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Belmont Club

Bayes and Nice People

September 20th, 2011 - 3:40 pm

What pundits should fear most about getting things wrong isn’t the scorn and gloating that other writers will pour on them after their error has been revealed. Its the consequences. Marty Peretz of the New Republic, who was sympathetic to Barack Obama in 2008, now writes that Obama’s Middle East Is in Tatters, Utter Tatters. That is the title of his article, by the way. What follows is, if anything, more savage:

It is not actually his region. Still, with the arrogance that is so characteristic of his behavior in matters he knows little about (which is a lot of matters), he entered the region as if in a triumphal march. But it wasn’t the power and sway of America that he was representing in Turkey and in Egypt. For the fact is that he has not much respect for these representations of the United States. In the mind of President Obama, in fact, these are what have wreaked havoc with our country’s standing in the world. So what — or, rather, who — does he exemplify in his contacts with foreign countries and their leaders? His exultancy gives the answer away. It is he himself, lui-mème.

Which is to say Obama started all wrong, got it all wrong. Now everyone, especially Israel, will be lucky to simply get out of the impending crash in one piece. But Peretz isn’t the only one who has felt the scales dropping from his eyes. There’s David Brooks, who writes, “I’m a sap, a specific kind of sap. I’m an Obama Sap.”

That is the first sentence of his new article. The rest amplifies the theme:

Yes, I’m a sap. I believed Obama when he said he wanted to move beyond the stale ideological debates that have paralyzed this country. I always believe that Obama is on the verge of breaking out of the conventional categories and embracing one of the many bipartisan reform packages that are floating around.

But remember, I’m a sap.

Yes David, we got that the first time around. But let’s move on to the distaff side, to Peggy Noonan. She writes about how the president “has made big mistakes since the beginning of his presidency and has been pounded since the beginning of his presidency.” Once an admirer of Obama, she too now sees that he has not the Midas touch but the Mierdas one:

His baseline political assumptions have proved incorrect, his calculations have turned out to be erroneous, his big decisions have turned to dust. He thought they’d love him for health care, that it was a down payment on greatness. But the left sees it as a sellout, the center as a vaguely threatening mess, the right as a rallying cry. He thought the stimulus would turn the economy around. It didn’t. He thought there would be a natural bounce-back a year ago, with “Recovery Summer.” There wasn’t. He thought a toe-to-toe, eyeball-to-eyeball struggle over the debt ceiling would enhance his reputation. The public would see through to the dark heart of Republican hackery and come to recognize the higher wisdom of his approach. That didn’t happen either.

Nothing worked! And nothing’s going to work. He’s the smartest guy in the room, but he’s got the reverse Midas touch. Everything he touches turns to — well, unsatisfying outcomes.

Peretz, Brooks, and Noonan are intelligent, well-educated people. Nobody has seriously suggested they are either perverse or evil. Now they see the truth. But once upon a time they didn’t have a clue. So the disturbing question is: how did they get it wrong? Setting aside for a moment the fact that someone slipped past, the most pressing problem is to determine why the system failed. Because as someone at Andrew Klavan’s blog said, “the republic can survive a Barack Obama; it is far less likely to survive the multitude of fools who made him president.”

The fact they are now getting it right is a good thing. John Maynard Keynes once wrote, “when the facts change, I change my opinion. What do you do, sir?”  But Keynes was not not quite correct.  What he should have said was that “when new information comes to light, I change my opinion about what I saw. What do you do, sir?”

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