Category Archives: Charles Krauthammer

Charles Krauthammer

Charles Krauthammer

On a sad note, it appears that Charles Krauthammer, a frequent object of our criticism here, has but weeks to live. In his final column, he notes:

Lastly, I thank my colleagues, my readers, and my viewers, who have made my career possible and given consequence to my life’s work. I believe that the pursuit of truth and right ideas through honest debate and rigorous argument is a noble undertaking. I am grateful to have played a small role in the conversations that have helped guide this extraordinary nation’s destiny.

I leave this life with no regrets. It was a wonderful life — full and complete with the great loves and great endeavors that make it worth living. I am sad to leave, but I leave with the knowledge that I lived the life that I intended.

Best wishes to him, his family, and friends.

 

Pretty in pink

Check out Charles Krauthammer’s downplaying analogy over at the NRO for Obama’s ‘Red Line’ ultimatum with Syria using chemical weapons and what the Right thinks is dithering (or “fudging and fumbling”) in the face of the worry they’ve used them.  The headline:

Pink Line over Damascus

Get it?  Not red, but pink.  You see what he did there? Replaced red with pink. So, it’s like a girl’s ultimatum, which is, you know, not very decisive:

He would have it both ways: sound decisive but never have to deliver.

Yeah, just like a little girl, so pink.  And conservatives wonder why they have a problem with women.

I don’t usually practice psychiatry in my blog

If there is a logic to the arguments of politicians, I don’t know what it is.  A vote for a politician involves a complex web of commitments whose primary objective is action, not belief.  So when politicians violate the rules of argumentative propriety, it’s hard to complain too much.  You know their ads are going to go ad hominem, too often egregriously so, when they’re not distorting the record, or otherwise strawmanning, hollow manning, or weak manning their opponents.

Columnists in the newspaper, on the other hand, play a different kind of game.  Well some of them do.  They advance reasons for believing proposition x or proposition y.  We can, I think, hold them to a higher standard.

So for instance, today George Will  argues that Democrats are desperate in the face of the march of obviously moderate, reasonable, non masterbating Tea Party candidates.  His argument is bad.  Here’s how it goes:

P1.  The Democrats have accomplished nothing that people like;

P2.  They have plans for more stuff people don’t like;

C.  Therefore they now wrongly characterize grass roots, very reasonable, centrist small-government people as “extremists.”

Just for the record, I think P1 is very questionable, and a partisan operator such as Will ought to offer better evidence (he doesn’t offer any).  P2 is weak for the same reason.  Now if those premises were true, which they aren’t, maybe that conclusion would follow.  But the conclusion is false anyway–because the candidates in question stand far from the center of American politics.  That is not to say they’re wrong.  It’s just to say they are not unfairly criticized as on an extreme.  Time to take that word back extremists.  Embrace it.

Now Will moves to a more serious objective: a logical critique of Democrats in general:

Democrats, unable to run on their policies, will try to demonize the opponents with Tea Party support as unstable extremists with personality disorders. They have ridden this hobby horse before.

As I argued above, this is a vacuous critique.  But it’s hilarious, because it’s an attempt at logic criticism–and Will sucks at this.  Here’s how is argument goes for that conclusion:

In response to a questionnaire from a magazine, 1,189 psychiatrists, none of whom had ever met Goldwater, declared him unfit for office — “emotionally unstable,” “immature,” “cowardly,” “grossly psychotic,” “paranoid,” “chronic schizophrenic” and “dangerous lunatic” were some judgments from the psychiatrists who believed that extremism in pursuit of Goldwater was no vice. Shortly before the election, Columbia University historian Richard Hofstadter published in Harper’s an essay (later expanded into a book with the same title), “The Paranoid Style in American Politics,” that encouraged the idea that Goldwater’s kind of conservatism was a mental disorder.

On the eve of the convention that nominated Goldwater, Daniel Schorr of CBS, “reporting” from Germany, said: “It looks as though Sen. Goldwater, if nominated, will be starting his campaign here in Bavaria, center of Germany’s right wing” and “Hitler’s one-time stomping ground.”

Goldwater, said Schorr, would be vacationing near Hitler’s villa at Berchtesgaden. Schorr further noted that Goldwater had given an interview to Der Spiegel “appealing to right-wing elements in Germany” and had agreed to speak to a gathering of “right-wing Germans.” So, “there are signs that the American and German right wings are joining up.”

