Reacting Versus Responding

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Bush Administration, economy, Obama Administration

A wise person pointed out to me once that there’s a difference between reacting and responding. As it says here, reacting is a reflex, like a knee-jerk. Reacting is nearly always triggered by emotions — attraction or aversion — and is about making oneself feel better. Responding, on the other hand, is a thought-out and dispassionate action that is primarily about solving a problem.

By now it’s clear that the Bushies are a tribe of reactors, not responders. Their well-established pattern is not to acknowledge a problem until it bites their own ass somehow, and then they react, sometimes over-react, with “solutions” that (pick as many as apply) miss the mark, make the problem worse, and waste tons of money without really helping anybody but which somehow ends up in the pockets of corporations that happen to be big GOP donors.

We saw this happen with 9/11. Before 9/11, intelligence experts did everything but bash Condi Rice in the head with a 2 x 4 trying to get the Bush Administration to pay attention to a screaming terrorist threat. After, the Bushies reacted. The whole nation wanted to bash the President in the head with a 2 x 4 during Katrina week; the belated reactions to that disaster were wasteful and ineffectual, not to mention political.

I’m thinking also of the Christmas tsunami that devastated parts of Asia. Bush very nearly ignored it until Bill Clinton made headlines by talking about it. Then, pissed, Bush crawled out of Crawford and made a respectable pledge of money. But, apparently to snub the United Nations, the Bushies bypassed the established relief agencies that already were helping the survivors and instead created a temporary, on-the-fly coalition to receive U.S. taxpayer dollars appropriated for tsunami response. I’ve never seen any follow-up on that, and I’m willing to bet only a small part of those dollars made it to Asia.

The pattern continues. The Bush Administration insisted the financial markets’ problems were under control, until it was obvious even to them that problems were not under control. And then their hair caught on fire. This is from an editorial in today’s New York Times:

This page has consistently held that the government must intervene in markets when failure to do so would cause even greater economic harm. The impending collapse of Citi or an unrelenting credit freeze demand intervention. But good crisis management also requires that the calamity of the moment not be allowed to overwhelm good governing. Unfortunately, that is not the case now.

Even, as the rescue tab rises, taxpayers are not being adequately informed or protected. There is as yet no effort to deal effectively with the underlying causes of the problem, especially mass mortgage defaults that feed bank losses. And officials seem to think urgency to act absolves them from considering the longer-term implications of the actions they take.

It was obvious during the campaign that John McCain is pure reaction; the sort of guy who rushes about putting out fires without ever stopping to consider how the fires are getting started. My hope is that the cool and intellectual Barack Obama is more of a responder than a reactor.

However, my understanding is that the real solutions to the crisis will require a big outlay of money also. My fear is that once we’ve gone through a cycle of reaction, there will be no support for response.

Take George Will. Please. He made an ass of himself on ABC’s “This Week” awhile back,

Having learned nothing, Will is still spreading revisionist history, as are other righties. Paul Krugman continues to respond with actual facts

The main line of empirical argument seems to be that FDR didn’t succeed in ending the Great Depression. Since that’s also what my side of the debate says — fiscal expansion was too cautious, and disastrously abandoned in 1937 — I don’t see what this is supposed to prove.

In other words, Krugman says, yes, the New Deal didn’t revive the economy effectively, but that was because FDR was too conservative and cautious in his approach. But when the real government spending program of World War II got underway, the economy bounced back just fine.

See also The Keynesian Moment.





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5 Comments

5 Comments

  1. Bodhipaksa  •  Nov 30, 2008 @12:35 pm

    Beyond responding and reacting is being proactive — figuring out what to do now in order to avoid problems later. Obama seems to be of this school of thought, especially with his emphasis on building up a positive image of the US abroad. He also showed proactivity in anticipating a likely economic meltdown.

  2. joanr16  •  Nov 30, 2008 @12:54 pm

    I spent Thanksgiving with my sister-in-law’s conservative, fundie cousins in west central Kansas. The best (as in most laughable) statement I heard that day was, “If the media would just shut up, there would be no recession.”

    Now, I understand the idea that a free-market economy is highly susceptible to panic, and panic is generated by the transmission of frightening, untrue information, but what exactly is untrue about our economy already being in the crapper? Such post-tryptophan belchings by the rightie cousins only proved that: 1) they’ll never stop playing “see-no-evil” with their beloved Bush administration; and 2) they share the common rightie belief that a free and open news media is a bad thing.

    I guess the good news from my visit to fundieville is that nobody went off on an anti-Obama rant. To everyone’s credit, there were no arguments at all. Somebody did piss off my 13-year-old niece by mentioning that the Jonas Brothers are “more moral” than the Beatles (she mocks the Jonases, and adores the Beatles), but later she and her 19-year-old brother got together with their sophisticated California cousins and found they all love the same bands. City mouse, country mouse….

  3. maha  •  Nov 30, 2008 @9:15 pm

    Who are the Jonas Brothers?

  4. maha  •  Nov 30, 2008 @9:57 pm

    All — for some reason the “submit comment” button isn’t working in IE, but it is in Firefox. I have no idea why.

  5. joanr16  •  Nov 30, 2008 @10:23 pm

    Who are the Jonas Brothers?

    Today’s Osmonds, only there are just three of them, and they aren’t Mormon (but, apparently, are generic “Christians”). They perform pop love songs to throngs of shrieking tween girls. Neither my niece nor I could remember their first names, so I call them Jimmy-Jim, Ray Bob, and Elias. I believe they’re something like 14 to 21 years old. They really ought to be in school.

    For some reason the “submit comment” button isn’t working in IE, but it is in Firefox.

    I noticed this some months back, probably should have mentioned it. I just figured the “Works Best in Firefox” tag was to be heeded, so I switched browsers and never looked back.



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