The Lobby Lobby

One hears a lot of complaints about lobbyists from the likes of McCain, Clinton and Obama this election season.  But did you know that lobbying was protected by the first amendment to the Constitution of the United States?  I didn't.  Well, Charles Krauthammer will set me straight.  My intrusions are in bold.

Everyone knows the First Amendment protects freedom of religion, speech, press and assembly. How many remember that, in addition, the First Amendment protects a fifth freedom — to lobby? [No way–I don't believe  you]

Of course it doesn't use the word lobby [Phew–I thought I forgot my rights!]. It calls it the right "to petition the Government for a redress of grievances." Lobbyists are people hired to do that for you, so that you can actually stay home with the kids and remain gainfully employed rather than spend your life in the corridors of Washington.  [I wonder where I can get one of these lobbyists]

To hear the candidates in this presidential campaign, you'd think lobbying is just one notch below waterboarding [we thought waterboarding was ok with you Charles], a black art practiced by the great malefactors of wealth to keep the middle class in a vise and loose upon the nation every manner of scourge: oil dependency, greenhouse gases, unpayable mortgages and those tiny entrees you get at French restaurants. [He's being serious–this isn't a caricature or a straw man]

Lobbying is constitutionally protected, but that doesn't mean we have to like it all [that's a relief, because I was about to embrace every single instance of "lobbying" fully in the spirit of the law rather than sophistical equivocations meant to cloud the issue.]  Let's agree to frown upon bad lobbying, such as getting a tax break for a particular industry. Let's agree to welcome good lobbying — the actual redress of a legitimate grievance — such as protecting your home from being turned to dust to make way for some urban development project.

And with this last claim we're back to square one.  When people scream about "lobbying" this election season, they mean the kind of lobbying of special interests purchasing favors and access–bad lobbying.  Just because you call it "lobbying" does not ipso fatso mean its protected by the constitution.  That would be to insist on the relevance of a general rule where it obviously doesn't apply.  But I guess Krauthammer has a right to do that.  It's a free country.


The Stagirite

Here's Aristotle, on fallacies:

To reduce it to a single point of contrast it is the business of one who knows a thing, himself to avoid fallacies in the subjects which he knows and to be able to show up the man who makes them; and of these accomplishments the one depends on the faculty to render an answer, and the other upon the securing of one. Those, then, who would be sophists are bound to study the class of arguments aforesaid: for it is worth their while: for a faculty of this kind will make a man seem to be wise, and this is the purpose they happen to have in view.

More at some other time. 

The Banality of Fallacy

We may not write about it much, but we like books. We hope you do to. Do you know who else likes books? Fred Siegel, that's who; and he talks about it. A lot. In fact, he's read a lot of books and come to the conclusion the "Politics of Hope" is a hopeless junket. In fact, this pie-in-sky "utopianism" cashes out to little more than fascism, communism or and totalitarianism. I really hope he's got an argument for this. Oh, joy:

Emerson wrote during a time of numerous experiments in utopian living. Obama—whose candidacy rests upon a standard utopian dichotomy between the earthly evils of poverty, injustice, war, and partisanship, and the promise of the world to come if we allow him to rescue us—appeals to the same Elysian strain in American and Western political life, largely in remission since 1980, when the 1960s truly ended.


In the wake of bloody utopian experiments in 1930s Europe, a slew of erudite authors launched compelling attacks on them. Jacob Talmon, Karl Popper, Raymond Aaron, Czeslaw Milosz, and Hannah Arendt laid waste to the historical, philosophical, sociological, and literary assumptions that supported communism and fascism. But their arguments didn’t endure, despite their power. By the mid-1960s, utopianism had again taken hold, and its lure was such that even Arendt, once a vocal opponent, found herself drawn to the religion of politics. Propelled by her disdain for America in general and the Vietnam War in particular, as well as the promise, as she saw it, of worker-control experiments in Europe, she effectively reversed much of her earlier writings.

 Obama’s utopian vision of transcending the interests that make up the fabric of our democracy is unlikely to fare any better than the “politics of hope” did in Emerson’s time. The key question at hand is whether Obama’s Edenic bubble bursts before or after the election.

