If Republicans claim that two plus two equals six, and Democrats claim that two plus two equals eight, then the American people will usually decide that two plus two equals seven. The point isn’t that Americans can’t do math (nobody can these days) but that Americans act and vote as though the best possible option is the middle one.
The middle way is politically important, which is why most politicians claim to be centrists and carefully deride any extremist who does out of the mainstream things like claiming that two plus two equals four. The exception that proves the rule is Barry Goldwater: “I would remind you that extremism in the defense of liberty is no vice! And let me remind you also that moderation in the pursuit of justice is no virtue!” In 1964, Americans went with their usual moderation.
A key to Barack Obama’s political success is that he’s soothing and seems moderate. If Republicans want to beat him, they need to make a serious, mainstream critique of him and avoid wading into the fever swamps. In short, they need to avoid Michael Moore disease.
Enter Donald Trump. He has no experience in elected office, a sordid past, and would be unknown were it not for his knack self-promotion. We cannot even call him a reliable money maker, as he’s had to declare business bankruptcy and nearly had to declare personal bankruptcy. But he’s fueling the Birther movement in an attempt to wound Obama. Given that Obama’s certificate of live birth can be seen on Snopes.com, we must wonder how President Trump would spend taxpayer money if this is how he wastes his own cash.
Yet this isn’t the worst that Trump can do.
The precedent here is Michael Moore’s attempt to defeat Bush in 2004. Plenty of moderates and conservatives had serious reservations about George W. Bush: he signed campaign finance reform, spent money like water, and didn’t seem to realize that the Iraq war was inexorably turning into a fiasco. But Moore’s unserious critique overshadowed anything that the mainstream Democrats churned out. In Michael Moore’s world, Bush was chimpymcburtonbushitler who went to war for oil and to torture minority children. Bush won reelection because he seemed like a moderate adult compared to the crazies who drowned out John Kerry.
Bush himself remained vulnerable (Moore wasn’t the only fat target on offer this year). There was a serious critique of his presidency to be made, and occasionally more sophisticated Democrats—such as the suave editorial writers at the New Yorker, or even, sometimes, Kerry himself—would make it. But it was the Moore caricature that got the true believers’ hearts started every morning and that came to define the Democratic attacks on Bush. And the caricature, unlike the substantive critique, was absurd, and was understood as absurd by anyone not already consumed with hatred for the object of the caricature.
Hate is nothing new in American politics, needless to say. It’s probably [as] unavoidable as a leaven in the loaf. But its dangers have seldom been so evident as they were this year. Democrats might want to reacquaint themselves with Nixon’s farewell. Michael Moore is too clever and cynical a showman to destroy himself, as Nixon did. Democrats who succumbed to Moore’s showmanship may not be so fortunate.
Donald Trump will always land on his lenders’ feet. What will Republicans land on?
Normally if Mark Levin posted a link to Reason it would be cause for celebration at the Jamie household. If an arch-conservative like Levin can see the value in us squishy cocktail sipping libertarians then there might actually be some hope.
Then he goes and says something like this:
Marx and Engels preached destroying the existing society, as does Barack Obama with his transformations, as apparently do the Rockwellians.
Look I have my disagreements with President Obama on a whole host of issues, almost all of them in fact. To say that he preaches destroying existing society is just a realm of crazy I’m not willing to go to. This kind of reckless demagoguery might be great for building a sizable audience of people who already agree with you, but its not going to convince anyone not already on your side.
Let me start by saying this is silly and counterproductive. Whatever criticisms may or may not exist regarding Obama’s failure to produce a birth certificate, his mother was an American citizen, so he is an American citizen. The notion of excluding from the presidency Americans born overseas, such as George Meade or John McCain, is stupid.
Nonetheless, I find it very, very hard to disagree with this:
[There is a subset of birthers] where I would put myself – a person:
1) who wonders why it is so difficult for Obama to provide an actual Birth Certificate; and
2) who sees a connection between the lack of details and secrecy regarding Obama’s birth and the lack of details and secrecy about so much else of Obama’s life – his connections to Ayers, his grades in college, the papers he published, the lectures he taught, etc.
I don’t think Obama was born in Kenya or any other place other than Hawaii.
But I find it outrageous and ridiculous that we know more about Sarah Palin and Joe the Plumber than we know about Obama.
