Western Way of Reason

Culture Warrior Ross Douthat, columnist at the New York Times, opines on the coming religious war:

But in making the opening to Anglicanism, Benedict also may have a deeper conflict in mind — not the parochial Western struggle between conservative and liberal believers, but Christianity’s global encounter with a resurgent Islam.

Here Catholicism and Anglicanism share two fronts. In Europe, both are weakened players, caught between a secular majority and an expanding Muslim population. In Africa, increasingly the real heart of the Anglican Communion, both are facing an entrenched Islamic presence across a fault line running from Nigeria to Sudan.

Where the European encounter is concerned, Pope Benedict has opted for public confrontation. In a controversial 2006 address in Regensburg, Germany, he explicitly challenged Islam’s compatibility with the Western way of reason — and sparked, as if in vindication of his point, a wave of Muslim riots around the world.

The riots reference is silly and self-congratulatory, but "the Western way of reason" as an exclusive European notion betrays and ignorance of both the notions of "western" and "reason." 

Douthat at least, as a graduate of college, ought to know there would be precious little Western way of reason worth giving a crap about without, for instance, Averroe–che il gran commento feo.

So it's compatible, to say the least–one wonders, however, about whether Douthat's militant Christianity is. 

It’s not so hard

We've seen I think no shortage of really bad arguments against health care reform.  Arguments against, in my humble opinion, ought to take one of two forms: attack the facts (honestly), or criticize (honestly) the inferences drawn thereupon.  Looking around the op-ed pages one finds precious little of that.  This is either because the authors don't know how to do this (likely) or they're too lazy or dishonest to try (more likely).  Maybe, however, they don't think they'd be successful (maybe likely).  

Having said that, I was pleased to read this on a left-leaning blog (Political Animal):

When it comes to reform opponents pushing back against polls showing support for a public option, they have some credible options to choose from.

Conservatives could, for example, argue that there's still some confusion about the policy details, so the poll results should be taken with a grain of salt. That's not unreasonable. They could also argue that the public has simply embraced a bad idea, and that what it popular is not always right. That, too, is a plausible approach.

Simply pretending that the polls don't exist, however, is far more annoying.

See, it's really not very hard to have a meaningful discussion.

It’s good to be a gangster

George Will defends the crazy:

After six years in the state Legislature, she ran for Congress and now, in her second term, has become such a burr under Democrats' saddles that recently the New York Times profiled her beneath a Page One headline: "GOP Has a Lightning Rod, and Her Name Is Not Palin." She is, however, a petite pistol that occasionally goes off half-cocked.

For example, appearing on MSNBC's "Hardball" 18 days before last year's election, she made the mistake of taking Chris Matthews's bait and speculating about whether Barack Obama and some other Democrats have "anti-American" views. In the ensuing uproar — fueled by people who were not comparably scandalized when George W. Bush was sulfurously vilified — her opponent raised nearly $2 million and her lead shrank from 13 points to her winning margin of three.

Well, as Will is fond of saying as he prepares an objection, the unspecified sulfurous vilification on the part of an unidentified some does not justify the loony-toons McCarthyism of a member of the United States House of Representatives.

More funny, however, is Will's defense of Bachmann.  He writes:

Some of her supposed excesses are, however, not merely defensible, they are admirable. For example, her June 9 statement on the House floor in which she spoke of "gangster government" has been viewed on the Internet about 2 million times. She noted that, during the federal takeover of General Motors, a Democratic senator and one of her Democratic House colleagues each successfully intervened with GM to save a constituent's dealership from forced closure. One of her constituents, whose dealership had been in the family for 90 years, told her that the $15 million dealership had been rendered worthless overnight, and, Bachmann said, "GM is demanding that she hand over her customer list," probably to give it to surviving GM dealerships that once were competitors.

In her statement, Bachmann repeatedly called such politicization of the allocation of economic rewards "gangster government." And she repeatedly noted that the phrase was used by a respected political analyst, Michael Barone, principal co-author of the Almanac of American Politics, who coined it in connection with the mugging of GM bondholders in the politicized bankruptcy. Bachmann, like Barone, was accurate.

Some of Bachmann's excesses are defensible because (1) her speech on the house floor has been viewed 2 million times; (2) "respected political analyst (and not definitely right wing hack) Michael Barone coined the term she used repeatedly to describe the actions of a government run by a black guy.  I wonder if the term would have been as effective if the President were a white guy from Texas.  Probably not.  To open up a parenthesis, here's Michael Barone on the Democratic party (via Steve Benen):

that the Republican Party is the party of people who are considered, by themselves and by others, as normal Americans—Northern white Protestants in the 19th century, married white Christians more recently—while the Democratic Party is the party of the out groups who are in some sense seen, by themselves and by others, as not normal—white Southerners and Catholic immigrants in the 19th century, blacks and white seculars more recently.

Ah, normality–certainly a guy with views like that would mean gangster only in the most innocuous way. 