Nice. Emerson wrote when utopian projects were the latest fad. Those failed, ergo Emerson failed. If Obama's populism appeals to the same strain of American thought as Emerson's, who wrote around the time of utopian projects, Obama must be a utopian thinker. And, as we all know, utopianism is just warmed over communism and fascism.  Since Obama is a utopian, and thereby a communist/fascist, Obama is doomed to fail, just like communism and fascism have failed, thus, the Politics of Hope is a sham. Got it. Solid reasoning.

No Bear 

Besides the obvious factual objections that might be made to Siegel's claims, note the subtle shift from speaking about communism and fascism to speaking about utopianism as if they were the same thing. And it's not that Siegel simply doesn't argue for this position, its that he assumes it as evidently true in the course of his argument.


If you look at opinion journalism, you'll often find the author complaining of someone's willful dishonesty and/or lack of basic critical thinking skills. This is the "opponent" (yes, I'm looking for a new name) variety of op-ed.  That's the op-ed directed at specific opponents (this also includes specific fantasy opponents).  This specific type of op-ed is typical of the conservative pundits usually featured on this page.  Paul Krugman is the only liberal I can find who writes frequently in this genre.  So, again, when people ask, "where are the liberals?" this is the answer–they just don't write or argue like their conservative colleagues.  In many respects I think they should.  

The typical opponent op-ed will consist in the claim that the object of criticism fails some basic critical thinking and/or honesty test.  Such charges seem to me to be very serious.  It's also very worthwhile that they be made.  But it's worthwhile especially when they're made properly.  When they're not made properly,they lead to the misspelling of misspelling problem.  In other words, there's a right way to attack an argument and a wrong way. 

It's truly surprising to me, however, how often such charges are made.  Take David Brooks today: 

You wouldn’t know it to look at them, but political consultants are as faddish as anyone else. And the current vogueish advice among the backroom set is: Go after your opponent’s strengths. So in the first volley of what feels like the general election campaign, Barack Obama has attacked John McCain for being too close to lobbyists. His assault is part of this week’s Democratic chorus: McCain isn’t really the anti-special interest reformer he pretends to be. He’s more tainted than his reputation suggests.

This is the basic opponent style attack.  Obama's consultants lack imagination and independent thought (they're part of the chorus!), so they mistakenly go after McCain on his strengths–he's not cozy with lobbyists, as the evidence will show.  Then he proceeds to deal with evidence. 

This, it seems to me, is the wrong way to go about the opponent op-ed.  Brooks sets the whole thing up in psychological terms.  Obama's consultants lack imagination and critical thought–they follow "fads" that lead them into making silly and false claims about McCain.  After a partial list of McCain's achievements on special interests, Brooks concludes:

Over the course of his career, McCain has tried to do the impossible. He has challenged the winds of the money gale. He has sometimes failed and fallen short. And there have always been critics who cherry-pick his compromises, ignore his larger efforts and accuse him of being a hypocrite.

This is, of course, the gospel of the mediocre man: to ridicule somebody who tries something difficult on the grounds that the effort was not a total success. But any decent person who looks at the McCain record sees that while he has certainly faltered at times, he has also battled concentrated power more doggedly than any other legislator. If this is the record of a candidate with lobbyists on his campaign bus, then every candidate should have lobbyists on the bus.

And here’s the larger point: We’re going to have two extraordinary nominees for president this year. This could be one of the great general election campaigns in American history. The only thing that could ruin it is if the candidates become demagogues and hurl accusations at each other that are an insult to reality and common sense.

Maybe Obama can start this campaign over.

The last line made me chuckle a bit (I kept thinking of "the coward with a manly bearing" and Brooks's other vile distortions from the 2004 election–insult to reality!). 

But this remark is also funny because this column is an accusation of the variety Brooks describes.  Brooks is right to respond to the claim that McCain is tainted by special interests.  In fact, if he thinks its false and he has the evidence that it is, then by all means he ought to respond.  This is a crucial function of the opponent op-ed.  It can go directly at the argument–focus the mind of the reader on whether specific claims warrant belief.

