I Don’t Want to Share a Beer with my Commander-in-Chief

There has been a good deal written about the desire of many voters for “fresh faces,” outsiders with no prior experience with government. This has led to patient efforts to explain to those voters why giving someone access to the nuclear codes who doesn’t understand what they are or how government works might not be the best idea.

We Americans tend to confuse celebrity with competence, likability with ability to do the job. You would think we’d learn…

Case in point: Most commentators attributed the original victory of George W. Bush over Al Gore to the former’s “likability.” Bush seemed like the sort of person you’d like to have a beer with, the pundits explained, while Gore was stiff and “professorial.”

The rest, as they say, is history. And much of that history is still being uncovered…

Chris Whipple has written a story at Politico offering a long teaser of the upcoming Showtime documentary The Spymasters. He and two colleagues spent more than a hundred hours interviewing the 12 living CIA directors, with considerable focus on the 9/11 attacks. Although the overall picture of failure by the administration to prevent the attacks has long been known, the story and documentary provide some added details. The key detail is that the warnings the Bush White House received from the CIA in the summer of 2001 were a lot more chilling than the infamous August 6 presidential daily brief. Writes Whipple:

[George] Tenet vividly recalls the [July 10] White House meeting with Rice and her team. (George W. Bush was on a trip to Boston.) “Rich [Blee] started by saying, ‘There will be significant terrorist attacks against the United States in the coming weeks or months. The attacks will be spectacular. They may be multiple. Al Qaeda’s intention is the destruction of the United States.’” [Condi said:] ‘What do you think we need to do?’ Black responded by slamming his fist on the table, and saying, ‘We need to go on a wartime footing now!’”

As we now know, the administration not only didn’t go on “wartime footing” (which may or may not have been a good idea in any event), but according to Congressional investigations and subsequent revelations, basically shrugged its collective shoulders and waited to see what would happen.

Much of the incompetence that characterized so much of W’s first term–not to mention his reliance on the counsel of Darth Cheney–can be attributed to his very thin public resume. Even though his father was President, he’d been involved in politics, not governance, and the Texas Governor’s office is notoriously weak.

He did, however, have a resume, which is more than Trump, Carson and Fiorina.

Like it or not, we need a President who actually understands how government works–not a President who shares our resentments or our religious fantasies, nor one who tells us what we want to hear, no matter how far removed from actual fact.

We shouldn’t be choosing someone to run the country because s/he is someone with whom we’d like to have a beer.


  1. I’m even more amazed at our reluctance to throw basic raw intelligence into the equation. Reagan? Bush? Trump? Palin? Really? Sound the alarm.

    I don’t know what average Joe and Jane thinks a typical day at the White House is like but apparently they think that it can be done with just a heaping helping of raw ideology. No thinking required.

    Come to think of it that describes many voters now that outpatient entertainment lobotomies are performed daily through television.

  2. We’d all be better served if all politicians did more work and drank fewer beers with their colleagues and constituents.

  3. How much of the progress made in the world has been due to the influence of this nation, conceived so imperfectly, in conflict with itself, but nevertheless the most progressive experiment in history? If the rubes successfully exert control and thus end the experiment, what sort of dark ages may await the world?

  4. But you can’t ignore the fact that voting is as much an emotional process as it is a logical one. People tend to vote for who they like and which elected officials can make a connection with them.

    And part of the analogy of “having a beer” with someone means they can make a connection with you. Reagan, Clinton, H.W., Clinton, W. and Obama all had that quality. That’s what they won.

  5. I often simplify democracy as the governed hiring and firing their governors. Not only should democracy be so considered but also freedom. Society can’t exist without governance so the only way to provide it without sacrificing the inate freedom of individuals is to have the governors serve at the pleasure of the governed – a notion that stands directly in the way of those whose ambition is to be powerful.

    That specifies the election process but more key is the serving process which the details of governance often define as secondary to elections. Once the electorate has hired, firing is not an empowered option. We must typically survive to the next election in order to correct poor decisions.

