question of stealth candidates for the Federal Courts? Is this a democracy, or an extended-play version of "I've Got A Secret"?

Posted by: Tom Maguire on February 25, 2003 08:36 PM

____

Hmm, as a clarification,when I said "Ike did not [come from Washington]", some might reasonably imagine I scored him as an outsider. Brainlock!

Make it 5-3, insiders win!

Posted by: Tom Maguire on February 25, 2003 08:43 PM

____

This is an interesting point you make about our sultans. Having thought about it for a while, though, I now wonder how much credit we should give the incoming sultan for picking any decent viziers. You mention Robert Rubin as an inspired pick, but I had been under the impression that the reason he was picked was not so much for his economic brilliance as a reward for his impressive fund-raising ability.

On a possibly related point, it has been noted that many a Supreme Court justice of late has been plucked out of the equivalent of the judicial hinterlands, and presumably for the same reason.

Man, is this depressing...

Posted by: Jonathan King on February 25, 2003 08:57 PM

____

Too good to pass up....

FDR was Asst. SecNav during WWI--inside, if not
politically.

Harding was an outsider, like Coolidge.

Wilson had studied Washington politics as an academic.

Taft had been in the Cabinet.

T. Roosvelt had also been Asst. SecNav.

So to match the post-Ford period for lack of
Washington experience or know-how, you have to go back to Harding, Coolidge, and McKinley. Not an
inspring trio.

Posted by: D. Agnew on February 25, 2003 08:59 PM

____

The European countries conform to Prof. DeLong's vision of a system governed by technocratic professionals, the administrative state. That model is very different from the American system with its competing interest groups operating within a system of check and balances and limited government. American liberalism versus European socialism, however you want to call it.

I see no evidence that the European system produces better leaders. I would put Reagan, Clinton, and even Bush up against anybody Europe has had to offer in recent years.

Posted by: Joe Willingham on February 25, 2003 09:32 PM

____

The real problem is that _any_ political system becomes vulnerable to the Ottoman problem if it grants a single individual too much power. Back in the 19th century and early 20th century, the U.S. had presidents who could both be sufficiently detached and not have the responsibility of setting a superpower's policy. Now, however, the president is both a creature of partisan politics as well as a representative of special (read: moneyed) interests, and the stakes have grown higher thanks to the U.S. having superpower status.

Under those conditions, it is highly dangerous to concentrate all decision-making power in one of the main branches of the Fed gov. in the hands of one individual. Some of these powers actually involve bypassing/ignoring the Constitution--we haven't had a single constitutional war (in the sense of the Senate declaring war) since 1945, come to think of it. But others, such as the ability of the president to nominate judges in the Judicial Branch, especially the SC Justices, to nominate the governors of the Fed Board, and to pardon individuals accused of crimes, are eminently constitutional and involve the making of long-term, extremely important policy by an individual who will both be self-interested and possibly a puppet of his vizier/advisers.

For this reason, I think that one of the main steps to returning the U.S. to full democracy status and eliminating Ottoman disease is to curtail the powers of the president. Most importantly, the president should be absolutely deprived of his ability to order aggressive military action without a declaration of war, and the nomination and confirmation of SC Justices and Fed governors should be left entirely up to Congress. As for fiscal policy, I think it is time to abolish Treasury's status as a cabinet position and make it a semi-independent body similar to the Fed, i.e., the ability to control general revenues is not affected by the Executive Branch, though it would still be accountable to Congress.

And it's not tactful to make comparisons between G.W. Bush and Selim the Sot, by the by...

Posted by: andres on February 25, 2003 10:47 PM

____

No comment other than to say, Brad, that that was a most interesting and thought provoking analysis.

Thanx

Posted by: E. Avedisian on February 26, 2003 12:03 AM

____

Sounds a lot like the complaints tht Krugman made about the extent of the damage capable by expert advisors willing to sell their opinions out in exchange for the opportunity to play in the halls of power.

I agreed with that too.

Posted by: David Glynn on February 26, 2003 12:21 AM

____

I agree with this posting. Well done! Bravo.
May I suggest that one problem is that there is no continuity in the top of the diplomatic corps. Ambassadorships are often rewards for political contributions, and change with each Presidency. It would seem that making these positions more long-term (like the Fed)would add immensely to the collective foreign-policy memory of the entire network.

Posted by: Andrew Boucher on February 26, 2003 12:42 AM

____

OK, what is up with the HTML tags? My cool italics aren't working, and my cooler links are suspect.

More thoughts on outsiders and stealth candidates - how did we get here, and where are we going?


As to how we got here, the proper reaction is to Blame Canada, or the French, or best of all the Quebecois. KIDDING!

As honarary chairman of the Department of the Obvious, I will point to Viet Nam and Watergate, for two reasons. They created an obvious and immediate demand for outsiders; and the post-Chicago reforms to the nominating process took power from the party elders and tossed it to the earnest foot soldiers. I think both parties have taken a bit of time working out how to nominate someone who can rally the faithful yet also be electable.

I think Dems have done a reasonable job, post McGovern, of attempting to nominate candidates with appeal beyond the party base. (I am thinking of Carter, Mondale, the Duke, Wild Bill, and of course Big Al as I say this). However, Carter, Dukakis, and Clinton could be described as both outsiders and "stealth" candidates.

On the Rep side, we have been offered Ford ('76) Reagan (an outsider, but not exactly stealthy, except perhaps as the "Stealth Bomber"), Bush I, Dole, and Bush II. Reagn and Bush II are outsiders. Bush II is also, for purposes of this taxonomy, a "stealth" candidate, although given his family tree, George W is about as "inside" as an outsider could be. As an aside, Bush I was an insider even before he became Vice-President, so for all their talk of distrusting Washington, the Reps do seem to find candidates there.

So up to now, the stealth candidates have been coming more from the Dem side, a point I will revert to.

And where are we headed? Sometimes you move the beach towels after the tide has crested, and I thiink that is the case here.

First of all, 1992 was a bizarre election, with Perot getting 19% (?) of the vote. I would guess that after twelve years of Reagan-Bush, the country was screaming for a fresh face. So, Clinton wins as a stealthy outsider who benefitted from circumstances, including the unwillingness of heavyweight Dem insiders to commit in 1991.

Second, there are folks out there with the idea that Al Gore, insider, won the last election. If the situation had developed slightly differently, would we even be having this conversation?

Third, the current Dem front-runners are Kerry and Lieberman, neither stealthy nor outsiders. Hillary!, when her day comes, will be an insider.

