Towards A Good Samaritan World

Monday, December 13, 2004

THE ORACLE AT DELPHI

Bush thinks the voters gave him a mandate to reform Social Security. The New Republic calls this claim "patently absurd," and Ruy Teixeira agrees.

Who's right? How can we know? It seemed to me that Bush made it very clear that he wanted Social Security reform. The turning-point in the campaign, the point where Bush gained a lead that he never again lost, except possibly for a brief moment after the first debate, was Bush's RNC speech, where he said:

We'll always keep the promise of Social Security for our older workers.

With the huge baby boom generation approaching retirement, many of our children and grandchildren understandably worry whether Social Security will be there when they need it.

We must strengthen Social Security by allowing younger workers to save some of their taxes in a personal account, a nest egg you can call your own and government can never take away.


People knew where he stood on foreign policy before the Convention. What was unveiled there was his domestic/economic policy agenda. And it abruptly gave him a 10-15 point lead in the polls. That seems like a mandate to me. Of course voters are ambivalent about Social Security reform: it's a huge policy change, it's very complex and they don't fully understand it, and lots of stuff could go wrong. But they decided to go for it anyway.

And yet it's also plausible to say that voters only supported Bush's strong foreign policy, or his "moral values," or that they just didn't trust Kerry. Who knows?

When the states of ancient Greece-- monarchs, oligarchs and democrats alike!-- confronted policy conundra, they went to the oracle at Delphi and asked for advice. It would give them cryptic answers, which politicians had to learn to interpret manipulatively. For example, Themistocles, leader of Athens, got a cryptic answer about "wooden walls;" he used it to argue for the creation of an Athenian navy. (Sorry, no time to look for Greek history links just now, there's moer...)

Anyway, it occurs to me that elections are a bit like consulting the oracle at Delphi: we anticipate them, our leaders go to great lengths to conduct them, and treat them with great respect, yet the messages they send are cryptic. "Bush, and the GOP," said the electorate, but we don't really know what they meant. Instead we have the punditocracy self-interestedly deciphering it.

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