[Thanksgiving note: I’m sorry not to post my usual cheery Thanksgiving message this year. Those messages have been something of a short tradition on this blog. (For the first and the latest, respectively, see 1 and 2.) But this blog aims at probing analysis of trends and consequences—prophecy, if you will—not happy talk. I still love my country and cherish Thanksgiving as my favorite holiday. But this year, except for the still painfully recovering economy, there’s more to be gloomy about than to be thankful for. The following essay explains why.
][For an example of how demonically cynical our Yankee politics has become, click here.]
There are at least two kinds of human intelligence, besides the spying kind
. There is emotional intelligence, and there is analytical intelligence.
The two differ greatly (See 1
). Emotional intelligence is the ability to understand people, to predict how they will react to shocks and circumstances, and, when necessary, to motivate (or manipulate) their thinking and their action. Those who often have high emotional intelligence include politicians, psychologists, and successful salespeople, especially used-car hawkers.
Analytical intelligence is the ability to see things as they are, without distortion, to predict the consequences of events and actions, and to plan successful tactics and strategies. Those with high analytical intelligence include scientists, engineers, winning generals, and strategic planners. Some, but not all, political consultants have it too.
One’s career alone does not necessarily determine the need for, let alone the level of, the two kinds of intelligence. Those things depend on the precise nature of the job. Trial lawyers, for example, need emotional intelligence, in order to get juries on their sides. Appellate
lawyers mostly need analytical intelligence, in order to argue complex and nuanced abstractions before highly trained judges.
Some jobs require both kinds of intelligence, but not necessarily in equal measure. Military leaders need emotional intelligence to motivate their troops and assess their troops’ morale and spirit, and analytical intelligence to assess their troops’ readiness and the battlefield, plan strategy, and respond to unforeseen events. Politicians are similar: they need analytical intelligence to see what has to be done and assess what can
be done, and emotional intelligence to motivate their followers, neutralize opposition, and persuade voters and fellow pols to get it done. Lyndon Johnson didn’t use clever essays to get the Civil Rights Acts through Congress just two years after George Wallace had promised Alabama “segregation forever.”
Applying these principles to human history, I propose “Dratler’s Law,” which I’ve bruited elsewhere
in this blog. The worst political leaders are those with high emotional intelligence and low analytical intelligence. With their high emotional intelligence, they can get people to follow them almost anywhere. But with their low analytical intelligence, they don’t know where to lead, or they lead to disaster.
In the worst cases, they can entice people to follow them enthusiastically into the Mouth of Hell, because they cannot foresee the natural consequences of events or their own actions. Examples are Hitler, Stalin and (in his later years) Mao, with his self-evidently doomed-to-failure Great Leap Forward (to self-sufficiency) and Cultural Revolution (pitting youth against age in a culture built on venerating elders). Vladimir Putin may turn out to be one of them, although he certainly seemed analytically smart earlier in his career.
There there’s Dubya, a unique case. I can’t recall any leader of any
major power, during my lifetime, with lower analytical intelligence, let alone painful difficulty in speaking his own native tongue.
Political commentators identified this flaw as early as Dubya’s first campaign for president. Mark Shields indelicately called him a “dim bulb.” But once our Supreme Court put Dubya in the White House, tact and the respect due his office made his stupidity
all but invisible. The naked emperor had new clothes.
And so it surprised many when this man, utterly unable to foresee the consequences
of his or anyone else’s actions, invaded two sovereign foreign nations because of a terrorist attack for which neither was responsible. It surprised many again when he presided over the greatest financial collapse since the Great Depression, and again when he endorsed, without the slightest critical scrutiny, the greatest-ever undeserved taxpayer bailout of those who caused it.
(Later, Ben Bernanke figured out how to inject cash into our economy without bailing out culpable bankers, giving them incentives to prolong their gambling and swindling, ballooning deficits or raising taxes. Called “quantitative easing,” his method has become the tool of choice for central bankers worldwide. That
was analytically smart.)
Dubya’s vaunted emotional
intelligence never did much for me. But it appealed to a large fraction of our society, which was then fat (literally!) and happy. The self-satisfied among us had been reinforced and expanded by Bill Clinton’s massive job creation and surpluses, and Dubya communed with them successfully.
It’s hard to recall now, but when Dubya first ran for the White House in 2000, most of us Yanks saw ourselves as on top of the world. It took far more than 9/11 to knock us off our imagined pedestal. It took the two decade-long needless wars that Dubya started and the Crash of 2008.
Pride does indeed come before a fall, and Dubya was part of the fall. But he knew how to get to people. He first won office by painting Al Gore as an out-of-touch intellectual. He won in 2004 (the only time he won fairly) by tarring war-hero Kerry as a “Defeatocrat” and a “flip-flopper.”
