A week in the zoo

January 26, 2012

President Obama’s State of the Union speech (full text here, sample line: ‘So far, you haven’t acted. Well, tonight, I will.’ AND THE CROWD GOES WILD!!!) was, apparently, partisan; although I doubt any of the politicians and commentators making this complaint were really very surprised.

Because frankly who wouldn’t adopt a partisan tone when the men jostling to face him in November include current front-runner Newt Gingrich who judging by recent statements cares more about establishing a base on the moon than tackling Florida’s housing crisis.

In any case all the President is doing is – if recent research is to be believed – reflecting the fact that in a very basic physiological sense, Republicans and Democrats are different creatures.

The research in question is covered by The Economist in this entertaining piece. Dr Michael Dodd of the University of Nebraska probed the physical and emotional responses of self-identified right- and left-leaning Nebraskans when they were shown different vivid images (in two studies, one with undergraduates; as a footnote: anyone who follows popular science reporting will wonder, with me, how undergraduates find time to do any studying in amidst taking part in this kind of experiment on an apparently daily basis).

The short version of the findings is that Republicans obsessed about the nasty images and cared less about the nice stuff, and Democrats did exactly the opposite. And the more partisan, the more pronounced the effect.

We know from previous forays into blogging about US partisanship that party affiliation comes first: driving political views rather than the other way around. So, frankly, based on this new conclusive evidence, the President’s decision to thump his tub a little was the right one.


Obama’s path to re-election: do nothing?

January 19, 2012

Today is a pretty darn exciting one, so I thought I would counteract the slightly gloomy tone of my post earlier this week.

In it I blogged about how low President Obama’s start-of-election-year poll numbers are in historical terms. But there is reason to be a little optimistic. It seems from recent experience that maybe Team Obama’s best strategy for holding on to the White House is… to do nothing.

Yesterday saw two bits of good news. First, Barack started his attack – in the form of the first TV commercial of the Obama 2012 campaign – and second, more detail from the Washington Post-ABC News poll which suggests that voters still overwhelmingly blame Bush over Obama for the state of the economy (54 compared to 29 per cent).

But most hopeful – if not exactly most edifying – was the news that the President achieves most by doing nothing at all.

Last week the White House announced plans to merge a number of overlapping government agencies into one. The general thrust of the idea has received a very positive response, including from many Republicans, but that’s partly because no details for anyone to disagree with – a name, for example, for the new agency – have been put forward.

The clever bit is the way the President’s team asked for authority from Congress to quickly proceed with the plans in a streamlined way, thus basically ensuring that it’ll never go anywhere despite being A Good Idea.

This is a continuation of the strategy Obama began with his address to Congress last year about jobs and, whilst rather negative as a tactic, would seem to be a pretty smart move in light of the lingering bad reputation of the Bush years.

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