Cheap Political Advice

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 (Jeremy Friedlander)

In politics, one thing is never in short supply -- unsolicited advice, especially when directed at a high profile politician down on his luck. So it was with President Bush in 2006. So it is now with Barack Obama. Everyone seems to know what he should do to recover politically, and no one seems shy about saying so.

These self-appointed strategists reek of ideological bias. No one to the left of Obama thinks he should be more conciliatory toward Republicans. No one to his right thinks he should be more confrontational with them. In the peanut gallery, people consider themselves sufficiently representative of public opinion that they can offer advice on political strategy simply by consulting their own policy preferences.

Daniel Patrick Moynihan, the late Senator from New York, said you are entitled to your own opinion but not your own facts. Wrong. In our pontificatory democracy, the conflation of fact and opinion is what we do. Pundits are paid to do it, and many of the rest of us, including me, wish we were.

To make our opinions seem factual, we enlist pseudo-psychology. When Obama was riding high, analysts told us it was because he was "no-drama Obama," able to set aside his emotions to get things done. Today, we hear he is failing because he can't bring himself to shmooze with politicians. He succeeded before because his personality gets him beyond his emotions, and he is failing now because it does not. Whatever.

Occasionally, political advice comes with the implication that it may be risky to follow. We tell politicians to "show political courage." Translation: "you may lose the election if you do this, but do it anyway because it is the right thing to do." Thank you, Holy Advisor. It's easy to exhort politicians to show courage. In the largely fact-free zone of political punditry, morality is as cheap as an opinion.


Politicians earn my distrust every day but no more so than those of us who offer political advice. It's not science; it's not art; it's mostly hot air.

With a Perspective, I'm Jeremy Friedlander.

Jeremy Friedlander lives in San Francisco.