There was an effort during the 2008 campaign to hide and misrepresent parts of Obama’s life. I have a feeling that in 2012, those who raise questions about unaccounted for periods of his pre-presidential life will be asked, “Why didn’t you ask that in 2008?” Of course, we did. Of course, we didn’t get answers. And, of course, the next time these questions are relevant we’ll simply be told that they’re old news, or somesuch.
Obviously, Obama didn’t produce a birth certificate in 2008 because he wanted to let his detractors continue on like rabid dogs and make fools of themselves. In the words of Borat, “Great success!” But the real story behind that is that the same news media who dared to ask who Trig’s real mother was is perfectly content with the “other-people-say-it’s-so-so-it’s-so” story from the Obama camp.In a world where journalists were actually curious quesiton-askers, instead of partisan ass-kissers, every reporter for every paper in the land would be a birther to one degree or another.
I wasn’t expecting a PhD thesis (and in fact had hoped to write a post supporting the book as a well-reasoned case for certain principles that upset academics just because it didn’t employ a bunch of pseudo-intellectual tropes). But when I waded into the first couple of chapters, I found that – while I had a lot of sympathy for many of its basic points – it seemed to all but ignore the most obvious counter-arguments that could be raised to any of its assertions. This sounds to me like a pretty good plain English meaning of epistemic closure. The problem with this, of course, is that unwillingness to confront the strongest evidence or arguments contrary to our own beliefs normally means we fail to learn quickly, and therefore persist in correctable error.
I’m not expert on many topics the book addresses, so I flipped to its treatment of a subject that I’ve spent some time studying – global warming – in order to see how it treated a controversy for which I’m at least familiar with the various viewpoints and some of the technical detail.
It was awful. It was so bad that it was like the proverbial clock that chimes 13 times – not only is it obviously wrong, but it is so wrong that it leads you to question every other piece of information it has ever provided.
There are many reasons to write a book. One view is that a book is just another consumer product, and if people want to buy Jalapeno-and-oyster flavored ice cream, then companies will sell it to them. If the point of Liberty and Tyranny was to sell a lot of copies, it was obviously an excellent book. Further, despite what intellectuals will often claim, most people (including me) don’t really want their assumptions challenged most of the time (e.g., the most intense readers of automobile ads are people who have just bought the advertised car, because they want to validate their already-made decision). I get that people often want comfort food when they read. Fair enough. But if you’re someone who read this book in order to help form an honest opinion about global warming, then you were suckered. Liberty and Tyranny does not present a reasoned overview of the global warming debate; it doesn’t even present a reasoned argument for a specific point of view, other than that of willful ignorance. This section of the book is an almost perfect example of epistemic closure.
I’ve had a half-mind to read Liberty & Tyranny for much of the same reason I read Twilight and saw Avatar: not only because they’re all wildly popular, but also because people I know and trust found profoundly disliked them, and I’m curious to see who’s right. Next time I’m a the library, I’ll borrow a copy.
But I will purchase — at full price, if necessary — Manzi’s next book.
Update: Predictable reactions form Manzi’s fellow Cornerites, K-Lo and Andy McCarthy.
I think I have finally coalesced my aversion to listening to Mark Levin into a workable theory. First listen to this. From my experiences listening to Levin over the last 2 years (admittedly not every day, but once or twice a week), this clip is pretty emblematic. I’ve come to the following conclusion:
I just don’t have the desire to be that angry for 3 hours a day.
I have other things going on in my life, work, friends, relationships. I just don’t need my blood pressure spiking like that. Ignore the fact that Levin is making sweeping generalizations about a fictional person that hasn’t even been nominated to a Supreme Court vacancy that doesn’t exist yet, and focus a moment on the style. Levin’s schtick (an admittedly very successful one) is a combination of bombast and anger filtered through an incredibly high pitched nasally voice that causes his screams to feel like nails on a chalkboard. The fact that this outpouring of rage stems from a truly impressive intellect is almost totally lost to me.
I guess some people have a desire to be enraged all the time. I’m just not one of them.
The Rush video is long so I’ll quote the relevant passage here:
….Yes, I think in the Haiti earthquake, ladies and gentlemen — in the words of Rahm Emanuel — we have another crisis simply too good to waste. This will play right into Obama’s hands. He’s humanitarian, compassionate. They’ll use this to burnish their, shall we say, “credibility” with the black community — in the both light-skinned and dark-skinned black community in this country. It’s made-to-order for them. That’s why he couldn’t wait to get out there, could not wait to get out there.