But as Andrew Ferguson of the Weekly Standard has reported, although Goldwater had spoken vaguely about a European vacation (he did not take one), he had not mentioned Germany, and there were no plans to address any German group. Der Spiegel had reprinted an interview that had appeared elsewhere.

The relevance of this for 2010? There is precedent for the mainstream media being megaphones for Democratic-manufactured hysteria.

Nonsense.  Let’s reconstruct this.

P1. A bunch of psychiatrists thought Barry Goldwater was crazy in 1964.

P2. Richard Hofttadter wrote the “Paranoid Style in American Politics”

P3.  A reporter for CBS (recently deceased) is alleged to have slandered Goldwater.

C.  Therefore, the Democrats “have ridden this hobby horse before.”

Gee, he doesn’t even really try here.  It just doesn’t follow that the “Democrats” have done any of this–various unrelated people have.  But anyway, Charles Krauthammer, a non anonymous psychiatrist who shares the Post’s op-ed page with George Will, said the following of candidate Al Gore:

KRAUTHAMMER: Crying for help, you know. (LAUGHTER) I’m a psychiatrist. I don’t usually practice on camera. But this is the edge of looniness, this idea that there’s a vast conspiracy, it sits in a building, it emanates, it has these tentacles, is really at the edge. He could use a little help.

He does that all of the time and he sits in the cubicle next to Will at the Post.  And he’s not a Democrat.

And here’s the introduction to Hoftstadter’s piece in the Atlantic:
American politics has often been an arena for angry minds. In recent years we have seen angry minds at work mainly among extreme right-wingers, who have now demonstrated in the Goldwater movement how much political leverage can be got out of the animosities and passions of a small minority. But behind this I believe there is a style of mind that is far from new and that is not necessarily right-wind. I call it the paranoid style simply because no other word adequately evokes the sense of heated exaggeration, suspiciousness, and conspiratorial fantasy that I have in mind. In using the expression “paranoid style” I am not speaking in a clinical sense, but borrowing a clinical term for other purposes. I have neither the competence nor the desire to classify any figures of the past or present as certifiable lunatics., In fact, the idea of the paranoid style as a force in politics would have little contemporary relevance or historical value if it were applied only to men with profoundly disturbed minds. It is the use of paranoid modes of expression by more or less normal people that makes the phenomenon significant.
Gee, How many Republicans have doubted whether Obama is an American citizen?  A Christian non-terrorist?  Pro-American?  A gay Nazi Muslim?
But this just underscores the blind ignorance WIll must suppose his readers to live in.  How often does one hear on Fox News and other similar outlets (and Tea Party rallies) analogies between begnign Democratic policies and Nazism?  Very often (I wonder, should one ever answer a rhetorical question?  Probably not).

Letters to the editor

A post or two ago I made the claim that columnists and arguers in general ought to have some lattitude in defining their opponent's argument(s).  One only has 750 or so words, so one can't possibly be expected to provide thorough references.  

The breadth of this lattitude, however, ought to be determined by reality.  This means one ought to use the means available to pin the argument to an actual person or institution whose view is under discussion.  In the days of linkage, this is not very hard: online versions of columns can and often do have links.  When you say something about some person x's view, you can write it as a link ot the place where that person says what you say she says.  Once we have these, then we can discuss the degree to which they are representative of the opposition's case.   

The weird thing about this is that you'd also think in the days of linkage the readers' demands for such precision would increase, not decrease.  I don't have empirical data on this, but I think it's decreased.

Fortunately, an alert reader of the Post noticed just this about Charles Krauthammer's most recent hollow and weak men:

In his Aug. 27 column, Charles Krauthammer offered negative generalizations and accusations about "liberals" — referring to their "promiscuous charges of bigotry" and saying that they give "no credit to the seriousness and substance of the contrary argument" and resort "reflexively to the cheapest race baiting," without citing as an example one statement from any so-called liberal person or organization. Surely with liberals running amok and using such baseless and terrible rhetoric, he could have cited a few examples to better make his case.

He stated also that liberals have lost the debate on every issue he cited in the court of public opinion by often lopsided margins, without citing any polling data. My reading of the polls on the issues he listed is that public opinion is much more nuanced than he acknowledged.

By his polemical, over-the-top attack on liberals in general, Mr. Krauthammer practiced what he condemned — giving no credit to the seriousness and substance of the contrary argument.