    So it’s essential to get the decision right.

    This is really not much different than the processes used in business models. Companies are extremely cautious in the filling of influential positions. Elaborate vetting is employed to insure that hard to correct errors are more seldom. Just makes sense.

    So the goofball campaigning play we see unfolding in front of us now has little to do with the governed hiring competent governors. It has much more to do with special interests trying to sabatoge the serving process to elevate their interests over ours.

    That is of course not democracy or freedom but the opposites. Because of that culture salesmen have been working hard to give democracy a bad name.

    Freedom is enslavement was prophesied by George Orwell long ago. The path to you being free is to subject yourself to our power. That’s not a new thought as it was expressed often during the lead up and execution of the Civil War. These poor ignorant savages depend on us white males to avoid cooking each other in pots. Enslavement frees them to lead productive lives.

    America has been challenged several times in our history to reject salavery is freedom but against less powerful forces – armies instead of cultural debasement.

    Can we win against a professional pervasive well established cultural assault instead of rogue militaries?

    We’ll see, won’t we.

  6. During George W’s adminstration, the CIA was still so focussed on funding terrorists in Central and South America, overthrowing governments they didn’t like, and paying people trying to assasinate Castro that they probably missed the real homeland threats.

  7. The president is not Commander in Chief of the nation. He is CinC of our armed forces. An important safeguard putting the military under civilian control. Civilians are obligated to obey law. But aren’t under “orders and command” of the individual.

  8. One of the signal characteristics of a sociopaths is that they are charming. They know how to manipulate you so you will “like” them. When that is what the voter looks for, we are in trouble.

    We try to protect ourselves against these people by asking them to pass a test to show their competence for a license, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t sociopaths. Every year, the AMA, the American Psychological Assn. and the American Bar Assn., along with their respective state agencies, remove the license of hundreds of people who are charming but unethical. According to democratic theory, the electorate will find out the charming but dangerous people, but it seems that folks are actually attracted to people like that.

    While the current crop of Republican candidates for president are not (or hopefully not) sociopaths, their comments are designed to charm their base, facts notwithstanding. Politifact says that 75% of Trump’s public statements, 84% of Carson’s public statements and 66% of Cruz’s public statements are “mostly false” or worse. (Trump gets the “pants on fire” award at 21%.) Sanders, at 28%, and Clinton (often described as “untrustworthy”), also at 28%, can’t hold a candle to the Republicans in that area. Likeable? To some. Untrustworthy? Look at the data?

  9. Stuart, I read an article lately that seems to have some psych science behind it that sought to explain the difference between psychopaths and sociopaths.

    It said that psychopaths are born unfeeling but develop presentations that seem normal to them and others. They are rarely criminal. I’ve wondered but found no information yet between psychopathology and autism.

    Sociopaths are nurtured in a way that drives their feelings against them so while they are affected by them it’s outside of their consciousness. They can be viciously criminal.

    So psychopaths can be great entertainers and socialites and politicians and sales people because they are unincumbered by feelings like fear and doubt and love and disgust but can with a lifetime of practice seem normal.

    Sociopaths can also seem normal in casual encounters but usually can’t hide their dysfunction over the long term.

    I assume all of that is at least approximately right but also useful.

    I posted the other day that based on that Rubio and Carson strike me as psychopaths. Maybe Carly also.

  10. The DSM term is antisocial personality disorder. Whether someone is a psychopath or sociopath, it’s not a DSM issue, but you are better to stay away from anyone with those characteristics. They will use you and whatever they do to you, you should not take it personally because “you were in my way”.

    Psychopathology is a general term for mental disorders or the study of mental disorders. I have never seen any connection between psychopathy (antisocial personality disorder) and autism. If anyone has suggested it, that would be troubling and people with autism certainly don’t need any more baggage placed on them and it wouldn’t help anyone.

