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Wednesday, July 13, 2005

THE PAPER MADE ME DO IT: Behaviorism is back. B.F. Skinner's idea that humans are biologically "wired" so that a certain stimulus will produce a specific response was once viewed as a breakthrough in the understanding of human psychology. Not satisfied to say humans are merely influenced by their environments, hardcore behaviorists claimed we're nothing but stimulus-response machines. Behaviorism eventually fell out of favor because it disregards the mind's capacity to learn. For instance, a rat can shift its behavior to respond to changes in the layout of a maze it had previously mastered through reinforcements. This suggests there may be hope for Sen. Harry Reid. You see, at the moment Reid is very concerned about the power of newspapers to provoke uncontrollable responses ... in Democrat U.S. senators. He has been pushing for President Bush to consult closely with Democrats in selecting a replacement for Justice O'Connor. Reid says he's very pleased Bush invited him to the White House to offer advice, but that's only a first step. The president must come up with specific names, and run those potential candidates past the Democrats. Not to do so will create problems for the president. "I don't want to wake up in the morning and see a name in the paper," Reid said. Clear implication: Reid wouldn't be responsible for his actions. Stimulus = reading a name in the paper. Response = probably a filibuster. Don't make us do it, Reid says. "As to whether or not there's a knockdown, drag-out fight on this is up to the president," he implores. The choice is yours, Mr. President, and yours alone. Act wisely, consult the Democrats, select a nominee they can support. Above all else: To provoke them by waiving the newspaper in their eyes would be an act of war. An alternative may be within reach. Behaviorism has shown real promise in reconditioning troubled patients. Proposed therapy: Let Reid begin the practice of simply considering the remote, hypothetical possibility that the framers of the Constitution may have been serious when they granted 1) the president the power to nominate and 2) the Senate the power to confirm. Reid doesn't have to actually believe this now; not at first. He only need consider this far-out notion for, say, ten seconds. In future therapy sessions, let the practice period be extended to 20, 30, and up to 60 seconds. Based on behavioral research, there's reason to think a day should come when Harry Reid will be able to assume full responsibility for his own actions. For almost certainly a day will come when Reid does read in the paper the name of the president's choice. If his therapy is successful, Reid will recognize that it is up to him to decide whether to launch a "knock-down, drag-out fight" against the president's constitutional prerogatives. Harry Reid will be able to look in the mirror and say: "Free agency! I am a free agent! I can choose which lever to push in the maze of my own mind." Well — maybe that's what Harry Reid will recognize. It's always risky to extrapolate from rodents to Senate obstructionists. But there's always reason to hope. Today's question for discussion: In this behavioral political model, who are the real "reactionaries"?