Sunday, November 09, 2008

Time magazine and Abe Lincoln on Attribution Bias

Time magazine had a good article last week.
They only look as if they inhabit our galaxy. In truth, the men who would be President have been running for months in a parallel universe, a place where a Chief Executive changes laws by waving a hand and reorders society at the stroke of a pen. "When I am President," the candidates declare — and off they go into dreamspeak, describing tax codes down to the last decimal point and sketching health-care reforms far beyond the power of any single person to enact. In their imaginary, reassuring cosmos, America is always a mere 10 years — and one new President — away from energy independence. And the ills of the federal budget can be cured simply by having an eagle-eyed leader go through it line by line.

Then one of them wins the election.

In an instant, the winner is sucked through a wormhole back into the real world. A world in which Congress, not the President, writes all the laws and gets the last word on the budget. Where consumers decide which cars to drive and how many lights to burn. And where the clash of powerful interest groups makes it easier to do nothing about big problems than to tackle them.
It's good to see this message get out, because though I've been complaining about attribution bias on this blog (e.g. here and here), it's something the media rarely considers.

The article also had this nice quote by Lincoln: "I claim not to have controlled events, but confess plainly that events have controlled me."

Later in that issue, they quoted a seemingly non-partisan pundit (he attacked both sides) who gives another reason to worry about Obama's campaign promises. Obama promised to abide by campaign financing limits, but reneged on that promise as soon as it was expedient. In fact, Obama has had no history of sticking up against his party for his own principles. Doesn't give much confidence that he will follow through with any of his promises now.

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