I recommend listening to the latest Freakonomics podcast, The Power of the President. In it, Freakonomics economist Steven Levitt admits he was wrong about Obama.
At the 12:30 mark Levitt says:
I’ve probably never been more wrong about anything than I was about my projections for what the Obama administration would look like.
Levitt usually doesn’t pay much attention to politics and usually doesn’t vote. But he did in the last election. He credits Obama for being a great speaker and compares him to the Pied Piper, because:
…even though I disagreed with most of what he said, I immediately wanted to do them. I would have done whatever he would have told me to do.
That’s why I voted for Obama. I never vote, but I thought there was a good chance that Obama would be the greatest president in the history of mankind, and I wanted to be able to tell my grandchildren that I voted for Barack Obama.
One reason Levitt usually doesn’t vote is because he doesn’t think a president “matters all that much,” but he thinks the president can set a tone for the nation, and he thought “Obama would be able to set an incredible tone for our country.” He goes on:
…and what’s strange and surprising to me is that almost exactly the opposite happened. As soon as he got into office, it was just rancor and off-tune, off-pitch.
I’m glad someone can admit he was wrong. I wish he’d give other people, who weren’t wrong, more credit. Maybe we should more carefully consider their position in the future.
I’m reminded of a time where I participated in a mock government exercise as a high school student. In the gubernatorial campaign speeches, one candidate passionately recited some non-sense lyrics from a Prince song.
I remember thinking “what a disaster, this guy is bombing big time.” Much to my surprise, the auditorium erupted in applause and gave him a standing ovation. Myself and the guy sitting next to me were among the few who remained seated and silent with furled eyebrows. I asked him, “What the hell did he just say?” He responded, “I have no idea.”
That’s when it first occurred to me how many people could be swayed by style and emotion and there are very few of us that are more resistant to that.
Even Levitt, an economist, duped himself. He didn’t agree with much of what Obama said, but he would have done whatever Obama told him to do. For some reason, I have a natural tendency to put more weight — nearly all weight — on whether I agree or disagree with what someone is saying, not whether I like the way he or she says it.
I’m usually scanning for content and filtering out style. Much to my chagrin, I’m at the mercy of a population that appears to do the opposite.
But, they don’t just do the opposite. They often know they disagree with the person, but rationalize it away. I had friends in ’08 election who tried to convince me that while Obama appeared to be a bit far to the left (judging from what he said and his voting record), but he’d move to the middle when president. One even told me recently that while Obama hadn’t really moved to the middle in his first term, he expects that he will if he gets a second term. I’m sorry, what?
I would appreciate hearing Levitt say something like, “I’m going to make a point to be more careful about being swayed by style, emotion and fallacy in the future, and I encourage all of us to do the same. Listen to what people are saying. Ask yourself if you agree or disagree and then ask yourself why. Then find someone who can represent the disagreeing position well and talk to them.”