Anyway, back to the point.  One might concede that the bankruptcy of GM was politicized.  That's like the discovery of hot water.  Is it proper to describe political actions you don't agree with as a "mugging" or "gangster"?  I don't think so. 

UPDATE: turns out the "gangster government" allegation was shown to be false a mere two days after it was made.

They had better watch what they say*

No surprise that Charles Krauthammer would jump to the defense of Fox News:

The White House has declared war on Fox News. White House communications director Anita Dunn said that Fox is "opinion journalism masquerading as news." Patting rival networks on the head for their authenticity (read: docility), senior adviser David Axelrod declared Fox "not really a news station." And Chief of Staff Emanuel told (warned?) the other networks not to "be led [by] and following Fox."

Meaning? If Fox runs a story critical of the administration — from exposing "green jobs" czar Van Jones as a loony 9/11 "truther" to exhaustively examining the mathematical chicanery and hidden loopholes in proposed health-care legislation — the other news organizations should think twice before following the lead.

The signal to corporations is equally clear: You might have dealings with a federal behemoth that not only disburses more than $3 trillion every year but is extending its reach ever deeper into private industry — finance, autos, soon health care and energy. Think twice before you run an ad on Fox.

I'd say he's not even close and it's a joke to suggest that Fox is not opinion journalism.  The White House has correctly pointed that out, and so have many others.  Nobody is challenging Fox's right to be opinionated rightward, they're only bothering to point out what everyone already knows.

Given Fox's sorry record of GOP worship and partisan hackery in its news division, Krauthammer changes the subject to the slightly related, but dishonest claim that the White House wants to shut it down.  What would that be, a straw man or a red herring?  I'd call it a straw man as it alleges the replacement position (shut Fox down!) is the White House's actual position.

Anyway, here's the funny part:

Factions should compete, but they should also recognize the legitimacy of other factions and, indeed, their necessity for a vigorous self-regulating democracy. Seeking to deliberately undermine, delegitimize and destroy is not Madisonian. It is Nixonian

Roger Ailes, President of Fox News Channel ought to know–he worked for Nixon as a media consultant.

*On the title of this post, see here.

Omaha Beach

Instead of pointing out the usual collection of arcane reference plus caricature plus straw man plus falsehood plus right wing thing tank evidence that is nearly every non-baseball George Will column, let's marvel at this WWII veteran–speaking in favor of equal rights for gays and lesbians.  

In case you don't have time to watch the full video–you should–here's a key passage:

I am here today because of a conversation I had last June when I was voting. A woman at my polling place asked me, "Do you believe in equal, equality for gay and lesbian people?" I was pretty surprised to be asked a question like that. It made no sense to me. Finally I asked her, "What do you think our boys fought for at Omaha Beach?" I haven't seen much, so much blood and guts, so much suffering, much sacrifice. For what? For freedom and equality. These are the values that give America a great nation, one worth dying for.


Straw hominem

Via Media Matters, another great day for the Washington Post.  Defender of the Catholic faith, Bill Donahue writes:

There are many ways cultural nihilists are busy trying to sabotage America these days: multiculturalism is used as a club to beat down Western civilization in the classroom; sexual libertines seek to upend the cultural order by attacking religion; artists use their artistic freedoms to mock Christianity; Hollywood relentlessly insults people of faith; activist left-wing legal groups try to scrub society free of the public expression of religion; elements in the Democratic party demonstrate an animus against Catholicism; and secular-minded malcontents within Catholicism and Protestantism seek to sabotage their religion from the inside.

Now I wonder, sure there are a few secular nihilists who might fit this description, but I think Donahue has knowingly exaggerated their importance.  Now there are lots of people who are "secular" or who would insist on a "secular" (or at least non-sectarian) approach to governing, but that does not mean they are "nihilists."  So I wonder, is this a straw man of the weak man variety, an ad hominem of the abusive variety, or some kind of blend, a straw hominem.  Could it perhaps be a hollow hominem?

Montage sequence

A while ago I added a category called "narrativism."  This involves pushing narratives about people or events as authentic accounts while knowing such narratives are genre-drive stories, driven by ideology, laziness, or aesthetics, and therefore likely misleading when taken as biography and therefore not worthy of a discourse such as ours ought to be.  There was an example of this yesterday, today another:

Obama's lack of a bonded — as opposed to an associative — constituency is costing him. The political left is carping because it cannot be sure he is one of them. The right carps also, but it alone knows that Obama is not one of them. He doesn't go way back with the unions — he doesn't go way back with anything — and the Jews are having second thoughts.

In a conventional movie, the hero has to change. Something has to happen — the moment when character is revealed. Maybe he loses the girl and has to get her back. In politics, something similar is supposed to happen. You've got to have your PT-109, your Sunrise at Campobello, your walk on the beach with Billy Graham, your combat epiphany in Vietnam, your impoverished childhood, your peanut-farming family, your mission work abroad, your haberdashery that goes bankrupt.

