Thursday, June 4, 2009

Answers and Questions

Exhibit 1a:

Regarding the May 17 Obama speech on abortion, Tucker Carlson said, the very next day:

You can't have a real conversation about abortion if you're afraid to use the word.

Pro-choice? Pro-life? Those are slogans designed to obscure rather than illuminate.

The debate is about whether abortion ought to be legal, not about whether you respect "life," whatever that is, or whether you think people ought to have "choices," whatever those may be.

So let's call it what it is. That'd be a good first step. Obama, who's deeply interested in language, knows this but not surprisingly failed to mention it.

Exhibit 1b:

In the speech, the one given at Notre Dame:

The question then -- the question then is, how do we work through these conflicts? Is it possible for us to join hands in common effort? As citizens of a vibrant and varied democracy, how do we engage in vigorous debate? How does each of us remain firm in our principles, and fight for what we consider right, without, as Father John said, demonizing those with just as strongly held convictions on the other side?

And, of course, nowhere do these questions come up more powerfully than on the issue of abortion.

As I considered the controversy surrounding my visit here, I was reminded of an encounter I had during my Senate campaign, one that I describe in a book I wrote called, The Audacity of Hope. And a few days after the Democratic nomination, I received an email from a doctor who told me that, while he voted for me in the Illinois primary, he had a serious concern that might prevent him from voting for me in the general election. He described himself as a Christian who was strongly pro-life -- but that was not what was preventing him potentially from voting for me.

What bothered the doctor was an entry that my campaign staff had posted on my website, an entry that said I would fight, quote, "right-wing ideologues who want to take away a woman's right to choose," unquote. The doctor said he had assumed I was a reasonable person. He supported my policy initiatives to help the poor and to lift up our educational system, but that if I truly believed that every pro-life individual was simply an ideologue, who wanted to inflict suffering on women, then I was not very reasonable. He wrote, "I do not ask at this point that you oppose abortion, only that you speak about this issue in fair-minded words" -- fair-minded words.

After I read the doctor's letter, I wrote back to him and I thanked him. And I didn't change my underlying position, but I did tell my staff to change the words on my website. And I said a prayer that night that I might extend the same presumption of good faith to others that the doctor had extended to me, because when we do that -- when we open up our hearts and our minds to those who may not think precisely like we do or believe precisely what we believe -- that's when we discover at least the possibility of common ground.

That's when we begin to say, "Maybe we won't agree on abortion, but we can still agree that this heart-wrenching decision for any woman is not made casually; it has both moral and spiritual dimensions."

So let us work together to reduce the number of women seeking abortions. Let's reduce unintended pregnancies. Let's make adoption more available. Let's provide care and support for women who do carry their children to term. Let's honor the conscience of those who disagree with abortion, and draft a sensible conscience clause, and make sure that all of our health care policies are grounded, not only in sound science, but also in clear ethics, as well as respect for the equality of women. Those are things we can do.

Now, understand -- understand, class of 2009, I do not suggest that the debate surrounding abortion can or should go away, because no matter how much we may want to fudge it -- indeed, while we know that the views of most Americans on the subject are complex and even contradictory -- the fact is that, at some level, the views of the two camps are irreconcilable. Each side will continue to make its case to the public with passion and conviction. But surely we can do so without reducing those with differing views to caricature.


OBAMA: And at the time, Cardinal Joseph Bernardin was the archbishop of Chicago. And for those of you -- for those of you too young to have known him or known of him, he was a kind and good and wise man -- a saintly man. I can still remember him speaking at one of the first organizing meetings I attended on the South Side. He stood as both a lighthouse and a crossroads, unafraid to speak his mind on moral issues ranging from poverty and AIDS and abortion to the death penalty and nuclear war. And yet, he was congenial and gentle in his persuasion, always trying to bring people together, always trying to find common ground. And just before he died, a reporter asked Cardinal Bernardin about this approach to his ministry. And he said, "You can't really get on with preaching the Gospel until you've touched hearts and minds."