This “reasoning,” if you can call it that, was little more than the taunting of a toddler on a playground, or of a frat boy during rush week
. But on some dark, primitive emotional level, it worked. So if any political-science doctoral student ever sets out to write a thesis proving Dratler’s Law, Dubya will be Exhibit A.
Unfortunately, the next two years are going to give us Yanks a second chance to see Dratler’s Law at work here at home. Both of our leaders of the Republican majorities in Congress have good-to-high emotional intelligence and low analytical intelligence. Whether they even care
about objective analysis and consequences—other than for their own personal political power—is in doubt.
Mitch McConnell has just proved his emotional intelligence by winning a tight race to retain his Senate seat against a smart, skilled and female opponent, at a time when we Yanks desperately need more female leaders. As I’ve noted before
, he’s a skilled manipulator of tribalism. He can foster it in his listeners with his soft Kentucky accent, which he never uses on the Senate floor, combined with code words that Kentuckians well understand, but which are not so stark as to outrage outsiders.
Like Validmir Putin, Mitch knows his own people and his voters well. Whether he has the slightest conception how people outside his small, relatively insignificant state
think remains to be seen.
On his low analytical
intelligence, Mitch’s barren record speaks volumes. Even after a diligent search, I’m unaware of any major piece of legislation that bears his name, or any significant achievement in Congress that bears his stamp. An early version of the McCain-Feingold campaign finance reform bill did
bear his name, until he went turncoat, opposed the very concept of effective campaign finance reform, and twice sued to kill the new law.
More recently, Mitch repeatedly mis-estimated his following in the Senate and therefore failed to deliver what he had promised. In one case, whether deliberately or inadvertently, he mis-remembered a key piece of partisan history in an important interview
. In other words, his ability to see things as they are, and not as desired, is sub-normal, especially for a leader at his new level. That ability is a key element of analytical intelligence.
John Boehner is similar. I have written a whole essay
on his egregious misunderstanding of basic economics. He easily slides below the level of a middling undergraduate with a single course in introductory economics under his belt. Consequently, he’s a poster child for making universal education in economics mandatory
in college, if not in high school.
Like Mitch, John has several times promised what he couldn’t deliver, shedding doubt on his ability to see things as they are, even in his own rigidly run House. Like Dubya, he repeats himself endlessly, using similar simplistic phrases as mantras. He refers constantly to “job-killing taxes,” despite the fact that taxes fund jobs
, not only in the public sector, but indirectly in the private sector, too. For all you can tell from his public personality, John Boehner actually thinks
in stock, bumper-sticker phrases; I have seen no evidence that he can hold a complex or nuanced thought in his head.
John is also utterly predictable, while events and circumstances are not. I have never heard him utter a single sentence, the substance of which and/or the fact he would say it I didn’t know beforehand. Such drone-like predictability must be comforting to his followers; it therefore is evidence of his emotional intelligence. But anyone with an iota of analytical
intelligence knows that the very same answers cannot apply to every single question or solve every single problem.
John’s party’s pols twice elected him Speaker. And he seems to have had some success, together with his party’s strategists and monied backers, in securing a victory of his party’s business wing over the Tea-Party extremists that the party made and now has crushed in order to win elections. These facts are further evidence of his emotional intelligence.
Besides their abnormally low analytical intelligence, Mitch and John mark a new phenomenon in American politics in yet another respect: their values. They “win,” in their minds, if they stay elected, keep their jobs, keep the rich folks’ donations coming, and keep alive some mushy and often counterproductive abstractions
that today pass for a Republican “program.” The idea of doing anything concrete and practical to improve ordinary people’s lives, let alone human civilization, simply doesn’t make their lists of priorities.
Mitch and John would be astonished if they could understand how closely they resemble apparatchiks in the old Soviet Union, or the series of mummified seniors that ran the Soviet Union just before Gorbachev, a man of immense analytical intelligence, came to power and shook things up. For Mitch and John, as for those mummies, politics is just a game, with no goal or aim but “winning,” which means nothing more than having and increasing one’s personal power. What to use
that power for is beyond their ken and interest.
Why else, after six years in opposition, would they have no specific programs or alternatives whatsoever, on such vital issues as immigration, health insurance, global warming, and rising economic inequality? Why else would they dare to deny that the last two of these problems even exist, other than that denial hasn’t yet
impaired their “winning”?
So we Yanks now have an interesting set of circumstances. We have a President whose emotional and analytical intelligence are both off the charts. We have two leaders in Congress whose emotional intelligence is high enough to have gotten them elected to positions two and three heartbeats from the presidency, but whose analytical intelligence, if it exists at all, has not moved any needle anywhere over two long careers.
How will the people behind these facts interact? Will there be a collision or cooperation? In particular, will the President use his veto power?