But that's where it ought to stop.  Brooks does himself in with the silly framing of his piece: people who wonder about McCain's honesty (and they are legion, by the way) suffer from a fundamental lack of critical skill–or they're mediocre.  We could do, in other words, without the ad hominems.  If it's wrong or misleading to say that McCain is cozy with special interests, then just show why.  Accusing people who think of this of shallow partisan hackery is shallow partisan hackery.  


Maybe writing a column every now and then is harder than it looks.  You first have to find a premise that is thoroughly grounded in conventional wisdom, and then you have to give it an ironic twist that will surprise the person for whom the conventional wisdom is regular wisdom.  That person, call him CW, might for instance, believe that ethanol was the solution to the energy problem: the only one, ever, and it will never be revised, and no new ideas will ever be entertained by anyone at anytime because that idea is awesome.  Or he might believe (at the same time) that cap-and-trade emissions policies were the complete awesome solution, with none better ever imaginable.  But, you'll point out, ethanol isn't perfect.  It will alter agriculture in massive ways without producing the kind of solution CW believed.  

But CW will always have the second, won't he? Not so.  Sebastian Mallaby tells us how.

Obama favors a cap-and-trade regime. This is indeed a good idea, and the candidates are right to back it. But a cap-and-trade system is not the silver bullet that advocates sometimes imply. The same is unfortunately true for that other popular cure-all, a carbon tax.

Oh sometimes–cousin of some–where would we be without you?  You're so vague and malleable.  And you'll stick on anything.  For we don't know who these advocates are or when they make these claims.  No matter.  We're busy showing CW how wrong he was to listen to the CW.  

Besides, some–hee hee–might think it stretches credulity to believe that anyone seriously claims that any of the things Mallaby is talking about are "cure-alls."  And just in case you find his premise as thin as April ice, you'll probably also wonder how this applies to Barack Obama, for whom this article is named–"Obama's missing ideas." 

I was wondering that as well.  But then Mallaby explains. 

So it just isn't true that we have all the good ideas we need — at least not on climate change. And it's peculiar that Obama, the brainiac Harvard grad, should dismiss the importance of fresh thinking this way: He is an intellectual, he is beloved by intellectuals, and yet he poses as an anti-intellectual. If he locks up the Democratic nomination and faces off against a brave old airman with little interest in domestic policy, he will want to encourage a debate about ideas. He has the skills to win it.

I can't fathom what Mallaby is talking about.  Who says we have all of the good ideas we need?  Besides, he hasn't in the first place shown or even attempted to show that Obama is "anti-intellectual" or "dismissive" of "fresh-thinking."  He's established–if you can call it that–that Obama "favors" one perhaps fallible approach to the energy issue.  A quick glance at Obama's website, however, will show you that he favors much else as well.

So let's recap.  Some believe incorrectly and exclusively in solutions that few would seriously believe in.  Obama embraces one of those solutions–among others–and so therefore Obama is running as a moron CW believer, not as the Braniac we know he is.

You’re living in the past

This blog–I used to hate calling it that, but, as you can see, I've gotten over it–has a very simple purpose: we read the papers, we find some misbegotten inferences, and we point that out.  Sometimes, we do other, related things, like discuss general "logical" issues.  It doesn't take a whole lot of smarts.  As a matter of fact, that's the message.  Our intuition some four years ago was that the nature of public argument–especially that of the op-ed pages–was in a very sorry state.  The few people who actually engage in it–the ones listed in the categories here on the page–too frequently do it badly.  Even accounting for the natural limitations of the genre of the op-ed, there doesn't seem to be any excuse for this.  Most of these people have received the best educations (at the highest levels) money can buy.  And so they ought to know when they say stuff that's misleading, unfair, wrong, or just plain nonsense.

Having said that, by way of reminder I suppose, take a gander at David Ignatius.  Last week he was uncertain of Obama, he's gotten over it.  His critical faculty is now directed at Hillary Clinton.  He writes:

The experience issue will dominate the final weeks of the Democratic primary campaign. Hillary Clinton's only remaining trump card is that she has been in the White House before and will be ready, as she repeats so tirelessly, from Day One.