This, ladies and gentlemen – is why we don’t deserve to lead.
In my haste earlier I posted the wrong Limbaugh video. Here is the one I meant
The man I call Billy Bob Gasket had been involved in Arkansas politics for thirty years or more. He was used to its homegrown scandals and the mostly harmless diversions enjoyed by members of its ruling class. In this spirit, back in the early 1970s, he became an energetic booster of the young Rhodes Scholar who’d come home from Oxford and Yale with the impressive hair and the glimmering eye and the semi-permanent catch in his voice.
Then, along about Clinton’s first term as governor, Gasket noticed something. Bill Clinton was different. He was not just another in the long line of amiable cads and genial roués who had grasped power in Arkansas since Reconstruction. The new governor was, Gasket came to believe, the least principled, sleaziest politician he had ever seen at work. That the lack of principle and sleaziness were lacquered over with twinkly charm and vaguely progressive politics made the situation, for Gasket, all the more maddening.
And maddening is the word. As Clinton was returned again and again to office, Gasket was at first disbelieving, then agog, and finally crazed. Why couldn’t his fellow Arkansans see the truth? Why couldn’t they penetrate the governor’s sheath of bogus empathy and concern to see the creature of seething ambition and power hunger and raw cynicism that writhed so self-evidently beneath? Gasket became a hair-puller, a lapel-grabber, a mid-sentence interrupter, a nut. When, in the late 1980s, national reporters began trickling into the state to look over the promising young governor with national ambitions, their search for knowledgeable Clinton watchers led them inevitably to Gasket, and they found a madman.
Clinton became president. Gasket Disease trailed him like a cloud. It laid waste to Republican ranks in Washington and far beyond, to vast stretches of the country at large–by the end, if I read the polls correctly, roughly a third of all Americans had succumbed. Those who caught the disease didn’t just dislike Clinton, as, say, they might have disliked Jimmy Carter. The crux of Gasket Disease was not contempt but unendurable frustration. They could not fathom why everyone else didn’t grasp his essential, transparent fraudulence: the phoniness of the lower-lip-bite, the moist insincerity of the smile, the vanity in every tilt of the carefully coifed head. As with syphilis, so with Gasket Disease: Some Republicans recovered, others were driven mad.
It appears that someone has now fallen victim to the Obama version of Billy Bob Gasket disease:
Recently we were uplifted when the president informed Chrysler’s secured creditors that they had agreed to donate their ownership stake in the company to the United Auto Workers. Just last week, we were enthralled to see a group of auto executives beaming with pride as the president announced that in order to reduce gas consumption, they would henceforth be scaling back on all those car lines that consumers actually want to buy.
These events have heralded a new era of partnership between the White House and private companies, one that calls to mind the wonderful partnership Germany formed with France and the Low Countries at the start of World War II. The press conferences and events marking this new spirit of cooperation have been the emotional highlights of the administration so far.
These events usually begin when the executives gather in the Oval Office, where they experience certain Enhanced Negotiating Techniques. I’m not exactly sure what the president does to inspire the business leaders’ cooperation and sense of public service, though those who remember the disembowelment scene in “Braveheart” will have a general idea.
Was this Mark Levin? Ann Coulter? Michael Savage?
No, this was David Brooks, once Obama’s biggest quasi-right supporter. Brooks is certainly right that Obama is abusing government power, but just about any undecided moderate who doesn’t follow politics too closely will take a look at Brooks’s column, smell the Billy Bob Gasket, and write him off.
Billy Bob Gasket disease is striking the right, and it needs to be contained quickly, so four years of Obama don’t become eight.
Are the Republican Party and Movement Conservatives so bereft of actual ideas that they have to result to namecalling? I thought this was the exclusive domain of idiotic left wing talk-show hosts Senators like Al Franken. Perhaps I’m behing too hard on Ingraham. Maybe I misunderstood the nuances of her arguments and positions…
I haven’t had a very high opinion of Ingraham since the time I called into her show after she made the absurd claim that all morality stems from Judeo-Christian Philosophy. Still, I never thought she would become so moronic that her only argument against a blogger would be to call her fat.
Oh who am I kidding, given the state of talk radio and the fact that they are now the apparent arbitors of Conservatism, I expected nothing less.
All of you from the shrill Coulter’s and Ingraham’s to the pompous Hannity’s to the mean spirited, raving Levine’s can go suck a…lemon.