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.
4 thoughts on “Liberal Intelligentsia”
Ha! It does count mightily against a writer who has chosen only weak arguments to rebut buthe cannot even effectively defeat them. Best line: "Any reference to Richard Cohen is by definition weak-manning. "
A question: if we give Krauthammer the free pass on the 'nobody's challenging the legality' point, does his original smear on Obama work? Is this an extension of the 'tone deaf' charge from last year's health care debate?
When I read a columnist like Krauthammer, my thought isn't that his approach "often confuses fallacious forms of argument with valid ones" – at least, if we are assuming that his confusion isn't largely feigned. I will grant, you can set a watch by his arguments on the Middle East, Islam and any Democratic president, so it is not unreasonable to infer that he isn't capable of approaching certain issues with a logical, cool head. But I have a feeling that his approach is often deliberate, to cover for what he knows is a specious or weak argument. Demagoguery.
"you can set your watch by…" nice. I think that's right. To me, however, he projects geniuine confusion. He really thinks the others are the ones who are completely illogical.
Nicely done, Mr. Casey. I don't have anything to add except a link to a question (analogy) that you might enjoy reading: http://philosophersplayground.blogspot.com/2010/08/just-asking.html
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