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I'm not a member of a political party. That's intentional. Once you pick a side you lose the ability to reason and you start agreeing with whatever dumbass thing your team supports. Whenever I explain my reasons for not joining a political party, people scoff. So here's some recent science that supports my view. It turns out that people rationalize whatever their political party supports independent of the facts. And it's easy to test.

By the way, that's something I learned the first day of hypnosis school thirty years ago. If people were rational, hypnosis wouldn't work. Hypnosis depends on people being influenced by associations as opposed to reason.

Our two-party system of politics kills any hope for reasoned debate. So how could one fix that situation?

My idea is that as President of the United States I would support the majority opinion on every topic with my veto powers and my legislative initiatives while vigorously supporting the argument of the opposite side. Think of it like a defense attorney who doesn't believe his client is innocent but he makes the best defense case he can.

Under this plan, if my active support for the minority view can elevate it to a majority view, it means something was wrong with the majority view in the first place. If my efforts can't move the needle on a debate, that's probably for the best.

As President, I'd be doing less leading and more framing and informing. Once people get the idea that my personal opinions on issues are irrelevant, I'd gain credibility for objectivity and for always shining a fair light on opposition views. That seems healthy.

Obviously there would be some cases in which this plan doesn't work. If the public is 99% on one side of an issue and the only opponents are neo-Nazis, I'd probably take a pass on supporting the opposition. So let's call my plan more of a general approach than a hard rule. It needs some wiggle room to work in the real world.

As president, I wouldn't fudge any facts in the arguments I promoted. I'd be arguing with data only. And I'd acknowledge that the future is unpredictable, so no one really knows what plan will work best. My support of the minority view would often take the form of a conditional statement such as "If you think income equality is more important in the long run than short term economic growth, you should favor policy X."

So what do you think? Could you live with a president who always acted with the majority while arguing for the minority? And what would be the downside of the plan?

 
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-2 Rank Up Rank Down
Jan 13, 2014
A little suprised by the comments. "Tyranny of majority", etc.?? Isn't that called "democracy"? (And please, no Hitler/Nazi stuff. Exceptions, rules, blah blah).
 
 
Jan 13, 2014
@boingball

[so you introduction contradicts your whole post. If I am as a Republican are pro-Life no matter what or as a Democrat are pro-Choice no matter what how should you arguing one side of the matter make any difference? People are already under hypnosis. You would have to snap them out of it first by removing political parties and also by removing agenda driven news (e.g. Fox News, who would probably give you arguing pro-Life huge coverage whereas would ignore you completely arguing pro-Choice). ]

The situation is even worse than that as far as abortion is concerned; two people can have the exact same data and still come to different conclusions. For pro-lifers what it comes down to is protecting the lives of the unborn. For pro-choicers what it comes down to is a woman shouldnt be forced to bear a child. There is no data that can move someone from one position to another. If you think figuring out when life begins qualifies it doesnt; tell a pro-lifer that life begins at, say, the sixth month and he'll reply that your defintion of life needs work.
 
 
+11 Rank Up Rank Down
Jan 13, 2014
So..you would support and enforce the tyranny of the majority? Scary.

[What would be an example of something scary that the majority would support and the constitution would allow? Examples would help.

I do think the President needs to retain the option to protect the weak against the majority if it ever comes to that. But it would probably never happen. The Supreme Court and Congress would filter most of the scary stuff. -- Scott]
 
 
Jan 13, 2014
Define people? People or Adults? Living in the USA or World? Citizens of the USA? Registered Voters in the USA? Actual Voters in the USA? Depending on the definition majorities will be different (and in some cases still be difficult to measure).

Also you introduction contradicts your whole post. If I am as a Republican are pro-Life no matter what or as a Democrat are pro-Choice no matter what how should you arguing one side of the matter make any difference? People are already under hypnosis. You would have to snap them out of it first by removing political parties and also by removing agenda driven news (e.g. Fox News, who would probably give you arguing pro-Life huge coverage whereas would ignore you completely arguing pro-Choice).
 
 
Jan 13, 2014
This is what this country needs. Perhaps not as president, but somebody with credibility doing this. The main problem with the irrationality of people is that groupthink allows one side of certain arguments to be cast as discredited when from a neutral and rational perspective it really hasn't been. It's a messaging problem more than anything, people who aren't issues junkies and only know what they've heard in 10 second sound bytes, late night comedians, and floating around on twitter, believe themselves to be more informed than they truly are, and you can't get them to pay attention to anything that would give them better information because it seems boring and they have better things to do.
 
 
+3 Rank Up Rank Down
Jan 13, 2014
Also, you bring up the "data-driven" point again as if economic/social engineering is an exact science. Sure, there are some views that are driven by emotions/ignorance, but most political issues are far more complex.

Whatever you think the "data-driven" answer to something is, I assure you that there are Nobel Prize-winning economists who disagree. It's not that easy.
Nobel Prize-winning economists still disagree whether various government actions caused/perpetuated or ended the Great Depression.

Surety regarding complex issues is your false religion.

[One can make any good idea absurd by over-applying it. A rational person knows the limits of data and calls it out. -- Scott]
 
 
+7 Rank Up Rank Down
Jan 13, 2014
First, I'd say your approach would be a significant improvement over our current and recent approach -- but that's a very low bar.

Bill Clinton was quite good at adopting the majority view to excellent effect. But, as he noted, he never got address a major crisis/challenge.

