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Wednesday, February 18, 2009

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I, for one of many, do NOT "criticize everything Obama does"! I criticize what I think needs to be criticized! I have mentioned some things he has done that make his administration different form Dubya's! Sending 16,000 troops to Afghanistan today is NOT one of them!

Sorry to do this here, but, can someone give me that link for URL again? Thanks...is anyone welcome to post/read?

Nicely said John.

Thanks, Sam.

KDelphi: I, for one of many, do NOT "criticize everything Obama does"! I criticize what I think needs to be criticized!

Oh, come on—you just predicted long ago that Obama would be exactly the same as Bush, and you want that prediction to be vindicated, and that's why you reflexively criticize Obama now. It's no use pretending.

Greenwald did a lovely job of rebutting the same toxic, paranoid straw man/mind reading exercise he's using now back when the wingnut flying monkey brigade tried it.

Efforts towards a "respectable" participation in an anti-democratic, anti-enlightenment farce frequently make otherwise decent, reform-minded people resort to fallacious and tedious imputation. Once they get started on that, the social positioning more or less forces a narrow and counterproductive sense of propriety. It's really too bad. They're not actually delineating anything meaningful; it's an imitation of the wingnuts' cherished pecking order.

Greenwald did a lovely job of rebutting the same toxic, paranoid straw man/mind reading exercise he's using now back when the wingnut flying monkey brigade tried it.

Yes, the irony is that he constantly points out and tears down straw men in his articles, and yet I see him deploying his own almost as often (though I don't think it's necessarily conscious). I'm sure it's an effective tactic in his lawyer role, but in my opinion it's his biggest weakness as a political writer—especially since the target is so often the left-beyond-himself.

"since the target is so often the left-beyond-himself."

I understand the temptation--if you are trying to reach a more mainstream audience you often feel the desire to do this. The trick is to only do it on specific issues where you really do think people further to one's left are wrong. But the temptation is to marginalize them as a group to make oneself look more "serious", more "moderate", or whatever. The one good thing about the Bush years is that some mainstream liberals started to understand that they too could be marginalized in totally unfair ways by the "serious" beltway people and their media minions. In one case the realization came sooner--if you ever read "The Daily Howler" you'll see a centrist liberal continually outraged by the sheer stupidity of the press, something he apparently didn't notice until the press started making stuff up about his personal friend Al Gore.

But the temptation is to marginalize them as a group to make oneself look more "serious", more "moderate", or whatever.

Well put.

Totally agreed, Donald. I've had moments where I've done something similar, as I'm sure most of us have. And I agree that it's often done by people who really do feel that those they're marginalizing/micharacterizing are wrong (as in Greenwald's case). Humans are the ultimate self-deceivers.

Regarding making oneself look more serious or moderate, take a look at the abuse being hurled at David Sirota here (I'm not sure how I happened across this link). He's being pilloried there as an icon of the radical left—I kid you not. I had no idea he was a whipping boy for mainstream liberals, and it makes me feel a little bad for having criticized him here. In any case, it's just another illustration of the critical role that hysterical ritual denunciation of heretics plays in solidifying one's place in the group.

I've been meaning for some time to write a blog post about an attack on Noam Chomsky and other crazy leftists that Richard Goldstein wrote for the Village Voice a few years ago, sometime between 9/11 and the US invasion of Iraq. Goldstein recited the usual lies about Chomsky's extremism and irrationality, while outlining his own serious, responsible, respectable middle-of-the-road position. And a week or so later, he was attacked in the letters column by people who accused him of the same thoughtcrimes he'd accused Chomsky of. It was such a lovely example of this sort of thing.

Just read your link, John. Sirota the Marxist--good lord. This is a guy who obviously prides himself on his thoughtfulness and he splits the left neatly into two groups--the sane and the demagogues. How very nuanced of him.

Duncan--The period right after 9/11 was the creepiest political period I ever hope to experience. It was as though there were just two atrocities in world history--the Holocaust and 9/11. Anyone who even mentioned US foreign policy in a slightly derogatory way was immediately castigated, often by so-called fellow leftists. I naively expected that most Nation-readers would chew Hitchens out for his viciousness towards Chomsky and instead there was an even split, IIRC. And Susan Sontag's rather mild statement that we shouldn't be stupid in our reaction was treated as though she'd recited a pledge of allegiance to Al Qaeda. Anyway, if you ever find a link to that letters column let us know--I'd probably enjoy reading it.