So, are we talking about a temporary blip that is fading into the rear-view mirror? IF we are, I will suggest the following reasons:

1. Fool me once, shame on you....: I voted for Carter in '76 because the alternative looked like absolutely stale white bread. AHHH! Never again, I promised, an oath I remembered all the way until 1992, when I voted for Clinton. (Hey, Safire subtly endorsed him, too). But now I really, really mean it, and I suspect that I am not alone. If I am a bellwether, and what are the odds, the public may be just a bit weary of this "stealth candidate" ploy. John Edwards - go home NOW!

2. Your secret is not safe with me: modern communications, 24/7 news, talk radio, Matt Drudge, and crank bloggers make it much harder for a stealth candidate to shade his/her positions for different audiences, or run away from his ghastly past.

However, if the situation persists, my annoying thought for the day is that the Dem party will continue to be the source of stealthy outsiders. And why might that be? Basically, for the same reason that so many Dems fear the Republicans - the Republican base is in pretty good sync with the leadership on most issues (taxes, defense, law/order, welfare, abortion non-rights, you name it). Republicans can actually nominate someone who has beliefs similar to the party faithful, frightening as that may seem.

On the Dem side, however, the national candidates tend to be viewed as compromised. A Dem friend of mine gave me a good laugh recently by saying "Well, I'm a Democrat, of course I'm opposed to the death penalty!". Really? Neither Clinton nor Gore was, officially at least. Both of them also backed the SDI, not to mention our ludicrous War on Drugs. Gore's vocal support for gun control vanished once he got a look at polling data from Pennsylvania, Michigan, and Missouri. And, on its present course, the Dems are going to nominate a candidate who supported a war opposed by most (many?) of the party faithful.

The point is, the Dem party has some serious schisms between its base and the voting public. You won't take my word for it anyway, but ask Bill Clinton or Joe Lieberman about the DLC and the "New Democrats", or ask Ralph Nader. Previously, some of these divisions have been papered over by stealth candidates, but that game may be played out. Good luck.

Actually, I seriously do mean good luck. I would welcome a choice in 2004 betweeen Bush and someone with a serious track record. There is clearly talent over there.

Posted by: Tom Maguire on February 26, 2003 06:17 AM

____

Maybe it's a positive feature of the American system that the executive does not tend to fall into the hands of DC-based-forever politicians. After all, the goal of the USA is not to create a dictatorship but to preserve our Rights in a Republic under the Constitution. Thus, if the American form of government is inefficient, erratic, and otherwise non-centralized, it's a _good_ thing. I suggest re-reading The Federalist Papers.

Posted by: Kalle on February 26, 2003 06:24 AM

____

A very high quality follow-on to the "unknown Southern governor" posting. Brad is again showing his preference (not a partisan preference) in leadership. It is probably a preference shared by many who visit this site. It is not, however, shared widely enough in the voting public to have much force. The reason we get who we get as leaders is not necessarily because of our electoral system (though that clearly has a good deal to do with it). Rather, it is because of the preferences of voters.

Do governors have weaknesses? As Brad notes, a special weakness characterizing governors is their lack of experience in national and international issues. Do presidents with congressional experience have weaknesses? Nixon (hubris and a disdain for the constitution), Ford (whip inflation now), LBJ (tenacity -- keep fighting a war till you lose a presidency), Kennedy (the more we learn, the more relieved we are to have survived). Are Clinton's weaknesses more worrying? Opinions on Clinton are still so knee-jerk and extreme, that I suspect it is best to leave him to the historians. It seems to me, though, that there are big differences between the abilities and experiences of governors, so that we ought at least to do a better job choosing among 'em. We don't want black slates and, in fact, these guys can pretend to be blank slates only on policy, not on personal qualities. We knew Bush was "incurious", we know about his business practices, we knew he was "divider, not a uniter" from his days as his father's political enforcer. None of that mattered.

Posted by: K Harris on February 26, 2003 06:25 AM

____

Very interesting post - I do think it overstates the value of Washington experience with national and international affairs, to some extent.

The story is that every Senator looks in the mirror in the morning and sees a future President. Except that Governors get elected a lot more often than Senators. But while a national record and raft of enemies goes with that, perhaps, isn't it also true that running a Senate office and being a Senator is less like being a President than is being a Governor?

Part of the problem with electing highly qualified Presidents is: how do you prepare for a job such as that? Maybe the closest similarity would be running a mega-international-corporation, but do you want to vote for Jack Welch for President? 'Nuff said.

Bill Clinton had a powerful intellect and grasp of facts, but he was perenially late for EVERYTHING and had the reputation for debating thorny issues endlessly and not being able to make firm hard decisions. Reagan was much better organized and a great communicator, but he may not have had the intellect to absorb highly-complicated issues.

So anyway, the DeLong post comes at the issue from the intellect and NATIONAL experience side, and that's important, but I think it denigrates the experience of managing a complex political enterprise (ie, Governorship) and understates the importance of common sense intangibles . . . . . . . . as when Sam Rayburn was told how smart all the Kennedy aides were and the degrees they had, he reportedly said, "I'd fell better about them if they had a country sheriff or two . . . . . . "

Posted by: Anarchus on February 26, 2003 06:42 AM

____

Three thoughts --

1. Whether a candidate is "unknown" is an interesting question. You'd think with the possibility of scrutiny in so many media forums, even an obscure governor would become "known." However, as shown by the 2000 election, the scrutiny can be selective. W's business dealings, DUI, military service, etc. escaped most scrutiny, while Gore's statements were parsed and distorted.

2. Senators' disadvantage stems from having a voting record -- Almost any vote on procedural matters can be distorted for political ends.

3. What about Governors' administrative experience? There at least is some argument that being an executive on a state level is better preparation for being President than being a Senator (at least on non-foreign affairs matters). That being said, it's hard to believe that this influences many votes.

Posted by: Claudius on February 26, 2003 06:56 AM

____

Have to disagree with your argument. The single most important qualification for an executive position is executive experience. There is simply no substitute for holding executive authority (even if its over a rather small and uncomplicated fiefdom) as a preparation for bigger and better executive positions.

The fact that these "backwater" governors (And really now, California and Texas are hardly backwaters - bigger in terms of GDP and populations than many of the nation states that our friends on the left admonish us to pay attention to these days) don't know how all of the Is are dotted and Ts crossed in the federal government is perhaps a minor problem, but not nearly as problematic as the situation were we to start regularly electing people whose previous experience was entirely legislative to the presidency. Is the best preparation for the presidency to be the governor of a large state and then later a sentor from that state (or the other way around)? Most probably.

