Tuesday, January 02, 2007

# Posted 4:17 PM by Patrick Belton  

TRUST ME (OR, WHY IT'S AN ARTICLE OF FAITH JOURNOS ARE TRUSTWORTHY, BUT POLS ARE DODGY): This post will shortly have a downright plethora of links. But unlike Shane Warne, Patrick gets to take a tea break.

After a somewhat dreary holidays output, the Grauniad has finally sputtered up something well worth reading. (For examples of the former, when not using someone else's computer I'll link to my favourites of the past week, 'futurists say mobile phones will phase out religion', a piece of close political analysis saying I-P will not be resolved in the coming year not because of dynamics pertaining to trends and factions but because the Palestinians are fairly naff, and a cut and paste ICG press release on Afghanistan from a paper with the likes of Declan Walsh on its foreign correspondentry rolls. If they didn't give me free espresso just to read their paper, I just might otherwise have to plump for the FT.)

But, Max Hastings in today's Comment got me thinking about the role of adversarial media, while serving as a (democratic) check, eradicating trust in politics and thereby leading in a roundabout fashion to perverse (and not terribly democratic) unintended consequences. (Sir Max introducing his article by way of the inevitable YouGov poll, like William Rees-Mogg, if this is the ultimate democratisation of opinion, they're all doing it).

On the piece which I've just mentioned, I've two further points. One, the press is very good at building up two classes of politician: claimants, and also-rans. For examples of the former, see Gordon Brown (swot; nonconformist, ergo a swot; Scot, ergo a swot), David Cameron (must be charismatic, with those cycling quadriceps), B. Hussein Obama (he's not Hillary); for the latter, Robin Cook (nonconformist, ergo swot), Daniel Patrick Moynihan (whose donnishness was presented as a feature not a bug), perhaps David Blunkett, certainly Roy Jenkins. All are permitted to wear that elusive mantle, the intellectual in politics, to be ripped off as soon as one arrives at party leadership. Clinton Senatrix is rather more a case in point than a counterexample, due to having already occupied number 1600. The post-Watergate rules also provide for a third category of has-beens, according those who have held the highest tiers a controversial significance given to, say, Baroness Thatcher, Reagan, Clinton pere - generally nurtured by a network of former aides turned opinion writers interested in promoting their former employers' legacies as leaders, if not of thought, then of ideology. So, to get good press, in descending order of desirability, be an also-ran, an aspirant or a has-been.

Second point. The economy of politics, no less than that of markets, requires trust to solve collective action problems and enable iterated cooperation. As Gordon Brown’s stingy countryman couldn’t have said better, you buy meat from your butcher because his want, not his conscience, makes him likely to give it you. In politics, the absence of trust obviates collective action – labour chapel membership, marching down the National Mall, in general most political activity where, e.g., religious or mating incentives don’t compensate. The result is, to a powerful first order of approximation, precisely the sort of deference to a professional political class that earnest newspapermen who once worked on Fleet Street thought they were labouring to eradicate.

Perverse consequences day on OxBlog. Let me know if you agree, or if I’m being too facile or simply missing something.

One more point, before tea (Darjeeling, courtesy this promising foodie blogger, from whom more shortly). If political, like market action requires a splash of trust to make the whole machine move, what of punditry? David has, I believe, suggested (and somewhat captivatingly) the notion of a trust rating in punditry, borne out by a hit rate of prognostications, which like an ebay feedback scoring would alert you to the perils inherent in trafficking with a particular vendor of political viewpoints. Without wishing to provide too much a case in point, I’m tempted to disagree that the job of the clerisy is not to be right but to (be) disagree(able), broadening the choice offered in the supermarket of ideas to the customer in opinions, and thus the space opened for debate, and number of claims challenged for verification or rebuttal by dispute. It’s anyhow how we treat pundits, with editors acting as our agents – the most effective way to pitch a political opinion piece to the weeklies is to follow as closely as possible the form ‘the received wisdom is x. not x.’ (Now if indeed the point of the pundit is not to be right but to disagree, one’s mind is distracted by whether there should be a secret code indicating ‘I’m only serving as a devil’s advocate’. But first, tea.)
(5) opinions -- Add your opinion

Could you perhaps expand a little on why you're referring to the junior senator from Illinois as B. Hussein Obama? I mean, I know Hussein's his middle name, but he doesn't use it. It wouldn't be an infantile attempt to stir a little Islamophobia, would it? I do apologise if I've got your motives wrong.
Thanks Oliver, no not at all - I was nodding at this piece from Slate.
Phew. Apologies for the suggestion in the first place.
"B. Hussein Obama" Ah, the meme has begun! I expected something slightly different, like certain Republicans coincidently making the same mistake: saying Barack Osama, instead of Barack Obama (like CNN did this past week).

But the "B. Hussein Obama" meme does just as good of a job - and it's popping up all over the blogosphere and MSM.
The post-Watergate rules also provide for a third category of has-beens, according those who have held the highest tiers a controversial significance given to, say, Baroness Thatcher, Reagan, Clinton pere

Eh? I thought his daughter was just raking in money working at a hedge fund, not in politics. Perhaps that should be Clinton mari?
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