Sunday, May 17, 2015

Obama and Warren: A Contrast in Analysis

Andrew Sprung has written a fascinating article in which he lays out the different ways President Obama and Senator Warren talk about the roots of income inequality. He does so by contrasting a speech the President gave in December 2013 on the topic and one Senator Warren gave recently (which he taped and transcribed). Sprung sees a difference in rhetorical styles.
She sees the forests; he knows the trees -- and perhaps sees more overlapping, interlocking forests. Whatever your preference, the contrast is striking.
I think his comparison shows that the differences between the two of them go a bit deeper than rhetoric and might help us explain why they disagree on things like TPP.
Where Obama acknowledges multiple causes of our current economic malaise, from global competition and technology to racism as well as Republican tax, regulatory and labor policy, Warren hews to a three-part indictment of Reaganomics: deregulation, tax cuts for the wealthy, and consequent defunding of investments in shared prosperity.
The difference rhetorically is that Warren's analysis is simpler and cleaner. Obama's is more complex. What I would add is that Warren breaks down a scenario where it is easier to identify the villains and the victims. While Obama points to Republican policies as a contributor, he includes factors that don't easily point to who the "bad guys" are (i.e., global competition and technology).

Behind those differences are differing views of how the world works and how you go about analyzing problems. One view is focused on a linear cause/effect analysis. The other focuses on a feedback loop with systems of interconnectivity.

When it comes to something like trade agreements, this helps us understand why Senator Warren would oppose anything that appears to benefit those she has identified as the cause of the problem...the 1%. They are the villains or the "bad guys" who are responsible for income inequality.

On the other hand, because President Obama has a more complex view that includes realities that cannot easily be judged as good or bad (i.e., technology and global competition), he can incorporate a view of trade that seeks to interrupt feedback systems that have been detrimental. And as I wrote about recently, a more complex systemic view also goes beyond the economics to see how trade is interwoven with his goals on foreign policy.

In the end, Sprung is right that Senator Warren's view lends itself to a better political message complete with sound bites. There is something to be said for that - especially in a news media environment that feeds on people's anger about who is to blame. But it's also true that President Obama is no slouch when it comes to rhetorical skills. The real question for me is more about who's done a better job of analyzing the problem and crafting solutions.

20 comments:

  1. The difference is that Sen Warren gives rhetorical speeches that go no where/The President is more pragmatic he wants to impact a change that will benefit working people...for him as you have stated many times for the President it is not an either/or...linear folks cannot see that.

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  2. Blowing up the system may well produce far more problem than solution. Dismantling and replacing things that do not work, preserving those that do, and seeing the larger picture - all of that has always produced more good than harm. I'm exhausted by the rhetorical bravado that trumps thoughtful policy. Headlines are made from extremism. Policy that works is made in quiet reflection. It's the latter that prevails.

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  3. Thank you for this analysis. It has been very helpful.

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  4. Good analysis. I'm not sure they are really so at odds in the end. There's a pushing on public opinion that Warren accomplishes. At the end of the day, though, it does seem clear that Warren is a single issue person that gets obsessed with a tree. It's a very important tree, but so was single payer, and that obsession with single payer was what kept many people on the left from seeing the forest of healthcare reform in a rational, outcomes-based way. Also, I think Warren is kind of a pain in the neck, so not a person who is capable of building consensus for an actual bill. I have heard from people who new her when she was a professor that she was also a huge pain to work with. Of course, people always say things at universities, but it does seem like the shoe fits.

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  5. Thanks for the link to Sprung and your analysis. However, I believe Sprung has it backwards with: "She sees the forests; he knows the trees -- and perhaps sees more overlapping, interlocking forests". I believe the President sees the forest. In my past working life I administered a couple thousand Myers Briggs and I'm positive that the President is an N for intuitive meaning that he sees the big picture and is able to synthesize and integrate info. to inform that big picture ("the forest and the overlapping, interlocking forests") vs. Senator Warren's focus on the "trees". This makes it not about rhetoric but how one views the world. One reason that Senator Warren's viewpoint is more easily understood for it's true, but limited analysis is because there are far fewer "N"s (intuitive vs. sensing) in the population. Yet research shows that falling on the intuitive side of the sensing/intuitive continuum is important for leadership.

