The Stupid Season

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Robert Samuelson on the election:

Political campaigns are exercises in exuberant irrationality. People say things that they know are untrue; indeed, if they believed some of these things, they ought to be barred from office. But the media treat these routine untruths as respectable statements that ought to be analyzed and debated. My favorite example involves jobs. George Bush and John Kerry argue over who'd do best at job creation. The truth is that presidents create few jobs. Their policies may influence the economy over the long run. But at any moment, jobs depend mainly on the business cycle.

Every phony job boast ought to inspire the following qualification: "Most economists regard these claims as absurd." But the media cannot be dismissive without appearing arrogant, partisan or both. So we let these rhetorical stupidities stand. Some political reporters (who, as a class, are generally uninterested in policy, although they're remarkably well-informed and smart about politics) may not even recognize them as stupidities. Unfortunately, this deceit is only one of many.

The media pretend that Bush and Kerry are debating big issues, when they aren't. To be sure, some big issues are automatically engaged: Iraq and terrorism, for example. But here differences mainly involve style and competence, not substance. (See, for example, Kerry's July 4 op-ed in The Post. It has few big disagreements with Bush.) Beyond security, Bush and Kerry quietly agree not to debate some of the big issues facing the country. To wit: (a) baby boomers' retirement costs; (b) immigration; and (c) China. You won't hear much about these, because candor would offend millions of voters.

Whole thing here. I don't agree with all of it, but it's worth a read.

NEXT: Bush v. Kerry on Guns

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  1. Does the Stupid Season ever really end?

  2. I like what Jay Leno proposed last night: Let’s have the election now, for crying out loud. I don’t know that this year-long drama really provides a better outcome in the end. The primaries are decided by Super Tuesday when only about half of the states (give or take) have voted, and then we wait 8 months to have the final election. 8 long months of nonsense, even though the campaign doesn’t get into full swing until after Labor Day weekend.

    I know, I know, it isn’t likely to change, but I reserve the right to bitch about it anyway 🙂

  3. All empty words from both sides. They are both for illegal immigration and China will take Taiwan in September. A population will vote for those who have no answers. It only drives the voters away from the polls on election day.

  4. Thoreau!!!
    I couldn’t agree with you more. It’s one big circus that wastes alot of time and money. I’d rather go see Barnum and Bailey’s to tell you the truth. Even if they cut the time spent on campaigning to half of what it is now, it would be a big improvement. They should have about 3 months to campaign before the primary with two or three nationally televised debates, all the primaries occur on the same day, have the convention a month later, then another 3 months of campagning with another 2 or 3 nationally televised debates with minority candidates included as well….Libertarian, Green, Indepents. What I propose might not be feasable, but I think it would speed up the process a bit and the nation would not have to endure as much of a yawn fest.

  5. Every phony job boast ought to inspire the following qualification: “Most economists regard these claims as absurd.”

    Actually, every phony job boast ought to inspire this qualification: “It’s not a president’s role to meddle with the economy. Working to ‘create jobs’ is unconstitutional and a breach of duty.”

  6. This reminds me of a startling analysis of the 2000 presidential debates and how many critical issues simply are never even mentioned. It’s well worth a look (as is the related campaign to take control of the presidential debates away from the Rs and Ds): http://reclaimdemocracy.org/political_reform/debates_exclusion_issues.html

  7. This reminds me of a startling analysis of the 2000 presidential debates and how many critical issues simply are never even mentioned. It’s well worth a look (as is the related campaign to take control of the presidential debates away from the Rs and Ds): [http://reclaimdemocracy.org/political_reform/debates_exclusion_issues.html]

  8. Wish on, brooklyn dave and thoreau. The only way I could imagine to effect a shorter campaign season (other than making campaigning early illegal, and I won’t bother to go there) is to take the regularity out of our election system, like the parliamentarians who call elections every now and again instead of having them on predetermined dates. If no one knows when the next election will be until only a few weeks before it’s held, the campaign can certainly only be a few weeks long! But as long as we all know when it’ll be, there’s likely no incentive for a candidate or party to wait (except maybe for fear of peaking too early!).

  9. The truth is that presidents create few jobs. Their policies may influence the economy over the long run. But at any moment, jobs depend mainly on the business cycle.

    Crap. The truth is that Samuelson is not an economist, and the notion that presidents can’t influence the business cycle is not accepted by I would say most economists.

    How Bush has affected the business cycle, or how Kerry might, is another matter.

  10. Fyodor-

    Well, the primaries could always be moved closer to the general election.

    I know, I know, not gonna happen.

    I would never push for limits on when candidates are “allowed” to start campaigning, but simply changing the primary schedule would be a way to shorten the circus.

    I know, not gonna happen.

  11. “The truth is that Samuelson is not an economist, and the notion that presidents can’t influence the business cycle is not accepted by I would say most economists.”-Max

    Yes, a president can influence the economy, but he cannot control it. Most of what he can do has negative effects, and that which does not mostly involves getting the government off the private sector’s back. Any politician who promises to create private sector jobs is lying. What’s worse, he may not fully comprehend that he is lying, as I think the political class has come to believe its own BS on their ability to command the economy.

  12. Luisa – Amen to that. It’s a little scary to realize how many issues have just dropped off the list of debatable topics entirely, especially since some of them were big issues within living memory. When was the last time you heard a politician seriously discuss monetary policy, or whether we should have state (excuse me, “public”) TV, or a Department of Education? (As far as monetary policy, the only policy around seems to be “find out how to keep Greenspan’s brain alive inside a jar”.)

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