Those who reflexively criticize every Obama action because they predicted long ago that he would be the same as Bush and want that prediction to be vindicated...

But isn't this just a fairly accurate description of human nature? We all have our biases, and we tend to seek out information to confirm them, and to ignore information that calls them into question. Most of the blogs I read (which tend to be left of the Dems) have spent more time since the election pointing out ways in which Obama is no change at all from Bush, rather than noting examples of how Obama is different than Bush, even though there must be examples of the latter sort to talk about if they were interested.

I don't mean this as an attack, I just think it's just how we all operate.

Confirmation bias is real, but Greenwald's attribution of "reflexive criticism" (and an overriding desire for "vindication" guiding people's criticisms) goes far beyond that.

And what we see with Obama isn't confirmation bias—it's confirmation. I can't speak for anyone else, but the reason I spend most of my Obama time pointing out how he's similar to Bush and Clinton is because 1) he is, and 2) it's extremely important for that information to get out there.

Also, although there are (of course) differences, thus far none of them are particularly significant—whereas the similarities we've seen so far are in critical areas. If Obama was making meaningful changes I'd be praising him louder than anyone around; as I've said many times, I'd be absolutely overjoyed to be wrong about Obama, even if it means I wouldn't be "vindicated". But he's not, and I'm not.

Actually, SteveB, I made an effort on my blog in the months right after the election to take note of things that Obama did that were different from Bush, and that I approved. It was pretty easy, because there weren't that many of them. But I did pay attention, and wrote about what I saw. As John says, it's important to stress what he's doing wrong, since so many Obama supporters don't want to hear it, and will defend him as if they were Bush supporters defending Bush. I've been gratified to see how many Obama supporters have jumped to criticize their man, but we need more and louder.

Donald, I agree with you about the period after 9/11, but as I recall (and I'm going to try to track down the links), Goldstein's criticism of Chomsky wasn't all that specific to the period -- it was mostly the usual stuff about how Chomsky doesn't want the US to use its power at all, he's no fun, etc. What made the case notable was the fact that Goldstein got hoist on his own petard. If I find the links, I'll let y'all know.

Oh, Donald: This is a guy who obviously prides himself on his thoughtfulness and he splits the left neatly into two groups--the sane and the demagogues.

Yes, I love how he identified himself and those of his ilk as rational progressives (thus opposing himself to the irrational or non-rational progressives on the other side, apparently). But what I found most amusing about the article was the fact that he acted as though the centuries-old term "liberal" no longer exists, or has somehow become insufficient to describe his tepid, mainstream, mildly left ideology.

It's actually pretty damn funny, because he seems entirely unaware that the shift from "liberal" to "progressive" has been a result of conscious, concerted actions by people in his camp over the past decade or so—and so in this essay he positions himself as some sort of intrepid linguistic adventurer, shining the light of reason on this formerly dark and tangled corner of the political lexicon. Thank you for showing us the way, mainstream liberal!

Greenwald: Those who reflexively criticize every Obama action because they ... want that prediction to be vindicated...
SteveB: But isn't this just a fairly accurate description of human nature?

Yes, that's one facet of human nature. But you're only addressing half of the quote. On what basis can we just blithely assume anyone's criticism of Obama is "reflexive"? That's the 'straw man' which this whole blogpost is discussing, and your question leads away from that discussion.

A different, interesting facet of human nature -- the one I believe John is commenting on -- is, when faced with an uncomfortable fact or argument that makes "my team" look bad, the team member tries to evade the argument by impugning the motive or character of the person who presented the fact or argument, instead of answering the question logically.
So if I say "Obama is condoning torture" and Greenwald replies, "Your criticism is reflexive, you just want Obama to fail," well -- maybe I do and maybe I don't. So what if I want Obama to fail. Is he condoning torture or isn't he? If he is, then wouldn't that be a defensible (even if debatable) reason to want him to fail?

As I pointed out in an overlong analogy over on IOZ's blog, this behavior, unfortunately, readily reminds me of the conversations I had with Republicans in 2002-2003:
"Iraq had nothing to do with 9/11."
"So, why do you hate America? You have Bush Derangement Syndrome."
So what if I hate America or don't hate America -- so what if I hate Bush or don't hate Bush -- did Iraq have something to do with 9/11 or not? Surely you can empathize with my frustration on that one.

Of course it's still very early in Obama's Presidency, but I find the early signs very similar and very disturbing. "Meet the new boss / Same as the old boss"*

*(h/t wavydavy for correcting my lyrics)

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