Ten Miles Square


June 03, 2011 7:45 AM The Importance of Acting in Politics

By Andrew Gelman

I was picking on Scott Adams earlier so I think it’s only fair to point out when he has an interesting idea. Adams writes:

Before Ronald Reagan became governor of California, and then president of the United States, people wondered if an actor could become a good politician. It’s no surprise that actors are excellent at campaigning and giving speeches. But lately I [Adams] have noticed that acting is becoming the most important skill involved in policy too. Let’s look at some examples.

1. The U.S. acts as though it doesn’t have permission from Pakistan to attack Al Qaeda on Pakistani soil. The government of Pakistan has to publicly complain about it and threaten vague consequences to be seen as defending its sovereignty.

2. The U.S. has to act as though the Israelis and Palestinians can come up with a workable peace plan if they try hard enough.

3. Republican politicians that don’t agree with the main party lines have to act as though they do or else face consequences.

4. Donald Trump acted as though he was seriously considering running for president. The media acted as though they believed him.

5. Democrat politicians have to act as though the rich are a bunch of immoral tax dodgers that are the main cause of the budget problem, as opposed to the main source of funding… .

I don’t know how new this all is, but it’s still an interesting way of looking at things.

[Cross-posted at the Monkey Cage]

Andrew Gelman is a professor of statistics and political science and director of the Applied Statistics Center at Columbia University.


  • HMDK on June 03, 2011 6:49 PM:

    ... And you're right now acting as if you've written something worth reading. Ain't life a hoot?

    A hint for the future:
    Easy, unearned cynicism can't match the real thing.

  • June on June 03, 2011 6:53 PM:

    Er... that should be Democratic politicians.... not "Democrat politicians."

  • Newton Whale on June 03, 2011 7:12 PM:

    It's the "Democratic Party", professor. Politicians who belong to it are "Democratic politicians", whether or not they are "democratic politicians".

    There has been an insidious and pervasive attempt to deprive the Democratic Party of the benefits of its name by Republican politicians, who, in my experience, are always called "Republicans" by political scientists whether or not they are actually "republican".

    William F. Buckley, Jr. thought it was an Orwellian injection of politics into language, and criticized Joe McCarthy when he did it. Unfortunately, it seems that Tailgunner Joe has more clout with the current crop of Republicans, not to mention at least one professor of political science.


  • ctnyc on June 04, 2011 12:35 AM:

    Ummm.... politicians in every country since political systems began have shown one face in public and another in private. Otherwise diplomacy, negotiation, and yes policy would be impossible. The public has no tolerance for the "sausage-making" of legislation. Are you seriously just now figuring this out?

  • Texas Aggie on June 04, 2011 12:59 AM:

    For those upset about "Democrat politicians," it should be obvious that "some examples" are direct quotes from a republican stooge, not Mr. Gelman.

  • skinnydog on June 04, 2011 3:56 AM:

    The Republic Party must be proud to have you as one of their shills.

  • Dredd on June 04, 2011 10:03 AM:

    Couldn't agree more. The onion script from the Hotel California is of primal importance after all.

  • Newton Whale on June 04, 2011 11:17 AM:

    Texas Aggie writes:

    For those upset about "Democrat politicians," it should be obvious that "some examples" are direct quotes from a republican stooge, not Mr. Gelman.


    That's what "sic" is for.

    Speaking of sick, how much better would you feel if your girlfriend gave you an STD and told you to lighten up because she was just passing it on from somebody else?

  • matt w on June 04, 2011 11:27 AM:

    Besides the gratuitous insult in the name in point 5, Adams is also wrong on the substance; a major driver of the budget problem is the tax cuts given to the rich. He could look it up. (Not the mention the GOP's monomaniacal opposition to any increase in taxes, which makes any compromise on the budget impossible.)

    ...really, when I saw the link, I was hoping there might be more substance here, as opposed to a bunch of jokes from Scott Adams that if he tried to pawn them off on Dilbert readers would get his strip dropped faster than you can say "phoning it in." (I guess this is partly a makeup for other things Prof. Gelman was saying about him.)

  • slippy on June 10, 2011 1:14 PM:

    LOL @ Newton Whale for the STD metaphor. It is indeed insulting and demeaning to pass on crap like that and pretend you aren't the one abusing it in the first place.