Notice the weaselly adverbial phrase.  This paints a picture of a droning, redundant and repetitive tedium to Clinton's argument.  But Ignatius, true to form, doesn't give us any reasons for thinking that.  Whatever her virtues and vices, Mrs. Clinton has a lot to say on a lot of issues and she differs significantly from Obama in a number of important, and to many voters, attractive ways.  More fundamentally, why would "the experience issue" dominate the final weeks of the campaign?  There is no justification for that claim–the central premise of this piece.  Before we say some words about that, let's see how this paragraph finishes:

But ready for what? For a recapitulation of the people and policies that guided the country in the past? That's an attractive proposition only if you think that the world of the 1990s — or '80s, or '70s — can be re-created.

Ignatius answers his own rhetorical question–"ready for what?" with another rhetorical question.  I suppose that means he's being both rude to himself and clueless about his own rhetorical strategy at the same time.  On top of that, this is just a silly inference.  Having experience, on any reasonable interpretation of that claim, does not obviously entail some kind of intellectual stasis or desire to repeat things over and over redundantly.

Maybe consistency is overrated, but this is what Ignatius said about Obama:

Obama's inexperience is not a fatal flaw, but it's a real issue.

This week he says that Clinton's experience is not a real issue, but it's a fatal flaw.

The plain phenomena

Stanley Fish often plays the equivocation game.  This game consists in solving a real philosophical problem by erasing or denying  some of its critical semantic and conceptual distinctions.  It's more parlor trick than intellectual move.  I heard him do this the other day on NPR's "Talk of the Nation."  Near the end of the section a caller had made the claim that one ought not to vote narrowly on his or her own interests.  Some minutes later, even after another caller had spoken about a different issue, Stanley Fish returned to make the point that it's just false that you cannot vote your own "interests."  It's impossible, in other words, not to vote your interests.  

For those familiar with a little bit of Plato and Aristotle, this sounds a lot like the following: it's impossible, so said Socrates, to know the good and not do it.  If you don't do the good, you don't know what it is.  Those in philosophical land will recognize this as the problem of akrasia.  They will also notice that there might be any number of plausible interpretations of Socrates's position.  Let me draw on one for the purposes of illustration.  You will always do, Socrates seems to say, what you view as the good.  Even if its bad, you view it as the good.  It's the good because all actions aim at the good.  Even if the good is bad.  For you it's the good.  See?

Nor did Aristotle.  He said this view "contradicts the plain phenomena."  People do all the time what they know they shouldn't be doing. 

So on one reading, the Socratic position plays on a semantic ambiguity in order to claim that "doing the good" is a "definitional"  or "analytic" truth. 

Having said all that, let's return to Stanley Fish.  In his column in the New York Times he makes a similar point:

We should distinguish, I think, between two forms of identity politics. The first I have already named “tribal”; it is the politics based on who a candidate is rather than on what he or she believes or argues for. And that, I agree, is usually a bad idea. (I say “usually” because it is possible to argue that the election of a black or female president, no matter what his or positions happen to be, will be more than a symbolic correction of the errors that have marred the country’s history, and an important international statement as well.) The second form of identity politics is what I call “interest” identity politics. It is based on the assumption (itself resting on history and observation) that because of his or her race or ethnicity or gender a candidate might pursue an agenda that would advance the interests a voter is committed to. Not only is there nothing wrong with such a calculation – it is both rational and considered – I don’t see that there is an alternative to voting on the basis of interest.

The last claim–there is no alternative to voting on the basis of interest–has that "analytical" ring to it.  Notice, however, how Fish uses that broad analytical sense of interest to make the more narrow claim that one must vote for one's identity interests. Fish ought to know that these are two rather different senses of the term "interest."  But he doesn't.  Following this he asserts:

The alternative usually put forward is Crouch’s: Vote “for human qualities” rather than sectarian qualities. That is, vote on the basis of reasons everyone, no matter what his or her identity, will acknowledge as worthy.

