Obama's Playbook: Why He Keeps Saying Dumb Things
Prominent commentators have opined that Obama made an unforced error by wading into the Ground Zero mosque controversy. He upped the ante by putting forth a strawman about property rights and religious freedom, which are opposed by no one he's lecturing. He dug himself a deeper hole when he tried to claim the next day he wasn't expressing any view about the "wisdom of making the decision to put a mosque there."
His comments have made many on the right wonder why, after weeks of "No comment," he would plunge in at all when no matter what he said he would alienate many. They're even more puzzled why he would triple down and say he had no regrets over his comments. The answer is simple: he can't help himself.
In part, his overweening vanity plays a role, of course. Long told by adoring sycophants that he's the smartest man in any room, he feels compelled to weigh in and lecture mere mortals on morals. And, in no small part, his job drives him to make some comment on important issues of the day. The presidency has a large, inherent ceremonial aspect. But it goes deeper than that. His philosophy drives him to it.
His insistence that he is "no ideologue" is only a half-truth. In one sense, he's right. As a pragmatist, he has no enduring principles. Like every pragmatist, "whatever works" is his motto. Still, it's no accident that the foremost developer of pragmatism, John Dewey, was also a prominent pusher of progressivism. The two are close partners and always have been.
The key to everything Obama does is that he truly is a committed, 99-44/100ths pure progressive. That fact explains not only the content of his views but why he keeps stumbling over one controversy after the next. As Jonah Goldberg expressed it in Liberal Fascism, progressivism is "a totalitarian political religion," and Barack Obama is one of its most faithful acolytes. He's simply acting in accordance with his personal theology.
Unlike even semi-rational philosophies, progressivism is built on sheer fantasy. Other doctrines may make errors, some of them very serious, but most are built on at least some foundation of real-world evidence and logical analysis. Progressivism is one of the few that is actually anti-evidence and anti-logic.
That assertion is not a wild-eyed interpretation by a crazed right-winger. It's the official view of progressive intellectuals themselves. Merging with its offshoot of postmodernism, progressivism holds that people are unable to grasp evidence first-hand or to be objective about its interpretation.
Postmodern philosophers from Hegel to Dewey to Heidegger, Herbert Marcuse, and Richard Rorty have said so. Their students and followers are just applying what they've been taught. Those individuals are the ones who shaped Obama, nurtured his education and careers, and helped get him elected.
But we needn't rely on obscure philosophers or their abstruse writings for proof. Just read the comments of the majority of hard-core left-wingers. No matter what evidence is presented, no matter how things turn out when their wishes are followed, they continue to cling to their core beliefs and offer again the same ruinous recommendations.
What evidence, what recommendations, for example?
During the late 19th century J.J. Hill created the Great Northern Railway running from St. Paul to Seattle -- and played a major role in developing the towns along its route -- with no government subsidies. He stayed in business through very tough times and made a profit for himself, his investors, and millions of those who populated those towns.
By contrast, the political manipulators of the day got enormous subsidies and special privileges from Congress, justified on the basis of "moving the Nation forward into the future." Their lines were poorly built and repeatedly went bankrupt.
In the early to mid-20th century, Herbert Hoover and FDR implemented progressive-inspired legislation that aimed left and more left, justified on the basis of "helping the Nation recover." The result was the longest, deepest Depression in American history. By contrast, in response to the sharp, deflationary recession of the early 1920s, Warren Harding and Congress (ignoring Commerce Secretary Hoover's advice) took almost no action, apart from cutting the federal budget in half. As a result, that severe contraction is barely remembered today because it was so short.
Later, progressive ideas gave birth to the Great Society legislation in the mid-60s, justified on the basis of "helping those most in need." Among its other legacies, the U.S. is now saddled with a politically armor-plated $468 billion dollar public health care system -- Medicare -- that's a major driver of our current economic woes and future anxiety. (Medicaid and CHIP account for an additional $285 billion.)
None of this -- and examples could be multiplied manyfold -- fazes progressives in the least. It doesn't cause them to question the truth of their views. It doesn't move them even to consider alternatives that might better explain the world around them or lead to better outcomes. They don't, because their philosophy isn't built on logical analyses of observable evidence; it's built on a moral falsehood and an arbitrary moral imperative.
Progressivism, boiled down and applied to society, amounts to this: "There exists a large-scale social problem -- a national need for growth, widespread poverty, many who lack medical care. When some people suffer, others have a collective moral obligation to help, no matter how those people got where they are. The government is the only one who can do something about large-scale suffering, and it has a duty to act."
No evidence to the contrary, no moral argument about the values of thrift, prudence, and self-reliance, no legal discussion about constitutional limits, no contrary economic history or theory sways them in the least. Witness Paul Krugman's columns. Or Eugene Robinson's, or Ezra Klein's, or dozens more. This is not reasonable disagreement around the edges. This, in more honest circles, is what's known as devotion to dogma.
Barack Obama swallowed that dogma decades ago. It's all he knows, all he lets himself know. So it should be no surprise that whenever there's any big public issue Obama takes the progressive position. And, since progressivism is, at bottom, an alien philosophy opposed to all the core American values, it's also no surprise that he winds up making trouble for himself so often.
Obama has to keep saying dumb things. The progressive playbook is the only one he reads.
(Cartoon by Michael Ramirez of Investor's Business Daily.)