hard heads soft hearts
Friday, June 14, 2002
this a little off the beaten track, but what the hey,
you're a history Phd. . .
I've just been learning a bit on Lincoln's presidency,
(in particular booknotes for David Herbert Donald's
biography, PBS, and Clinton's farewell interview with
Dan Rather), and it seems to me pretty apparent that
Clinton tried to model the style of his presidency
after Lincoln's, especially 1) Lincoln's dictum of
"net getting out too far in front of the public" and
2) Lincoln's tendency to tell people what they
wanted/needed to hear, rather than what he may have
This seems to be an understandable, but tragic mistake
on Clinton's part, and may be an important key to
understanding why the primary assessment of Clinton's
presidency will likely be "unrealized potential".
The reason why Lincoln's style was appropriate for his
time was that voters had many strongly held beliefs
about polarizing issues which could not be finessed
and therefore Lincoln did not try to.
In our day voters beliefs are much more squishy, and
most issues aren't starkly polarizing, so voters are
more amenable to being "manipulated" or "educated"
(take your pick). Voter's are also more confused, so
they hunger for "authenticity", for straight-talkin' ,
trustworthy (looking) politticians to "discuss things
in ways I can understand".
In other words, "not getting too far out in front of
the public" is not good advice in our time. The
really important political battles in our day are won
*molding* public opinion, not conforming to it.
Or to put it another way, in our time how an issue
gets "framed" is very important to the final policy
result. In Lincoln's time, "framing an issue" has
relatively little to do with it.
hope things are going well,
p.s. I strongly doubt the outside Enron investors are
connected with the GOP. They will be (I predict)
1) Houstonians or 2) Investment bankers/financial
a good article topic would be how to reform the
Corporate Tax Code so that the Enron's of the world
can stop evading them.