Wednesday, December 05, 2007

Perverse Structural Incentives

James Joyner looks at the Huckabee flap of not knowing that a new National Intelligence Estimate has been released that basically undercuts the Iranian policy and rhetoric coming out of the Bush Administration and notes a very strong structural reason for this d'oh moment:
the reality of the type of retail politics that is necessary to win in Iowa and New Hampshire is long days going from pancake breakfast to coffee club to fundraiser to Rotary Club to luncheon and so on. Most of these guys are lucky to remember what state they’re in at the moment without handlers reminding them.
I think Bryan York's theory of explanation makes immediate proximate sense --- Huckabee has been running a dirt cheap campaign with minimal advisors and organizational growth capacity because until recently he has been an astrick is correct in the short term. But I think James Joyner explanation is more illuminating.

People respond to incentives and seek rewards. Right now the selection process for the Presidency massively overvalues very concentrated face time with a miniscule number of local opinion shapers, leaders, and blowhards and strongly devalues almost everything else including awareness, or at least the expression of policy costs as well as benefits on a wide frame of analysis.

This is one of the reasons why I want Iowa and New Hampshire to be de-emphasized. These are not locations which act as reliable proxies of candidates' general election political competencies or even more importantly, probable performance as President. Huckabee, working with constrained resources, was just responding as any other candidate should, to the incentives that are in front of him, and the incentives have been very clear that winning in Iowa via praising ethanol subsidies, eating corndogs at the 98th county fair you have attended this year, and dishing out pancakes to the Chamber of Commerce matters way more than having a clue.

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