Reagan, by contrast, accomplished much through direct leadership, even when it was unpopular. I think both of these guys deserve credit for doing well with different approaches.

My problem with your approach: Could you have really convinced the majority of the nation to embrace civil rights a half century ago? What happens when the majority want government freebies (beyond what could be deemed reasonable) at the expense of a minority?

What happens in crisis when the nation requires leadership?
 
 
+1 Rank Up Rank Down
Jan 13, 2014
> " as President of the United States I would support the majority opinion on every topic with my veto powers and my legislative initiatives while vigorously supporting the argument of the opposite side."

yes .. very worthy. But let's be realistic. We need hard measures. I suggest we measure opinion in units of $. And whoever gathers most $ has greatest influence on the decision maker, and wins the argument.
 
 
+5 Rank Up Rank Down
Jan 13, 2014
I agree with the earlier post pointing out that majority rule is bad. Part of our problem now is the religious majority trying to legislate science out of public school and policy, something you've objected to in the past. If fifty million people believe a stupid thing, it's still a stupid thing, and enshrining it based on nothing more than the ignorance or unconsidered convenience of the majority is a fast way to the worst possible world. When is the majority NOT the lowest common denominator?
 
 
Jan 13, 2014
[My idea is that as President of the United States I would support the majority opinion on every topic with my veto powers and my legislative initiatives while vigorously supporting the argument of the opposite side.]

Scott,
I always find your ideas very hit or miss. You say a lot of great things, and a lot of ridiculousness. But this is the most insightful sentence I have ever read on you blog. You have hit the nail on the head of exactly the kind of shift in framing the me vs you mentality that is killing this country and destroying our ability to weed out the truth.

Sometimes you say things I think are absolutely stupid. But today you are a genius.
 
 
Jan 13, 2014
To answer your question, I like the idea and think it would work if we were setting up a whole new country from scratch with newly elected senators and representatives.

But we're not setting up a whole new country from scratch. There are too many entrenched interests with money at stake to change anything in Washington. There isn't a senator or representative that listens to debate (amongst themselves, let alone the lowly public) anymore, so no matter what "public opinion" you may or may not influence it won't effect legislation and policy. Congressional minds are already made up by the time an issue comes up because the lobbyist with the deepest pocket wins.

I'm not a doomsday survivalist or anything, but the system is irreversibly broken and its just a downhill slide (timescale unknown) from here on out.
 
 
+12 Rank Up Rank Down
Jan 13, 2014
[How about this question: Why does our system always devolve to a two-party system, and in that context why did the founders establish three separate branches of government?]

Our system has to be a 2 party system based on the math of "first past the post" elections. Winner take all elections always tend toward a 2 party system because of the spoiler effect. Gerrymandering makes it worse...

The founding fathers put together 3 branches of government to try to stop the abuse of power by one group of people. Political parties (which were not envisioned in the Constitution) are getting around that protection by making a group that can control all three branches.

Finally to answer Scott's question: The downside is still the same problem with Democracy in general. Majority rule is a HORRIBLE idea. If the majority rules, you have NO RIGHTS. You are only allowed to do what the majority thinks is acceptable. Remember, burning witches was supported by the majority. Slavery was supported by the majority. Many horrible crimes have been ignored by the majority. Majority rule is incrementally better than a dictatorship, but still not a society I want to live in.
 
 
Jan 13, 2014
@Tonyo123

[How about this question: Why does our system always devolve to a two-party system, and in that context why did the founders establish three separate branches of government?]

The answer to your second question is the founders didnt want any part of the government to have too much power. The answer to your first question is more complicated (it wasnt part of the design), but boils down to this: we are a two party system because whenever someone forms a serious third party the result is to split the vote among one of the two parties and give the election to the other party. A prime example of this is the green party in the 2000 election, which resulted in Bush Jr. becoming president. And were not a one party system because theres always gonna be a lot of folks against whichever party is in power.
 
 
0 Rank Up Rank Down
Jan 13, 2014
Isn't there a fair bit of contradiction in the strategy described? "I would support the majority opinion on every topic with my veto powers and my legislative initiatives while vigorously supporting the argument of the opposite side. " (i.e., automatic allocation of support in actions and arguments) v. "I'd be arguing with data only."?

PS: do people really scoff at someone for not belonging to a political party? Strange.
 
 
Jan 13, 2014
So how does this president get elected? If it's just a thought experiment based on eliminating the shortcomings of a two-party system then that's a non-starter.

How about this question: Why does our system always devolve to a two-party system, and in that context why did the founders establish three separate branches of government?
 
 
Jan 13, 2014
You link to an Ezra Klein piece, but I'm pretty sure Ezra would tell you that the "bully pulpit" of the President is overrated. Presidents don't really have the ability to persuade or dissuade the public since most of the non-partisans don't pay attention. The effect of the President taking a stance on a subject is to polarize the debate along partisan lines.
 
 
Jan 13, 2014
Why would you need to be president to perform the essentials of what you're describing here (ie, kibitzing any idea that comes along that has majority support)? For this what you want is for the press to do the job of shooting holes in popular ideas that come along. In fact, its hard to see how you could do this without the press' cooperation. And now that I think of it the press already does a fair job of that now. We just need them to do a better, more consistent job of it.
 
 
Jan 13, 2014
So you've changed you mind about what you'd do as president? I recall you once blogged some specific ideas about what you'd do as president. Specific policies you'd try to implement as opposed to following majority opinion. Do you change your mind about that often?
 
 
 
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