. . . Or maybe you’ve changed

To be a pundit you have to be supremely confident that your views are somehow worth printing and worth reading.  Perhaps a consequence of that is that you see your opinions as also remarkably true.  This supreme confidence, however, may lead to your confusing your opinion of how reality is with, get this, how reality is.  Take a look today at David Ignatius, op-ed writer for the Washington Post.  I thought this morning it would be fun to go through the entire piece.  Follow along if you have the patience.  He writes (my intrusions in bold):

"Why is the press going so easy on Barack Obama?" asks a prominent Democratic Party strategist, echoing a criticism frequently made by the Clinton campaign. It's a fair question [it's actually a complex question–is the press easy on Barack Obama, and, if so, what would account for this?], and now that Obama appears to be the front-runner in terms of his delegate count, he deserves a closer look, especially from people like me [people like me–how are people like you?] who have written [I see, writers] positively about him.

The reason to look closely now, quite simply, is to avoid buyer's remorse later [Actually, you don't need to justify looking closely at any candidate's policy or record–that's what you should have been doing before, but apparently didn't, perhaps you should write an essay (for your supervisor) on why you weren't a more diligent and critical pundit].

Obama is a phenomenon in American politics — a candidate who has ignited an enthusiasm among young people that I haven't seen in decades. He promises a nation in which, as his supporters chant, "race doesn't matter." And for a world that is dangerously alienated from American leadership, he offers a new face that could dispel negative assumptions about America — and in that sense boost the nation's standing and security. [This is the set-up–get ready, wait for it]

But these are symbolic qualities. What Obama would actually do as president remains a mystery in too many areas. Before he completes what increasingly looks like a march to the Democratic nomination, Obama needs to clarify more clearly what lies behind the beguiling banner marked "change." [Perhaps again the author could do a little more research before he starts posing problems–Obama has made thousands of speeches during the course of the campaign, he has made numerous specific policy proposals, and he has made all of this available to anyone who bothers.  Ignatius gives the idea that he has decidedly avoided doing this–and that this is some kind of problem]

Let's start with Obama's economic policies. Like all the major candidates, he has a Web site brimming with plans and proposals [sounds boring, but Ignatius ought to read these first before he suggests their absence as the occasion for his op-ed]. But it has been hard to tell how these different strands come together. Is Obama a "New Democrat," in the tradition of Bill Clinton, who would look skeptically at traditional welfare programs? Is he a neopopulist, in the style of his former rival John Edwards, who would make job protection and tax equity his top domestic priorities? Or is he a technocrat, whose economic answers wouldn't be all that different from those of Hillary Clinton? [Does Ignatius mean it's hard to attach a loaded adjective to Obama?  Is it perhaps hard to do that because of the poverty of his categories?]

Time for a breather.  You have probably noticed that the subject of this article is not Obama, but Ignatius's attempts to understand Obama.  Of course, Ignatius presumes his puzzlement is somehow meaningful for Obama, for if David Ignatius, newspaper pundit, can't get it, then, well, you see where that's going.  He continues.

I'm still puzzled about where to locate Obama on this policy map. [Try harder, or reconsider your efforts]  Until the past few weeks, I would have put him somewhere between "New Democrat" and "technocrat." But as he reaches for votes in big industrial states, Obama has been sounding more like Edwards. He proposed a middle-class tax cut a few months ago that would provide a credit of up to $1,000 per family. That's a big policy change that deserves real debate. [More pundit adjectival failure.  But notice, the first part of the paragraph makes that point that Ignatius would have assigned one particular adjective, but then Obama says something different from what Ignatius thought, and Ignatius concludes the change was on Obama's part–not that he perhaps was wrong about Obama–a fact that he ought to consider, in light of the fact that he seems to have viewed him uncritically (and thus the premise of this piece)].