Obama has those moments — abandoned by his father, biracial in a world that prefers things neat, raised in Indonesia — but they are not cited as life-changing events. None of them, at any rate, are given much importance in the documentary. Even the bitter primary fight with Hillary Clinton — all that ugly stuff about race and Bill Clinton, of all people, being accused of playing the race card — could have been happening to someone else. Obama observes his own life. He's not a participant. He calls Hillary to congratulate her on some insignificant win. "Bye bye," he says without bitterness as he snaps his phone shut. He could have been talking to anyone.

Does any of this matter, or is it merely interesting — themes for a columnist ducking Afghanistan for yet another week? I am not sure. If Obama ends the deepest recession since the Great Depression, if he enacts health-care reform, if he succeeds in Afghanistan, then his presidency will have been remarkable, maybe even great — the triumph of intellect. The man will be his own movement.

But if he fails in all or most of that, it will be because it is not enough to be the smartest person in the room. Warmth and commitment matter, too — a driving sense of conviction, the fulsome embrace of causes and not just issues. That is not something Obama has yet shown. See the movie.

That's Richard Cohen.  He's talking about a movie about Obama, not Obama the person, but it's not clear to him, or to us, that he's aware that he's aware of the difference.

Fighting the war three or four wars ago

George Will is a man from another time (via Digby).  Discussing what Obama ought to do about Afghanistan, a roundtable of roundtable generals "weighed in" on ABC's This Week with George Stephanopoulos:

NOONAN:  “I think it is an old cliché in Washington that a leader, a president must be both feared and revered.  I think this president's problems don't have to do with his personality and fearsomeness.  I think it has to do with policy issues.” 

DIONNE: “It takes a lot more toughness to say to your generals, "No," or, "Tell me why you really want to do this," than it does to go along with the generals.  So I think on that front, it's wrong.

 WILL: “The danger is that this narrative about him not being tough enough occurs in the midst of, A.) the argument about Afghanistan, where to prove you're tough, you might want to escalate, and, B.) when he has to make a decision about the public option.  One thing he could do is jettison the public option, offend his left and make himself look moderate, but can he offend his left on the public option and escalate in Vietnam — in Afghanistan?” 

TAPPER: “No, I don't think so.  What you hear from — from them, when you ask them about this narrative, is, yes, we've heard this before.  Is he tough enough to beat Hillary Clinton?  Is he tough enough to beat John McCain?  I think they think that they proved — I think empirically they proved that — that he was able to do both those things. “

KRUGMAN: “I think a lot of people are basically just complaining that he's a Democrat.”

What do you think?

In Viet Nam?

Aside from that, notice the clever use of the impersonal: "this narrative about him not being tough enough occurs."  Why doesn't he say, we tell this narrative about him–in other words, we characterize him as not being tough enough, or we make this a question of cojones, or some other manly property (when it really ought to be a narrative about wise policy)?

It is by definition opinion

Howard Kurtz is media critic for the Washington Post.  He also hosts "Reliable Sources," a meta-media show, Sunday mornings on CNN.  Many claim there is a conflict of interest in his having two roles, one of which would seem to involve criticizing the other.  Many more claim that for a media critic, he really has a sorry idea of what constitutes media criticism.  Please enjoy the following exchange (via mediactive via Atrios):

Fairfax County, Va.: Hi Howard, This Sunday, I read the editorials in The Post and The New York Times about the surprise Peace Prize. I liked the NYT editorial (which was pro), but like most of us, including Obama, I could certainly have handled an editorial that was anti this choice.

When I read The Washington Post editorial, I felt so sad for what this paper has become. Their whole idea was that the prize should have gone to Neda, the woman who was murdered by the Iranian police. Nobel Peace Prizes can’t be given posthumously. It’s a basic, easy factcheck. There are other fact problems, too (the protests hadn’t happened by the nomination date, Neda may not have been a protester).

So the idea that the committee made a careless or inappropriate choice is refuted by a slapdash editorial “choice” that nobody bothered to check? It just screamed out to me “we laid off almost all the copy editors.” I feel so sad for The Post I grew up with. It’s great to have an opinion. It’s bad to look dumb.

Howard Kurtz: I take your point about no posthumous awards, though by that standard Martin Luther King couldn’t have won after being assassinated (yes, I know he won the prize earlier). My reading of the piece was that Neda was being used more as a symbol (though the rule should have been mentioned). But it’s an editorial. It is by definition opinion. Of course some readers are going to disagree.

The Washington Post editorial board made a straightforward factual error in their opinion piece.  That can happen, because such opinion pieces are really collections of facts which purport to lead to other facts.  Some call those collections "arguments."  Arguments based on facts which are not facts are called uncogent or unsound, or, as some say around here (academia), "sucky."  

That Kurtz does not know the difference between a fact and an opinion means he has no business reading the the op-ed page (let alone discussing it).