McCain’s bullsh*t

He doesn’t believe he’s going to free us of dependence on Middle East oil. But he pretends to mean it, which allows his audience to pretend to believe it.

Kevin Drum’s takedown of John McCain’s silly promise to “eliminate our dependence on oil from the Middle East” reminds me of a story told by a former colleague who was assigned to President Ford’s (or maybe it was Nixon’s) Energy Independence Task Force, charged with figuring out a way of achieving energy independence within ten years.

First thing we had to do was redefine “energy independence.” Then we had to redefine “ten years.”

Mike O’Hare likes to talk about what he calls “the process of infantilization,” in which officials make promises they know they can’t keep and voters pretend to believe those promises, which means they can blame the subsequent failure on the officials and take no responsibility themselves. Both of this year’s Republican candidates treat the voters like infants: the “gas tax holiday” is the clearest example, but far from the only one. That is, they are dedicated to bullsh*t, in the technical sense of the term introduced by Harry Frankfurt.

While I’m certain that the Democratic candidate has chosen the nobler strategy, I wish I could be confident that it was the more advantageous strategy as well. As the Grand Inquisitor (no, not Ratzinger, but one of his spiritual predecessors) tells Jesus, the last thing most people want is responsibility for their own lives.

Author: Mark Kleiman

Professor of Public Policy at the NYU Marron Institute for Urban Management and editor of the Journal of Drug Policy Analysis. Teaches about the methods of policy analysis about drug abuse control and crime control policy, working out the implications of two principles: that swift and certain sanctions don't have to be severe to be effective, and that well-designed threats usually don't have to be carried out. Books: Drugs and Drug Policy: What Everyone Needs to Know (with Jonathan Caulkins and Angela Hawken) When Brute Force Fails: How to Have Less Crime and Less Punishment (Princeton, 2009; named one of the "books of the year" by The Economist Against Excess: Drug Policy for Results (Basic, 1993) Marijuana: Costs of Abuse, Costs of Control (Greenwood, 1989) UCLA Homepage Curriculum Vitae Contact: