Friday, October 29, 2010

Obama is Not Hard to Understand

James Taranto, in the Wall Street Journal, mentions a couple of professors who have provided a laudatory analysis of Barack Obama.
Barack Obama is a pragmatist, James Kloppenberg tells the New York Times. No, he doesn’t mean Obama is practical-minded; no one thinks that anymore. In fact, Kloppenberg, a Harvard historian, disparages the “vulgar pragmatism” of Bill Clinton while praising Obama’s “philosophical pragmatism.”
Of course, another professor climes in with an equally laudatory comment:
Those who heard Mr. Kloppenberg present his argument at a conference on intellectual history at the City University of New York’s Graduate Center responded with prolonged applause. “The way he traced Obama’s intellectual influences was fascinating for us, given that Obama’s academic background seems so similar to ours,” said Andrew Hartman, a historian at Illinois State University who helped organize the conference.
Taranto is unimpressed that professors like Obama.
One assumes that Andrew Hartman is a serious scholar, although one doesn’t know for sure because one has never heard of him. Barack Obama, by contrast, is a scholarly dilettante, a professional politician who has moonlighted as a university instructor.

Yet Hartman’s remark about Obama’s “academic background” is revealing. Professors imagine Obama is one of them because he shares their attitudes: their politically correct opinions, their condescending view of ordinary Americans, their belief in their own authority as an intellectual elite. He is the ideal product of the homogeneous world of contemporary academia. In his importance, they see a reflection of their self-importance.

Kloppenberg’s thesis reminds us of another elaborate attempt at explaining Obama: Dinesh D’Souza’s “The Roots of Obama’s Rage.” D’Souza, like Kloppenberg, imputes to Obama a coherent philosophy, in D’Souza’s case “anticolonialism.” It is a needlessly elaborate explanation for an unremarkable set of facts.

Occam’s razor suggests that Obama is a mere conformist — someone who absorbed every left-wing platitude he encountered in college and never seems to have seriously questioned any of them. Kloppenberg characterizes Obama as a skeptic, not a true believer. We’re not sure he has an active enough mind to be either one.

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5 Comments:

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Obama has expanded the war in Afghanistan, opposes gay marriage, hired wall street friendly people to run his economic team, pledged his eternal loyalty to Israel, compromised with the GOP on all his major legislation - giving away things like the Public Option, refusing to put single-player on the table at all, making the stimulus 40% tax cuts -, had given more tax cuts to the middle class then any recent president ...

How exactly is he so "far left." To think of Obama as a hard core liberal is actually delusional.

9:11 PM  
Blogger RagingProgressiveMKE said...

The division of between mental and physical labor will necessarily result in an alienated intellectual elite. I think the key is making college more affordable. However, I do not think there is anything wrong with academia sharing different views than "ordinary people." Ordinary people have real jobs, the job of academics is to think critically about issues, you're bound to have different results from this process. My take is that the goal should not be for academics to be more like ordinary people, but to challenge the views of everyone. The US is a very right-wing country from a global perspective, it is natural that the right will face the greatest challenge from free inquiry. Bring academia to the people, not the people to academia, make college more affordable.

10:52 PM  
Blogger John McAdams said...

My take is that the goal should not be for academics to be more like ordinary people, but to challenge the views of everyone.

But the don't challenge the views of everyone. They challenge the views of people on the right, and indoctrinate leftist views.

The US is a very right-wing country from a global perspective, it is natural that the right will face the greatest challenge from free inquiry.

In the first place, this is a vastly oversimplified statement. We are quite left-wing on issues of gender equality from the standpoint of the Muslim world.

But even were we are "right wing," so what? Remember your freshman logic course? Know what an argumentum ad populum is?

American is the most free, most capitalistic major country in the world. That's good.

But Obama doesn't like that.

11:22 AM  
Blogger John McAdams said...

How exactly is he so "far left." To think of Obama as a hard core liberal is actually delusional.

You are simply speaking as someone who is further left than Obama.

Just to deal with a couple of your points:

1.) Obama has made it clear he favored "single payer" socialized medicine. He simply had no chance of passing that, but he would have loved to be able to.

2.) Obama only said the Afghan war was one we needed to win in order to have an excuse to lose in Iraq. But then he got trapped by his own rhetoric.

11:26 AM  
Blogger RagingProgressiveMKE said...

Dr. McAdams, with all due respect, your argument against arugmentum ad populum could very easily be turned against you. You want academia to be right-wing because that would be congruent with the majority of the American population. I'm saying that academia is supposed to criticize the prevailing wisdom, which tends towards the right in the US vis-a-vis free countries at least. But maybe you are right, maybe we should kick the lefties out of academia, then maybe they would take action in the real world. I would think you would be quite happy with the lefties holed up in academia, where they have less influence than I think you assume.

8:29 PM  

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