Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Political-behavioral economics and President Obama

Excerpts from Barack Obama, College Administrator, By Victor Davis Hanson

If you are confused by the first nine months of the Obama administration, take solace that there is at least a pattern. The president, you see, thinks America is a university and that he is our campus president. Keep that in mind, and almost everything else makes sense.

Obama went to Occidental, Columbia, and Harvard without much of a break, taught at the University of Chicago, and then surrounded himself with academics, first in his stint at community organizing and then when he went into politics. It shows. In his limited experience, those who went to Yale or Harvard are special people, and the Ivy League environment has been replicated in the culture of the White House.

Note how baffled the administration is by sinking polls, tea parties, town halls, and, in general, “them” — the vast middle class, which, as we learned during the campaign, clings to guns and Bibles, and which has now been written off as blinkered, racist, and xenophobic. The earlier characterization of rural Pennsylvania has been expanded to include all of Middle America.

For many in the academic community who have not worked with their hands, run businesses, or ventured far off campus, Middle America is an exotic place inhabited by aborigines who bowl, don’t eat arugula, and need to be reminded to inflate their tires. They are an emotional lot, of some value on campus for their ability to “fix” broken things like pipes and windows, but otherwise wisely ignored. . .

It is the role of the university, from a proper distance, to help them, by making sophisticated, selfless decisions on health care and the environment that the unwashed cannot grasp are really in their own interest — deluded as they are by Wal-Mart consumerism, Elmer Gantry evangelicalism, and Sarah Palin momism. The tragic burden of an academic is to help the oppressed, but blind, majority.

In the world of the university, a Van Jones — fake name, fake accent, fake underclass pedigree, fake almost everything — is a dime a dozen. Ward Churchill fabricated everything from his degree to his ancestry, and was given tenure, high pay, and awards for his beads, buckskin, and Native American–like locks. The “authentic” outbursts of Van Jones about white polluters and white mass-murderers are standard campus fare. In universities, such over-the-top rhetoric and pseudo-Marxist histrionics are simply career moves, used to scare timid academics and win release time, faculty-adjudicated grants, or exemption from normal tenure scrutiny. . .

Obama did not vet Jones before hiring him because he saw nothing unusual (much less offensive) about him, in the way that Bill Ayers likewise was typical, not an aberration, on a campus. Just as there are few conservatives, so too there are felt to be few who should be considered radicals in universities. Instead everyone is considered properly left, and even fringe expressions are considered normal calibrations within a shared spectrum. The proper question is not “Why are there so many extremists in the administration?” but rather “What’s so extreme?”

Some people are surprised that the administration is hardly transparent and, in fact, downright intolerant of dissent. Critics are slurred as racists and Nazis — usually without the fingerprints of those who orchestrated the smear campaign from higher up. . .

That reluctance to engage in truly diverse argumentation again reveals the influence of the academic world on Team Obama. We can have an Eric Holder–type “conversation” (a good campusese word), but only if held on the basis of the attorney general’s one-way notion of racial redress.

On most campuses, referenda in the academic senate (“votes of conscience”) on gay marriage or the war in Iraq are as lopsided as Saddam’s old plebiscites. Speech codes curb free expression. Groupthink is the norm. Dissent on tenure decisions, questioning of diversity, or skepticism about the devolution in the definition of sexual harassment — all that can be met with defamation. The wolf cry of “racist” is a standard careerist gambit. Given the exalted liberal ends, why quibble over the means?

Some wonder where Obama got the idea that constant exposure results in persuasion. But that too comes from the talk-is-everything mindset of a university president. . .

Obama has simply emulated the worldview and style of a college administrator. So he thinks that reframing the same old empty banalities with new rhetorical flourishes and signs of fresh commitment and empathy will automatically result in new faculty converts. There is no there there in health-care reform, but opponents can be either bullied, shamed, or mesmerized into thinking there is.

Czars are a university favorite. Among the frequent topics of the daily university executive communiqu├ęs are the formulaic “My team now includes . . . ,” “I have just appointed . . . ,” “Under my direction . . . ” (that first-person overload is, of course, another Obama characteristic), followed by announcement of a new “special” appointment: . . .

One of the most disturbing characteristics of the new administration is a particular sort of whining or petulance. Dissatisfaction arises over even favorable press coverage — as we saw last weekend, when Obama serially trashed the obsequious media that he had hogged all day.

Feelings of being underappreciated by the public for all one’s self-sacrificial efforts are common university traits. . .Michelle Obama during the campaign summed up best her husband’s wounded-fawn sense of sacrifice when she said, “Barack is one of the smartest people you will ever encounter who will deign to enter this messy thing called politics.”

University administrators worship private money, and then among themselves scoff at the capitalism that created it. Campus elites, looking at a benefactor, are fascinated how someone — no brighter than they are — made so much money, even as they are repelled by a system that allows those other than themselves to have pulled it off. No wonder that Obama seems enchanted by a Warren Buffett, even as he trashes the very landscape that created Berkshire Hathaway’s riches. No president has raised more money from Wall Street or has given it more protection from accountability — while at the same time demagoguing it as selfish and greedy.

Many of the former Professor Obama’s problems so far hinge on his administration’s inability to judge public opinion, its own self-righteous sense of self, its non-stop sermonizing, and its suspicion of sincere dissent.

http://article.nationalreview.com/?q=NTA4OWRmZTM3MmQwNzJlZWMyMDc4MTY1ZGE5NWMzODM=

No comments:

Post a Comment