The President we want vs have

A while back John Dickerson wrote a nice series in Slate about the disconnect between the skills it takes to run for the presidency versus the skills it takes to be a successful president.  He draws on that to discuss Obama’s “failure” to persuade Congress to vote for his gun control proposals:

In the end, the president’s limitations as a negotiator can’t be fixed while in office. Obama doesn’t relish the part of the job that he’s not so good at, and it’s almost universally accepted among Washington veterans that he could do a better job massaging legislation, but just because he could improve doesn’t mean it would be enough. To win the gun vote would have required a virtuoso’s talent for pressure and cajoling. Working the legislative angle on an issue this complicated, in this environment—especially when Obama held such a weak legislative hand—isn’t something a new president can just pick up, like finding the bathroom key.

You have to have had the skill going in, and Obama wasn’t hired to have that skill. In fact, it was the opposite: Obama was hired because he was the anti-politician. He wasn’t of Washington and he wasn’t really of politics. So it should come as no surprise that he couldn’t suddenly master the art of politics. He was hired to play the guitar, and he’s not going to play the piano very well no matter how many times you tell him how LBJ mastered Brahms.

Why is it so hard to imagine the electorate embracing a candidate today who had the talents that would have been required to pass the gun bill? Because such a candidate would have a long legislative record full of compromises and backroom deals where he or she learned how to break through gridlock and get things done.

During the 2008 Democratic primary, when Hillary Clinton tried to make the distinction between the skill it takes to get things passed and the skill it takes to talk about getting things passed, she got in hot water…

All true.  And more than anything, though, is the fact that the President faces an opposition party that can block almost anything with just 40 votes in the Senate and has a majority in the House.  I really don’t think there’s any super-ninja negotiating skills that are going to overcome that.

Video of the day

Great John Oliver Daily Show piece on gun control:

Photo of the day

From the Telegraph a while back.  That’s some pig!

Lindy Haynes feeds her favourite hog Peanut in her living room  in Grattai, Australia. An Australian farmer has credited her pigs with helping her to overcome cancer. Lindy Haynes was diagnosed with cancer in 2011 and she says that without porcine pals Peanut and Midget to come home to she would never have pulled through.

Lindy Haynes feeds her favourite hog Peanut in her living room in Grattai, Australia. An Australian farmer has credited her pigs with helping her to overcome cancer. Lindy Haynes was diagnosed with cancer in 2011 and she says that without porcine pals Peanut and Midget to come home to she would never have pulled through.Picture: Peter Lorimer/Newspix / Rex Features


A few weeks ago, Bob Andron had a great comment about how fear seems to drive so much conservative ideology these days:

The MAIN reason for this gun insanity, in my not-so-humble opinion, is fear. Fear that someday, somebody is going to rob them, shoot at them, the government will terrorize, take over or terminate them, etc. etc. They can’t handle fear (even as they profess unlimited faith). So they need guns. Needing something for no obvious, apparent reason is an addiction. Packing “heat” is an addiction, and like all addictions, is rooted in fear. I could write a hundred thousand words on this – but this is at the bottom of it all.

Their arguments remind me of one of my favorite descriptions of certain personality types: “Often wrong, but never in doubt.”

Well worth a post in its own right, but I never got around to it.  Tomasky, though, wrote a great post recently pretty much right on this topic.  And, he’s dead on:

As usual, conservatives are rushing to judgment, shredding the Constitution, using the bombing as an pretext for derailing immigration reform, and generally seeking any excuse to reimpose their paranoid and authoritarian worldview, which needs fear like a vampire needs blood, on the rest of us…

The common thread through all of this is the conservative need to instill and maintain a level of fear in the populace. They need to make gun owners fear that Dianne Feinstein and her SWAT team are going to come knocking on their doors, or, less amusingly, that they have to be armed to the teeth for that inevitable day when the government declares a police state. They need to whip up fear of immigrants, because unless we do, it’s going to be nothing but terrorists coming through those portals, and for good measure, because, as Ann Coulter and others have recently said, the proposed law would create millions of voting Democrats (gee, I wonder why!).