    I’m certainly not in any position to make a judgment about those folks, but they do and say a lot of stuff that is troubling, relative to what we need as a president. And I’m especially troubled that many people seem to think that they would be just fine, when what they say is in direct conflict with the Constitution or simply not true. People don’t seem to get it. It’s like they’re buying the Brooklyn Bridge.

  11. Thanks Stuart for the additional information.

    The possible connection between psychopathology and autism is only me wondering about possible relationship between the emotional disconnect of the two conditions.

    Slick sales talkers have been selling the Brooklyn Bridge ever since there’s been one. We seem awfully slow in adopting if it seems too good to be true it is.

  12. Why are these character flaws so obvious to you in republican candidates, but those same flaws escape your watchful eye when so evident to me in democrats. My skepticism about politicians has never been party-specific. I did a quick reflection back to 1952 and found that rarely if ever has a non-incumbent winner of the Presidential election had as much experience as his opponent during primaries or the general election. The grim reality is that no non-incumbent ever takes that office “prepared” for what he faces. The most important thing voters should attempt to discern is trustworthiness and philosophy consistent with their own beliefs. It offended me in ’08 when people discounted Obama’s lack of experience. I felt like he should have lost because of what he wanted to accomplish rather than whether he knew the prime minister of East Crapistan. If you find a candidate with the characteristics and beliefs that align sufficiently with you own, there is your vote. Please also consider increasing your skepticism across the political spectrum.

  13. Ken why would you think that Republican candidates and Democrat candidates should be on the average equal?

    Campaigning is not about doing the job any longer it’s about selling the brand. Because Republicans on the average are brand marketed way more than Democrat candidates their supporters have clearly demonstrated their susceptibility to it.

    Consider the issues of climate change, immigration, the Mid East, abortion, economics and many others. Republicans fall for ideology and Democrats for facts and data and objectivity.

    Idealists make lousy government but brand well. Those who are susceptible to brand marketing fall harder for it.

    Hillary is qualified by experience and has demonstrated results. Which Republican can claim either?

    In fact part of their branding is the brand meme that anybody can govern but smart people are wealthy. Falling for that is exactly like buying the Brooklyn Bridege. If it seems to good to be true it probably is.

    Welcome to the complicated real world.

  14. The Gorebot had a lot of Clinton Baggage to carry. IMHO Bill Clinton did a better job of destroying what was left of the Democrat Party (no pun intended) than Bush Elder could have dreamed doing. Among the baggage the Gorebot strained to carry was NAFTA, which he totally supported in addition to Permanent Normal Trade Relations with China. Plus Bill Clinton trashed Glass-Steagall, Telecommunications Act and DOMA to name a few non-Progressive heavy bags the Gorebot had to lift. I cannot remember a single time Clinton or the Gorebot lifted a finger to support Unions.

    Getting into qualifications- What Qualifications did Shillary have when she ran for Senator in NY?? She was the wife of a President??? So was Pat Nixon.

  15. Wasn’t it Pete who mentioned the phenomenon of motivated social cognitions, a way of understanding how people, conservatives in particular, view issues? Dan Kahan, with his Cultual Cognition Project at Yale has opened up a whole new way of studying those differences. That whole area also applies to not-so-conservatives, but to me it shows just how complex that whole area is. Why do your or I focus on one group of character flaws while ignoring others which may outrage people who do not view reality in the same way? Why aren’t we more skeptical of those people who confirm our biases?

    Then there is the factor of experience and whether it has actually prepared a person for something. We have all met people who have had one year of experience 25 times, as opposed to having had 25 years of experience. But the office of the president? How many people have campaigned, promising to focus on one thing, and then something big happens where the person must make important decisons about something altogether different. How has life prepared that person to manage the problem that nobody ever thought would be a problem? I remember that FDR said that he wasn’t very smart but that he was very good at appointing people who were. I guess that was part of being really smart at the job.

    While I am confident that the person who aligns with my belief would be a great president, what if I’m a dedicated nihilist, anti-semite, racist or have terrorist sympathies? Maybe you would rather that I study the meaning of the Constitution and making my sympathies adjust to someone more appropriate who could improve the common good.