But we don't get many candidates like that. Given the choice between a former governor who knows how to lead, how to build a competent staff and a circle of trusted advisors, how to deal with the media scrutiny that comes with being personally, viscerally identified with a entity much larger than one's self, how to make bold decisions without the cover of a legislative vote, and a senator who knows the ins and outs of the policy areas that his or her particular committee assignments brush up against, I'd take the governor every time.

You point out GHWB as the only non-governor to win the presidency since 1972. But Old George had spent the past eight years in the executive branch (and had private sector experience as a chief executive to boot). Likewise with Harry Truman (though admitedly he was shut out of the inner circle while Roosevelt was alive). In the postwar era only Kennedy was a pure legislator, and while most people would regard his brief presidency as a success, looking back, he was a bit reckless.

I myself voted for Bush, as he conformed better to my personal philosophy, but (and I hope I'm not being biased here), Gore scared the shit out of me for reasons not related to ideology at all. Specifically, it seemed likely that Gore, who prided himself on his mastery of policy minutiae, would be unwilling to cede authority or influence to any strong "Vizier" figures, with terrible consequences. One man is never, EVER, capable of mastering all of the nooks and crannies of governing a nation of 300-odd million people with a $10T economy and an army that could quite possible defeat the combined military might of the rest of the world combined. To believe one's self capable of such a task is to prepare to make bad decisions on a scale never before realized.

Say what you want about Bush (and there are plenty of legitimate areas of criticism there), but he is at least humble enough to know that he needs top-notch people around him to have a chance of being successful. He performed masterfully is assembling a foreign policy team (The tension between the Powell wing and the Cheney-Rumsfield-Rice wing is ultimately healthy, as it allows us to draw on the strengths of both camps), somewhat poorly in assembling an economic team (the first around; let's see what vesion 2.0 can do).

Posted by: sd on February 26, 2003 07:43 AM

____

Have to disagree with your argument. The single most important qualification for an executive position is executive experience. There is simply no substitute for holding executive authority (even if its over a rather small and uncomplicated fiefdom) as a preparation for bigger and better executive positions.

The fact that these "backwater" governors (And really now, California and Texas are hardly backwaters - bigger in terms of GDP and populations than many of the nation states that our friends on the left admonish us to pay attention to these days) don't know how all of the Is are dotted and Ts crossed in the federal government is perhaps a minor problem, but not nearly as problematic as the situation were we to start regularly electing people whose previous experience was entirely legislative to the presidency. Is the best preparation for the presidency to be the governor of a large state and then later a sentor from that state (or the other way around)? Most probably.

But we don't get many candidates like that. Given the choice between a former governor who knows how to lead, how to build a competent staff and a circle of trusted advisors, how to deal with the media scrutiny that comes with being personally, viscerally identified with a entity much larger than one's self, how to make bold decisions without the cover of a legislative vote, and a senator who knows the ins and outs of the policy areas that his or her particular committee assignments brush up against, I'd take the governor every time.

You point out GHWB as the only non-governor to win the presidency since 1972. But Old George had spent the past eight years in the executive branch (and had private sector experience as a chief executive to boot). Likewise with Harry Truman (though admitedly he was shut out of the inner circle while Roosevelt was alive). In the postwar era only Kennedy was a pure legislator, and while most people would regard his brief presidency as a success, looking back, he was a bit reckless.

I myself voted for Bush, as he conformed better to my personal philosophy, but (and I hope I'm not being biased here), Gore scared the shit out of me for reasons not related to ideology at all. Specifically, it seemed likely that Gore, who prided himself on his mastery of policy minutiae, would be unwilling to cede authority or influence to any strong "Vizier" figures, with terrible consequences. One man is never, EVER, capable of mastering all of the nooks and crannies of governing a nation of 300-odd million people with a $10T economy and an army that could quite possible defeat the combined military might of the rest of the world combined. To believe one's self capable of such a task is to prepare to make bad decisions on a scale never before realized.

Say what you want about Bush (and there are plenty of legitimate areas of criticism there), but he is at least humble enough to know that he needs top-notch people around him to have a chance of being successful. He performed masterfully is assembling a foreign policy team (The tension between the Powell wing and the Cheney-Rumsfield-Rice wing is ultimately healthy, as it allows us to draw on the strengths of both camps), somewhat poorly in assembling an economic team (the first around; let's see what vesion 2.0 can do).

Posted by: sd on February 26, 2003 07:43 AM

____

If you look at how other countries *cough cough* elect their leaders then it's not really obvious who's better (or worse) off. In Japan, you get the leaders of powerful party fractions. Which, as we all know, has lead to a long decline of Japan coz reform is impossible. In Germany, you usually get inexperienced (and, more often than not, quite dumb) state governors. Schroeder basically is a totally incompetent idiot and the only thing which saves him these days is that his opposition to the war on Iraq is shared by the vast majority of Germans. Other than that, he's a total failure (not that the candidates of the opposition would eb any better...) In France, everything is heavily centralized so there are no governors to choose from but the results aren't much better - the only reason why Chirac doesn't find himself in front of a judge for corruption charges is that he is the president. Etc.
Democracy in general doesn't seem to favour smart guys as leaders. And that's probably only partly the cynic in me. Take the last US election or the last German election. The smarter guy got the bad press because people can't stand that. I think it comes down to addressing that. It was totally obvious that the media were completely unfair to Gore and Stoiber (for Gore, there even is research about it) and they were overly polite as far as Bush jr and Schroeder are concerned.
On top of that, most people can relate better to people like Bush jr simply because he's more like them. That's what they want. The bright guy is scary. If you look at democratic countries, in almost all cases the candidate who you'd think would be an excellent president/Chancellor never makes/made it. And then, once the dumb guy is in power all those people come up with reasons why having a dumb president/Chancellor is good. Or why it's good to have all those smart advisors (which, in the Bush case, aren't that smart at all! But that's a different story.) Or why the smarter guy would have been worse. Which he might - being smart doesn't prevent you from making terrible decisions and even Bush jr has a good idea every once in a while.
In the end, I think what it comes down to, is you need a strong system of checks and balances so that not too much power can potentially be in the hand of any one single person or party. Any balanced system can easily live with a dumb leader.

Posted by: Joerg on February 26, 2003 09:05 AM

____

sd:
third time's a charm ;)

The stealth candidate issue seems to me to get to the heart of the matter.
On the one hand you want to know what you are getting when you vote for President. On the other hand anyone who holds fully developed views on anything is going to be unacceptable to enough people to be blown out of the water.

