Sunday, September 12, 2010

Daring to be relevant

Ezra Klein visited APSA last weekend and came away with a few important lessons, which he highlights in this excellent Sunday column.  Among these lessons: presidential speeches don't really sway public opinion, lobbyists don't have nearly the power they claim to have, and moving to a citizen-legislature just empowers lobbyists and bureaucrats.  But the most important lesson, to me, is that most of the stuff that politicians and journalists are obsessed with -- one-liners, gaffes, debate performances, media cycles, etc. -- don't actually matter very much.

John Sides is right that this is actually very good news for politicians:
Political science really does empower politicians. It tells them to ignore a lot of gossip and trivia. It tells them not to sweat every rhetorical turn of phrase.... Freed from these concerns, politicians can, as Ezra suggests, focus on what they really can and do affect: the policy agenda and the content of legislation.
As Ezra pointed out during the APSA panel on journalism, it's actually fantastic news for all of us that these little things don't matter.  What if the fate of the Republic really was affected by Michelle Obama's choice of vacation destination?  Would we want to live in such a world?  Voters, for all their shortcomings, tend to vote on non-trivial things like war and the state of the economy, and good for them for doing so.

No comments: