Taming American Power (through their policymakers)

Posted on February 11, 2009. Filed under: Public Square |

Stephen Walt, a Harvard Professor, blogs about the way policy is made in Washington and the “fundamental challenge facing Barack Obama” in dealing with it. Here’s “One commentary in three New York Times articles — Richard Holbrooke, Afghan President Hamid Karzai, and Tom Daschle”,

Put these three separate articles together, and you get a good sense of how U.S. policy gets made. Powerful people with the right connections rise to important roles in government. When not in power, they land lucrative jobs that still leave them with lots of time to engage in public life, spending most of it hobnobbing with other people with similar backgrounds, advantages, and world-views, while building the connections they will need to get back into power later on.

And then the political wheel turns, and they return to public life, eager to solve the very problems they helped create.

If Obama tackles that dysfunctional power structure head-on it will go to the mattresses to defend itself, thereby making it harder to address the immediate problems we face. But if he doesn’t establish new ways of doing the public’s business, the old problems will persist and derail his efforts anyway. I don’t see an obvious way out of this box, so I’m hoping the President is a lot smarter than me.


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One Response to “Taming American Power (through their policymakers)”

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Hence, traditional tactics in attempts to claim (or in many cases reclaim) political power makes its way into the 21st century. These power structures are not new by any means. They coexisted with the first recorded establishment of law from Hamurabi’s kingdom, made its way through Babylonian times, Roman times, and still exist with us today. Obama might succeed in ridding us of corruption or scandal on some level, and in so far as such acts of the future are publicly recognized, such legislation might succeed. However, I doubt he’ll successfully establish a system where political patronage and pork-barreling expertise don’t reward the wrong do-ers.
“I don’t see an obvious way out of this box, so I’m hoping the President is a lot smarter than me.”
The president may or may not be smarter, however, not seeing a way out of this box is only natural since eliminating problems of the sort require eliminating macro-psychological issues deeply rooted in human nature. To put it nicely, it won’t be done any time soon.
Nice article!

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