Hurray for this reader.  The reader makes another very important observation at the end.  Columnists–right wing ones especially–work dialectically.  They're allegedly trying to convince the unconvinced.  But then again, maybe they're not and maybe that's the entire problem. 

He’s a decent family man and citizen*

Shorter Charles Krauthammer: only liberals are bigotted enough to use ad hominem arguments. 

Todays' piece is a gold mine of fallacious reasoning.  One hardly knows where to begin (or where to end).  Now hold on objector, I'm going to prove that charge, just give me a minute.  The article begins by, on a very charitable interpretation, weak-manning the "liberal" position:

— Resistance to the vast expansion of government power, intrusiveness and debt, as represented by the Tea Party movement? Why, racist resentment toward a black president.

— Disgust and alarm with the federal government's unwillingness to curb illegal immigration, as crystallized in the Arizona law? Nativism.

— Opposition to the most radical redefinition of marriage in human history, as expressed in Proposition 8 in California? Homophobia.

— Opposition to a 15-story Islamic center and mosque near Ground Zero? Islamophobia.

A sort-of caveat.  Columnists (given the absurd and arbitrary limitations on space which is as much their fault as anyone else's) have broad latitude to characterize their opponents' arguments in general terms.  But one can do this–I think at least–without sacrificing clarity, precision, and honesty.  (This one fails on all of those grounds). 

The weak man has it that in some forms someone in the opposition holds the view as described.  And indeed I bet I can find lots of people who fit the caricature Krauthammer draws.  Funny thing, however, without disgracing himself and engaging in obvious nutpicking, Krauthammer can't.  He doesn't name a single person or reference a single argument made by an actual person.  Moreover, the only things he attributes to a person are without meaningful context.

On all of the topics listed above, serious arguments have been made.  Just to take one for example because it's all anyone talks about anymore: Richard Cohen, Krauthammer's Post colleague (and frequent object of criticism here) had a piece up earlier this week about the Park51 Islamic Community Center project (which, by the way, IS NOT A MOSQUE NEAR GROUND ZERO).  Now he points out, correctly I think, that no small measure of opposition to the project is driven by old-fashioned bigotry against Islam.  Hell, a too-large percentage of Americans don't think a Muslim ought to be legally allowed to be President (and a number of Americans think the current President is a Muslim). 

But he also mounts an argument against the clearly non-bigotted:

This is not a complicated matter. If you believe that an entire religion of upward of a billion followers attacked the United States on Sept. 11, 2001, then it is understandable that locating a mosque near the fallen World Trade Center might be upsetting. But the facts are otherwise. Islam was not in on the attack — just a sliver of believers. That being the case, those people with legitimate hurt feelings are mistaken. They need our understanding, not our indulgence.     

I think Cohen happens to be right.  But you'll at least have to admit that he doesn't resort to the bigotry charge.  Then again, maybe Krauthammer doesn't consider him part of the intelligentsia. 

Whatever the merits of Cohens argument, however, we have at least one easily found example of someone making a freedom of religion case for not disallowing the Park 51 project.  Sure it accuses people of ignorance.  But hey, that's what happens when you're wrong.   

*On the title: cf. John McCain's response to the 2008 accusation that Obama was an "Arab."

 

Liberal Intelligentsia

You have to hand it to Charles Krauthammer, at least he makes an effort to mount an argument.  Sadly, however, his effort too often confuses fallacious forms of argument with valid ones.  Today's topic: the "Ground Zero" "Mosque."  I put "Mosque" and "Ground Zero" in quotes because IT"S NOT A "MOSQUE."  People should not call it that.  And it's not AT "ground zero," so people should stop saying that also.  He at least gets this part half correct.  The rest is all hollow-manning, weak-manning, straw-manning, and ad-homineming: he begins:

It's hard to be an Obama sycophant these days. Your hero delivers a Ramadan speech roundly supporting the building of a mosque and Islamic center near Ground Zero in New York. Your heart swells and you're moved to declare this President Obama's finest hour, his act of greatest courage.

It is inexcusable nowadays in the world of links not to put a bunch of links to quote-worthy people who hold that view of Obama.  No such luck, as this is just the set up.  But that tone of moral and logical condescension (sycophant? please) is pure Krauthammer–he's going to show you whose belief is foolish now.  Continuing directly:

Alas, the next day, at a remove of 800 miles, Obama explains that he was only talking about the legality of the thing and not the wisdom — upon which he does not make, and will not make, any judgment.