That really isn't the real alternative.  The real alternative would return to the sensible discussion of interest.  If we grant that it's analytically true that everyone votes his own interest, we can put aside the question of interest as telling us nothing interesting, and return to the discussion we were having before–which of my many interests ought to be the deciding factor in voting in a democracy?  My economic interests?  My racial identity interests?  My religious interests?  My professional interests, my family interests, my friend's interests, my leisure interests, my civic interests?  Knowing that I must vote for one, because that's the nature of reality, doesn't help me figure which one.   

Dueling pundits

Here's Charles Krauthammer:

In fact, in May 2006 Cordesman had written that "no one can argue that the prospects for stability in Iraq are good." Now, however, there is simply no denying the remarkable improvements in Iraq since the surge began a year ago.

Unless you're a Democrat. As Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.) put it, "Democrats have remained emotionally invested in a narrative of defeat and retreat in Iraq." Their Senate leader, Harry Reid, declares the war already lost. Their presidential candidates (eight of them at the time) unanimously oppose the surge. Then the evidence begins trickling in.

I was going to say something like: Wow, you'd have to be insane to disagree with Charles Krauthammer!  Well, ok, primarily because he so frequently calls those who disagree with him insane.  You see, Bush's opponents have so succumbed to Bush Derangement Syndrome that they can't admit the obvious truth.  Krauthammer concludes:

Why? Imagine the transformative effects in the region, and indeed in the entire Muslim world, of achieving a secure and stable Iraq, friendly to the United States and victorious over al-Qaeda. Are the Democrats so intent on denying George Bush retroactive vindication for a war they insist is his that they would deny their own country a now-achievable victory?

Nice complex question! But we know that that's a distraction from the real question.  Krauthammer has shifted focus from the discussion of whether the surge is working, to what psychological diagnosis characterizes those who disagree with the fact that the surge has worked.  I was going to say that I swear.  Then I read Michael Kinsley (on the same page in the Washington Post!):

It is now widely considered beyond dispute that Bush has won his gamble. The surge was a terrific success. Choose your metric: attacks on American soldiers, car bombs, civilian deaths, potholes. They're all down, down, down. Lattes sold by street vendors are up. Performances of Shakespeare by local repertory companies have tripled.

Skepticism seems like sour grapes. If you opposed the surge, you have two choices. One is to admit that you were wrong, wrong wrong. The other is to sound as if you resent all the good news and remain eager for disaster. Too many opponents of the war have chosen option two.

That's right.  All the talk about sour grapes, and the "you're only saying that because" covers up the fact that by all of the metrics offered by the surge supporters, the surge has been a failure.  Or at least, it's an open question as to whether the surge has worked.   Kinsley continues:

But we needn't quarrel about all this, or deny the reality of the good news, to say that at the very least, the surge has not worked yet. The test is simple, and built into the concept of a surge: Has it allowed us to reduce troop levels to below where they were when it started? And the answer is no.

Then he goes on to argue for that.  He arrives at the always more pressing question at the end: 

And consider how modest the administration's standard of success has become. Can there be any doubt that they would go for a reduction to 100,000 troops — and claim victory — if they had any confidence at all that the gains they brag about would hold at that level of support? The proper comparison isn't to the situation a year ago. It's to the situation before we got there. Imagine that you had been told in 2003 that when George W. Bush finished his second term, dozens of American soldiers and hundreds of Iraqis would be dying violently every month; that a major American goal would be getting the Iraqi government to temper its "debaathification" campaign so that Saddam Hussein's former henchmen could start running things again (because they know how); and that "only" 100,000 American troops would be needed to sustain this equilibrium.

You might have several words to describe this situation, but "success" would not be one of them.

And it would be important not to forget that.

Die Goldberg-Variationen

Some may remember Jonah Goldberg's thesis that liberals are the real fascists because (a) they share some ideas with the fascists and (b) they think government ought to make people do stuff for the common good–such as have health insurance, not pollute, not abuse their children, among other things.  The former point of course is just a variation on the fallacy of the undistributed middle–some liberals are vegetarians, some nazis were vegetarians, and, as the Medieval philosophers would say, ergo etc.  The latter however asserts that any application of government's coercive power constitutes fascism.  Not really.  It depends on how that coercive power is asserted–as a matter of fact, one might argue that the differing means of coercion are what distinguish one type of government–or one type of constitution, as the Philosopher might say–from each other.  So it's not what you do, it's how you do what you do that makes you a fascist.  

