Tag Archives: Barack Obama

You justify your war with the analogies you have

Believe it or not, this is an argument for attacking Syria:

World War II began 74 years ago Sunday when German troops invaded Poland. The invasion conclusively discredited the concept of “appeasement” as a foreign policy for, well, the next 74 years. But if the U.S. Congress opposes authorization of the military mission to Syria that President Obama has now handed off to it, and if Obama uses that as an excuse to back further away from enforcement of his “red line,” the “A” word will likely come to dominate the international debate once again.

And Barack Obama, who in his first term was known as the vanquisher of Osama bin Laden, could come out of his second looking more like Neville Chamberlain.

I don’t want to overstate things. Bashar al-Assad, a tinpot dictator who is fighting only for his own survival, is no Hitler. He’s not set to overrun an entire continent. And the “lessons of Munich” and the dangers of appeasement are generally overdrawn. But, after all, it was Secretary of State John Kerry who lumped Assad with the Fuehrer on the talk shows Sunday, saying that he “now joins the list of Adolf Hitler and Saddam Hussein [who] have used these weapons in time of war.” (Technically, Hitler’s only use of gas was not on the battlefield but to kill millions in extermination camps.)

Gee, if “appeasement,” “Munich,” and “Hitler” are terrible analogies to the civil war in Syria, why use them?  My advice would be not.  But that’s why I don’t make the big money.

But in all seriousness, all the talk of Hitler and Munich and such  is really just to set up the mother of all slippery slopes (for those keeping track at home, that was a reference to Saddam Hussein of Gulf Wars I and II fame–he also used to be Hitler):

Yet that international order is what is now in some danger, 74 years later. After all, it was just this kind of war weariness that created Neville Chamberlain, and his foreign policy of “positive appeasement” as he called it, in the years after the terrible bloodletting of World War I. If one becomes unwilling to strike dictators and mass murderers, all that remains is to appease them.

Come to think of it, this is also a false dichotomy: there’s “appeasing” (giving in to expansionist and genocidal demands–here Assad has none that I’m aware of) and military strikes.  I can imagine one or two other possibilities.

You don’t say

 

A Picture of Obviousness

Today I want to borrow something particularly interesting from No More Mister Nice Blog.  Much of our work here, as we head into our ninth year, involves pointing out the flaws in people’s arguments.  I still think that’s an important job after all the years.  But here, thanks to NMMNB, is an instance in which David Brooks, once a favorite target of ours (and kind of an inspiration for this blog with all of his hackery) actually changes his mind on account of an argument.  Here it is:

Obama spoke about Stand Your Ground laws — and, again, I don’t think he was “sympathetic to all sides” (nor should he have been):

And for those who resist that idea that we should think about something like these “stand your ground” laws, I’d just ask people to consider, if Trayvon Martin was of age and armed, could he have stood his ground on that sidewalk? And do we actually think that he would have been justified in shooting Mr. Zimmerman who had followed him in a car because he felt threatened? And if the answer to that question is at least ambiguous, then it seems to me that we might want to examine those kinds of laws.

Hearing this made David Brooks reconsider his position on these laws:

And I have to say, the point on the Stand Your Ground law was actually clarifying for me. I had some sympathy for the laws because as, you know, as Americans, we should be independent, we should be able to defend ourselves, be strong. But the argument he made about, you know, do we really want all sorts of people, do we really want what happened here, people walking around with guns feeling free to shoot off without legal protections, without the normal legal process — now, that’s a compelling argument, which he put very well.

Yes, Brooks actually said he’d never quite thought about the possibility of extending Stand Your Ground to “all sorts of people.” Yes, even those sorts. When you put it that way, Stand Your Ground is kinda scary, hunh, David?
Nice work, Professor Obama.

I’m relieved that Obama was able to penetrate the fog of this guy’s mind.  That’s something, I guess.

Work it

Fig.1 Lazy Government Workers

Rogers Ailes, head of Fox News, seems to think that government work makes you lazy (via TPM):

Obama’s the one who never worked a day in his life,” Ailes said in Zev Chafets’ book “Roger Ailes: Off Camera.” “He never earned a penny that wasn’t public money. How many fundraisers does he attend every week? How often does he play basketball and golf? I wish I had that kind of time. He’s lazy, but the media won’t report that.”

And this guy is some kind of evil genius.

How to tell when you’re a complete hack

Here's New York Magazine's Jonathan Chait on conservative cheerleader John Podhoretz:

The first few weeks after a losing presidential election are an awkward period for the most devoted ideological polemicist. Months of optimistic spin about your candidate must be cast aside for an entirely different sort of spin — where before the candidate was a budding juggernaut boldly carrying the party banner onward to victory, now we can see in hindsight that he was a hapless loser unable to articulate our side’s clearly winning vision. Transitioning from one line to another can often take months of careful tip-toeing. Commentary editor John Podhoretz offers up a magisterial postelection essay, “The Way Forward,” that instead simply takes the full plunge all at once.

