Tuesday, July 12, 2016

The Ethics of Ends vs. the the Ethics of Responsibility

How many voters are practical voters? In my last piece about Jeff Greenfield I said:

In the 60s folks like Jeff Greenfield looked down their noses at LBJ-because he was from Texas and didn't have any glamour-yet LBJ was the one who got civil rights done and did the Great Society.

Sure, I know that Greenfield likes to flatter himself as being 'above politics' and concerned only with process. But that idea is an illusion. The worst thing is pretending that outcomes don't matter, only the process does."

I think about the Bernie Sanders supporter I spoke to when Clinton came to Newark in June. He said he'd never vote for her, even against Trump.

"She's just the lesser of two evils," he said.

"Well, yeah. But isn't that better than the greater of two evils?"

"In my exasperation, I called Prof. Julian Zelizer at Princeton University to talk me off the ledge. My basic question was this: How can intelligent people make voting decisions that are so self-defeating?"

"Why do they not focus with a steely eye on the practical impact of their votes?"

"It's not that simple, it turns out. Because for many people, the act of voting is a statement that helps define who they are. It's not about the outcome, it's about identity, about standing with someone you're proud to support."

"Those Nader voters just didn't want to be Gore people. They wanted to be the tip of the spear for the left, uncompromised and pure. And they wanted it badly enough to ignore the obvious risk that it could backfire."

"That Sanders supporter in Newark is not going to vote for Clinton, even if it hands the election to Trump."

"It's not all rational," Zelizer said. "This is how people identify in this day and age. I'm not sure how many voters are really practical voters."

Not all rational voters. Sounds bad. Sort of like Germany in 1932.

Ezra Klein had a very interesting piece about Hillary yesterday-following his own interview of her.

An interesting point Klein makes:
"In her book Why Presidents Fail, Brookings scholar Elaine Kamarck argues that "successful presidential leadership occurs when the president is able to put together and balance three sets of skills: policy, communication, and implementation."

"The problem, Kamarck says, is that campaigns are built to test only one of those skills. “The obsession with communication — presidential talking and messaging — is a dangerous mirage of the media age, a delusion that inevitably comes crashing down in the face of government failure.”

"Part of Kamarck’s argument is that presidential primaries used to be decided in the proverbial smoke-filled room — a room filled with political elites who knew the candidates personally, who had worked with them professionally, who had some sense of how they governed. It tested “the ability of one politician to form a coalition of equals in power.”

"Hillary Clinton won the Democratic nomination by forming a coalition. And part of how she forms coalitions is by listening to her potential partners — both to figure out what they need and to build her relationships with them. This is not a skill all politicians possess."

As Klein puts it, in the Hillary-Bernie race we had two pure different styles in the extreme. Hillary is all about coalition building and listening and Bernie is all about speechifying. Bernie likes to talk. He doesn't like to listen. Klein argues that these are gendered things: the talking male vs. the listening female.

So, ironically, while she is the first potential female President, she's also a throwback in terms of the way she built her campaign. That she speaks in prose and not in poetry is what her detractors don't like about her.

There's a lot to chew on and I can't get to all of it in one sit in-more in future pieces. But I found Matt Yglesias' followup of Klein's piece very on point as well.

Yglesias notes where Hillary quoted Max Weber:

"Asked what qualities she possesses that will make her a good president that aren’t evident on the campaign trail, Hillary Clinton tells Ezra Klein that "a lot of governing is the slow, hard boring of hard boards."

"The line is an allusion to the conclusion of Max Weber’s celebrated century-old essayPolitics as a Vocation (the standard translation says "politics is a strong and slow boring of hard boards," which amounts to the same thing), a brilliant comparison of 19th-century political history in the US, UK, and Germany that also serves very much as an apologia for many of the aspects of Clinton’s persona that make her unlovable."
Unlovable in the minds of some. Those who value pretty promises over actions. 'Communication' above all.

"The same essay also offers an implicit response to many of the criticisms leveled against Clinton by Bernie Sanders over the course of the campaign. Politics, says Weber, requires a particular mode of ethical conduct suited to its unique demands — what he calls an ethic of responsibility."

"The ethic of responsibility is first and foremost focused on the practical impact of the political leader’s stances."

"He contrasts this with an ethic of ultimate ends that focuses more on the righteousness of the positions taken. Weber writes that you could show a left-winger who adheres to an ethic of ultimate ends "that his action will result in increasing the opportunities of reaction, in increasing the oppression of his class, and obstructing its ascent — and you will not make the slightest impression upon him."

That is the real division. Ends vs responsibility. Is it about righteousness or results? I'm pleased to be able to say that the Democratic party, in choosing Hillary, has chosen results.

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