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    1. Fascinating. I'm definitely an "N" - so sometimes I miss things like this because it all seems to obvious to me.

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  6. This difference really explains the difference between people of color and those who identify as part of the "white" experience: "Behind those differences are differing views of how the world works and how you go about analyzing problems. One view is focused on a linear cause/effect analysis - Warren. The other focuses on a feedback loop with systems of interconnectivity." - Presodent Obama. In Sen Warren's view of how the world works, you can create boogie peeps, based on racial, ethnic, religious and socioeconomic frames . It explains why the GOP's fear and hate frame analysis has worked so effectively on those who identify as "white." People of color live both outside and inside the dominant American culture. They understand that they can appreciate the basic goodness of "white" people while also recognizing the systemic oppression that derives from "whiteness" as a socioeconomic frame. This is frustration of so many of us people of color.

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  7. This difference really explains the difference between people of color and those who identify as part of the "white" experience: "Behind those differences are differing views of how the world works and how you go about analyzing problems. One view is focused on a linear cause/effect analysis - Warren. The other focuses on a feedback loop with systems of interconnectivity." - Presodent Obama. In Sen Warren's view of how the world works, you can create boogie peeps, based on racial, ethnic, religious and socioeconomic frames . It explains why the GOP's fear and hate frame analysis has worked so effectively on those who identify as "white." People of color live both outside and inside the dominant American culture. They understand that they can appreciate the basic goodness of "white" people while also recognizing the systemic oppression that derives from "whiteness" as a socioeconomic frame. This is frustration of so many of us people of color.

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    1. Slight digression. I have long thought that the devotion missionaries had to converting First Nations people came not from a worry that they'd miss 'the good news' but from a larger fear that they were correct. Their grounding in the interconnectivity of all parts of the world and universe made a mockery of the linear routes to 'salvation' in Western thought. It rendered the rules, rites, and institutions massively irrelevant. People grounded in the universality of life and capable of pure rejoicing in it were clearly closer to the truth than those whose rigidity kept truth always elusive and the outcomes always to be feared, not revered. One HAD to convert them. They made a lie of what we Westerners worked so hard to believe.

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    2. Churchlady, I find your comment so interesting I am coming out of my years of lurking to reply. Wonderful insight, and I love reading your comments here and on TPV.

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  8. I think we expand our learning and ability to consider outcomes when we utilize multiple forms of reasoning. Doing so may result in a superior outcome. I don't see a contradiction between Pres. Obama's and Sen. Warren's styles in terms of one being "right" and the other being "wrong" because human interaction is not required to be an either/or challenge. It can be "these things are all aspects which need to be addressed".

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  9. Warren is a liberal. There aren't many in Congress, so it's difficult to get Congress onboard. Obama, OTOH, is a center-right corporatist, so he has a more active constituency with which to work in Congress. He may get more things done, but for the nation we liberals need to hold his feet to the fire.

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    1. Folks like you have no better understanding of Obama than the racist tea-publicans. Your loss.

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    2. So sad to see you don't know President Obama at all even after 6.5 years. Wow, talk about completely not getting what his presidency is all about.

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    3. Tell it to the whistle-blowers.

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  10. "Folks like you have no better understanding of Obama than the racist tea-publicans."

    Obama is the one who said he admired Ronald Reagan. After 6+ years, I still don't think the Obama was lying.

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  11. I no longer try to convince folks about the President...some folks will never see...as for Sen Warren...she too will fade into the background...

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  12. President Obama has the most liberal record of any Democratic President since LBJ that is the truth. It ticks me off to no end that so-called progressives seem to think they have all the answers to everything and if you don't agree with them you're labeled a sell-out or any other phrase they can come up with. The truth is that most liberals support this president his approval ratings among them are in the 84-16 range we know better. There are many ignoramuses on our side of the fence. Arguing with these Emo's is like arguing with a damn couch.

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  13. Sen.Warren gets an A for her passion on the issues but an F for her political acumen.

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