You’re living in the past

I’m impressed by Michael Gerson’s attempt to turn someone’s having been right about something into a liability.  He concedes the point that Obama has been right about Iraq in the past–it seems, according to Gerson (himself one of the chief rhetorical motivators for invading Iraq), that invading Iraq was a colossally bad idea.  (Good for him, good Christian that he is.  But there ought to be some penance involved in that admission–especially on account of the key role he played in making it a reality.  Maybe he ought not to seek the credulity of the reading public.  But I digress.)

Back to the argument.  Since Obama cites having been right about Iraq as a credential when he now argues about Iraq, he’s "living in the past."

The situation in Iraq, as Gen. Petraeus insists, is "fragile and
reversible." But the debate has moved far beyond a candidate’s initial
support for the war. This has led to an odd inversion of the
generational battle. Young Obama’s strongest arguments are focused "on
the failures of the past." The older man, by insisting on victory, is
more responsible and realistic about the future.

This has the air of a sophism about it.  Judgments about the future rely on the past in two ways.  (a) One who has a record of being right in the past will justifiably point that out as a credential; (b) what is going to happen can only be determined on the grounds of what has happened.  So naturally in order to decide resolve what to do in Iraq, one will have to focus on the failure of the past–failures, Obama would point out, John McCain’s keen political judgment is responsible for. 

So the question, "who is more responsible and realistic about the future" depends, of course, on the past.  For, "who has been more responsible and realistic [on this specific problem, by the way] in the past?" seems to be a rather reasonable way to resolve who will be more responsible in the future.

But what do I know.  I was right about Invading Iraq.

2 thoughts on “You’re living in the past”

  1. Something about this first sentence:
    It is a political error for a candidate to believe that voters who agree with him will always end up supporting him.

    really irks me. First off, is this really a belief of any politician, let alone one of Obama’s stripe? I grant Gerson the basic premise, that ushc a belief is political folly, but that seems to be the very reason why it’s ridiculous that Obama would hold such a belief. I find it hard to believe a politician as polished as Obama would fall prey this sort of hubris. So, in one sense, it seems Gerson’s begun from a self-refuting premise…or maybe I’m making a bit of a "no true Scotsman" claim and not being fair to Gerson.
    Secondly, and relatedly, I don’t think Obama’s "I was right on Iraq from the start" claims are premised on a belief that these claims will garner him everlasting support. Rather they seem to stem from him having his finger on the pulse of the electorate. Americans are largely disenchanted with the war, Obama was never enchanted by it, and he’s using that (now apparent) foresight to his advantage. It’s almost as if Gerson’s trying to knock Obama off that platform by warning him "Be careful, you might get what you ask for!" by implying that Obama’s campaign is premised largely on his anti-war stance (which it isn’t, but hey, why not oversimplfy while we’re strawmanning), so, should he be elected and manage to end the war, then all his support wil dry up. It’s almost as if Gerson thinks the continued existence of the war is all that gives Obama momentum, which is ridiculously oversimplified view of this campaign.
    Then again, maybe I’m just being uncharitable.

  2. I love it.  What do you get if you cross Hume’s problem of induction with a Mobius strip?  This argument. further, not only were you right about Iraq, but you are also right that you were right about Iraq.  Hence, not only is your point here in doubt, but also the intellectual foundation upon which your point rests.  It is a meta-skeptical disproof based upon previous success.  

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