31 May 2009
Time for Obama to Embrace the Irrational
Obama's administration faces a problem we've had 8 years to forget about: like many smart policy makers before them, they are at a loss about how to rebut the irrational argument.
Closing Guantanamo Bay is a perfect example. This matter of how to handle prisoners of war when you have no forecast cessation of the war and no enemy state is messy, but one most politicians have seemingly given up on explaining to constituents. There are lots of issues that could come up surrounding the closing of what has been a wonderful recruiting tool for terrorist. Obama's administration was ready for those arguments.
But of course, those are not the arguments that Republicans unveiled. Their argument? It is not safe to have these terrorists in our maximum security prisons. There is no way to rebut an argument that has neither facts nor logic behind it. Such an argument completely bypasses the frontal lobes and makes it way directly to the hypothalamus. It is all emotion and no reason.
Whether it is talking with enemies, dealing with climate change, or crafting financial bailouts, Obama has to confront emotional opposition that shows - not just ignorance of, but - disinterest in the systems involved. It is not enough to attempt understanding of these systems and then craft policy. Not in a democracy. One has to be mindful of keeping the support of people who don't understand these systems.
It seems to me that to sustain widespread support for his policies, Obama has got to be more sensitive to the need for crafting emotional arguments that depend little on reason. It is not enough to engage in reasoned dialogue around the table with peers; before unveiling a policy, the administration ought to first craft the purely emotional appeal.
It seems like the only rational thing would be for the Obama administration to embrace the irrational. I'm not sure there is any other way to sustain support once the nation's disgust with dubya fades. There continues to be a gap between what makes for good policy and what makes for good politics: the gap between emotional arguments and reason seems to account for most of this.