Theorizing Bono

by Peter Spiro

Today’s WaPo has this lengthy feature on Bono and his humanitarian politicking. It’s a Style section piece, tending to puffery. But there’s some interesting information here which (even for those of us who mostly missed him as a musician) makes clear that he has to be taken seriously. Like the fact that he has 75 full-time staffers in his DC lobbying office.

So how to plug Bono into IR/IL paradigms? As Martha Finnemore and Kathyrn Sikkink describe in this article, “transnational norm entrepreneurs” are

extremely rational and, indeed, very sophisticated in their means-ends calculations about how to achieve their goals. They engage in something we would call “strategic social construction:” these actors are making detailed means-ends calculations to maximize their utilities, but the utilities they want to maximize involve changing the other players’ utility functions in ways that reflect the normative commitments of the norm entrepreneurs.

Bono seems to fit the bill. Unlike NGOs, he doesn’t seem to use shaming as a tool, nor does he seem deploy voting constituencies or campaign contributions. (As a non-citizen, non-permanent resident, Bono isn’t even allowed to give money to federal candidates.) Perhaps it’s a moral authority, like the Pope (though the Pope of course does have a clear political constituency). Is it that the average unglamourous legislator craves the attention of a rock star, and changes her “utility functions” accordingly? Something like the cocktail party theory of Justice Kennedy. In any case, the Bono phenomenon would seem to give the lie to insulated, two-level models of political process.

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