Reality Based Community?
I was struck by a recent post to a NYT blog on the subject of "What Happened to Obama." The author is identified as a psychology professor. His thesis is that Obama should have told a story to the American people that made sense of what happened. The story he should have told is the standard left of center view of who did what and was at fault. No mention of the fact that the collapse started in an industry dominated by two giant firms, both created by the federal government, both (along with private firm) long pressured by politicians of both parties to make it easier for people to buy houses with borrowed money.
Three things struck me about the piece. The first was that depended on the author's opinions about subjects in which he had no expertise—in at least one case, in which his factual belief was strikingly false ("a deficit that didn’t exist until George W. Bush gave nearly $2 trillion in tax breaks largely to the wealthiest Americans and squandered $1 trillion in two wars." I suppose he could mean that there was at least one post-war year in which the budget was in surplus—but that would require him to care about facts, not stories.) He simply took for granted, as almost everyone on his side does, the 1960's Keynesian story that deficits reduce enemployment—despite the fact that the predictions the administration made based on that theory have not turned out to be true.
The second thing was the confidence with which he wrote. He has no doubt that his opinions on subjects in which he has no professional expertise are correct—presumably because they fit his political views and those of the people he knows. He probably does not even know that there are professionals in the field, including ones with Nobel prizes, who are skeptical of the economic theories he takes for granted.
The third and most interesting was the focus on "story." As he put it, "in similar circumstances, Franklin D. Roosevelt offered Americans a promise to use the power of his office to make their lives better and to keep trying until he got it right."
It apparently did not occur to him that reality matters—that if you give the patient the wrong medicine he may die, even if you have a good story about why it is the right medicine. It apparently did not occur to him that the outcome of the policies FDR followed was the longest and worst depression in U.S. history. Which might have had something to do with the relation between FDR's story and the reality it claimed to describe.
Hence the title of this post. The blogger in question apparently does believe what some unnamed Bush official is asserted to have claimed—that one makes one's own reality. If you only have a good enough story ... .