The Duck of Minerva

The Duck Quacks at Twilight

Obama as Hitler: He Wishes!

October 14, 2011

I used to watch all of the presidential debates when I was in my late twenties and early thirties. Even though my party allegiance was never in doubt, I wanted to know the contours of the debate even for the other side, what there substantive differences were, where the daylight between the candidates was, etc.

I don’t do this any more. Obviously one reason is that they are just not informative. None of the candidates truly embrace policy ideas, and even if they did, that isn’t what is rewarded. So during their primaries, in particular, they draw largely semantic contrasts between other nominees in an obviously disingenous way. They make stupid, canned jokes that generally fall flat. I hate bad jokes.

Well, he could.

But when they do get substantive, it is even more pointless. This is because they always talk about their Plan. Plan for Energy Independence, Plan for Tax Reform, Plan for Health Care. Apparently they are on their campaign website. Even assuming that anyone ever reads them, why do they bother?

Every four years we have this bout of collective amnesia in which we forget that we are not electing a dictator for four years, but rather the head of a particular branch of government who has to contend with 535 idiots down the street. Even if Obama wanted to be Hitler, he couldn’t.

Now it might be better if the President is also not an idiot as well, and I suppose his Plans tell us something about whether that is the case. But nothing anything like any of these Plans will ever get passed by Congress, so what is the point of pointing out the tiny differences with other nominees, particularly in the same party?

An illustrative example: Obama went hard at Hillary in 2008 on her mandate for individuals to get insurance as unnecessary and perhaps draconian. “My plan wouldn’t require individuals to get insurance,” he said, or something like that. First, it was a dumb idea. You need the revenue from healthy people to pay for sick people. Any third grader gets that. Second, who the f*ck cares about Your Plan? Congress is just going to mangle it into something unrecognizable anyways. And they did. Obama didn’t even take his plan and make it his opening bid.

Really, all we need to know is whether you support universal health care or not? Do you believe that we should drill for oil right offshore? Should we tax the rich at a higher rate than currently? A simple yes or no will do. This is all we really need; everything else is extraneous and ultimately inconsequential. And we don’t need 18 months to get this down. Save your $200 million dollars. Fill out a questionnaire, shut up, and we’ll let you know in November.

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Rathbun is a professor of International Relations at USC. Brian Rathbun received his Ph.D. in Political Science from the University of California, Berkeley in 2002 and has taught at USC since 2008. He has written four solo-authored books, on humanitarian intervention, multilateral institution building, diplomacy and rationality. His articles have appeared or are forthcoming in International Organization, International Security, World Politics, International Studies Quartlery, the Journal of Politics, Security Studies, the European Journal of International Relations, International Theory, and the Journal of Conflict Resolution among others. He is the recipient of the 2009 USC Parents Association Teaching and Mentoring Award. In 2019 he will be recognized as a Distinguished Scholar by the Diplomatic Studies Section of the International Studies Association.