There are two ways round this.
--Don't hold precise views on anything but adhere strongly to some strongly expressed “common sense” principles aka Idiot Sultan or
--Make personal compromises on some issues and become anally retentive about presentation. Aka Stealth Candidate
Neither looks very pretty up close but if you try to wrap up the views of a whole country in one man something has to give.

At a guess Brad prefers to work with people who have a real idea about what they are talking about and is therefore upset when the other approach is in charge. SD seems scared of leaders with all the answers. Also a reasonable view.

Democratic presidential candidates have, for as long as I can remember which starts after Watergate, been far more impressive academically than their rivals and have thus fallen into the "Stealth" camp. Republicans obviously have their policy wonks too but rarely seem to put them up for election.
Wonks who get their hands on the levers of power they are the same kind of animal as the "stealth" candidates. When the younger Bush suddenly found the need for a foreign policy he got one from the “New American Century” group who had a developed plan, especially concerned with Iraq, already. Unfortunately they were a bunch of policy wonks who, just like their Democrat counterparts, are scared that the great unwashed will fail to understand the brilliance of their plan by themselves and use all available means to push it through. I think this explains the mendacity over Bin Laden and Iraq and a motivation that allows some good intentions and does not explicitly mention freemasons, big oil or international cosmopolitanism.

Joe:
Reagan a leader? I always thought of him as more a mascot. Put it this way, I don't think The West Wing was based on his presidency.
As for the Bushes, I can't imagine either of them doing well at Prime Minister's Question Time, can you? In any case we European elect our Viziers rather than our monarchs and they can still be quite formidable. Margaret Thatcher? Francois Mitterand? Lech Walesa? Vaclav Havel?

Posted by: Jack on February 26, 2003 09:22 AM

____

Great, insightful post. A lot of people have suggested decadent trends in our Republic (and, in fairness, have done so since 1837, at least), but I think Brad identifies a pretty specific, significant one that is a lot more meaningful than nonsense about Praetorian Guards or declining morals.

That said, a couple responses to other posters:

Kalle's "it's a feature-not-a-bug" argument is an old favorite of libertarians. The problem is that we don't have a benign, bumbling gov't when it is poorly run; we have an arbitrary, massively powerful gov't that invests energy in things like arresting bong salesmen in Pittsburgh and Idaho (while permitting apparent terrorists into the White House to meet the President). Competence, please?

I think the idea that this trend is receding may be right. Ask me in 2012.

I was actually going to raise the executive competency issue before sd did, but not with the same positive spin. I think that sd's argument is very seductive to people - and there's a lot to be said for it - but I think that the bogeyman of a president who, damnit, is just too intelligent and thoughtful is one of the worst manifestations of America's anti-intellectualism. I'd rather have had Gore micromanaging NKorea for the last 2 years than the horrible mess that we have instead.
Sure, the ideal leader may marry the best of both worlds, but I think we can all agree that we're lucky to get a leader who's the best of either world. On some level, the Reagan & Bush2 presidencies show that the gov't will work tolerably well no matter who is[n't] in charge. But when you look at the failures of these admins (Iran-Contra, S&Ls, NKorea, Enron), they generally point to one thing: a power vacuum at the top. As has been said ad infinitum about Bush's advisors, it's great having these (allegedly) brilliant foreign policy hands, but someone still needs to decide which policy to follow. And in Iraq, we've had comical back and forth jerking of policy, as Bush listens to Cheney one day, Powell the next, and Condi the third (BTW, note that that's 2 jerks to the right, and one to the left). Right or wrong, Bush made a bold leadership decision on 9-13-01: Saddam must go. But the path from there to here looks like one of those damn Family Circus cartoons: How Billy Landed in Bagdhad.

Posted by: JRoth on February 26, 2003 09:37 AM

____

"I see no evidence that the European system produces better leaders. I would put Reagan, Clinton, and even Bush up against anybody Europe has had to offer in recent years."

Whatever you say about Thatcher (and I'll be dancing on her grave) her leadership abilities, until the poll tax at least, were unchallenged in Britain. Same with Blair, who, in spite of his current insanity, shows up the personal weaknesses of Bush in a way that's rather embarrassing for Americans to watch. And how about Vlad Putin: not just a wily politician (and a ruthless bastard) but a populist who knows that a good way to manage a huge country is to organise a two-hour phone-in to answer questions from the people every Christmas. Imagine Dubya doing that? Don't think so.

Anyway, until "I don't come from Washington" ceases to be a killer slogan in presidential elections, and is replaced by "I come from Washington, which means I know how to work the system for the people", you're not going to arrest the trend of Ottoman decline in executive ability.

And sd: being Governor of any state (expecially one with such limited gubenatorial powers of Texes) doesn't mean anything in terms of the ability to move up the ladder. At least Jesse Ventura was honest enough to say that his executive role in Minnesota didn't qualify him in the slightest to do politics on the national and international level.

Posted by: nick sweeney on February 26, 2003 09:45 AM

____

A direct way to bias the outcome of our elections towards candidates with "serious Washington experience" would be to change the nominating procedures of one or both of the major political parties.

A national primary, for example, would not allow Carter, Clinton, or Reagan to build "momentum" in places like Iowa and NH.

The bias would be towards those candidates with national name ID and/or those able to raise lots of cash quickly. So 43 would perhaps still be a Bush. But Carter, Clinton, and Reagan would surely not have been selected as their parties nominee with such a selection method.

Posted by: lol on February 26, 2003 11:48 AM

____

A most interesting article, and a perspective I have never considered.

Thanks,from London, UK

Posted by: John D. Miller on February 26, 2003 12:10 PM

____

Brilliant essay.
Thanks.

Posted by: anne on February 26, 2003 12:44 PM

____

"We can do better. "

Someone's been watching Dean speeches!

Posted by: 90210 on February 26, 2003 12:48 PM

____

JRoth: I didn't mean to imply that dumbness was a virtue in Presidents. Clearly we need more, not less, brainpower in government. But I believe that intellectual arrogance in a President is a bigger danger to the country than is ignorance. The best corporate CEOs, for example, are extremely bright men and women. But they also surround themselves with other smart people (and, if possible, people smarter than themselves), constantly seek their counsel and advice on matters of detail that they themselves are not well versed in, and delegate, delegate, delegate. (No, I'm not saying all corporate executives do this: sadly they don't. Only the best do). They do not assume that because they are the smartest person in the room, that their grasp of complex problems is always the best, or that it can't be improved by listening to their staff.

