Policymaking vs. Personality

Ross writes:

[There are] limits [to] what Steve Sailer likes to call Obama’s “I have understood you” appeal to people with whom he disagrees. It’s an approach to politics that’s sustainable only up till the moment when platitudes have to give way to actual policymaking, and as such it has the capacity to breed even greater disillusionment with government (by raising expectations and then dashing them) than the up-front partisanship it seeks to vanquish.

Matt Yglesias responds:

That sounds to me like the kind of thing a liberal would have said before getting pummeled by Ronald Reagan. Realistically, the number of people who have any awareness of “actual policymaking” is pretty tiny and I think most people mostly want to stay in the dark. People want to put in office people who they feel understand them and then forget about it.

I am strongly inclined toward Yglesias’ position, but I’m not sure it really means that Ross is wrong. In the main, Yglesias is probably right. The majority of voters are not terribly concerned with the details of policy (resulting in endless frustration for the small minority of us who pay some attention to it). But amongst the political elite, the geeks and the wonks and the Beltway bruisers, there exists a strain of voter who often confuses his or her personal preference for a politician as a person with his or her preference for a politicians as a policymaker. The two are, quite obviously, not the same thing. So I think Ross’ point stands that quite a few of Obama’s supporters who are concerned with policy details yet have glommed onto him largely due to his personality will be disappointed, or at least somewhat frustrated. Amongst the majority of voters, it may be that Obama’s policies never affect their opinion of him. But many of his most vocal public supporters do worry about specific policies, and, as Ross points out, inspiration works tremendously well in speeches and on the campaign trail, but sooner or later, any successful politician will have to start signing (or refusing to sign) legislation — and for a lot of people, that will more or less inevitably be a letdown.