Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Besmirch & Divert

Tibor R. Machan

Ever since President Obama took office, his proposed public policies have been defended doggedly by all those who favor an increasing large scope for the federal government. Health care/insurance is just one of these policies but, of course, his way of dealing with the recession conforms to it as well. Bail them out, increase their regulation, order their CEO’s to take lower pay than they agreed they would receive, etc., etc. All these are fully consistent with a program of making government--all of the employees of which are, of course, infinitely competent and supremely moral--an all mighty force in the lives of American citizens.

This reactionary approach to the presidency--one that, if successful, will return the country to the age of George III, a former monarch with actually less power than the current federal government has over us--is very difficult to justify in general political terms. It goes directly against America’s founding principles, as they were identified in the Declaration of Independence, and it’s oppressive and economically suicidal to boot. And sure enough, the defenders of Mr. Obama, such as economist Paul Krugman, The New Republic, The New York Times, The New York Review of Books, to mention but the more visible ones among them, do not have any arguments to offer, so instead they engage in besmirching those who offer arguments against the policies they favor. Same goes for Professor Gary Wills (see it here:

A recent case in point was where an author supporting Mr. Obama insisted that despite their efforts to hide the fact, the Tea Party folks are mostly racists. This author kept repeating this charge, thus managing to divert attention from the substance of the criticism. The examples given included criticism of policies such as the welfare state which supposedly comes to nothing other than wishing ill for most African Americans. So opposition to small or limited government then amounts to racism-in-disguise.

This way of defending unwise, wrongheaded public policies can produce the result of diverting attention for the substance at issue, namely, whether the welfare state and similar measures pushed for by the president and his cheerleaders is a sound idea by which to govern a country. Never mind that! Let’s make it appear that what is going on is insidious racism. That pretty much consigns the critics to the ranks of the ultimately vicious among us with whom there is no need to argue. No one, after all, argues with Nazis! No one argues with people who regard other people morally inferior by virtue not of what they do wrong, their malpractice, but because of their color or ethnicity. Such people then can be viewed as unworthy of the respect that’s shown to someone with whom one chooses to engage in argument, whose views one decides to take seriously enough to confront intellectually. No, let’s just dismiss the critics as bigots or racists or fundamentally, incorrigibly vicious; that way we ca avoid having to answer their substantive criticism of our public policies.

Maybe this shows just how unsuccessful are all those college and university courses that most students are required to take, namely, basic reasoning, elementary logic, and the like wherein the formal and informal fallacies are discussed and it is shown just why they are fallacies and should be avoided in presenting one’s viewpoint or criticism. Besmirching one’s critics is what is called an ad hominem argument, one that demeans or attacks the person who advances a point instead of the case made in support of it. And such attacks have no bearing on the validity, soundness or related merits or demerits of a case being made.

If Mr. Obama and his accolades cannot produce anything that’s better than charges of racism and bigotry against their political or intellectual adversaries, they are in effect admitting that their viewpoint is bankrupt. No one with even a modicum of merit to his or her argument will resort to ad hominems. The arguments being advanced are supposed to carry the weight of the position and there would be no need for trying to discredit with smears those who oppose it.

Not everyone, of course, resorts to these methods of attempting to shore up the case for Mr. Obama’s public policies but enough do that the conclusion is difficult to escape that they are being a tad desperate. When a Nobel Laureate professor of economics at one of America’s most prestigious universities, Princeton, keeps attacking the character and personality of the likes of Sarah Palin in numerous forums instead of taking issue with them point by point with no reliance on badmouthing them, that suggests, strongly, that what the man has to offer against the criticisms is pretty empty of substance.

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