And with regard to terrorism, they need people to live in fear of the next attack, because fear makes people think about death, and thinking about death makes people more likely to endorse tough-guy, law-and-order, Constitution-shredding actions undertaken on their behalf. This is how we lived under Bush and Cheney for years. This fear is basically what enabled the Iraq War to take place…

Conservatism, I fear (so to speak), can never be cleansed of this need to instill fear. Whether it’s of black people or of street thugs or of immigrants or of terrorists or of jackbooted government agents, it’s how the conservative mind works. I don’t even think it’s always cynical and manipulative; conservatives often do see enemies under every bed. But that doesn’t mean they’re there, and it most definitely doesn’t mean the rest of us ought to make law and policy based on their nightmares.

All I can add is, damn, I wish I had written that.  And I think it is important to highlight that it is not necessarily cynical or manipulative, but indeed, a very different worldview.  In fairness, fear can be a very good thing.  Fear keeps us alive.  It keeps us from making some pretty bad mistakes.  But all too often, especially in politics, it leads us in the wrong direction.  While we should have appropriate and proportional fear, a politics driven by fear is a recipe for a small-minded, mistake-prone government.

How to reduce crime, gun control aside

Great, great post from Dylan Matthews at Wonkblog on the topic of how to reduce crime without annoying the NRA.  I love it when there’s a blog post good enough that I would happily add it to more course readings, and this certainly fits the bill.  A great summary of what we know works for crime reduction.  Lots of really good stuff here.  And quite rightly, it starts of with lead.   Anyway, I found the part about alcohol taxes especially interesting:

As criminologist Mark Kleiman told me last month, “Any sentence about drug policy that doesn’t end with ‘raise alcohol taxes’ is an incoherent sentence.” He’s hardly the only one with that view. Economics, criminology and public health literature are rife with studies finding that raising the price of alcohol reduces violence, not to mention other causes of injury and death. Indeed, every self-reported survey of incarcerated criminals suggests that 36.8 percent of state-level violent offenders, and 20.8 percent of federal violent offenders, were drinking when they committed the crime for which they’re incarcerated.

Economist Sara Markowitz, for example, found in a study of U.S. crime patterns that a “single percent increase in the beer tax decreases the probability of assault by 0.45 percent” and “a 1 percent decrease in the number of outlets that sell alcohol decreases the probability of rape by 1.75 percent.” Researchers in Finland found that a 2004 cut in the country’s alcohol tax caused a sudden 17 percent spike in fatalities relative to the previous year. There’s preliminary evidence that alcohol taxes can reduce the number of U.S. female homicide victims. Kleiman cites findings of Duke’s Philip Cook to the effect that a doubling of the federal excise tax on alcohol would reduce homicide and automobile fatalities by 7 percent each, for a net 3,000 lives saved. What’s more, it would only cost twice-a-day drinkers (who, as it is, drink considerably more than average) $6 a month…

Researchers Alexander Wagenaar, Amy Tobler and Kelli Komro also conducted a literature review on alcohol tax and price policies, scanning through 50 studies on the subject. Their conclusion: “Our results suggest that doubling the alcohol tax would reduce alcohol-related mortality by an average of 35%, traffic crash deaths by 11%, sexually transmitted disease by 6%, violence by 2%, and crime by 1.4%.” The case for making higher alcohol prices a part of our approach to reducing violent crime, then, is pretty strong.

Matthews also suggests “take away already legal guns,” but sadly, I’m pretty sure that one would annoy the NRA:

I suppose this qualifies as gun control, but Ludwig and Carnegie Mellon’s Jacqueline Cohen have also argued that police patrols designed to confiscate illegal guns being carried in the street can be an effective crime policy. Like gang-based deterrence, highly rigorous experimental evidence doesn’t exist on this topic, but their analysis of a Pittsburgh program found that it “may have reduced shots fired by 34 percent and gun shot injuries by as much as 71 percent in the targeted areas.”

Do you really think the NRA would stand idly by while police try and figure out whether each person on the gun has that gun legally?!  A necessary byproduct of that would be the police disrupting the lives of legal gun owners.  And heck, you might as well lock people of criticizing the president and do away with search warrants if you want to compromise gun owners rights that much.  Then again, I suppose if this was concentrated in neighborhoods that are overwhelmingly occupied by poor minorities, the NRA might be okay with it.

Anyway, reading through the whole list what’s so frustrating is that there’s so much good evidence of what we should be doing and woefully little implementation.

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