And I think that this is a result of holding executive authority. Chief executives, by virtue of their very public and very feet-to-the-fire roles, are constantly receiving feedback on the results of their decisions. Staff wonks (and legislators), receive much less frequent and much less direct feedback. The policy jock, used to the soothing echo chamber of his own Beautiful Mind, and not used to the harsh light of reality, develops too much faith in his own unique ability to see answers to complex problems.

There were disturbing reports from former Gore aids that, when big thorny issues came up, he would literally lock himself in his office and try to think through to the answers on his own. Gore supporters thought that since he would be better at this than Bush, he would be a better President. I myself thought that since he would even try, he was dangerous. Is Bush too much a puppet of his staff? Maybe. But the opposite state can be just as, if not more, dangerous.


Nick Sweeney: Is being governor of a large state sufficient preparation to be President? No. But neither is being a Senator, or a cabinet member, or Vice President, for that matter. Each skill set has value, but each is incomplete. I simply believe that a skilled executive leader can hire good policy talent, whereas a skilled policy wonk (or legislator) can't hire good executive leadership talent, because executive leadership resides, by definition, with the executive.

Posted by: sd on February 26, 2003 01:14 PM

____

>>I see no evidence that the European system produces better leaders. I would put Reagan, Clinton, and even Bush up against anybody Europe has had to offer in recent years.<<

Not sure what Clinton or Bush did that compares with dragging Spain firmly into the rich countries group, reunifying Germany or the introduction of the euro? I'd put any European leader up against Bush, except Berlusconi.

Posted by: dsquared on February 26, 2003 01:16 PM

____

sd says: "I simply believe that a skilled executive leader can hire good policy talent, whereas a skilled policy wonk (or legislator) can't hire good executive leadership talent, because executive leadership resides, by definition, with the executive."

You're applying corporate abstractions to the business of government. I regard that as a dubious comparison, particularly given the 'success' of the Bush White House's attempt to function like a corporation. In part, because I come from a country that has much less clear distinctions between executive and legislative politics; as such, I regard the American pundit-tendency to disparage 'legislators' as wonks to be highly misplaced.

And I also know that 'executive competence' is one reason for a permanent civil service. You should rent the videos of 'Yes, Minister' some time.

Posted by: nick sweeney on February 26, 2003 01:59 PM

____

sd says: "I simply believe that a skilled executive leader can hire good policy talent, whereas a skilled policy wonk (or legislator) can't hire good executive leadership talent, because executive leadership resides, by definition, with the executive."

You're applying corporate abstractions to the business of government. I regard that as a dubious comparison, particularly given the 'success' of the Bush White House's attempt to function like a corporation. In part, because I come from a country that has much less clear distinctions between executive and legislative politics; as such, I regard the American pundit-tendency to disparage 'legislators' as wonks to be highly misplaced.

And I also know that 'executive competence' is one reason for a permanent civil service. You should rent the videos of 'Yes, Minister' some time.

Posted by: nick sweeney on February 26, 2003 02:01 PM

____

"We need to find some way to elect known, respected politicians with serious Washington experience--rather than unknown, underbriefed, and underqualified governors--to the Presidency."

Absolutely wrong; that's 180 degrees opposed from what we should do!

The problem is that there are too MANY people in Washington who have "serious Washington experience." The incumbency rate for Congress is appallingly high (near 90%, in most elections), and the number of terms served is likewise appallingly high. And Supreme Court justices serve for *life* (which is now far longer than the Founding Fathers ever expected, when they wrote the Constitution)!

We The People need to demand term limits, not exceeding 12 years, for the House and Senate. And term limits for the Supreme Court, too. (Even if they are 18 years or so.)

Some facts about the alarming trend in career elected officials in the United States:

http://www.innerself.com/Magazine/Commentary/Congress_for_Life.htm

"For our first 125 years, about 35 percent of the members of the House retired before every election."

"Average turnover in the House for the entire first century of our government was 43 percent in every election."

"Reelection rates have risen, but not sharply. In the first 102 years of our history beginning in 1790 (the second election), the reelection rate in the House was 82.5 percent, overall. In the first 13 elections, 1790 - 1812, the average reelection rate was a very modern number of 93.7 percent."

"The Foley Forces were fond of saying that 'high' turnover in 1992 demonstrates that term limits are unnecessary. The first error in that assertion is the turnover rate of 25.3 percent was not high by historical standards. Only the exceptionally low turnover rates in the last two decades make it seem 'high'."

The People have been very wise to choose Presidents who have no Washington experience. (We should thank George Washington for his wonderful example, which FDR's shameless breaking gave us a term limit for Presidents.) Where we've goofed is not to *demand* term limits for every Congressperson and Supreme Court judge.

The Constitution definitely needs term limits. People are not volutarily retiring, as they did when the country was founded. And the Founding Fathers could never have imagined, in their worst nightmares, a Congressperson or Supreme Court judge serving beyond age 100! :-(

Posted by: Mark Bahner on February 26, 2003 02:30 PM

____

Wouldn't term limits result in a lot of inexperienced legislators who would have to rely heavily on lobbyists and professional staff to tell them what's going on? (Even more heavily than they do now.)

Posted by: Joe Willingham on February 26, 2003 03:38 PM

____

"Reagan a leader? I always thought of him as more a mascot. Put it this way, I don't think The West Wing was based on his presidency."

Yes, not bloody likely. King Barlett...he (He?) and his minions know what's best for us all! :-/ (Sanctimonius, pretentious gits!)

P.S. I still like the show, if only to scream at the screen when the blithering idiot Bartlett asks rhetorically, "Can't we just agree that it was a stupid-ass (constitutional) Amendment, passed before there were street lights, and move on?"

A hint to the clueless Mr. Bartlett: ALL of the Amendments making up the Bill of Rights were passed before there were streetlights! And you swore an oath on a Bible--you theoretically being a Christian--to uphold ALL of those amendments...even the "stupid-ass" ones.

Another hint: Even ones like the 10th amendments...which you've apparently never even heard of! :-(

P.P.S. Contrast Bartlett's nonsense with Ronald Reagan's wisdom (some of which he unfortunately didn't follow through on):

"Government's view of the economy could be summed up in a few short phrases: If it moves, tax it. If it keeps moving, regulate it. And if it stops moving, subsidize it."

"How do you tell a communist? Well, it's someone who reads Marx and Lenin. And how do you tell an anti-communist? It's someone who understands Marx and Lenin."

