Raiffa’s Rule in Presidential politics

Is Mitt Romney a soulless vote-seeking zombie with no actual core beliefs, or a right-wing lunatic?

Inspecting the politically target-rich environment that is Mitt Romney’s personality and record, Barack Obama’s strategists are reportedly torn between two approaches: pointing out that Romney is a soulless vote-seeking zombie with no actual core beliefs, or instead trying to label him as a right-wing lunatic.

But as Howard Raiffa said, when given a choice between A and B, you should always ask “Why can’t I have both?”

Mitt Romney is a soulless vote-seeking zombie with no actual core beliefs, whose political calculation has induced him, and will continue to induce him should be become President, to act like a right-wing lunatic on topics ranging from shutting down Planned Parenthood to enriching the rich at the expense of the rest of the population.

There! That wasn’t so hard, was it?

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

44 thoughts on “Raiffa’s Rule in Presidential politics”

  1. No, no. Paul Ryan is the soulless zombie. Mitt is an animatronic figurine, like the ones in the It’s a Small World ride at Disneyworld. His programming is about as sophisticated and annoying, too.

  2. Um, isn’t this kind of like the dog thing? Bringing up a subject your own candidate is worse on…

    1. oh, very classy. comparing a decision made for a 7 year old to a decision made by an adult with children. this doesn’t really come up to the normal standard of your snark.

      1. Oh, at least as classy as the DNC going nuts over the ‘rats’ commercial. And no more stupid than some of this “dog whistle” crap I hear all the time.

        My point is that the Obama campaign seems to be oblivious to the potential for lines of attack to be turned back on them. Fair or not, nobody who has eaten dog, (And not expressed horror about it, however insincerely.) wants to be raising the subject of dogs in a political campaign.

        I suppose next you’ll see attacks on Romney’s silly religion, and be utterly shocked when excerpts from Wright’s sermons start hitting the air. Demands to see things like Romney’s tax records, and outrage when you get asked to see his college transcripts.

        I don’t much like Romney, the GOP’s capacity to puke up an establishment candidate who not so privately disagrees with the party base about practically everything being on display again. But try to grasp this: He isn’t John McCain.

        He’s not going to put his campaign on hold for a few weeks right in the middle. He’s not going to declare subjects he could gain advantage on off limits. He’s not going to wear boxing gloves when Obama brings his gun to a knife fight.

        Obama is, perhaps for the first time in his life, up against a candidate who is also going to be bringing a gun to that knife fight. I think it’s going to be a shock to him.

        1. next you’ll see attacks on Romney’s silly religion…

          I hope not. Romney’s religion is indeed silly; but no more and no less silly than any other. (It’s simply a bit less establishment than some others, in most parts of the USA and in the rest of the world.) But dislike religion as I do, there are many excellent reasons why one should not attack the beliefs of a religious person who is not attempting to impose his beliefs on others, whether directly or by enshrining those beliefs in the secular law. The LDS church is a conservative institution, and LDS people tend to be conservative (though I know a few who’d surprise you). Romney is conservative, by whole-society if not by teabagger standards. But I really don’t see him trying to remould secular society in accordance with the tenets of his religion in a way that Santorum and Bachmann (crazily but probably sincerely), Gingrich (cynically) or Rick Perry (quite possibly unconsciously) have said they would like to do. Under those circumstances, what Romney does on Sundays is his own business and no proper subject for attack. Goodness knows Obama has disappointed me in many things (not, however, unexpectedly), but I would be disappointed in him in a different (and in some ways more serious) way were he to allow something like that.

          … and be utterly shocked when excerpts from Wright’s sermons start hitting the air

          Brett, I’m sorry, I hadn’t realized that you have just now emerged from a four-year long stay in a hermit’s cell with no media access of any kind. The right wing have banging the Rev’d Wright drum since some GOP oppo researcher decided there might be a bit of mileage in it. They can go on beating that horse as hard as they like, that won’t make it any less dead.

        2. Demands to see things like Romney’s tax records, and outrage when you get asked to see his college transcripts.

          You see no difference between the two? Really?

          Especially when: (a) it’s at least possible that Romney’s returns show that he illegally concealed a foreign bank account, and (b) he was happy to release them to McCain when he wanted the VP nomination.

          So he’s applying for a different job now, a much more important one, but won’t release the returns to the people making the decision. That’s strange, don’t you think?