You're left looking like a fool because now Obama has said exactly nothing: No one disputes the right to build; the whole debate is about the propriety, the decency of doing so.

It takes no courage whatsoever to bask in the applause of a Muslim audience as you promise to stand stoutly for their right to build a mosque, giving the unmistakable impression that you endorse the idea. What takes courage is to then respectfully ask that audience to reflect upon the wisdom of the project and to consider whether the imam's alleged goal of interfaith understanding might not be better achieved by accepting the New York governor's offer to help find another site.

What's hilarious is that Krauthammer's evidence of no one disputing the right to build is another Krauthammer piece.  I will at least have the decency to send you to someone else–and you can follow their links.  What Krauthammer says is false.  Ok, a quote:

Limbaugh: "[T]he Constitution does not guarantee you can put your church anywhere you want it." On his nationally syndicated radio show, Rush Limbaugh stated: "If you're going to bring the First Amendment into it, that's where your argument's going to fall apart. There are 23 mosques in New York. The government — the Constitution does not guarantee you can put your church anywhere you want it. It just says you cannot be denied the practice of worship."

Regretably, That guy is a leading conservative figure.  But you can see that he disputes the legal right to build.  Moving on:

Where the president flagged, however, the liberal intelligentsia stepped in with gusto, penning dozens of pro-mosque articles characterized by a frenzied unanimity, little resort to argument and a singular difficulty dealing with analogies.

Read closely, "dozens" of articles were written, but there was "little resort to argument" and a "singular difficulty with analogies."  And he comes up with two examples: Richard Cohen and Michael Kinsley.  God help us.

The Atlantic's Michael Kinsley was typical in arguing that the only possible grounds for opposing the Ground Zero mosque are bigotry or demagoguery. Well then, what about Pope John Paul II's ordering the closing of the Carmelite convent just outside Auschwitz? (Surely there can be no one more innocent of that crime than those devout nuns.) How does Kinsley explain this remarkable demonstration of sensitivity, this order to pray — but not there? He doesn't even feign analysis. He simply asserts that the decision is something "I confess that I never did understand."

That's his Q.E.D.? Is he stumped or is he inviting us to choose between his moral authority and that of one of the towering moral figures of the 20th century?

At least Richard Cohen of The Post tries to grapple with the issue of sanctity and sensitivity. The results, however, are not pretty. He concedes that putting up a Japanese cultural center at Pearl Harbor would be offensive but then dismisses the analogy to Ground Zero because 9/11 was merely "a rogue act, committed by 20 or so crazed samurai."

Any reference to Richard Cohen is by definition weak-manning.  But Kinsley's argument–which you can read at the link if you click it–is rather stronger than Krauthammer suggests.  In fact, he addresses precisely the point about analogies Krauthammer mentions (in addition to naming Krauthammer specifically).  Kinsley writes:

Opponents of the mosque have their own analogies. What about a theme park near the Civil War battlefield at Manassas? What about a Japanese cultural center at Pearl Harbor? What about a convent full of nuns praying at Auschwitz (a project Pope John Paul II shut down). I confess that I never did understand what was wrong with nuns devoting their lives to praying at the site of a Nazi death camp. As for the other what-abouts: the difference is that our constitution does not guarantee freedom of theme parks, or freedom of national (as opposed to religious) cultural centers. It guarantees freedom of religion, which (to make the banal but necessary point) is one of the major disagreements we have with Osama bin Laden.

I think Kinsley's point is that the nun analogy is not obviously decisive.  I think he's correct about this, as the nuns had occupied a building actually used in the Auschwitz complex (where the Nazis stored Zyklon-B), and their sole purpose was to pray for the dead at Auschwitz.  They didn't occupy a building in the nearby town that had nothing to do with the Holocaust (like a Burlington Coat Factory, for instance, or a strip club).  Agree or not, it's obvious Kinsley doesn't see the aptness of the analogy.  You can't challenge him by insisting that it's super apt.  That just begs the question.  And he's certainly not obliged to question the towering Moral authority of the Pope (which Krauthammer–in his drumbeat for war war war—did more than he).  And besides, I think the Pope's decision was a pragmatic one–he was avoiding a fight.  Finally, the organized structure of the Catholic Church is not analogous to anything in Islam. 

Anyway, Krauthammer has not only not discussed the dozens of other possible arguments (are we supposed to take his word for it that they're bad?) for the Cordoba Initiative, he has also missed the point of at least one of the articles that he does discuss.  If you're going to weak man, at least do it right.