Read the whole essay.  Very entertaining.  Here's the punchline:

The preelection Podhoretz was perfectly willing to credit any potential Obama victory, however unlikely, to his policy agenda:

if he loses on Nov. 6, he will lose for the same reason he would have won — because of his very real, very substantial, and very consequential achievements.

The postelection Podhoretz asserts that Obama’s win was “an astonishing technical accomplishment but in no way whatsoever a substantive one.” In no way whatsoever. Onward to victory in 2016, comrades!

It's an accountability free profession.

 

Antichrist

One would hope in vain that the reelection of Barack Obama would put to rest the foolishness of many of his opponents.  Here is a megachurch pastor from Texas:

"I want you to hear me tonight, I am not saying that President Obama is the Antichrist, I am not saying that at all. One reason I know he's not the Antichrist is the Antichrist is going to have much higher poll numbers when he comes," said Jeffress.

"President Obama is not the Antichrist. But what I am saying is this: the course he is choosing to lead our nation is paving the way for the future reign of the Antichrist."

One question: Can we do anything to stop the Antichrist at this point?  Should we try to stop him coming?

Your analogy is bad and you should feel bad

There is much to distinguish Rush Limbaugh and George Will.  But there is also much they have in common.  They both explain Obama's electoral success by the completely non-racist suggestion that Obama, completely undeserving of the job, has profitted from affirmative action.  What distinguishes Will from Limbaugh, however, is that Will is able to find an inappropriate analogy to make his point, Limbaugh, already famous for baselessly doubting the genuine accomplishments of African Americans everywhere, just says Obama has profited from Affirmative Action.  Another difference is that Will patronizingly suggests such feelings for Obama might speak well of Americans.

Anyway, after running through a summary of Obama's Presidency only Fox News could have written (see here for a rebuttal), Will concludes:

Obama’s administration is in shambles, yet he is prospering politically. This may not, however, entirely be evidence of the irrationality of the electorate. Something more benign may be at work.

A significant date in the nation’s civil rights progress involved an African American baseball player named Robinson, but not Jackie. The date was Oct. 3, 1974, when Frank Robinson, one the greatest players in history, was hired by the Cleveland Indians as the major leagues’ first black manager. But an even more important milestone of progress occurred June 19, 1977, when the Indians fired him. That was colorblind equality.

Managers get fired all the time. The fact that the Indians felt free to fire Robinson — who went on to have a distinguished career managing four other teams — showed that another racial barrier had fallen: Henceforth, African Americans, too, could enjoy the God-given right to be scapegoats for impatient team owners or incompetent team executives.

Perhaps a pleasant paradox defines this political season: That Obama is African American may be important, but in a way quite unlike that darkly suggested by, for example, MSNBC’s excitable boys and girls who, with their (at most) one-track minds and exquisitely sensitive olfactory receptors, sniff racism in any criticism of their pin-up. Instead, the nation, which is generally reluctant to declare a president a failure — thereby admitting that it made a mistake in choosing himseems especially reluctant to give up on the first African American president. If so, the 2012 election speaks well of the nation’s heart, if not its head.

I remember Sarah Palin as well, and George Bush, I also remember Mitt Romney's characterization of 47 percent of the electorate as lazy moochers.  Then there is the string of things Obama has done that people kind of like.  These might also be explanatory factors in the President's recent and past political success.  People also seem to be aware that he inherited the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression (or so they think anyway).  Wonder why, however, those guys at MSNBC would ever dare to suggest that calling someone an Affirmative Action President was somehow racist.  Why would they do that?  After all, he's just like that other black guy.

Wrenching from context

Last night's Daily Show had a nice discussion of the "you didn't build that line" that Obama didn't utter (i.e., in the way suggested).  For those unfamiliar with this, the President gave a speech, talked about infrastructure (such as roads) necessary (but not sufficient) for success in business.  I can't have much success with my highway adult video store unless there's a freeway next to which to place it.  An obvious point, of course.  Sadly, many conservative media types cut out key lines in the President's speech to make it look like he was saying that no one built her own business, thus,  "you didn't build that".  That would be a stupid thing to say, unless of course you inherited your business (which many people probably do–so in their case it's true!).

So here's what the President actually said:

OBAMA: [L]ook, if you've been successful, you didn't get there on your own. You didn't get there on your own. I'm always struck by people who think, well, it must be because I was just so smart. There are a lot of smart people out there. It must be because I worked harder than everybody else. Let me tell you something — there are a whole bunch of hardworking people out there.

