The man with the plan

I don’t often read David Broder, the Dean of the Washington Pundits, mostly because I have a hard enough time understanding the straightforward opinion columnists to think about the meta-political crystal-balling that seems to be Broder’s special expertise. Broder’s columns seem to me to be descriptive and interpretive, rather than normative, political analysis. That’s not a criticism. There’s whole lot more that goes on in newspapers–and on op-ed pages–that we don’t have the time, inclination, or expertise to deal with here. Others, such as Glenn Greenwald and Bob Somerby have cultivated an expertise on the language of political analysis (they even have the patience to read Maureen Dowd).

But there has been a lot of flap about Broder lately, partly because he’s been colossally and obviously wrong about Bush’s political fortunes. He claimed many months ago that Bush was poised for a comeback, when, as it turned out, he has continued his dismal run of low approval ratings and policy failures.

Broder, however, continues to find ways to support him. He writes:

>In this moment, the commander in chief has a clear plan — to apply more military force in and around Baghdad in hopes of suppressing the sectarian violence and creating space for the Iraqi politicians to assemble a functioning government.

>It is a high-risk policy with no guarantee of success. But it is a clear strategy.

Many have argued in fact that it’s not a “clear” plan at all and more importantly that it has shown almost innumerable signs of having already failed. But that’s another matter (a factual one). What I find interesting is the aesthetic appraisal of the plan–it’s “clear” (notice he says it twice). It’s clarity is a feature of the descriptions of the plan, but not it’s not a metric of success or failure of the plan itself. For, after all, lots of plans could be clear: “run away” is a clear plan; “more rubble less trouble” is a clear plan (a really silly one I think); re-invade is a clear plan. It’s obvious in other words what these involve. And furthermore, the clarity of the plan is a minimal condition. It’s like saying, for instance, but the President’s plan is printed on glossy paper, with charts.

Now, contrast this aesthetic appraisal of Bush’s plan with Broder’s picture of the Democrats:

>The Democratic-controlled Congress, on the other hand, lacks agreement on any such plan. Most Democrats are unwilling to exercise their right to cut off funds for the war in Iraq, lest they be accused of abandoning the troops in the middle of the fight.

In the first place, as Broder has already pointed out, the President is the commander guy, so the Congress doesn’t have a plan on the same order as he does. They can’t control military strategy–the can’t do so even through funding the military or, get this, voting to allow the President to use military strategy. What that particular strategy is, as anyone knows, rests with the President. The Congress can influence the policy objectives with the purse strings, but they don’t propose and have no means or proposing alternative military strategies. As a result, it makes no sense to compare the President’s “clear plan” with Congress’s “lack of a clear plan” unless you mean only to assess their relative aesthetic value.

2 thoughts on “The man with the plan”

  1. Bravo. Good catch. It’s interesting how a large number of the fallacies you catch are essentially rooted in rhetoric and not so much logic.

    The hidden premise seems to be: clear policies, however wrongheaded, are better than unclear policies. But in many cases no policy can at all can be a desirable alternative…at least for the short term.

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