Monday, March 24, 2008

Austan Power, or, Internationals Lacking Mystery

Many months ago, when Barack Obama began his presidential run, I was intrigued by his views. Finding relatively little that didn’t require much digging, I did what any sensible person should do in the first place: ignore the candidate and proceed straight to the advisors. After all, I expect most presidents of most countries (with the exception of those played on TV by TV Nobel Laureates...) couldn’t tell apart the GDP from the WTI from a CDO. It’s the bright sparks behind the scenes who make up the ideas and quietly let the leader shamelessly take credit for it (where else is such blatant lifting of ideas not only condoned but the outright norm?).

So I began to peek into Obama’s team. Imagine my surprise when the first two names I encountered were people whom I both respected immensely. The first, for foreign policy, was Samantha Power, the self-proclaimed “genocide chick”, better known as author of the moving and brilliant A Problem From Hell, her account of the genocides of the twentieth century. The second was Austan Goolsbee, an intriguing centrist (at Chicago!) economist who rose to prominence for his proposal to simplify tax reporting. That was enough for me.

Unfortunately, these people are fundamentally academics and think-tankers, not pols. It had to be only a matter of time before their instincts for truth-telling came to the fore...but how! In just a matter of weeks, the very two people who had so reassured me have now become household names in the most undesirable way: Power for calling Hillary Clinton a monster, and Goolsbee for secretly telling the Canadians that the posturing on NAFTA was simply that, a campaign tactic. Underneath the latter, especially, is a fundamental and reassuring truth, but unfortunately truth and politics mix poorly. And the result is that American foreign policy and economics will be the poorer for the distancing of these two talents.

1 comment:

steck said...

I'm convinced that Samantha Powers' "monster" comment was fairly
innocuous, ceteris paribus. Perhaps it carried additional sting given her status as the "genocide chick".

These politicians, always politicking! Go figure.

-- Paul