On Trust and Political Action

>> Friday, September 11, 2009

I don't trust the Obama administration either, but in the end that's not a very relevant political fact. I guess I think that Chris sort of gives the game away when he says this:

Nonetheless, trust plays a large role in all aspects of political action. The degree to which an individual trusts a party, a policy, an individual politician will heavily influence that individual's interpretations of the efficacy of and / or willingness to support, that party, policy or individual. As such, for no real other purpose but to provide disclosure on my general orientation to the ongoing health care fight, here is a long list of how much I trust the different players and aspects of the debate. Mainly, it is a long list of why I don't really trust anyone involved.

What I don't get is this; if trust plays a large role in all aspects of political action, and if Chris doesn't trust anyone involved, and if Chris understands himself to be a political activist, then where does that leave us? I guess I'm not really seeing what role "trust" is playing; Chris sort of suggests that people who trust the Obama administration are less critical than those who don't, but we don't really get any farther than that. Chris' lack of trust doesn't seem to impede his activism on behalf of progressive causes, including direct and indirect support of candidates that he doesn't trust. Call me excessively analytical, but I'm not seeing how trust is a critical variable.

I have the following expectations of political actors; that they will have policy preferences, that they will pursue those policy preferences, but that they will not pursue them to the extent that their own electoral survival is seriously endangered. Although I believe that politicians will *sometimes* make terrible miscalculations about how their behavior will affect their political prospects, I think that by and large they tend to be pretty good judges of the political landscape. As such, I tend to be a touch skeptical of arguments about how Republicans or Democrats as a whole just don't understand that policy X will lead to utter electoral disaster. To give an example, I understand the tendency of Republican politicians to shift to the right, endangering their own general elections chances, as a relatively rational response to the threat of primary challenges. This is not to say that egregious miscalculations never happen, but I suspect they happen rather less often than you'd think from a cursory glance at the blogosphere, where you'll find every conceivable variation of "don't Democrats understand that X will lead to political disaster in Y!??!?!"

But this, of course, isn't "trust" in the same sense that Bowers is using the term. The above is simply dependable, regular expectations of behavior; I "trust" that Republicans are going to be obstructionist, but that's not trust in terms of a mobilizing attitude. However, if a) trust is critical to mobilization and political action, and b) you literally don't trust any of the relevant political actors, then it's really difficult for me to understand where you go.

I should also say that I don't quite agree with Yglesias' response to Bowers, because I tend to concur with Bowers that the Obama administration could pursue action that drives the debate to the left of the median Congress critter. Arms can be twisted, rhetoric can be crafted, favors can be offered, and so forth to push the envelope of the possible. I appreciate that it's harder to press conservative Democrats than progressives, but there are still methods capable of winning agreement. These tactics have costs, however, and I don't "trust" the Obama administration to be willing to pay these costs at the expense of other legislation or of its re-election chances. Where I part with Bowers, I suppose, is that I don't find my lack of trust very politically relevant.


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