I think so. The President has much higher analytical intelligence than either Mitch or John. He also has a better and longer memory. So he can see things as they are.
The President remembers that Mitch and John have led a pitched battle of mindless obstruction against him and his party for six long years. Already he has signaled his refusal to knuckle under to threats of even greater obstruction, if that were possible. He did so in taking Executive action to avoid mass deportation of worthy innocents, and to give them a temporary incentive to come out of the shadows and stand tall.
The President’s “unilateral” but entirely lawful
action speaks louder than any shout that he will defend his policies, his achievements, and his legacy by all legal means, including presidential vetoes. Who in his position wouldn’t?
John and Mitch made their latest threats almost entirely out of emotional, not analytical, intelligence. There are only two possible reasons for having made them: to excuse their own obstructionism in advance, or to blame it on the President. They have enough emotional intelligence to know that their threats would not sway the President’s course of action.
As for analysis, they tried that same trick with the government shutdowns, and it didn’t work. The public put the blame where it belonged, on them and their party. (Hint: it’s hard to shift the blame if you have absolutely no credible alternative to your opponent’s proposals and policies.) Apparently, these not-too-analytically-bright men simply can’t see the strong analogy to present circumstances, which differ only slightly.
So what will happen for the next two years is becoming clear. Mitch and John will use all their long experience with congressional procedures to try to slip things by the President. They will attach riders. They will pack “Christmas tree” bills with some things the President wants and every cockamamie Republican scheme imaginable, including rollbacks of vital regulation of coal pollution, assaults on workplace and consumer safety, restrictions on labor’s right to organize and bargain collectively, yet more license for still-dangerous bankers, and reduced taxes on the rich at a time of already obscene inequality. The scheme of Big Oil to get richer by refining North America’s dirtiest oil on our Yankee Gulf Coast and selling the resulting gasoline and diesel abroad (aka Keystone XL
)—coincidentally depleting an important part of North America’s precious oil reserves prematurely—will be just the first of many.
John and Mitch and their minions will also conduct innumerable Chinese-style “show-trial” hearings, in an attempt to distract the public’s attention from their failure to do anything real. These hearings will be mere theater—sound and fury without meaning or consequence. No useful legislation will come out of them; their sole purpose will be to score political points.
The public may even begin to enjoy the shows and forget the primary purpose of Congress’ subpoena power: informing its legislative function. Thus may the US Congress come to resemble the Senate in ancient Rome, and perhaps eventually to suffer the same fate
Having passed their Trojan-Horse bills, John and Mitch will dare the President to veto them and try to blame him when he does. And they, like clueless commentator David Brooks, will say it all started when the President acted “unilaterally” on immigration, notwithstanding their threats, if he did, to continue what they’d been doing ruthlessly and consistently for the previous six years.
As they have been doing, John and Mitch will invite our Twitter Generation to forget the entire six years that came before. They will use all their emotional intelligence to make voters nod off. And they might succeed. If David Brooks can forget, why not most voters? Bring on the Tweets and the twenty-four-hour news cycle, the best Nepenthe ever invented!
So grit your teeth, my fellow Americans, and prepare to grin and bear it. Gridlock will continue and get worse.
Commentators willfully ignorant of our Constitution, laws and history
will continue to argue that our Founders bequeathed us gridlock as our Yankee destiny, that it never occurred to them that our nation would have to change and grow and that a vocal minority might some day want to stop the world and get off
. The President will stand firm because, although a soft-spoken, mild-mannered and understated professor, he is nothing whatever like the wimp his political enemies have tried to paint him. Mitch’s and John’s repeated misjudgment and underestimation of the President will provide further evidence, if any were needed, of their low analytical intelligence.
But don’t be sad. This, too, will pass. It’s only two years until the next election. Then the tables will turn. Far more shaky Republican seats will be up for grabs than Democratic ones. Maybe the Dems, for a change, will strategize and plan well in advance, and show some unity and discipline.
Maybe they will come up with a stratagem besides surrendering to outrageous propaganda. Maybe they’ll lick their still-open wounds and start seeking and nurturing strong candidates even now. Maybe some in the Senate will start grooming Elizabeth Warren and Cory Booker for the presidency in 2020.
But maybe not. We Yanks seem to have fallen down the rabbit hole in Alice in Wonderland
. There, perception is reality, pols try to make their own reality, and analytical
intelligence, let alone analysis, takes a back seat to manipulating voters in the most cynical ways imaginable.
Republicans have become masters of that dark art, and they use it almost exclusively. But both parties use it. And, fueled by Citizens United
, the trend is accelerating.
