Sunday, March 28, 2010

Henry Farrell: Hey, My Socialism Doesn't Interfere With My 'Rigorous' Non-Partisan Political Research!

Henry Farrell, a fairly well-known academic leftist and conservative blog-basher, pretends to be analytical and "balanced," at the Monkey Cage, "Feavered Speculation":
Peter Feaver is a reasonably well-known political scientist, working in the political science department at Duke University. He is also someone of recognizable partisan inclinations, having served for a spell in the Bush White House. This certainly isn’t a problem as such - I have recognizable partisan inclinations (which I try not to indulge on this blog) myself. But it is a problem if it interferes with purportedly political scientific analysis, or, worse, if it becomes a substitute for such analysis. And … well … how can I put this best … Either Feaver has identified an important new effect, which overturns the existing political science consensus that Presidential rhetoric has no significant consequences for public opinion. Or he is allowing his personal druthers and biases - Obama has a reverse Midas Touch! Everything he touches turns to dreck! - to substitute for actual analysis.
It's a pretty wonkish post, with links to current "cutting-edge" research. But for all of Henry's high-falutin' jargon, he's in pretty epic fail territory. The explanation's found in common sense here, less so confidence intervals, statistical significance, or what not. Face it, Henry: Obama's a loser. Can't console yourself in research suggesting presidents only influence things "at the margins." Folks just don't like Obama's signature legislative "achievement," and never really have.

Anyway, just know that Henry would never question his radical leftist cohorts for any potential partisan inclinations. No no! This is about what really constitutes "good political science"! (Neocons need not apply?)

And don't miss Feaver's original essay, "
Has Obama Lost His Silver Tongue?"


Kenneth G. Davenport said...

As someone who has recently taught a course at Colorado State on the Presidency, I feel somewhat qualified to comment on this topic. First, Farrell claims that there is an existing "political science consensus" that presidential rhetoric has no significant effect on public opinion -- and then cites one book by George Edwards as proof. Since when does one (or even two) books make a "consensus"?

Second, there is a substantial body of scholarship (led by my one of my mentors, Sam Kernell) that shows clearly that presidents with high levels of public prestige and popularity can effectively mobilize public opinion in support of even highly controversial policies. Kernell points specifically to Reagan's use of speeches in support of his landmark tax cuts in the 1982-83 budget year. Reagan used his communication skills in a way that Obama has not -- selective strategic appeals to the public in prime time, with a bipartisan approach that mobilized independents and conservative Democrats to his side. In fact, Reagan was the chief architect of this new style of presidential leadership that Kernell calls "Going Public".

The reality is that Obama did not use his early popularity effectively, squandered his poll ratings on a highly divisive set of policies (Stimulus, Cap and Trade and health care) and used a strident, partisan message to try and rally support. He spoke too often and with declining levels of credibility, as it became clear to the public that he was saying things that were simply not true (like the idea that the CBO numbers are real or that HCR is going to reduce the deficit)! In the end, Obama proves Farrell's point: he HAS been ineffective in using his office to mobilize public opinion. But it is not because it isn't possible to do so as president. It's simply because he sucks at it.

Donald Douglas said...

Great comment, Ken ... I didn't mention Kernell, but I was thinking the same thing.


Dana said...

Well, we all know what the monkeys throw out of the monkey cages.