Being President of the United States of America is Risky Business

Jared Bernstein points out that the next President will be “Risk Manager-In-Chief”:

“Obama will be good at this. He has a balanced, evidenced-based approach to risk assessment. To the consternation of many in the base, he is not particularly ideological. He’s also naturally cautious, deliberative, if not plodding. In fact, these very qualities were often (rightly) criticized during the campaign, as he failed to catch fire and communicate a simple, compelling narrative.

But at this point, many voters are looking for precisely the kind of leadership I believe he offers in this regard. It’s not indecisive. It’s gather the evidence, assess the risk factors, and make the call with the greatest objective, not subjective, chance of achieving the goal. It doesn’t mean you check your gut at the door. It just means you let your brain into the room too.

With McCain, I fear that when it comes to making the big decisions, we’d get the subjective, shoot from the hip we’ve seen far too much of in recent weeks. That’s certainly the message from the erratic turn the campaign has taken, as they lurch from one surprise to another. The old McCain was not particularly ideological, an advantage in judging risk; the new one is worse than Bush on this score.

McCain’s economic policy is a good example. At this point, it’s simply impossible to objectively look at the Bush economic record, and conclude it worked, yet McCain doubles down on it. He’s also moved to right of Bush on the war, opposing timetables that Bush and even the Iraqi’s themselves are brigning to the table.

But the worst sign regarding McCain as risk manager was the choice of Palin for his VP. That move, made for purely short-term political gain, with no regard for the risks it posed to the country, has turned even a number of staunch Republicans off their ticket. It’s not just that she’s inexperienced. It’s that she doesn’t seem to know what she doesn’t know, and it’s easy to imagine her, if she got the chance, making choices from inside the same sort of insulated Bush/Cheney bubbles that got us where we are today.

Finally, and I recognize I wade into choppy waters here, there’s a relationship between a candidate’s religious views and his or her ability to effectively assess risk. Of course, presidents have and will always be profoundly informed by the ethical tenets of their religion, and I see nothing wrong, and much right, with that (though how Bush’s condoning of torture fits in here, I’m not sure).

But then there’s these types of comments from Palin, who called the Iraqi war “a task from God,” asserting that “there is a plan and that plan is God’s plan” (sorry, but I think God’s plan would have been infinitely better than the one in play). She made a similar point re God’s will in getting their gas pipeline built up there.

With respect, that’s mixing religion and policy analysis in a way that I fear leads to inadequate risk assessment. Bush never made such revealing statements, but it may be the case that evangelicals don’t always make the best risk assessors.

I suggest we tout this role of risk manager-in-chief over the next few weeks. Given the challenges facing our country, it’s a critically important distinction between the two tickets. And given the direction in which the polls are finally trending, it would appear that the majority of voters are ready to place a reality-based risk assessor in the oval office. To not do so would just be too…what’s the word? Risky.”

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