Who Quips Best, Wins

More from the blogosphere on Rory Stewart, who may or may not have designs on 10 Downing Street. But first: why is an interview with him that was published at the end of July only getting blogplay now? Odd.

His public displays of expert-itis have apparently tickled some funny bones. The passages in question come from Emily Stokes’ interview with Stewart, published in the Financial Times on 31 July, and from his more recent comments in Senate hearings yesterday.

Stewart, in July, on driving a car off a cliff as policymaking analogy: “It’s like they’re coming in and saying to you, ‘I’m going to drive my car off a cliff. Should I or should I not wear a seatbelt?’ And you say, ‘I don’t think you should drive your car off the cliff.’ And they say, ‘No, no, that bit’s already been decided – the question is whether to wear a seatbelt.’ And you say, ‘Well, you might as well wear a seatbelt.’ And then they say, ‘We’ve consulted with policy expert Rory Stewart and he says …’”

Stewart, yesterday, on cat-beating as Afghanistan strategy:  “We’re beating the cat,” Stewart said, “and when you say, ‘Why are you beating the cat?’ you say, ‘It’s a cat-tiger strategy.’ But you’re beating the cat because you don’t know what to do about the tiger.”

Spencer Ackerman reports that Stewart “has one advantage over his fellow witnesses” at the Senate hearings: “he’s better with quips.” Matthew Yglesias writes “you shouldn’t just listen to the guy who has the best jokes, but I think these are good points.” Dan Drezner thought the cliff-driving image was “really funny” and  “true a fair amount of the time”, but he wasn’t  “sure that metaphor holds up all of the time.” His alternative:

From the policymaker’s perspective, getting outside advice is like trying to figure out which railroad track to take if you’re driving a train.  There are three options ahead, and for myriad reasons each of the possibilities carries some risk.  So you go place an emergency phone call to the head of Harvard’s Department of Railroad Studies to get a recommendation.  His advice?  “Why don’t you go off-track?”

“Sometimes,” Drezner suggest, “the outside advisor is right to make policymakers question core assumptions.” But “sometimes a policymaker has neither the time nor the political capital to go back to first principles.  Sometimes they just need to know what is the least bad policy option.  And I guarantee you that having an academic tell them, “they’re all bad policy options” is of no use whatsoever in that moment.”

That’s fair. For Drezner’s analogy to be  true-to-life, though, said policymaker would be directing his query on railroad issues to a more appropriate source of subject matter expertise. Like, say, the Department of Maritime Statistics.

Meanwhile, there was this one about the drunk looking for his car keys under the lamp post because that’s where the best light is…

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