16 November 2007

Mrs Robinson

Last night was, in some sense, a 1960s flashback.

Sittin' on the sofa on a Sunday afternoon
Gonna watch the candidates debate
Laugh about it, shout about it, when you've got to choose —
Every way you look at it, you lose!

Paul Simon, "Mrs. Robinson" (1967).

One point that I'd like to beat into all of the candidates with a 2x4 (embedded with rusty nails): As President, you won't get to do the things you said you'd do. Not even George III gets to do that (see, e.g., yesterday's well-deserved smackdown of the EPA by the Ninth Circuit). You get to set the agenda, in a sense; you get to propose, and on occasion veto, legislation; you get to establish enforcement and implementation priorities; you get to do foreign policy. Unless, of course, you accept/believe the Imperial Presidency meme that began with Nixon, became popular under Reagan, and was embraced by both George II and George III. So, then, are you individually/collectively claiming that mantle? Leadership is about a helluva lot more than giving orders that will be unquestioningly followed, and you all failed to demonstrate that you understood that... except when it was convenient to hedge against future failure by trying to blame someone else for being stupid.

Claiming powers and rights you don't have — even implicitly, by merely ignoring the role Congress will inevitably play in the policy debates, not to mention the courts — doesn't exactly help your credibility. It's also akin to false advertising, and contributes significantly to the public's disdain for politicians when they can't follow through. I'd much rather hear a considered, even if tailored for the shallow soundbite, inclusion of the practical difficulties of turning one's "mandate" (and I'll be absolutely shocked if the next elected results in a President who receives votes from more than 32% of the eligible voters) in one's campaign speeches. And given the predictable, softball nature of the questions tossed at y'all last night, it's really hard to claim you didn't have the opportunity to come up with the soundbites in advance.

That would ignore a century of marketing/advertising genius applied to campaign strategy. On the other hand, one must ask: How's that actually working out for you? (OK, just fine regarding your electability; how about just for reality and your legacy?)