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.

3 thoughts on “Brainiac”

  1. I think Mallaby’s “argument” relates to a common Republican position on the energy/environment issue.

    1. We do not have enough information on any particular proposal to judge whether it would be an overall boon to the U.S.
    2. Doing nothing right now is not obviously worse than any of the proposals and their unknown consequences.
    3. Therefore, we shouldn’t interfere with policy until we better understand the causal relationships involved.

    Because Obama actually wants to DO something–i.e., implement the solution which he favors–and because I suspect that Mallaby believes proposition 2, Obama’s actions are viewed to be unwarranted and reckless.

    I’m not proposing that the argument is good, I’m just proposing a way to read it which at least makes his jump to the conclusion explicable.

  2. jc, what’s up with the autoformating stuff WordPress does? It list-ified my numbers in a tiny font, and ate all of my em-dashes.

  3. I don’t know why it does that. But I don’t think Mallaby embraces option 2, as you suggest.

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