Exhibit 2a:

From Michael Rubin, of The National Review, regarding Obama's speech in Cairo:

Obama abandons Democracy

Obama studiously avoids the word democracy. Instead, he declared, "That does not lessen my commitment, however, to governments that reflect the will of the people." Dictators of the world, relax: Stage a spontaneous demonstration to demonstrate popular adulation; don't worry about those pesky votes.
Exhibit 2b:

From the speech:

The fourth issue that I will address is democracy. (Applause.)

[He went on to mention it three more times: but the believers believe what they will believe.]
Exhibit 3a:

Sean Hannity, on a comment Obama made regarding the Muslim population of the US:

All right. So we're not a Christian nation, but we're a Muslim nation?
Exhibit 3b:

The Obama words to which he referred:

“And one of the points I want to make is, is that if you actually took the number of Muslim Americans, we’d be one of the largest Muslim countries in the world,” Mr. Obama said. “And so there’s got to be a better dialogue and a better understanding between the two peoples.”
(Okay, turns out we'd be #35 out of about 105. So "largest" is questionable, perhaps. But not the point he was making, which, in obvious context, most clearly was NOT that we are a Muslim nation.)

So here's the question: what in gods' names motivates these people to say things that are, even as the words pass their lips and enter the atmosphere, falsified? Like oxidation kills pathogens. Instantly revealed to be untrue. What is conceivably up with that??? There are only so many possible explanations.

I don't know the Rubin guy; I've seen Tucker Carlson and Sean Hannity. Hannity is clearly a man of limited intellectual means; Carlson is remarkably clueless sometimes, but I don't sense an idiot, the way I do with Hannity. And, as a writer on NRO, I'll give Rubin a pass. So, with only one of the three undeniably dumb as an anvil, I don't think it flies to say they're just too stupid to know the meaning of words.

Might it be that they are so convinced of their rightness in all things that they simply hear what they want to hear? False processing of information based on some sort of observer bias? Plausible. But I know of no counterpart on the left. Sure, there are people of liberal views who are over the top. Me, sometimes, included. But I don't know of any who regularly simply spout demonstrable falsehoods. Me, always, included.

So it seems most likely that they are willfully saying things they know to be untrue. I'll give them, in other words, enough credit to assume they know the basics of English language. Obama's thoughts are often complex, but his words generally up don't require looking. Which raises the most fundamental and troubling questions: why do they do it, and what does it say of their imagined audience?

Here it seems there are only two options, neither of which speak well for them or their intended audience. Either they think people are too dumb or lazy to notice, or they believe the truth won't matter to them. Between those two options, I find myself unable to choose. Blogging here has left me with data that strongly support both conclusions: we've seen studies that show facts don't matter to conservatives, and we see proof of that in the comment threads to nearly all my posts. I'll not go so far as to call any of my readers bereft of neurons, but it's hard to deny many seem unable to follow a thought or to provide either relevant arguments or factual support.

Right wing talkers and writers simply lie to their audiences. (I didn't even give Limbaugh/Gingrich/Cheney (D and L) examples. Where's the challenge in that?) As far as I can tell, the only ones who point it out are people on the left (and, sadly, rarely the mainstream -- incorrectly characterized as "liberal" -- media); the right happily eats it up, swallows it whole like the sea lions I see from my home, snarfing salmon.

For the life of me, I simply can't fathom it. It's like talking to an alien. It's an unfair fight; and, given a proclivity to stick to facts, it puts liberals at a distinct disadvantage. And it's not the political equivalent of "taking a knife to a gunfight:" it's way worse -- assuming the goal isn't to kill the opponents. It defines extremism, in an important way. If one side will say and their followers believe anything, how do you have meaningful dialogue?

One expects it of Osama bin Laden. But these guys?

Which, of course, is exactly why I feel so hopeless.


Frank Drackman said...

That "One of the largest Muslim countries" is understandable giving that Baraks lived in DC the last 4yrs... Ever caught a cab at Reagan National??? Last one I rode in sounded like friggin Mecca during the Hadj...If Bin Ladens hidin there they'll never find him... Still its surprising that the only people bothered by the fact that close to 50% of abortions are done on minorities of various types are conservatives... Josef Mengele himself couldn't have come up with a more effective brake on population growth...

Easy as Fission said...