Obama added more Edwardsian flourishes in a speech Wednesday at an auto plant in Wisconsin. He called for a $150 billion program to develop "green collar" jobs and new energy sources. Meanwhile, to fix all the highways and bridges of our automotive society, he proposed a National Infrastructure Reinvestment Bank that would spend $60 billion over 10 years. Obama should be pressed on whether these big programs are affordable for an economy that appears to be in a tailspin. [Now Edwards gets his own adjective.  Again, however, we're left to wonder why these proposals can't be Obama's as well–he is, after all, a Democrat.  And again this rests on the silly premise of this article–that Obama is indeed just like Ignatius's shallow understanding of him, and as Ignatius's understanding or knowledge grows, so actually does the object of his knowledge–Obama.  It's not Ignatius learning, it's Obama changing!]

Foreign policy is the area on which Obama has been longest on rhetoric and shortest on details. I've always liked his line about Iraq, that "we have to be as careful getting out as we were careless getting in." And when I asked Obama last summer what this might mean in practice, he talked about the need for a residual force in and around Iraq and for a gradual, measured pace of troop withdrawals. But in recent months, his tone has suggested a speedier and more decisive departure from Iraq. I fear that Obama is creating public expectations for a quick solution in Iraq that cannot responsibly be achieved. [None of those things Ignatius mentions suggest Obama advocates the very strawmanny "quick solution"–he said Obama said speedier and more decisive–but this doesn't amount to precipitous and irresponsible abandonment.  But as I have read this piece of Ignatius', I'm left to wonder whether he really has much of a grip on what Obama is saying anyway.  His case rests (even the flattering parts he likes) on phrases and quips deprived of context].

Another breather.  I'm wondering at this point why this particularly ill informed individual fancies his ill informed opinions representative of the problem with Obama, rather than with his own lack of journalistic due diligence.  Let's bring this to a close.  

With any candidate, there's always a question about the quality of his advisers. Hillary comes prepackaged as Clinton II, with a retinue of aides-in-waiting that is at once her strength and disadvantage [I'm concerned about the passive voice there with "prepackaged"–I naturally wonder, "prepackaged" by whom?]. Obama's advisers are a mixed group, but I hear some complaints from policy analysts.  [OMG complaints from analysts!–which ones?  Why not say what their complaints are?  Some say only jerks make these kinds of unattributed accusations.]  One of his leading foreign policy gurus, Anthony Lake, was widely criticized as national security adviser in the first Clinton administration [more passive voice–and in the past tense, and vague, criticized by whom and for what?]. His role does not reassure people who wonder what substance lies behind the "change" mantra. [Why? Because he's not sufficiently changeworthy?  Because he's been there before?]

To understand why Obama needs tougher scrutiny now [it seems to me that everyone but Ignatius understands the need for scrutiny now without the specious analogies.  As a matter of fact, the absence of scrutiny is only all too apparent to most of us–he's sitting in the White House.  The object of an overabundance of nitpicking, dishonest  and uninformed scrutiny–Al Gore–isn't], we need only recall his political avatar, President John F. Kennedy. Like Obama, JFK had served a relatively short time in the Senate without compiling a significant legislative record. He was young and charismatic, but uncertain in his foreign and domestic policies, and during his first 18 months JFK was often rebuffed at home and abroad. The CIA suckered him into a half-baked invasion of Cuba. And Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev concluded after an initial meeting that Kennedy was so weak and uncertain that he could be pushed around — a judgment that led to the Cuban missile crisis. [That was more silly than I thought it would be–and more oblivious to the more obvious analogies].

Obama's inexperience is not a fatal flaw, but it's a real issue. He should use the rest of this campaign to give voters a clearer picture of how he would govern — not in style but in substance. [Perhaps Ignatius could pay more close attention to what Obama says rather than what Ignatius hears].

There you have it.  If anything, this demonstrates to me that pundits such as Ignatius have a particularly thin grasp on the subjects they write about–yet they take that thin grasp as representative not of their own ignorance, but of some kind of quality of the thing they're supposed to know.  You see, it's not that Ignatius doesn't pay attention to anything but context-free quips, it's that Obama offers nothing else. 

One thought on “. . . Or maybe you’ve changed”

  1. This a weird sort of piece, one where the author assumes everyone else is a shallow and insipid as himself. Ignatius can’t fathom that Obama would have principled stance on the issues, because he (Ignatius) doesn’t have principled stance on anything. He gets paid for this dreck!?

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