Ad fortunam

As general election approaches, David Brooks, the man who called John Kerry a "coward with a manly bearing" (because he failed to see the war on terrorism as the "24"-inspired pornographic film that David Brooks insisted it was) has drawn a bead on Obama and Obama supporters: they're like insane drug-addicted cult freaks. Yes, all three, watch:

At first it seemed like a few random cases of lassitude among Mary Chapin Carpenter devotees in Berkeley, Cambridge and Chapel Hill. But then psychotherapists began to realize patients across the country were complaining of the same distress. They were experiencing the first hints of what’s bound to be a national phenomenon: Obama Comedown Syndrome.

The afflicted had already been through the phases of Obama-mania — fainting at rallies, weeping over their touch screens while watching Obama videos, spending hours making folk crafts featuring Michelle Obama’s face. These patients had experienced intense surges of hope-amine, the brain chemical that fuels euphoric sensations of historic change and personal salvation.

But they found that as the weeks went on, they needed more and purer hope-injections just to preserve the rush. They wound up craving more hope than even the Hope Pope could provide, and they began experiencing brooding moments of suboptimal hopefulness. Anxious posts began to appear on the Yes We Can! Facebook pages. A sense of ennui began to creep through the nation’s Ian McEwan-centered book clubs.

And on and on with such childishness.  Brooks means to claim, of course, that such a mythic picture he has drawn of Obama cannot withstand his critical scrutiny:

As the syndrome progresses, they begin to ask questions about The Presence himself:

Barack Obama vowed to abide by the public finance campaign-spending rules in the general election if his opponent did. But now he’s waffling on his promise. Why does he need to check with his campaign staff members when deciding whether to keep his word?

Obama says he is practicing a new kind of politics, but why has his PAC sloshed $698,000 to the campaigns of the superdelegates, according to the Center for Responsive Politics? Is giving Robert Byrd’s campaign $10,000 the kind of change we can believe in?

If he values independent thinking, why is his the most predictable liberal vote in the Senate? A People for the American Way computer program would cast the same votes for cheaper.

Let's say for the sake of argument that these and Brooks' other charges are absolutely true.  It hasn't occurred to Brooks that Obama's supporters are well aware of his positions and support him, even enthusiastically, anyway.  Doing so doesn't make them crazy, drug addicted, or cultish, it more likely means they've made a considered choice, given the options.  If Brooks thinks they don't know these sorts of facts about politicians, then perhaps he could produce some evidence to that effect.

All of this insistence on Obama's success amounts to a distraction technique: an argumentum ad fortunam.  We might refine our definition of this fallacy somewhat.  Legitimately questioning a politician running for office is our obligation as citizens in a democracy, sneering about his popularity simply in virtue of his popularity is another matter.  It's like the kid in high school who didn't like your band because it was popular.

5 thoughts on “Ad fortunam”

  1. What if you try to show that there is no good reason that the band should be popular in the first place?
    Maybe popularity and sound reasoning don’t have that much in common anyway 🙂

  2. My favorite part is the cheap shot about how Obama has to check with his staffers – as though Brooks’ preferred candidates are running campaigns out of their kitchens with no paid staff. Very DIY.

  3. _What if you try to show that there is no good reason that the band should be popular in the first place?_

    That’s just the point; Brooks assumes that we, the people, are so appallingly stupid that we couldn’t possibly follow anyone with actual policy objectives and such that we know and want to see implemented. He assumes, therefore, that since we like Obama, his policies must be fluff, because we only follow fluff. It’s elitist rhetoric, pure and simple. Brooks has to stop we, the lemmings, from falling off the cliff, because we just don’t know any better. It would be fine if Brooks had principled objections to specific policies of Obama’s, but he doesn’t. He just has this shallow, circular critique not even of Obama, but of his followers.

  4. you’re right

    This is not a new fallacy … this is the old bad company fallacy.
    Brooks concludes that Obama is not worth following because he dislikes Obama’s followers.

    It’s not so much the popular part of it … it’s who are those people.
    I’m sure he would have no problem with them if they were supporting whomever he supports.

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