Mark Lilla recalls some recent Barack Obama quotes and then writes:
If this is the way the president and his party think about human psychology, it’s little wonder they’ve taken such a beating.
In the spirit of that old line, “That and $4.95 will get you a tall latte,” let me agree with Lilla and attribute the Democrats’ losses in 2010 to the following three factors:
1. A poor understanding of human psychology;
2. The Democrats holding unified control of the presidency and congress with a large majority in both houses (factors that are historically associated with big midterm losses); and
3. A terrible economy.
I will let you, the readers, make your best guesses as to the relative importance of factors 1, 2, and 3 above.
Don’t get me wrong: I think psychology is important, as is the history of ideas (the main subject of Lilla’s article), and I’d hope that Obama (and also his colleagues in both parties in congress) can become better acquainted with psychology, motivation, and the history of these ideas. I just think it’s stretching things to bring in the election as some sort of outcome of the Democrats’ understanding of political marketing.
Later on, Lilla writes of “the Tea Party’s ire, directed at Democrats and Republicans alike . . . ” Huh? The Tea Party activists are conservative Republicans. Are there any Democrats that the Tea Party participants like? Zell Miller, maybe?
Lilla concludes with an inspiring story of Muhammed Ali coming to Harvard and delivering a two-line poem, at which point, in Lilla’s words, “The students would have followed him anywhere.” He seems to attribute this to Ali’s passion (“In our politics, history doesn’t happen when a leader makes an argument, or even strikes a pose. It happens when he strikes a chord. And you don’t need charts and figures to do that; in fact they get in the way. You only need two words.”), but is that really right? Ali is a culture hero for many reasons, and my guess is the students would’ve followed him anywhere–even if he’d given them charts and figures. Actually, then maybe they’d have had more of an idea of where he was leading them!
It says in the article linked above that Lilla is a professor at Columbia, and, looking him up, I see that he won an award from the American Political Science Association. So I’m a bit surprised to see him write some of the things he writes above, about the Tea Party and attributing the 2010 election to a lack of understanding of psychology. (I assume the Muhammed Ali story is just poetic license.) Probably I’m missing something here, maybe I can ask him directly at some point.