Obama’s sanity

Steve Teles is right to say that Obama is inexperienced. But he’s also brilliant and (what’s much less common in seekers after the Presidency) profoundly sane. That’s why I’m willing to roll the dice.

Steve Teles makes some good points and raises some serious questions about an Obama Presidency. Steve’s concerns overlap with Jonathan Zasloff’s.

Despite the results from New Hampshire, those points are still relevant.

Yes, executive experience is a valuable commodity in a Presidential candidate. Yes, it would be good to know that Obama is capable of a proper pessimism. No, we don’t know precisely what he would do as President (any more than the electorate in 1932 could have guessed the content of the New Deal).

Why am I less worried about the admitted risk than I am about the alternatives? I can answer in two words: intelligence and character.

Obama’s brilliance is not in serious dispute. (He is also, what counts for at least as much, genuinely well-educated, well-read, and thoughtful.) But the problem with a brilliant President is that he may be too full of his own brilliance to know how to take advice. That’s where character comes in.

If the actual human being named Barack Obama at all resembles the character he plays on the political stage, he is that wildly unusual figure, the seeker of the White House who has his ego firmly in check. Obama’s sense of humor is among his most attractive features, especially because it’s a sense of humor almost always turned against himself rather than (as in the case of Bob Dole, for example) against his opponents. I take that to be an excellent protection against the arrogance that is the occupational risk of high office.

Better yet, as far as I can tell from listening to his speeches and “reading” The Audacity of Hope as an audiobook, Obama is almost devoid of the megalomaniac and sociopathic tendencies so common among top-level politicians.

The Greek word sophrosyne is usually translated as “temperance” or “moderation.” But its core meaning seems to be closer to “self-command” or “sanity.” That’s the characteristic that shines through the speeches and actions of Abraham Lincoln. It’s on Obama’s sophrosyne, even more than on his intelligence, that I’m prepared to bet.

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: Markarkleiman-at-gmail.com

One thought on “Obama’s sanity”

  1. It's About Judgment

    Mark Kleiman:Yes, executive experience is a valuable commodity in a Presidential candidate. Yes, it would be good to know that Obama is capable of a proper pessimism. No, we don't know precisely what he would do as President (any more

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