Politics is Not Usually About Policy
Why you probably shouldn’t pay attention to Milo Yiannopoulos.
Co-blogger Bryan Caplan is a fan of his colleague Robin Hanson. One of Robin’s favorite aphorisms is “Politics is not about policy.” When I first heard it, I did what many people would do, which is search for counterexamples to a generalization. It’s not hard to find counterexamples. So I rejected it. But ever since hearing it some years ago, I’ve been watching political debates through a Hansonian lens. And the lens almost always makes things crystal clear. It explains why so many Republicans oppose policies by Democrats and then turn around and support similar policies by Republicans. It explains why so many Democrats oppose policies by Republicans and then turn around and support similar policies by Democrats. So much of the antiwar movement can be explained through Robin’s lens: it’s not typically about war. When Obama came into power and continued some wars, even starting some of his own, the antiwar movement, other than libertarians at antiwar.com and a few of their non-libertarian allies, was largely silent.
The latest case involves the provocateur Milo Yiannopoulos. When I saw on the news the other night all the destruction wrought by some thugs at UC Berkeley over his speech at Berkeley, I wondered who he was. I knew vaguely, but I had never read or watched a speech by him. Now I have: this one that he gave at West Virginia University. The man says disgusting, vile things.
So then how to explain why so many College Republican groups bring him to campus. What policies do they hope to change and hope that he will help change? The problem with asking that question is that it presumes that their politics are about policy. They largely are not. Instead, the College Republicans who invite him do so, I believe, for their own entertainment and to taunt leftists. If that’s what’s going on, then they succeed. They probably put their cause back because really, what can you learn from someone who throws around the f-word and the c-word and who calls people out over their obesity? But again, the sentence immediately preceding assumes that these College Republicans have a larger cause. Many of them, apparently do not.
Politics is usually not about policy.
HT2 Peter G. Klein for getting me thinking more about this.