Goldberg's silly thesis–decried justly by many as an intellectual abomination–had always struck me as eerily reminiscent George Will's basic shtick.  For those familiar with Will's work, he has a couple of basic arguments against liberals.  You'll notice, by the way, the much of his work consists in arguing against liberals–perhaps on the mistaken assumption that such an argument would establish anything about his conservative view.  That, dear readers, would be as silly as me saying George Will's crippling illogic establishes the cogency of my liberal politics.  It doesn't, obviously.  But sometimes I need to repeat that.

Back to his basic arguments.  The more prominent of these is the ad hominem–preferably the tu quoque.  This fallacy, as you know, consists in accusing someone of hypocrisy when such a charge is irrelevant to the particular point that person is making.  True to form, this is how Will opens is piece today:

Judging from complaints by her minions, Hillary Clinton considers it unfair that Barack Obama has been wafted close to the pinnacle of politics by an updraft from the continent-wide swoon of millions of Democrats and much of the media brought on by his Delphic utterances such as "we are the change." But disquisitions on fairness are unpersuasive coming from someone from Illinois or Arkansas whose marriage enabled her to treat New York as her home and the Senate as an entry-level electoral office (only 12 of today's senators have been elected to no other office) and a steppingstone to the presidency.

Even if Clinton considers it "unfair" (which isn't the argument–oh the distortion!–another basic Will tactic), her situation has nothing to do with whether or not Obama deserves his current success.  What he deserves–in treatment by the press and the voters, is, after all, the more likely interpretation of her complaint.  She may or may not have a point on that.  Considering how the press treats her (Cackle anyone? Accusations of murder?), she's probably right.

We see another variation on this a little bit later.  Since the Democrat's moronic adherence to a principle of pure formal equality is unsustainable, they are forced by reality into hypocrisy:

So superdelegates — party dignitaries, most of them elected officials — would have to be. What ethic should guide their decisions? Should each of them vote as did their state or congressional district? Or for the candidate who won the most votes nationally? Or should they think like Edmund Burke?

On Nov. 3, 1774, Burke, an intellectual founder of modern conservatism, delivered a thank-you address to people who, upon hearing it, perhaps wished they had not done what he was thanking them for. They had elected him to represent them in the House of Commons. He told them he was duty-bound to represent the national interest, as he understood that. He said he owed them not obedience but his independent judgment of the public good — independent of "local prejudices" or "local purposes."

Burkean superdelegates among the Democrats? What fun.

This is entertaining first because there's an implicit charge of hypocrisy–how could Democrats act in the way a conservative luminary said he was going to act a long, long time ago?  They're hypocrites because they don't adhere to absolute direct democracy!  Of course, as any sensible person knows, such an accusation is purely moronic.  Direct one-to-one representation isn't any more a Democratic notion of representation as it is a Republican one.  

But it's doubly moronic because of the Goldberghian implication that sharing a view with someone of another political party (a) constitutes some kind of contradiction or (b) means that you share all of your political views in common.  So the Democrats may seem to share a political view with Edmund Burke–a conservative of sorts.  Does this make the Democrats conservatives?  Obviously not. 

It's triply moronic because Will frequently accuses Democrats of too much federalism of the kind Burke describes–too much thinking, in other words, about the common good (as they see it).

Will has other basic tropes–such as the straw man, usually involving selective and distorting quotation–but we'll save that discussion for another time.  Or you can just look at the archives

Captivating rhetoric

To many pundits the challenge of the Obama campaign consists in the separation of "lofty rhetoric" from substance (by the way, the search string "'lofty rhetoric' + Obama" yielded 6,880 hits on Google, go figure).  Such a task, however, seems an odd challenge for people whose job description ought to presume an ability to separate real arguments from their window dressing.  A pundit ought to be able to leap a speech in a single bound.  But no.  For some of them, well three of them so far this week, Obama seems a powerful intoxicant.  Today it's Robert Samuelson's turn.  He begins his "Obama is a mirage" discussion with the now canonical admission that he too was beguiled by his honeyed words:

It's hard not to be dazzled by Barack Obama. At the 2004 Democratic convention, he visited with Newsweek reporters and editors, including me. I came away deeply impressed by his intelligence, his forceful language and his apparent willingness to take positions that seemed to rise above narrow partisanship. Obama has become the Democratic presidential front-runner precisely because countless millions have formed a similar opinion. It is, I now think, mistaken.

