Thursday, May 14, 2009

Andrew Sullivan: Obama's Rope-a-Dope?

Jeez, I say Sullivan is on fire. This post on Obama's possible rope-a-dope strategy on the torture pics seems pretty insightful to me...with qualifications...

Now, of course I like my politicians to be epistemically pure as the driven perhaps I'm deluded. And I've given up even trying to deny that I'm naive about certain important matters. But--call be crazy--I took Obama at his word when he stated his reasons for not releasing the pics: it could endanger our troops.

However, I do agree that his actions are consistent with a rope-a-dope strategy, and that such strategies tend to be effective.

But look, here's the thing: I think we've become so cynical and jaded that we even see calm, genuinely judicious thoughtfullness as strategy.

But here' s the other thing: yes, there are good strategic consequences of being reasonable and judicious. The epistemic agent in question need not put these out of his mind entirely, but they shouldn't be his motives. In Obama's case the smart money says that he is--brace yourselves, kids--really just a judicious and thoughtful guy. He's not a wiley tactician playing a judicious and thoughtful guy because its a winning strategy. I think he does recognize the long-term strategic benefits of being reasonable...but those benefits are largely effects of his reasonableness, not motives for it.

(Footnote: Obama, in case you haven't noticed, is the anti-Bush.)


Blogger Myca said...

I think he does recognize the long-term strategic benefits of being reasonable...but those benefits are largely effects of his reasonableness, not motives for it.I think that there's certainly a difference here, but I also think that it's good not to overstate the difference's importance. I guess what I'm saying is that once we start second guessing chicken-and-egg/tactic-or-personality type stuff, it's hard to know where one ends and the other begins.

It's entirely possible that he's just naturally reasonable, and happened to luck into a really effective tactic ... and it's just as possible that the way he lucked into it is that as a young man he figured out that being reasonable was more effective, and integrated it into his personality, and maybe the way he figured that out is because of a natural tendency, etc.

I think it's both. His personality is part of his strategy. His strategy is part of his personality. It's the cool, self-effacing, "at some point in the next 100 days, I will seriously consider losing my cool," kind of thing.

Whatever it is, it's effective against the screaming lunatics of the right like akido is effective against drunk frat boys. "That's right. Throw allll your weight into the punch. There you go. Come a little closer . . ."


12:30 PM  
Blogger Winston Smith said...

I agree with that more than I agree with what I wrote, and hereby change my opinion to "what Myca wrote."

12:43 PM  
Blogger Myca said...

Laugh, thanks, WS!

I think sort of the other point is that it almost feels wrong to me to think of it as tactical, since it relies so much on faith in the American people.

His approach is basically, "explaining my position clearly and logically will work." And, glory be, thus far it has. Maybe I'm just a cynical old fucker, but if you'd asked me a couple of years ago if it would work (for anyone, much less a black dude named Barack), I would have wagered against.


2:22 PM  

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