"Still its surprising that the only people bothered by the fact that close to 50% of abortions are done on minorities"

Well, yeah. The founder of Planned Parenthood was a eugenicist. One of her goals was the elimination of "lesser" minorities. That's why all the PPs start out in ethnic communities. Nice job.

--Easy as Fission

Sid Schwab said...

From my post, not about abortion, but about the intellectual capabilities of the RWS™ and their supporters:

"'s hard to deny many [commenters on my blog] seem unable to follow a thought..."

From Frank and E a F: abortion, abortion, abortion.

Easy as Fission said...

Oops, sorry Sid. But what is your point? You pick two guys I don't know and write at length that they are wrong, [maybe purposely wrong) about something.

Hannity is better known. But his criticism seems correct. BO bends over backwards to say we're not a Christian nation, with some 150,000,000 Christians. But points to our 2,000,000 Muslims to point out their status? We have more Jews than Muslims--in fact, we're probably the largest Jewish nation. I get it--BO is trying to relate to his audience, but really--he's pandering. And, as you pointed out, a quick glance at Wikipedia on his famous Blackberry would have set him straight. Maybe he could do just a little research before he speaks?

So is the point of your lengthy point that because you think these two guys are wrong then every single conservative is wrong. That's kind of like BOs well-used straw man approach, isn't it?

Here's your thesis: "Right wing talkers and writers simply lie to their audiences."

And you give three examples? Nice.

How about this thesis" "Barack Obama lies to the country." I can give three examples, too.

--Easy as Fission

Sid Schwab said...

E a F: well, I noted that I left out many examples because they'd be too easy. And I'm sorry if I didn't check to see if you knew who I was talking about before I posted. My point stands: most of the RWS™ lie unabashedly; and I wonder why. It's truly puzzling. I did NOT say "every single conservative is wrong," but the fact that that's what you conclude is sort of confirmatory of one of the issues at hand: people hear what they want to hear, regardless of what was said. Thanks for that.

And, of course, you prove the rest by saying Hannity is correct, either missing, willfully ignoring, or failing to comprehend the point. Thanks for that, too.

As to three lies Obama has told, please feel free. To save me the effort, please also provide facts that disprove what he said, as I did. And you might, if you care to, so I don't have to (although, admittedly, it'd be playing your game), compare the lies up with which you come, to "we don't torture," "we know there are WMD in Iraq," "there was a connection between Saddam and 9/11," "Iraq sought yellowcake uranium," and "I did my duty in the national guard."

Anonymous said...

Watch out Frank...

I…I think it's finally over. Our reactionary emotional response seems to have stopped it dead in its tracks. If I'm right, all we have to do now is smugly reiterate our half-formed thesis and—oh, no! For the love of God, no! It's thoughtfully mulling things over!

Run! Run! It's making reasonable, fact-based arguments!

Quickly! Hide behind self-righteousness! The ad hominem rejoinders—ready the ad hominem rejoinders! Watch out! Dodge the issue at hand! Question its character and keep moving haphazardly from one flawed point to the next!

All together now! Put every bit of secondhand conjecture into it you've got!

Goddamn it, nothing's working! It's trapped us in our own unsubstantiated claims! We need to switch fundamentally unsound tactics. Hurry, throw up the straw man! Look, I think it's going for it. C'mon…c'mon…yes, it's going for it! Now hit it with the thing that one guy told us once while it's distracted by our ludicrous rationalizations!

Gah! It's calmly and evenhandedly deflecting everything we're throwing at it. Our deductive fallacies are only making it stronger! Wait…what on earth is it doing now? Oh, no, it has sources! My God, it's defending itself with ironclad sources! Someone stop the citing! Please, please stop the citing!...



Anonymous said...

I am a 42-year-old cyclothymic female primate who also used to get worked into a froth over the BS that is like a layer of buttercream frosting on this planet earth cake, but then I really got interested in political history and started reading a lot about the political lives of many of the American presidents. Things never change. People got so angry over Jefferson and his frenchy ways that they threatened to kill him, ship him off to Paris, etc. James Madison experienced humiliation and vitriol from citizens who loathed him and his politics. McKinley, Roosevelt, Wilson... But be at peace, people, because no matter how bad it gets, we all die in the end.


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