Archive for February, 2010

Reductio Ad Absurdum

February 13, 2010

I try to stick with political topics that are relevant and serious. While I sometimes comment on the nuttiness that seems to accompany contemporary political discourse, I try to place it in the larger context of public policy. This time I couldn’t resist.

There are a group of conservatives who have tried to make hay from some of the most ridiculous arguments. There are some who aren’t introspective enough to realize their ideologically-centered beliefs won’t live up to the light of reality – one might call them teabaggers – but many who fling their rhetoric truly realize their arguments are baseless. For some reason, they still feel the need to launch baseless and meaningless criticism. For those people, the absurdity eventually comes full circle and we can see their how disingenuous they are.

One of those criticisms that was leveled at President Obama was that he was not a person of substance. This was “proven” by the fact that he used a teleprompter. The argument goes that he is charismatic and gives a great speech, but that he needs a teleprompter to deliver that speech because, implicitly, he doesn’t understand the substance behind the words. Of course, there is another politician on the political stage that is also quite charismatic and is very effective at energizing the base. Sarah Palin.

Apparently Sarah Palin felt the need to avoid the teleprompter, given how onerous they are and decided to write some crib notes on her hand. There’s really nothing wrong with that, except that it is perhaps a little unprofessional, but one might even argue that it is part of her folksy charm. What I got a kick out of was the content. The word “budget” was crossed out. It’s unclear what the original bullet points were in her crib notes. Either the original item was “budget cuts” and it was changed to “tax cuts” or the original item was “budget” and that was replaced with “tax cuts”. It would be interesting to know what her thoughts were. If it was the former, it implies that she should indicate what should be cut from the budget. If it’s the latter, it would be interesting to know if she understands the relationship between taxes and budget. Of course, lower taxes means lower income for government operations, so you either need to cut something out of the budget, raise taxes or run deficits. It’s clear that George W. Bush didn’t understand that simple relationship – or at least ignored it – and I haven’t heard a recent Republican whose words or actions show that basic understanding, either. It’s a little more complicated, of course. You can also grow the economy, which increases tax revenue without increasing tax rates. That is the rationale of short-term deficit spending to stimulate growth, but there I go getting serious and this isn’t meant to be serious. Back to the hand.

To be fair, if I suggest that writing crib notes on the hand is unprofessional, I have to also say for the record that I thought is was unprofessional of White House Press Secretary, Robert Gibbs, to mock it. It think it is contrary to the culture that I otherwise see from the White House and would have been more consistent with what critics called the “frat boy culture” of the Clinton White House.

What got me chuckling this morning and what motivated this blog was the teleprompter issue coming full circle. When reporters in Chicago asked John McCain about the crib notes, he was apparently irritated by the question. “Which is more egregious? Reading a word from your hand or from a teleprompter?” McCain added, “I continue to be entertained now by the continuing hysterical attacks on Sarah Palin who is very popular with a significant segment of the American people and I’m very proud of her.” I guess that particular conservative has suddenly decided that teleprompters (or hands for that matter) aren’t really a topic of serious discussion and commentary on such are hysterical attacks.

So there we have it. Two charismatic politicians, Sarah Palin and Barack Obama, who use assistance to deliver their message. Both have been accused of lacking in substance. I will leave it up to the reader to decide the basis of that charge. However, if you need help in deciding, I will reference the extemporaneous question and answer session that President Obama had with Republicans a couple of days after the State of the Union address and we can compare that with, say, the Palin/Couric interview from the campaign trail, or the Palin gubernatorial resignation speech.

Now I can get back to something more substantive.