Ten Miles Square


November 27, 2012 8:50 AM Politics as an Escape Hatch

By Andrew Gelman

Reading these news articles that slam more and more nails into the already-dead reputation of Hewlett Packard executive Meg Whitman, I keep thinking: what if she’d won her election a couple years ago and was now governor or senator or whatever she was running for? Then nobody would care that her company was falling apart!

Conversely, when Jon Corzine lost his reelection and reentered the business world, he left himself open to charges of acts of corruption that wouldn’t have been possible in congress or from the governor’s office.

But sometimes the immunity can go the other way. Jack Welch still has the street-cred to write Wall Street Journal editorials despite his history of data manipulation, but it’s hard to imagine he could be elected to public office, even if he wanted to. For another example, Al Sharpton was caught out on his lies in a well-publicized court case but that does not stop him from being bankrolled as a quasi-public figure.

Big names in politics and business get away with so much that it’s notable when the magic dries up and their statements get taken with the same skepticism as would be applied, for example, to leaders of foreign countries that are not our allies.

I have no systematic thoughts on this right now but it seems worthy of study.

[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.


  • Dave Porter on November 28, 2012 9:20 PM:

    For further proof of this hypothesis, please look at the charmed career of Representative Michele Bachmann of CD6 in Minnesota. Bible school graduate with a dubious law degree who got a job with the IRS as an auditor - a job that most definitely does not require a law degree. Moved on to running a dormitory out of the back of her house for pregnant teens bullied by her church into carrying their pregnancies to term - funded by AFDC welfare money. Married to a guy whose career depends on the notion that one can "pray away the gay." Lies so often that more than one news aggregator has a separate page for fact-checking just her. Amazing career, based entirely on harum-scarum bullying.