Reality-based community

A lot of people are commenting on the following passage in Susskind’s NYT article. According to a Bush aide, Bush’s critics are from

“the reality-based community….[people] who believe that solutions emerge from your judicious study of discernible reality…..That’s not the way the world really works anymore. We’re an empire now, and when we act, we create our own reality. And while you’re studying that reality — judiciously, as you will — we’ll act again, creating other new realities, which you can study too, and that’s how things will sort out. We’re history’s actors . . . and you, all of you, will be left to just study what we do.”

You can get a great anti-Bush zinger out of this, and I heartily endorse doing so. However, people are, to a significant degree, missing the point. The Bush aide’s statement actually highlights one of the Republican party’s strengths and one of the Democrats’ weaknesses, especially in political campaigning.

Democrats are too tied to public administration and to the normalizing social sciences, where you try to keep things under control and running smoothly, or try to figure out the most likely thing to happen based on observed regularities. Republicans are more likely to come from wildcat entrepreneurial backgrounds, often of a semi-criminal type, where the goal is to seize a momentary advantage, find an exception or a weak spot, or find a new angle. As a result Republicans are better at spotting and exploiting the unrevealed potentials of an unstable or evolving situation.

If you don’t believe me, name a national political campaign since 1976 when the Democrats outcampaigned the Republicans. There’s only Bill Clinton, and he strikes me as a pretty good guy at finding an angle. Republicans hated Clinton’s sleaziness, not because they hate sleaziness, but because they want a monopoly on it. Clinton beat them at their own game.

On Matt Yglesias’s comments, “Cranky” pointed out that the Republican aide’s assertion is pretty much what they teach in business schools these days – you don’t manage based on your past experience, but upon what is going to happen in the future – and the future is something that you can do something about. Another commenter, JS, cited Marx: “Philosophers have only interpreted the world; the point is to change it.”

Ariel Sharon’s “facts on the ground” is another example of what I mean. By taking bold actions, the executive can make his opponent’s objections and proposals irrelevant, and this method works even if the bold action makes things worse. “So what are you gonna do now, buddy?”

However, most entrepreneurs fail, and most adventurists are defeated. Bush’s great adventure is in collapse phase. In Iraq, things didn’t go the way the Bush team had planned. (This is true even if you grant that their actual plans were different than their publicly-expressed plans). They gave it their best shot, but that wasn’t good enough.

Adventurists cannot afford to admit defeat, because they’ve staked too much on success; once the jig is up, they’re through for good. Bush can only try to save himself by upping the ante. If he wins in November, we can expect him to invade Iran, institute a draft, and attack the traitors and naysayers in our midst even more viciously than before.

Adventurists are only forgiven if they succeed, and Bush didn’t. He gambled and lost, and now is in the running to be named the worst President in American history. It’s time to escort him off the stage.