It's hard to be rational about a politician when you disagree with nearly everything he or she does. That's a problem that plagues all of us who comment on politics. But those of us who want to be honest try to keep the danger of losing our grip on reality in mind as we evaluate what happens day to day.
One of the ways that danger manifests itself is in the way we deal with new evidence -- particularly that which might contradict the conclusions we've already come to. For instance, there was ample reason to conclude that Dick Cheney was a dark-hearted, sinister character with no trace of human feeling, based, among other things, on his apparent lust for war and torture. On the other hand, Cheney was (and remains) one of the only people in his party to favor marriage equality for gay people. Having a gay daughter -- a human relationship -- convinced him to extrapolate his personal affection into a belief in just public policy.
How do you deal with that when making a general evaluation of what kind of character Cheney is? It isn't easy. One way is to avoid making broad, sweeping conclusions about him, tempting though they may be. Or you could decide that his support of gay marriage is some kind of ruse, a carefully planned move in service of a larger strategy to eventually allow him to drink the blood of innocent children in his maniacal quest to defeat death.
That would be nuts, of course. But it isn't too far off from the way some people think about Barack Obama. Let's say you've made a broad, sweeping conclusion about Obama: that he's a hard-core socialist, yearning to nationalize all industry and turn America into a collectivist nightmare. How do you evaluate evidence indicating that maybe he really isn't such a socialist?
If you're a certain kind of conservative -- let's say Stanley Kurtz, of National Review -- the answer is easy, particularly if you've got a book coming out called Radical-In-Chief: Barack Obama and the Untold Story of American Socialism. The answer is that if Obama is really a socialist, everything he does is in service of his nefarious socialist goals, and all you have to do is define whatever he's doing as in service to those goals. If Obama's actions appear to involve not actually dismantling capitalism, then that's just part of the secret plan. If he dismantles capitalism, then, hey, socialist! If he's not dismantling capitalism, then he's lulling us into a false sense of security, before ... bam, socialism!
This is what happens when you invest in that kind of sweeping conclusion: You have to fit everything into it, no matter how stupid it makes you look. One option you don't have is to reassess the conclusion. You can read Kurtz's argument here, which seems to amount to: Barack Obama is a socialist, because I don't like (TAP's own) Harold Meyerson. Really. "Sophisticated socialists" like Meyerson and Obama, you see, "offer support to those Democratic Party initiatives most likely to bring about a socialist transformation in the long term." So when liberals support Democratic Party initiatives, they're just showing how socialist they are.
The handy thing about this argument is that it's unfalsifiable: There is literally nothing Obama could do, up to and including ditching Joe Biden, making Sarah Palin his VP, and then resigning so she could take office, that Kurtz wouldn't be able to define as part of the long-term secret plan to institute socialism in America.
It all makes sense now.
-- Paul Waldman
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