"The best social program is a productive job for anyone who's willing to work."

"General Secretary Gorbachev, if you seek peace, if you seek prosperity for the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe, if you seek liberalization: Come here to this gate! Mr. Gorbachev, open this gate! Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall!"

"I hope we have once again reminded people that man is not free unless government is limited. There's a clear cause and effect here that is as neat and predictable as a law of physics: as government expands, liberty contracts."

Posted by: Mark Bahner on February 26, 2003 03:52 PM

____

"Wouldn't term limits result in a lot of inexperienced legislators who would have to rely heavily on lobbyists and professional staff to tell them what's going on? (Even more heavily than they do now.)"

If legislators are "relying on lobbyists," it's probably because they're counting on them for their next elections...which term limits would go a long way towards curing.

As far as the "professional staff" go...perhaps they'd rely on them more. Courses of action seldom lead to *only* good effects (with no new problems). But they'd probably rely on different ones, as the people changed. (Contrast that to a Strom Thurmond keeping the same staff members staff for 40+ years.)

In the final analysis, I'd be very surprised if ANY Congressperson allows his or her staff to do write things that the Congressperson completely opposes.

The very important goal of term limits is to limit power accruing to indivividuals, in a manner never envisioned by the Founding Fathers. (In part, because, other than Hamilton, they probably never dreamed that the federal government would become so powerful. In fact, other than Hamilton, what we have today would probably be a nightmare for the Founding Fathers.)

Posted by: Mark Bahner on February 26, 2003 04:11 PM

____

Mark: why, pray tell, are experienced politicians a bad thing and inexperienced politicians a good thing, outside of knee-jerk arguments abou Washington?

And for that matter, what relevance is there in bringing up the incumbency of legislators when the issue here is the executive branch, not the legislative branch?

Finally, why are the people wise in choosing inexperienced executives, yet not wise in choosing experienced legislators?

BTW, good piece, Brad.

Posted by: Demosthenes on February 26, 2003 04:21 PM

____

I liked the post, believe it too be all too true, but I would remind people that presidencies are made or lost precisely in this kind of cauldron.
Lincoln was really, really an outsider. He believed for example that his Treasury Secretary actually signed each Greenback personally. His cabinet , made up of consumate insiders perpetually tried to undermine him and jockey for position to replace him after the first term. He, on the other hand, was unafraid to put real talent in the Cabinet, including his political enemies, "so he could keep an eye on them." What distinguishes him from Bush was his ability to lead, at every level. To set policy. To pursue it, and to convince. Wenow view him as a something of a political saint, whereas at the time official Washington at best viewed him as a bufoon. Lincoln read criticism of himself intelligently-
I believe it remains to be seen what will happen with Bush II. One bad sign is how insulated he seems from everything and everyone but his advisors. His appearances are mostly to select audiences like armed forces personnel or Justice Department employees. While even before this I find him to be absolutely frightening in his inability to really come to a decision on his own. This is reflected both in his private sector and public sector behavior. It is the very lack of leadership that leads to this situation.

Posted by: Lawrence on February 26, 2003 04:30 PM

____

I forgot to mention that Lincoln's secretaries refered to him as the Tycoon-A term they believed refered to an Eastern Imperial Potentate-Japanese. Probably in reference to the same sort of power struggles that existed then.

Posted by: Lawrence on February 26, 2003 04:53 PM

____

Did I hear somebody dissing Ronald Reagan?

Ronald Reagan met with the pope and they agreed to destroy Communism, and proceeded to do so. This is according to Bob Woodward. With due allowances for Mr. Woodward's love of a good story, there is enough truth in it that Mr. Reagan should be given credit for helping to destroy a truly evil (yes, evil) system which impoverished and oppressed millions. Despite the deficits he will go down in history as a great president who helped to restore freedom to half the planet.

Posted by: Joe Willingham on February 26, 2003 05:27 PM

____

Joe,
I hate to say this but you're full of it. Reagan brought down communism? Give me a break. This is the same guy that thought trees caused pollution and that ketchup was a vegetable. Sadly now, he is.
And, yes, I'm dissing Reagan.


Posted by: tomtom on February 26, 2003 06:17 PM

____

Joe,
I hate to say this but you're full of it. Reagan brought down communism? Give me a break. This is the same guy that thought trees caused pollution and that ketchup was a vegetable. Sadly now, he is.
And, yes, I'm dissing Reagan.


Posted by: tomtom on February 26, 2003 06:18 PM

____

Joe,
I hate to say this but you're full of it. Reagan brought down communism? Give me a break. This is the same guy that thought trees caused pollution and that ketchup was a vegetable. Sadly now, he is.
And, yes, I'm dissing Reagan.


Posted by: tomtom on February 26, 2003 06:18 PM

____

Reagan was poor at dendrology and at nutritional theory. But those deficiencies didn't seem to hamper him in dealing with the Soviet Union.

I have noticed that the more plausible what I say, the more those on the left react with anger and insults rather than reasoned arguments.

Posted by: Joe Willingham on February 26, 2003 06:46 PM

____

Just to repeat and comment/correct:

A national primary, for example, would not allow Carter, Clinton, or Reagan to build "momentum" in places like Iowa and NH.

The bias would be towards those candidates with national name ID and/or those able to raise lots of cash quickly. So 43 would perhaps still be a Bush. But Carter, Clinton, and Reagan would surely not have been selected as their parties nominee with such a selection method.

Posted by: lol on February 26, 2003 11:48 AM

Reagan nearly wrested the nomination from Ford in `76, and was widely perceived as the front runner throughout the 1980 nomination process, although there may have been a hiccup towards George Bush in Iowa. He was anything but a stealth candidate.

This shining site will give you a bit of a glow. Earnest Dems should don eyeglasses to avoid eye-burn:

http://www.ronaldreagan.com/primaries.html

However, I accept your point as to Carter and Clinton. But there is generally no need to mention all three in the same sentence.

Posted by: Tom Maguire on February 26, 2003 07:32 PM

____

sd wrote:
>Say what you want about Bush (and there are plenty of
>legitimate areas of criticism there), but he is at least
>humble enough to know that he needs top-notch people
>around him to have a chance of being successful.

The problem I have with this statement is that I see no evidence at all that he ended up with top-notch people that he actually listens to. There are some people in the administration who appear to be top-notch, but have no influence, a bunch of people last heard from in the Ford administration, and then some others. Who actually gets attention and influence then seems to depend on what political gatekeepers like Rove decide. I am very unimpressed with Bush precisely because I do not have confidence that he himself has sharp ideas, and I do not have confidence that he gets sharp ideas from others.

