Reporters aren't the only ones who like to gossip
This is a very good post by Brad DeLong on the substance of the debates between Peter Orszag and others in the Obama administration. I'm a bit more sympathetic to Orszag's position than Brad is, primarily because I think the administration essentially allowed the Republicans to define "deficit reduction " as "spending cuts," and that's going to have some bad consequences over the next few years. But you should read it rather than having me summarize it.
But I'd add one caveat to DeLong's complaint that much of the reporting on the administration's internal disputes "reads like Hollywood celebrity journalism: 95 percent gossip, and perhaps 5 percent policy." There's a tendency to blame reporters for the stories they tell, and I'm not arguing with it. Ultimate responsibility lies with us. And for my part, I stay away from doing tick-tocks of meetings and arguments unless I think there are serious implications for policy. But these sorts of gossipy, "so-and-so did such-and-such at this-or-that meeting" stories are often an honest reflection of what you get when you talk to the people who were in the meetings. Sometimes, it's actually difficult to get to the meat of the dispute because people are so much more interested in how the dispute was handled.
I guess that's natural. The people working in politics are human and they're ticked off by how they were treated, or by the way their boss spoke about them, or by something they heard someone else said about them, or by a meeting they weren't called into. Think about your job, which probably involves issues that are more important than office politics. Now think about how often you complain to your friends or spouse about office politics. It happens in the White House and Congress, too. That's not to say reporters don't spend too much time on it, or that they shouldn't toss a lot of that stuff out and tell the story lurking behind the anecdotes. But before coming to DC, I operated from the mental model that political actors were always begging reporters to cover the substance and reporters were always ignoring them and covering quarrels. To a degree I find disappointing, that's not really true.
I guess the more positive spin on all this is that it's important for administrations to be well managed and thus these stories actually do get at something important, which is that management has broken down and the White House is functioning poorly. That probably does have consequences for policy, though I think the consequences are often overstated by the people involved. If the administration's economic policy process had been 30 percent more collegial and professional, would our economic policy be any different today? I'm skeptical.
Photo credit: White House.
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