Monday, January 30, 2017

"Where the rules are made up and the points don't matter"

There is a popular comedy improv game where the performers are required to ad lib a conversation made up entirely of questions. These do not have to be particularly sensible and they can and often do veer off in radically different directions, but they need to be on topic just enough to qualify as a response.  This is harder than it looks, particularly when the performers are deliberately trying to stump each other. It is challenging enough that the game is often played with tag teams, where a new player steps in when someone can't come up with an appropriate query.

As I believe we have mentioned before, the public policy discourse has evolved into something very much like this. When asked to defend a position, one is required to give some kind of answer which is vaguely on topic, but that is pretty much the only requirement. The statement can be silly, illogical, factually inaccurate, and, by every standard, worse than no answer at all, but as long as you responded, you get to keep playing the game.

As with all things involving Donald Trump, this convention has recently been pushed to its absurd extreme.

From Deadspin:

Betsy DeVos, a galactically rich and galactically evil anti-public school, anti-gay rights donor appointed by Donald Trump to be our country’s next Education Secretary, is going through confirmation hearings tonight (sports angle: her shitty father owns the Orlando Magic). She was asked about guns in schools. She said it was worth exploring. Her reasoning? “Grizzly bears.”

1 comment:

  1. Mark:

    Along with this is that media allies will not call foul when politicians do this. For example, the Marginal Revolution guys (on your blogroll and mine) might detest Donald Trump and Steve Bannon, but they agree with DeVos on school vouchers so they're not going to want to go after her incompetence. I assume WSJ would have a similar take on it.

    Or maybe I'm getting things backward. There are media organizations that will call out a cabinet nominee for incompetence, but such media organizations are then immediately placed in the anti-Republican category so their criticisms don't count.

    I guess it would really be up to the Republicans (and, to a lesser extent, the Democrats) in the Senate to blow the whistle and say, Hey, we can't have a Secretary of Education who doesn't know what's going on in schools!

    But maybe that's not a rule, I don't know. Back in the old day, they'd give political hacks the Postmaster General position, I assume because the Postmaster General was in charge of thousands of Post Office jobs. I'm guessing James Farley etc. didn't have any particular postal expertise.

    Or, to go to academia . . . universities have lots of deans etc. who don't know anything, who just got their jobs because they were dean somewhere else. I'm pretty impressed with most of Columbia University's deans right now--of course I'd say that!--but over the years I've encountered some real incompetence. And nobody usually seems to care that much. The #1 priority by the higher-ups usually seems to be that the dean have the correct view on whatever is Topic A at the time. So maybe that's how senators think about cabinet appointees.

    It's like an episode of Dilbert (the cartoon, not the blog!): clueless management-types putting their trust in other management-types.