Posted by: Jonathan King on February 26, 2003 08:01 PM

____

"Mark: why, pray tell, are experienced politicians a bad thing and inexperienced politicians a good thing, outside of knee-jerk arguments abou Washington?"

I don't mind experienced politicians at all. The only bad experience is Washington experience. The last thing the U.S. needs is to have someone who's spent the last 20 years in Washington DC become president. Washington DC is the problem, not the solution.

Ronald Reagan knew that. At least, before he got to Washington. :-(

P.S. It really amazes me that everyone can't see how incredibly incestuous Washington DC has become. President G.W. Bush. Senator Clinton. Senator Dole. All the young and old Kennedys.

Posted by: Mark Bahner on February 26, 2003 08:36 PM

____

"And for that matter, what relevance is there in bringing up the incumbency of legislators when the issue here is the executive branch, not the legislative branch?"

Dr. DeLong wants to bring experienced legislators over to the executive branch. That's exactly the opposite of what is good for the U.S. Unless one wants central command economy, which I would hope any economist has now learned is a mistake. We need to get the legislators out of DC completely (and reduce their pensions so much that the need to get real jobs...if they're not 100 years old). Not move them to the executive branch.

"Finally, why are the people wise in choosing inexperienced executives, yet not wise in choosing experienced legislators?"

???? Reread that sentence, and tell me whether that's what you really meant to ask. As it is, I don't think it makes sense.

I want to get "inexperienced" executives (at least regarding Washington DC...I want them to have MORE experience in the real world, where the rest of us live).

And I want "inexperienced" Congresspersons. (Again, regarding experience in Washington DC. I want them to have MORE experience outside Washington DC.) And I want "inexperienced" Supreme Court judges. We need people with more experience in the real world, not more experience in Washington DC. Term limit everyone!

Posted by: Mark Bahner on February 26, 2003 08:51 PM

____

"This is the same guy that thought trees caused pollution..."

Trees *do* cause pollution, in that they emit terpenes (which are volatile organic compounds, or VOCs), that are converted into tropospheric ozone, when combined with sunlight and nitrogen oxides.

Terpene emissions from trees are what make the Great Smoky Mountains smoky.

Mark Bahner (environmental engineer)

Posted by: Mark Bahner on February 26, 2003 09:09 PM

____

P.S. "Tropospheric ozone" is more commonly called smog (e.g., as found in Los Angeles).

Posted by: Mark Bahner on February 26, 2003 09:14 PM

____

"The problem is that there are too MANY people in Washington who have "serious Washington experience." The incumbency rate for Congress is appallingly high"

"Current Congressmen are too experienced" and "Current Presidents are not experienced enough" aren't incompatible statements.

Posted by: Jason McCullough on February 26, 2003 09:20 PM

____

Mark, is there any particular reason that "Washington" experience is poison. How is study and work in this town worse than in Nashville or Providence or Lincoln. Not different, worse. Please elaborate on this.

And to trees, nature has been calibrated reasonably well to deal with trees, since they've existed for millions of years. I don't think she's had the same experience with the SUV.

Posted by: Sterling on February 26, 2003 09:28 PM

____

Thw two most successful presidents in recent times, Ronald Reagan and Bill Clinton, were both outsiders in Dr. DeLong's sense.

Posted by: Joe Willingham on February 26, 2003 10:38 PM

____

This is a scarily good analogy.

Also, note that the whole "palace" aspect is reinforced by the Washington Post article on the URL. Basically, the Administration cant get any suitably qualified candidate to run important 2nd level jobs at the Department of Homeland Security, because the CIA and FBI "won" the ear of the Powers That Be over who should co-ordinate intelligence. As the DHS wont be doing it, being the responsible undersecretary for intelligence co-ordination sees you on a hiding to nothing.

Therefore, suitably qualified candidates do a Good Soldier Schweik in the War on Terror, and fail to volunteer.

Posted by: Ian Whitchurch on February 27, 2003 02:17 AM

____

The Key To Becoming Grand Vizier In Our Times: Subdue Terror Through Economic Growth

A big part of winning the war on terrorism is convincing potential terrorist recruits and supporters that their interests are being served by America and her allies (for details, see Hernando De Soto's The Other Path -- The Economic Answer to Terrorism). People are at their most convinced when they are psychologically addicted. Psychological addiction takes shape in the part of the brain called the nucleus accumbens, which is fired by the prospects of professional success, romance and laughs (PSRL). Increasing PSRL will be the consuming focus of credibly sustainable providers of lifelong learning and career services (LLCS). In particular, these providers will race to provide financing, as most customers will need loans in order to consume their initial bundle of LLCS. These loan programs will, in time, democratize access to LLCS -- and hence, expand prospects of PSRL to all potential terrorist recruits and supporters. So conspicuously turbocharging maturation of the LLCS market should be a big part of the war on terrorism.

The LLCS market is also expected to be worth hundreds of trillions of dollars in the coming decades. So turbocharging maturation of the LLCS market will also deliver substantial economic growth.

More on this at www.opportunityservices.com/introduction.html

Thoughts?

Enjoy,

Frank Ruscica

Founder
The Opportunity Services Group :: Have Fun to Get Ready
www.opportunityservices.com

Posted by: Frank Ruscica on February 27, 2003 05:20 AM

____

This

http://sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?f=/c/a/2003/02/27/MN138053.DTL

would seem to address that.

Rice/Powell in 2008!

Posted by: Melcher on February 27, 2003 08:26 AM

____

you concluded, "We need to find some way to elect known, respected politicians with serious Washington experience--rather than unknown, underbriefed, and underqualified governors--to the Presidency."

an alternative take is that we should spend much less time judging the candidate, and much more time assessing his hangers-on. Kissinger, Pointdexter, and Cheney? might have been a better harbinger than any "compassionate conservatism" drivel . . .

Posted by: acm on February 27, 2003 01:29 PM

____

"Mark, is there any particular reason that "Washington" experience is poison. How is study and work in this town worse than in Nashville or Providence or Lincoln. Not different, worse. Please elaborate on this."

Just watch a single show of the West Wing, and you'll see. (Sorry, last night's show is on my mind. Unbelievable!)

Very unfortunately, one quarter of this nation's income is sent to Washington DC. But that still means that three quarters is *not* sent to Washington DC.

The idea that Washington DC is some kind of giant brain, "running" the country, has been shown, through extensive historical experience, to be a bad one.

