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Obama And The War Over Empiricism

Not long ago, President Obama accused his opponents of opposing "facts and science," provoking mass indignation. This idea remains at the heart of the critique of the administration: it is too stubborn about its policy position and refuses to compromise. Here's Time's Michael Scherer:

In response, Obama announced that he would be willing to work with Republicans if they really wanted to work with him and were willing to negotiate. But they would have to be serious. “As I said before, no person, no party has a monopoly on wisdom,” he said. “And that's why I'm eager to hear good ideas wherever they come from, whoever proposes them. And that's why I believe it's important to have an honest and civil debate about the choices that we face.”
In the first two years of his presidency, these sort of statements from Obama were code. They meant Obama was confident that he had superior policy ideas, and was not interested in debating bigger philosophical issues like whether or not government should mandate health care coverage, or regulate credit card contracts, or put a price on carbon emissions.

Actually, that's not correct. Obama has signaled that he is willing to accept other ways to accomplish goals like expanding health insurance coverage while reducing costs, while not being attached to specific provisions (like the individual mandate, which he opposed as a candidate.) How about "putting a price on carbon emissions"? Obama quite explicitly said he is open to alternatives:

"I'm going to be looking for other means of addressing this problem," he said. "Cap and trade was one way to skin the cat," he said, strongly implying there will be others.

The trouble is, it's hard to negotiate when the opposition does not operate from the same factual premises. You can't get Republicans to agree to a different policy solution for addressing emissions-driven climate change when the party denies that such a thing exists.

And so today we see George Will flaying Obama for his belief that his policies reflects facts and science:

Trying to preemptively drain the election of its dangerous (to Democrats) meaning, all autumn Democrats described the electorate as suffering a brain cramp, an apoplexy of fear, rage, paranoia, cupidity - something. Any explanation would suffice as long as it cast what voters were about to say as perhaps contemptible and certainly too trivial to be taken seriously by the serious. ...
The point of progressivism is that the people must progress up from their backwardness. They cannot do so unless they are pulled toward the light by a government composed of the enlightened - experts coolly devoted to facts and science.

Well, this is the problem, isn't it? Obama is actually open to different ways to solve problems like climate change. But George Will denies that climate change is happening, and ridicules the idea that policy should be informed by science and empiricism. So Obama's choices here are either to make policy that is not based on science and facts, or to be flayed in the press for his stubborn arrogance. I wouldn't claim that Obama's choice of policy mixes is the only one that's consistent with facts and science, and Obama wouldn't claim this either. But the insistence upon policies that are clearly science-based separates him from most of the Republican Party.