There is something about Obama that drives these guys to autobiography:

As a journalist, I harbor serious doubt about each of the most likely nominees. But with Sens. Hillary Clinton and John McCain, I feel that I'm dealing with known quantities. They've been in the public arena for years; their views, values and temperaments have received enormous scrutiny. By contrast, newcomer Obama is largely a stage presence defined mostly by his powerful rhetoric. The trouble, at least for me, is the huge and deceptive gap between his captivating oratory and his actual views.

Whatever you might call him, Samuelson is not a journalist.  He writes on the opinion page, which makes him a pundit, a completely different activity from journalism.  Besides, the following paragraph smacks not of journalism–which would involve an impersonal and objective analysis of facts–but of self-centered opinion offering.  On top of that, how does being a journalist somehow imply "serious doubts" about each of the candidates?    

Besides that, Samuelson offers up the rather strange charge that a "huge and deceptive gap" separates Obama's "captivating oratory" from his "actual views."  Let's sit here for a second and try to figure out what that means.  

It could mean that (1) Obama is a liar, because what he says differs from his actual beliefs.  His beliefs, in other words, are other than what he says they are. 

Or perhaps it means that (2) Obama's captivating rhetoric does not match his views, because his views are not captivating–they're perhaps a little boring or ordinary.  Worse than this, Obama somehow knows this and he works to cover it up.  That's an odd charge.  Actual views are likely not to be "captivating."  Being "captivating" is an attribute rather of rhetoric or art.  The ideas may be plausible or sound or true or some other such thing.  But captivating?  Nope.

So which is it?  I can't really tell.  Because Samuelson's point is too confused to evaluate.   He writes:

The subtext of Obama's campaign is that his own life narrative — to become the first African American president, a huge milestone in the nation's journey from slavery — can serve as a metaphor for other political stalemates. Great impasses can be broken with sufficient goodwill, intelligence and energy. "It's not about rich versus poor; young versus old; and it is not about black versus white," he says. Along with millions of others, I find this a powerful appeal.

But on inspection, the metaphor is a mirage. Repudiating racism is not a magic cure-all for the nation's ills. The task requires independent ideas, and Obama has few. If you examine his agenda, it is completely ordinary, highly partisan, not candid and mostly unresponsive to many pressing national problems.

Samuelson's reading of the "Obama subtext" is baffling.  In the first place, the subtext is an aesthetic category used by critics in their evaluation of literary (or other) works–it isn't a position Obama is actually advocating.  Besides, the remark following that isn't even about race.  All of this is followed by the even more bizarre claim that the "metaphor is a mirage."  It's a mirage, because it turns out, because Samuelson doesn't find Obama's ideas compelling.

That's different.  If Obama's ideas aren't compelling, then perhaps Samuelson could write an article about how they're not.  Taking Obama to task because his ideas do not match the various adjectives Samuelson and other equally vacuous pundits use to describe them doesn't establish anything other than they have the wrong method of evaluation.

And by the way–by all means.  Let's have the discussion of Obama's ideas without the tiresome preamble about how much you had a crush on him.  That's your fault.

Now to be fair, Samuelson goes on to point out his problems with Obama's views.  But he concludes:

The contrast between his broad rhetoric and his narrow agenda is stark, and yet the media — preoccupied with the political "horse race" — have treated his invocation of "change" as a serious idea rather than a shallow campaign slogan. He seems to have hypnotized much of the media and the public with his eloquence and the symbolism of his life story. The result is a mass delusion that Obama is forthrightly engaging the nation's major problems when, so far, he isn't.

Again with the categories.  Stick with the agenda.  Obama has been forthright enough for you to discover his "real" positions on things.  It's not so hard.  After all, you're a "journalist."