And the idea that only certain people, who have prior experience controlling the "brain," are best suited for national office, is even worse.

This country would be far better off if 5 cents (or less) of every dollar earned was shipped to Washington DC, rather than 25 cents of every dollar. Unsurprisingly, current residents of Washington DC don't see it that way. That's why their experience and point of view hurts the country, rather than helps it.

Posted by: Mark Bahner on February 27, 2003 04:04 PM

____

I see Mark tastefully avoided suggestions that Kim Jong Il should target Washington DC as soon as he builds a decent ICBM. He also avoided mentioning that most current residents of Washington DC cannot elect a voting Congressman and that they get to spend approximately diddly-squat of the 25% of GDP that the rest of the country turns over to Washington. The rest of his argument is too amusing to spend space refuting. Perhaps he should take classes in double-entry bookkeeping.

Posted by: andres on February 27, 2003 06:43 PM

____

I'd just be happy if we abolished the Federal Register and made them actually vote on most of our laws, excuse me, I mean "regulations."

That and quit stretching the Commerce Clause to the breaking point!

Posted by: David Mercer on February 28, 2003 02:12 AM

____

"I see Mark tastefully avoided suggestions that Kim Jong Il should target Washington DC as soon as he builds a decent ICBM."

One big mistake many Libertarians make is to write words that strongly imply that they dislike all government, period. (A very small number of them actually feel that way.)

I don't dislike all government. If the total annual federal budget was...say, $400 billion (i.e. 4% of GDP), with nearly half of that on national defense, the U.S. federal government would be a very good thing. It's "only" the extra $1,800 billion that's bad. ;-)

"He also avoided mentioning that most current residents of Washington DC cannot elect a voting Congressman and that they get to spend approximately diddly-squat of the 25% of GDP that the rest of the country turns over to Washington."

I think the reason the Founding Fathers didn't provide representation for Washington DC is that they didn't expect many people to live there. (The federal government not being very important, as written in the Constitution.) And I'm sure the Founding Fathers expected still fewer peopole to live there, year-round. I wouldn't be opposed to having a Constitutional amendment allowing representation for Washington DC. We could put in in the same amendment as term limits. Maybe then some more Democrats would vote for it...since less than 20% of them voted for term limits the first 2 times. :-/

As for "they get to spend diddly-squat"...yeah, right! One can tell how little is spent in Washington, DC, by looking at the per-capita incomes of Washington, DC, and surrounding counties, versus the REST of Virginia:

http://www.baconsrebellion.com/Issues/07-22-02/Stats_Localities_1990-2000growth.html

The fact that Fairfax/Falls Church is #1, Arlington #2, Alexandria #3, Loudoun #4, and Washington DC #5 has *nothing to do* with the fact that Washington DC is the center of the federal government! (And you call *my* posts, "too amusing too spend space refuting."....As if *you* could. ;-))

"Perhaps he should take classes in double-entry bookkeeping."

??? I don't see anywhere that I mentioned any kind of bookkeeping. If you think it's not a fact that the U.S. federal government receives approximately one quarter of this nation's income, you're the one who's misinformed. That's a well-known fact:

"Federal Spending Consumes - -24% of the Economy, or $6,909 per man, woman and child or, 34% of the economy counting regulatory compliance."

http://mwhodges.home.att.net/fed_budget.htm

Posted by: Mark Bahner on March 4, 2003 03:11 PM

____

"That and quit stretching the Commerce Clause to the breaking point!"

Then you *don't* think a single pro golfer riding in a cart, or not, affects interstate commerce? Well, a majority of the Supreme Court begs to differ! (Ay carrumba! As Judge Scalia appropriately noted in his dissent, it's the new Alice-In-Wonderland interpretation of the Constitution!)

Posted by: Mark Bahner on March 4, 2003 03:16 PM

____

I like your point, although I think it can be overstated. There's nothing magical about the political culture of D.C. that confers on someone who knows how to navigate it particular wisdom; were there, Jesse Helms might have been the best presidential candidate of all time. Moreover, Bush's weaknesses were all known well in advance. We knew he didn't have any foreign policy knowledge (to put it mildly!) and would be leaning heavily on rather extreme personailities. We knew that he had a simplistic world view. If it emerges by consensus that he was a bad choice, it won't have been because interest politics forbids choosing people with national track records. That may be one of the problems, but at least as serious are campaign finance; and commodification of the electoral process; and so on.

Incidentally, in both of your posts on the Ottoman Empire, your historical narrative is distorted, bordering on fictitious. I know it's not your field, and don't want to be TOO pedantic, but you ought to make some effort to be factual. The kafes, or "cage" system that kept sons imprisoned in the palace was in fact a change of pace from the practice of fratricide that was formalized by Mehmed the Conqueror in his 15th century code of laws. Towards the end of the 1500s, his descendant Mehmed III (I believe) decided that the only way to preserve both his sons and dynastic stability was to keep the former locked up. There were some real duds that came out of the kafes system ("Crazy Ibrahim," 1640-1648 being the most notorious example) but also some strong and interesting personalities, including Murad IV--most famous for his reconquest of Baghdad from the Safavids.

The kind of history told by Lord Kinross doesn't even really make good metaphors. It seems to me that problems in the Ottoman dynastic succession, as in the American one, ultimately had more to do with the way competing factions were balanced than with the people who served as their mouthpieces.

Posted by: Aaron Shakow on March 6, 2003 03:40 PM

____

Just a quick dig at that "environmental engineer" title. I work with engineers of every discipline daily (I'm an electrical engineer by trade) and have found civil engineers (environmental being a subset of civil) to be rather lacking in general understanding of physics and of the scientific method and in ability for mathematical thought in general.

Anyway, I do agree that all those damn trees in LA have got to be razed to cure the smog problem.

Posted by: Random EE on March 12, 2003 10:42 PM

____

Great article - interesting responses!

While I agree that 'outsiders' or 'stealth' candidates for the presidency have generally produced less than ideal results, I respectfully submit that our parliamentary system in Canada has produced a long succession of 'insiders' that have given us an equally long succession of extremely mediocre leaders - masters of the 'inside game' and totally out of touch with the country as a whole.

Posted by: Michael on March 13, 2003 09:21 AM

____

I gave my doberman dog the name Sultan, I am breeding him and going to receive one of his male pups, I want to given him the correct title of a Sultan's son, can you advise what the name would be.

Thankyou

Posted by: annmarie on January 11, 2004 01:00 PM

____

Post a comment
















__