          1. Yes, it’s at least possible. Probably not likely, since he didn’t beg off from running for President. But it’s possible. It’s possible you’re a hermophoradite. I’ve got no evidence of this, but all the evidence I do have is consistent with that conclusion…

          2. Probably not likely, since he didn’t beg off from running for President

            Neither did John Edwards.

          3. So, in your mind, the fact that he’s running for President means he didn’t do anything illegal – he has nothing to hide, nothing embarrassing in his tax returns? Even though he’s hiding them?

          4. In your mind the fact that Obama spent so long stubbornly refusing to release his birth certificate, and still won’t let his college transcripts be released, means nothing. Even though he was and is hiding them.

            Why should it be any different for Romney?

            Sure, there could be something there, people have been stupid enough to run for high office with skelletons in their closet, even dared the press to follow them around while having affairs.

            But is that the way to bet? I don’t think so.

          5. Wow Brett. What an amazing response.

            Obama in fact released his birth certficiate before the 20087 election, though why he was under any obligation to do so is a mystery. And no dittohead nonsense about “long-form,” etc. If the birth certificate business is an embarrassment to any one it’s to those like you who made an issue of it. As for transcripts, when have they ever been released, and what could they show of interest? Certainly not illegal activity. Bush’s (Affirmative Action at Yale) were leaked, not released, and McCain (AA at Annapolis) declined to release his. And where were Palin’s? Why is it only Obama’s refusal that makes you angry?

            OTOH, you do understand that candidates for major offices routinely release tax returns?

          6. What makes you think I’m angry? I’m finding a lot of these lines of attack on Romney pretty laughable, frankly. Romney isn’t who I’d personally want as a nominee, but it’s looking like it’s going to be fun watching him mess with your heads.

          7. really brett, you’re letting your side down. your arguments are tendentious and half-hearted. it’s almost as if you really want obama to win but you just can’t let yourself say so. you keep trying to pass off the most inane crap as if it were intellectual gold. again i tell you. this doesn’t come up to your usual level. if you can’t do better than this you’d be better advised to just let it go.

          8. Oh, no, I want Obama to lose with the fiery passion of a thousand exploding suns.

            Problem is, I don’t particularly want Romney to win. Geeze, I hate the two party system.

    2. I know that insults are not tolerated around here so I’ll be very clear: I’m not sure whether you are a very stupid person, but this was a very stupid thing to say.

  3. Yeah, Romney’s truthful campaign slogan would be More Power for the Powerful!

    Beyond that, he’s a maleable rich guy who’s insearch of a lost soul! Any malevalent corporate industrial complex would underwrite his presidential ambitions. He’s the right candidate to advocate the importance of corporate personhood, while pandering to the far right regarding womb-present personhood!

  4. The hard part is that (IMO) if you are Obama, it’s in your advantage for the 40% of the population who would like reasonably conservative social policies (as in, “prefer 1965 to 1975”) to think that Romney is NOT likely to actually push policy in that direction (on the Left, “stop preferentially funding abortion providers” may seem like lunacy; it’s a major goal of a lot of activists, and a “sounds like a good idea to me” for a majority of voters.)

    1. This ignores the fact that that 40% is already lost to Obama, no matter what. Politics is a game of margins.

      1. Correct: they won’t vote for Obama, no matter what. But it’s much to his advantage that they be very unenthusiastic about Romney.

        1. but even if they prefer 1965 to 1975, does that mean they would support 1665 to 1965?

          1. They do think they prefer 1665 to 1965 but only because they have no gut feeling for what 1665 was really like.

        2. Call me crazy, but I don’t really see anyone getting very enthusiastic about “a soulless vote-seeking zombie” even if they do think that he might be induced to support things they like.

  5. I only listen to Romney with half an ear at most, but it seems to me as if, when he makes a “gaffe,” he seems to reveal himself as a middle of the road, corporate-y Republican. Not a total nutjob like most of them. Is this irony? I also imagine that I detect some sort of rivalry with his father (and I thought this before the get-rid-of-HUD thing), who seems way cooler than he is. So, in a way, if he ever relaxed and “found his center,” and reverted to his upbringing (not that I really know much about it), that might be very bad for the Dems.

    I doubt if much personal growth happens in the thick of a campaign though.

    1. In theory a possibility, but in reality, not to worry. He won’t revert to his amoral, middle-middle, decide on the margins and devil take the principles, management roots. He might incline that way personally, but a president comes in with them that brung him and Mitt will owe them. A Mitt presidency would be a feast for that portion of the GOP that’s seriously to the right of the Federalist Society. As a managerial type, he will simply take their advice on everything he’s not really interested in, and imho that’s most things of any consequence for policy and for most of the populace.