If you were successful, somebody along the line gave you some help. There was a great teacher somewhere in your life. Somebody helped to create this unbelievable American system that we have that allowed you to thrive. Somebody invested in roads and bridges. If you've got a business — you didn't build that. Somebody else made that happen. The Internet didn't get invented on its own. Government research created the Internet so that all the companies could make money off the Internet.

The point is, is that when we succeed, we succeed because of our individual initiative, but also because we do things together. There are some things, just like fighting fires, we don't do on our own. I mean, imagine if everybody had their own fire service. That would be a hard way to organize fighting fires.

So we say to ourselves, ever since the founding of this country, you know what, there are some things we do better together. That's how we funded the GI Bill. That's how we created the middle class. That's how we built the Golden Gate Bridge or the Hoover Dam. That's how we invented the Internet. That's how we sent a man to the moon. We rise or fall together as one nation and as one people, and that's the reason I'm running for President — because I still believe in that idea. You're not on your own, we're in this together.

Here's how it was reported by Fox et alia (for a brief history of the distortion, see here and here)

OBAMA: If you've got a business, you didn't build that, somebody else made that happen.

[...]

The point is that, when we succeed, we succeed because of our individual initiative, but also because we do things together.

Jon Stewart pretty much said all there is to say about what's going on: it's a case of straw manning by depriving of context.  The only thing that's true about what the President said is that those words came out of his mouth. 

All that aside, there is a theoretical point here.  In a recent article, Douglas Walton and Fabrizio Macagno ("Wrenching from Context: the Manipulation of Commitments") allege that straw manning of this variety (wrenching from context) are really "manipulations of commitments."  There are limitations to this view, namely that it gives too much credit to the straw manner, as it allows them to claim their representing commitments a person may actually hold (but for which they don't have evidence).  In addition, it doesn't capture the crucial aim of the context-wrencher: to close out an argument with someone by dishonest means.  But their notion of commitment does capture the method of the wrencher: though the wrencher may know his quotation to be inaccurate, he knows it represents the person's real views.  I think we saw something like this at work in Mitt Romney's "I like to fire people line" of a while back. 

What this means is that the wrencher is playing a rather different game from the one his audience is playing.  Even if his audience agrees with him, he's thinking that an argument (with evidence and all of that) is being offered by the wrencher.  But it isn't.  The wrencher is telling a story, a fiction, to a person who thinks he's listening to an argument.  Cross purposes, I think. 

Ad rockstarium

I think it's worthwhile to keep track of the ways the sides in a debate try to paint the character of the other.  Sometimes, it is simple observations about what kind of person would hold such and such a view, other times, it's about what kind of person would be blind to evidence of such and such degrees of obviousness.  Often, it's mere rhetorical window-dressing, and often enough, it's direct ad hominem.  I've been keen on the recent presidential character-painting.  Romney's a robot (a very funny meme) or vulture-capitalist, Obama's either a socialist-totalitarian or a decent but unqualified doofus.  These all seem fine to me, at least in the sense that they're at least capable of being put in the service of evaluating the character of the person who's to be the President of the United States and the Commander in Chief.  Who occupies the office matters, so character evaluation is relevant. 

One line of argument that I don't see the point of, though, is what I've come to call the ad rockstarium argument against Barack Obama.  Mark Steyn at National Review Online runs it in his recent "Our Celebrity President."  Here's the basics from Steyn:

Last week, the republic’s citizen-president passed among his fellow Americans. Where? Cleveland? Dubuque? Presque Isle, Maine? No, Beverly Hills. These days, it’s pretty much always Beverly Hills or Manhattan, because that’s where the money is. That’s the Green Zone, and you losers are outside it.

As I can gather, here's how the argument runs:

1) The President goes to fundraisers in California and New York, not Middle America.

2) You live in Middle America

So: The president isn't interest in you or your money. Well… maybe your money.  How much you got?

Steyn goes on:

It’s true that moneyed celebrities in, say, Pocatello or Tuscaloosa have not been able to tempt the president to hold a lavish fundraiser in Idaho or Alabama, but he does fly over them once in a while.

That's right!  He went to the 'fly-over' line.  OK, so if I'm right that some evaluations of character are relevant, does this one count as one?  I don't think so, as the issue isn't whether Obama is popular and adored but whether he's the kind of person who can be trusted with policy decisions.  I think the best that this line of evaluation can do is say that Obama is a rockstar, and rockstars do things differently from you…  I'll be trying to keep up with more of the rockstarium argument as the campaign goes on.  Any help on seeing how the line is relevant?  Is it a form of upside down ad populum: he's not like us, so he's wrong?

Today in nutpicking

It is good, every now and then, to take a look at the kind hateful bile that spews forth from internet commenters.  Charles Johnson, former right wing blogger, takes a look at Fox News commenters on Obama and the Trayvon Martin case.