Mitch and John are firmly stuck in that rabbit hole. Mitch will turn 73 years old the month after he becomes Senate Majority Leader. He’s done the same thing all his life. He’s not going to change. He’s become the Pope of fomenting tribalism, speaking nonsense with Valium, bowing at rich donors’ feet and blocking action. He likes his silk robes.
At 65, John is a bit younger. He should retire soon. Maybe he will, after two more years of reactionism
, obstruction and blame.
But John won’t change, either. He’s about as introspective and self-critical as a cowpie. Learning a new set of simplistic mantras might break his brain.
The only thing that moves John’s needle is the risk of losing his own personal power, and that’s not going to happen in the next two years. With his Hastert Rule, which killed immigration reform
, he’s a principal architect of gridlock, and he seems to relish his notoriety. Relentlessly jeering and blocking others’ ideas and achievements well befits a man who, apart from getting elected, has never had an idea or achievement of his own.
So make yourself a stash of good books, either electronic or on dead trees. Forget about politics or political progress, whether you’re on the left or the right. Prepare to read yourself through the next two years, or at least until Hillary makes her play or the GOP presidential free-for-all heats up.
Nothing significant is going to happen, unless Putin goes totally nuts and starts a real war. Xi seems far too smart, analytically speaking, to exploit our continuing Yankee paralysis as an excuse to start a catastrophic war in Asia, although he may exploit it at the margins. Sooner or later, the powers that surround IS—Turkey, Iran, what’s left of Iraq and, if called on, Israel—will dispose of it
, with our weapons and air support.
The best we Yanks can hope for ourselves is that maybe, just maybe, the 2016 elections will bring us leaders in Congress with some analytical intelligence and a penchant for getting things done. The next president will almost certainly be such a leader because the GOP, having adroitly alienated all minorities and pursued know-nothings’ dreams of doing nothing but making the rich richer, will have cleverly transformed itself into a permanent minority party for that post. Yet as we ought to know by now, even a good president cannot cure a sick culture alone.
In the meantime, the Millennials, who just failed their Woody Allen test
and will suffer most for their laxity, must put their dreams on hold. Like believing nomads bent over a crucifix, they will bow forlornly over their inanimate mobile devices.
It will be good for them to have something
to believe in and to occupy their attention. For if things continue as they are, and if we Yanks still turn dumbly on each other, some Millennials—maybe many—will have to emigrate to find economic freedom and opportunity.
Here at home, we will have Matthew Arnold’s
“ignorant armies clash[ing] by night,” inspired by bumpers stickers and with iPhones in their hands. Things will have to get much worse, apparently, before enough of us Yanks wise up.
As of 2009, Kentucky ranked 26th in population
and 28th in GDP
among the 50 states—near or in the bottom quartile on both measures. In comparison, Ohio (John Boehner’s state) ranked 7th and 9th, respectively—in the top quartile on both. Figuring out how a man like Boehner garnered and holds entrenched power in a dynamic “swing” state like Ohio will no doubt motivate future doctoral theses in political science.
Demonic Yankee Cynicism
If you want to know just how demonically cynical our Yankee politics has become, watch this clip
of Ronald Reagan debating Walter Mondale on the subject of immigration thirty years ago.
Ignore the headlines, which are additional proof of Dratler’s Law. Apparently the person who posted the clip on YouTube has analytical intelligence so low as to impair his understanding of what Reagan said. Hear and listen to what Reagan says, and judge for yourself.
First, he forthrightly defends “amnesty” for long-time undocumented immigrants, while honestly and unabashedly using that very term. Second, he points out that employers, some of whom shamelessly exploit illegal immigrants, are the magnet that keeps them coming, despite any fence that could or will ever be built. That was thirty years ago, from the mouth of the patron saint of modern so-called “conservatives.”
Now fast-forward to today. The GOP’s Tea-Party wing incites its followers to foam at the mouth for building fences and deporting new illegal immigrants yesterday. At the same time, its business wing, wanting to exploit both long-ago and recent undocumented immigrants as cheap labor, keeps silent as a mouse about what really brings them here—unregulated employers who hire them and exploit them. The business wing also (falsely) convinces the GOP rank and file that the immigrants are stealing their jobs, which few or no native-born Yanks will take.
Cynical? How to measure how much?
Many so-called “Christians” foam at the mouth about abortion and perceived slights to religion but conveniently ignore what Jesus said about lifting up the poor, welcoming strangers, and accepting “sinners.” Pope Francis, who just might know a bit about Christianity, recently chided Europe
for similar faults.
Just so, modern Yankee “conservatives” ignore the simple, direct and absolutely correct reasoning of their patron saint on immigration. Why? Because vicious propaganda doesn’t have to make sense; it just has to persuade and get votes. And it usually does so through emotion, not reason.
Somewhere, in a hot place below, the soul of Joseph Goebbels, the Nazis’ chief propagandist, is laughing uproariously.