    Even when we are sure about who should serve in a capacity, we are never certain until it’s over.

  16. Both parties have members who find it unthinkable to vote for the other party or any individual but their personal pre-ordained choice. Both have registered voters who leave it up to others to make the election decisions. Both have members (I would guess a relatively small percentage) who seriously consider all candidates and make what they regard as an informed decision.

    One way the decision can be informed is very data based. Qualifications, results, debate performance, promises, campaign effectiveness, issue priorities.

    Another way is by association. Perhaps an endorsement by a credible organization like a church or union or cause (e.g. The NRA).

    The purpose of brand marketing is to move “thinking” group members to reliable party/candidate only voters.

    How is political brand marketing done today? Fox News is one tool. Science denial is another. Emotional issues like abortion, immigration, gun control, health care, socialism, “exceptionalism”, racism, public safety, creationism, etc are all chances to define a brand and create brand loyalty to overcome thinking.

    I hope that you recognize that list as the Republican campaign strategy for these times.

    Democrats still try to appeal to what’s best for the country while Republicans emphasize what’s best for the brand. The brand that they work to create 24/7/365.

    When you consider the state of the Union in 2000, 2008, and now, the need to rely on brand marketing rather than political campaigning is clear. They have no choice.

    We need to demonstrate its failure if democracy is going to continue.

  17. My measure of a candidate for office is what he or she says they will do to solve the issues of the day and lay out the ways and means of accomplishing the task – no Bud Lite need apply. Until recently, and with a few exceptions, I have always thought that candidates on both sides were sane but perhaps misinformed. I didn’t know that some might almost totally substitute ideology (which requires no thinking) for problem-solving. Oh, sure, Democrats and Republicans were to some degree ideological, but when pressed and not allowed to dodge answers they were passable pragmatists. They rarely complained of moderators’ questions.

    However, I am now in double whammy territory as some of the Republican candidates are demonstrating both a loss of mental acuity and a total substitution of ideology for discussion of the issues and how they are to be solved. I have blogged before that when the candidates are not discussing the issues and their take on solution of them that the voters are being cheated. I reiterate that here.

    For instance, I haven’t the faintest idea of what Trump or Carson or for that matter any of the Republican candidates propose to do about the nation’s infrastructure and (assuming they are going to do anything at all) how they plan to pay for it. I have no idea of their views on taxation and regulation other than to hear them say taxes are too high and that Wall Street banks and corporations are over-regulated. I have no idea of what they are going to do about “carried interest” and how they are going to explain how Romney used that gaping loophole to pay only a 13.7 tax rate on 21.7 million dollars in income for the taxable year 2010, a rate the gardeners who cut the hedges on his estate(s) surpassed on their meager incomes. Are they going to expand it? Are they going to repeal Dodd-Frank or chip away at its provisions as they are doing currently, hanging a repealer of this or that provision of that Act to a must-pass spending or some other “dirty trick”apple pie and motherhood legislation? The Republican candidates are cheating voters with their digs at one another, outright fabrications and complaints about moderators. None of such inane chatter has anything to do with real issues of the day such as wage inequality, the environment, trade matters etc. All voters of whatever political stripe are cheated when “debates” are just bragging and slandering sessions unrelated to discussion of solution to the nation’s many problems foreign and domestic.

    Having a beer with one of such candidates and perhaps sharing a funny joke is in my view no substitute for hearing just exactly how any candidate of any party proposes to steer the ship of state, and if they think the moderators’ questions they are complaining about will not allow them to pull a Lakoffian reframing, they should look at a list I would provide – then they might have something to complain about.

  18. Insofar as Psycho/sociopathy is concerned, we should all walk lightly. Neuroticism is ALWAYS a matter of degree.

    Obama certainly feels he, like FDR, appointed very capable people with experience in their respective fields. He retained many of W’s leftovers. How did that work out for him? No doubt about dedication on his side but better ‘inside’ skills would have been far more beneficial. Having developed few networking skills during a nondescript term in the senate, he set the stage for a lack of interest in matters of state that followed into his presidency.