Still nutpicking, sadly, but here was Newt Gingrich's reaction to Obama.

Republican presidential candidate Newt Gingrich harshly criticized President Obama for commenting on Trayvon Martin’s race as he extended condolences to the 17-year-old shooting victim’s parents on Friday. Obama said, “If I had a son, he would look like Trayvon,” a remark that Gingrich said he found “disgraceful” and “appalling.”

“What the president said, in a sense, is disgraceful,” Gingrich said on Sean Hannity’s radio show. “It’s not a question of who that young man looked like. Any young American of any ethnic background should be safe, period. We should all be horrified no matter what the ethnic background.

Is the president suggesting that if it had been a white who had been shot, that would be OK because it didn’t look like him? That’s just nonsense dividing this country up. It is a tragedy this young man was shot. It would have been a tragedy if he had been Puerto Rican or Cuban, or if he had been white, or if he had been Asian-American, or if he’d been a Native American. At some point, we ought to talk about being Americans. When things go wrong to an American, it is sad for all Americans. Trying to turn it into a racial issue is fundamentally wrong. I really find it appalling.”

In a normal argument, Gingrich's hypothetical would not be followed by very conclusive assertions using the hypothetical as evidence.  Because, after all, this is cleary not what the President was suggesting.

Shooting fish in a barrell

David Frum is the new moderate Republican, but he's still a Republican.  I think he's an inveterate straw manner.  That's annoying.  Here's a recent example:

In December, Obama traveled to the Kansas town of Osawatomie to deliver one of the most important speeches of his presidency to date. There he poignantly described the dimming prospects of the American middle class—and then offered the following policy response: “The over 1 million construction workers who lost their jobs when the housing market collapsed, they shouldn’t be sitting at home with nothing to do. They should be rebuilding our roads and our bridges, laying down faster railroads and broadband, modernizing our schools—all the things other countries are already doing to attract good jobs and businesses to their shores … Of course, those productive investments cost money. They’re not free. And so we’ve also paid for these investments by asking everybody to do their fair share.”

In other words, the president is championing a more active government, not as a way to meet social needs but as a permanent and growing source of middle-class employment. Some of us will work directly for the public sector. Others will be contractors. Either way, many more of us will be working in jobs from which it will be difficult to fire us—and where the government sets more of the terms of employment.

This is very puzzling.  The President seems clearly to be addressing short term unemployment and our decaying infrastructure: saying that we ought to address the former by building the latter.  He doesn't suggest anything like Frum's "in other words" would suggest.  I would also suggest that Obama elsewhere doesn't suggest anything like the "let's increase the size of government and fix everything that way."  Had he thought that, we'd have single payer health insurance.  But no.

So we have a kind of classic straw man.  It seems that perhaps in the age of newspapers, when space was short and expensive, one had an excuse for being so uncharitable.  But now the internets have made space cheap.  And worse, I can always check what you say against what the person says.  In this case even, Frum quotes a passage then immediately misrepresents it.  There's really no excuse for this.  Anymore.  I think.

The funny thing is that Frum's piece is allegedly a response to the alleged weak-manning of the Republican position (by Andrew Sullivan).  Sadly, the weak-manning was merely a critique of the cast of characters known as the candidates for President.  Sullivan writes:

The right’s core case is that Obama has governed as a radical leftist attempting a “fundamental transformation” of the American way of life. Mitt Romney accuses the president of making the recession worse, of wanting to turn America into a European welfare state, of not believing in opportunity or free enterprise, of having no understanding of the real economy, and of apologizing for America and appeasing our enemies. According to Romney, Obama is a mortal threat to “the soul” of America and an empty suit who couldn’t run a business, let alone a country.

To which Frum says:

Andrew Sullivan had good sport last week shooting fish in a barrel, rebutting the most unfair, the most intemperate, and the most flat-out crazy of the criticisms of President Obama.

Now let’s move to the real debate. You don’t have to succumb to ideological fever or paranoid fantasy to see that the Obama administration is dragging America to the wrong future: a future of higher taxes and reduced freedom, a future in which entrepreneurs will innovate less and lobbyists will influence more, a future in which individuals and communities will make fewer choices for themselves and remote bureaucracies will dictate more answers to us all.

Might be right about those criticisms (Sullivan also attacked the lefty critics too), but those are the criticisms on offer at any Republican debate, on Fox, in the National Review, at the Heritage Foundation, or any other place such people gather.  If their view amounts to "fish in a barrel" that's their fault.  Frum ought to say: Sullivan is right.  These arguments really suck.  Sadly they are the most often made.  Maybe someone should make this one.  But his argument kind of sucks too, so I guess there's that.