  6. Look. Flip-flopper is the image Rmoney WANTS us to think of him.

    What he really IS, is a contemptuous, disdainful, sneaky, compulsive LIAR.

    1. The thing is, I guess I don’t pay enough attention to be outraged by the guy. What is the evidence for “sociopath?”

      I know he has backed way back away from the Mass health plan, with a (pathetically weak, imho) federalism excuse. I know I disagree with well, probably all his ideas about how to fix our economy, but then again, he is a Republican, that’s just par for the course. I know he made a pile of money being a chiseler, essentially. That’s legal here, isn’t it? Of course I don’t admire him for it. Oh, wait – I’m sorry — he *saved* companies. (Whatever.)

      I know he is reputed to be somewhat boring. (Yawn.) He seems like a cold person (so does the president, and I overlook it in him). He is a bubble person (seems never to have faced any true personal difficulties).

      But sociopath? Where’d you get that? Flipflopping doesn’t get us there, imho.

      1. He has one core belief — sorry, Mark — which is that anyone and anything may rightfully be shoved aside or destroyed in the process of his attaining his goal.

  7. “Yeah, Romney’s truthful campaign slogan would be More Power for the Powerful!”

    The logical slogan for right-libertarian Leninists everywhere is: All Power to the Corporate Boards.

  8. He has one core belief — sorry, Mark — which is that anyone and anything may rightfully be shoved aside or destroyed in the process of his attaining his goal.

    1. You raise an interesting question — why does he want to be president? I can’t figure it out. Something must be motivating him. It’s hard work to run. I don’t get it.

      1. Time for the, “Romney, the Mormon Manchurian Candidate” conspiracy delusions to fan out.

        They are delusions, right?

        1. “Manchurian candidate” presumes a figure who represents someone’s interests besides his own.

          1. No, no, no. The notion that he’s any kind of stealth candidate for that church is nonsense and a distraction from the real problem: nobody else is as important as he is. He’s disdainful of other people to the point of indecency. A sociopath. It lives out in every act and every utterance.

            “Flip-flopper” is what his handlers would *like* you to think. To obscure the worse truth: he’s out solely for himself.

            Think about it — it’s explanatory. OUT SOLELY FOR HIMSELF. No other core? Explained. No other mission? Explained. Inability to express the most basic kindness to “normals” on the campaign trail? Check. ‘Bot affect? Explained. Bain indifference to destruction of lives, capital? There ya go.


            Only seems normal in a culture where Money trumps all other values.

          2. Well, yeah. Nobody runs for President unless they have a consuming vision of their own importance. We don’t draft candidates for President, they all have to volunteer.

            And actually wanting to be President is probably the clearest evidence that you shouldn’t be President we have available.

            I mean, really, you think Obama is modest and unassuming? Has no particular lust for power, is ambivalent about whether he’s the best guy for the job?

      2. Simple. Top dog status. Romney’s every “gaffe” states more or less what his core interest really his — to put everyone not-Romney in his or her place.

  9. “… soulless vote-seeking zombie with no actual core beliefs…” yah! If I didn’t think that, I wouldn’t be voting for him! I’m expecting plausible, center-right, consensus-seeking.

    So my guess is that portraying him as ” soulless vote-seeking zombie with no actual core beliefs” is probably not such a good idea for the Demmies, it will attract more folks like me to support him. “right-wing loonie” is a better strategy, if anyone will believe it.

    1. Would you want a vulture capitalist to take over the company you work for (or worse the company you own)? If not, why would you want one to take over your country?

      1. This is probably not my view, but a charitable take on “vulture capitalism” would be about creative destruction, and ultimately a better company for both owners and workers. Like I said, probably not my view, but I can see the appeal of the narrative.

    2. Carter says he thinks Romney is, well, flexible, and would likely be a good manager:
      Said Carter: “I’d rather have a Democrat but I would be comfortable — I think Romney has shown in the past, in his previous years as a moderate or progressive… that he was fairly competent as a governor and also running the Olympics as you know. He’s a good solid family man and so forth, he’s gone to the extreme right wing positions on some very important issues in order to get the nomination. What he’ll do in the general election, what he’ll do as president I think is different.”

      So that sort of reinforces my view that soulless vote-seeking zombie is not a winner for the Dems.

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