    Just consider the W policies he could have reversed in the first two years of his term. He said that he couldn’t close Gitmo but didn’t know that he could have re-assigned all the troops and left it unmanned. Then he could have looked back at Mc Connell and say, “My number one job as president is to make you look like an a..!”

  19. I repeat my question for you Pete. How can you so succinctly describe each of the weak spots in Republican brand marketing and not see equal and opposite brand marketing, in some cases, more extreme views than republicans on the other side? There are more pro-choice republicans than there are pro-life democrats (I know you think pro-life is good for the country, but a pro-life liberal who is perfect in ever other area has no chance). You view Republicans as bought and paid for, but ignore the very wealthy and foreign government supporters of the Clinton machine. You suggest that Hillary has the experience and yet, our reputation and prestige in the world was circling the drain when she retired. Democrats fight for what is right for the country is an interesting perspective. The only thing I observed in the democrat debates was candidates falling all over themselves to see who could give away the most. POTUS brags about how many more people are on food stamps. I have no interest in starving people (and throwing Granny off a cliff), but I would like to find a way to make food stamps unnecessary. POTUS is looking out for the little guy but median income is down $5000 and income inequality has grown as fast in his term as ever. There has never been a bipartisan discussion of strategies to improve any government program without rhetoric on the left suggesting what Pete always says; that the right is greedy and selfish.

  20. While we all have a set of fundamental beliefs about what works best in supporting the society we desire, the truth is that there is no one ideology that always works best. Any particular ideology will be more or less effective towards any particular set of goals in any particular environment. So, if we were smarter, our ideological position would evolve over time always adapting to changing times.

    Culture is the social force that keeps us from changing arbitrarily or based on short term variation rather than long term trends. It makes us resistant to standing out.

    So ideological progress is a balance between adaptation and wasteful overreaction.

    It takes quite an accomplished person to adapt but avoid fashion. Most of us don’t make that grade.

    I personally believe that the best US Presidents were not the same as much as each was well adapted to their times. And that exceptional performance can only be judged in the context of retrospection.

    Given that though my opinion is that President Obama will be especially well regarded by history as a man of his times. Among the very best.

    Will he be regarded as a perfect ideologue? No. That would not have been effective in our times. Did he steer the ship of state well away from the shoals of 2008? Definitely. Did he put us in a position of long term success given our times. I believe that he has.

  21. Ken, the simplest explanation of what I believe is that liberals and conservatives want the same things, liberals for everyone. Further I believe that “for everyone” is hard wired into our Constitution and describes the times of our greatest progress. It’s also the only source of freedom, my highest priority.

    But my comments above aren’t about that strategic stuff. They are about the tactics of campaigning.

    Brand marketing is about deception. It emphasizes fashion over substance. What feels good over what is good. I can’t imagine a world in which fashion is a long term path to progress.

    Take just one example of substance. Climate change. What mankind knows about the threat to civilization is absolutely known by science. Supporting obscuring that in search of votes cannot to me be accepted. So tell me why that obfuscation is central to Republican campaigning?

    How is it possible to support that as anything but a destructive tactic designed to get votes for the party at the expense of the country?

  22. Why have you ignored the articles about thicker ice, colder temperatures, manipulated and falsified data to keep us in the dark, an ever increasing number of climate scientists who question the severity of mankind’s impact on climate change, the widely distributed misrepresentation of the “97%”, the model projecting Manhattan would be under water by now… None of these cause you to doubt your “belief” in catastrophic man made climate change?

  23. I count everything that’s based on proven science and supported by solid evidence.

    You support self serving propaganda paid for by fossil fuel businesses over Republican brand marketing channels.

    It’s not a matter of opinion. The job of science is replacing opinion with facts. That they have done but that reality doesn’t support what Republican brand marketers wish was true in order to lock up brand loyalty.

    And climate change is only one of the discrepancies between Republican propaganda and established truth.

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