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politics

Quote of the Week: John Adams

Sina Odugbemi's picture

"Remember, democracy never lasts long. It soon wastes, exhausts, and murders itself. There never was a democracy yet that did not commit suicide."

- John Adams, the second president of the United States (1797–1801), and, before that, the first vice president of the United States (1789-1797). Adams was a statesman, diplomat, philosopher, and leading advocate of American independence.

How to Insult Your Opponent

Sina Odugbemi's picture

You really should not go around insulting those who take an opposing viewpoint in public debate. The ideal is clear. You treat opponents with respect. You take seriously what they are saying. In responding, you do not cheat, you do not unfairly sum up or characterize what they are saying. You acknowledge facts; you are not entitled to inventing your own facts. Above all, as much as possible, you avoid logical fallacies. You argue logically and cogently. For, that is the only way that the search for truth is advanced, and it is the only way that informed public opinion created. In short, abuse is no argument. Civility in public discourse is a great and worthwhile ideal.

And yet!

Much of public debate and discussion takes the form of invective. It was always thus; and it seems it will always be thus. The culprits, I suppose, are human passions; those self-same unruly horses that carry us to great heights when we want to achieve something worthwhile. We often become so convinced that we are right that we cannot imagine how anyone would disagree. And when we confront opponents who are as certain as we are that they are right something seems to snap. Faces contort. Abuse and spit fly. No matter how often people are told to calm down, commit to logical reasoning, respect facts… nothing seems to work. A huge chunk of public debate on the great issues of the day is characterized by the trading of insults.

Insults must serve a purpose, otherwise how come all public political cultures have them?

Quote of the Week: Roberto Mangabeira Unger

Sina Odugbemi's picture

“The essential thing, the ultimate goal of politics and thought, is a bigger life for the individual. A bigger life – that remains the main objective…to increase our divine attributes to have moral life.”

- Roberto Mangabeira Unger, a brazillian philosopher and politician and currently the Roscoe Pound Professor of Law at Harvard University. His political activity helped bring about democracy in Brazil.

Quote of the Week: Malala Yousafzai

Sina Odugbemi's picture

"I want to bring change to my whole country.  On the spot, I could only help one or two children, but if I want to help the whole country then I need to be a politician.”

- Malala Yousafzai, an education activist from Swat, Pakistan.  She is known for her activism in support of universal education and in support of women, especially in the Swat Valley, where the Taliban have, at times, banned girls from attending school.

How Change Happens: Great New Case Studies + Analysis on ‘Politically Smart, Locally Led Development’

Duncan Green's picture

The research star of the show at last week’s Thinking and Working Politically event was a great new ODI paper from David Booth and Sue Unsworth. Bioversity International/Ronnie Vernooy

Politically smart, locally led development seeks to identify the secret sauce behind 7 large and successful aid programmes: a rural livelihoods programme in India; land titling and tax reform in the Philippines; disarmament, demobilization and reintegration in the Eastern Congo; the EU’s global plan of action to reduce illegal logging; civil society advocacy on rice, education and HIV in Burma and inclusive governance in Nepal.

The paper identifies a number of common elements:

Is the Political Interview Now so Boring it is Useless?

Sina Odugbemi's picture

The political interview is supposed to be one of the cardinal moments when the news media contribute most directly to the quality of governance in a given country. Assuming that the media system is reasonably free, the political interview –particularly the broadcast versions on either radio or television – is a moment when the leading stars of the news media can:

  • Make political leaders and other news makers throw a bright light on the leading issues of the day;
  • Hold leaders accountable by asking tough questions regarding their stewardship of the affairs of the state; and
  • Speak truth to power.

It is now increasingly recognized, however, that the political interview is in trouble, even outside authoritarian political contexts (where regimes control broadcasting fiercely).  For an excellent recent take on the issue, please see this piece by Ian Katz, editor of BBC’s ‘Newsnight,’ ‘Boring Snoring?

Quote of the Week: Michael Ignatieff

Sina Odugbemi's picture

“Separatist politicians, desiring to be presidents or prime ministers of little countries, force their fellow citizens to make choices that they should not have to make between identities that they have combined, each in their own unique way, and now watch being ripped apart – one portion of themselves flung on one side of a border, a damaged remnant on the other."

- Michael Ignatieff, writing about a possible secession of Scotland from the United Kingdom. On September 18, 2014 Scots will vote on independence in a referendum.  Ignatieff is a Canadian author, academic, and former politician. In addition to leading the Liberal Party and the Official Opposition of Canada from 2008 until 2011, he has held senior academic posts at the universities of Cambridge, Oxford, Harvard and Toronto.

Why is it so much Harder to Talk about Politics than about Policies?

Duncan Green's picture

I’ve been running into some resistance recently in writing about politics, and some interesting patterns are starting to emerge.

Firstly, when I sent round a draft piece on the politics and policies of national redistribution (i.e. when you look at the countries who have reduced inequality, what did they do and what were the politics that led to them doing it?) the subtext from a number of commentators in the countries concerned was ‘love the policies, but could you not talk about the politics please?’

They felt that talking about politics and political players (whether leaders or movements), especially in a positive way (Government of X has done brilliantly on Y), could be politically compromising or just felt anxious about being seen as naive, or being denounced by the radicals. Oppositionalism (all politicians are venal, all leaders betray, any progress is purely a grudging response to overwhelming public pressure from below) seems much easier (see right). If politics is mentioned at all, it’s just through the cop-out of lamenting the lack of political will (which all too often means telling politicians to do things that will get them chucked out of power or shot, and then condemning them when they refuse).

Reflections on Indonesia’s teacher reform

Andrew Ragatz's picture


In 2005, I had the great fortune of being in Indonesia just as its major teacher reform effort was beginning to take off.  Indonesia’s parliament had passed a comprehensive law on teachers, along with its ambitious agenda. Its signature program of certification intended to dramatically improve both teacher welfare and quality.  Certified teachers would receive a doubling of salary, and certification was to require that teachers hold a four-year degree and demonstrate possession of competencies necessary to provide good quality education.
 
The key ingredients for major change seemed in place.  Good legislation, and an effort led by a dynamic champion who headed a newly established directorate in the Education Ministry, with the specific mandate of improving the quality of teachers and of educational staff.
 

Reputation and Governance Styles: The Leader as a Smart Aleck

Sina Odugbemi's picture

Because we have a global audience, I must start by explaining that, according to the Oxford American Dictionary, a smart aleck is “a person displaying ostentatious or smug cleverness’.  It also reports that one usage of the word ‘smart’ means: “(of transactions) unscrupulous to the point of dishonesty”. If you watch crime movies the way I do, there is a tendency to admire ‘smart play’, that is, ruthlessly clever and effective maneuvers. The best crime bosses are masters of ‘smart play’. In order words, they are smart alecks.

What is fascinating is how often (particularly in the massed punditry of elite global media) a capacity for smart play by political leaders is glorified. Leaders are routinely judged and compared with regard to whether or not they appear to shape the game, determine events, or impose their will on others and so on. If they do not seem to do that, they are dismissed as effete. If they seem to do that, they are admired and glorified.  What is particularly striking is how often the writers who say these things leave out ethical standards. I believe, for instance, that true evil is a willingness to act without ethical considerations. Yet, notice how often leaders are admired for ostentatiously clever play even if the methods are odious.

But I am interested in a much narrower question. And it is this: if we leave out ethical considerations, is a reputation for ‘smart play’ good for a leader? Does it make her more effective?  To throw this into bold relief, I am going to tell two kinds of stories- one domestic, and the other global.
 


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