Shame on Forbes! And Gingrich!

Neither Forbes nor the National Review is on my list on constant reads.  The following descriptions come from Maureen Dowd in the NYT

I’m not sure where the last discussion we had about bigotry left us, and I’d be interested in hearing reactions to people who publish this thinly disguised racism.

It’s probably also the case that it’s good to be aware that these influential people are saying this stuff.  It is the sort of thing that can make one fear for the future of America. 

So the smear artists are claiming not only that the president is a socialist but that he suffers from a socialism gene.

“Our president is trapped in his father’s time machine,” D’Souza writes in Forbes, offering a genetic theory of ideology. “Incredibly, the U.S. is being ruled according to the dreams of a Luo tribesman of the 1950s. This philandering, inebriated African socialist, who raged against the world for denying him the realization of his anticolonial ambitions, is now setting the nation’s agenda through the reincarnation of his dreams in his son.”

And Newt Gingrich

Gingrich praised D’Souza’s article in Forbes, previewing an upcoming book called “The Roots of Obama’s Rage.”

Newt told The National Review Online that it was the “most profound insight I have read in the last six years about Barack Obama” and said D’Souza shows that the president “is so outside our comprehension” that you can only understand him “if you understand Kenyan, anticolonial behavior.”

Newt added: “This a person who is fundamentally out of touch with how the world works, who happened to have played a wonderful con, as a result of which he is now president.”

As Dowd says, “It’s Newt and D’Souza and their ilk who put America at risk.”

21 thoughts on “Shame on Forbes! And Gingrich!

  1. Ooohhh! Thanks be for this blog, because I read the Gingrich quote in other coverage and couldn’t make heads or tails out of it! Without the D’Souza quote, the Gingrich quote is really surreal. (Interestingly, Mr. profbigk totally called it, saying that Gingrich probably read something he was obsessing over.)

    One mustn’ forecast the doom of a country based on the crazy shit D’Souza says. He’s been nuts for years and it hasn’t ended a nation yet.

  2. These folks live in an alternate reality…..and are dragging other naive and ethically challenged people into it with them. Totally disheartening and quite frightening stuff. The question is – how to effectively counter and squash it? Without resorting to the kinds of acts I find myself contemplating, that is…..

  3. At the risk of incurring a challenge to my bona fides, is this really racist? Dowd employs metaphors of biological heredity in her paraphrasing, which I presume are intended to reinforce the impression that D’Souza’s idea is a racist one, but they have no origin in D’Souza’s article as far as I saw.

    I take D’Souza’s thesis to be basically this: it is instructive to interpret Obama’s political acts and attitudes in terms of the political and economic ideas of his father, which were characteristic of a certain school of socioeconomic thought in Kenya during his father’s career in government there, which were allegedly impressed upon the son, and with which D’Souza deeply disagrees). This thesis may be both off the wall and off the mark, but it’s not obvious why we should deem it racist.

    D’Souza’s article puts one in mind of the thesis that it is instructive to interpret George W. Bush’s political acts in the light of the influence of his father’s experience, which still enjoys some currency.

    As for “how to effectively counter and squash” D’Souza’s thesis, I think the usual ways – refuting its premises, showing that it fails to account for or predict observed facts, etc. – are worth a try.

  4. I find the title of that book very intriguing. It seems really odd to talk about “Obama’s rage” on the one hand, when there has also been a lot of criticism of him for being too calm (e.g. in response to BP). “Rage” is an interesting choice as a description, because rage usually implies an irrational kind of anger that can be juxtaposed with justified kinds of anger.

    I have not read the book, but the description of his anger as rage seems suspicious to me (and possibly racist). It reminds me of Lorde’s discussion of “The Uses of Anger” and how some groups are allowed certain emotional expressions, whereas others are not. So, white men of a certain class are interpreted as justifiably angry, whereas black men “rage” and women are “bitter.”

    I find it hard to put “rage” together with Obama. It just does not seem to fit his demeanor, nor does it fit his discussions in either “The Audacity of Hope” or “Dreams from my Father.”

  5. Nemo?!? JJ was right. You are starting to sound like a concern troll. I can’t believe I actually risked tangling with Vishal Lama’s razor sharp intellect to defend you!

    If you’re just quibbling over names and technicalities, the FLAWED argument that attributes a belief/practice to heredity, and states explicitly or implicitly that both the belief/practice and the lineage are somehow “impure” is called Social Darwinism. And it is much worse than straightforward racism. Go ahead and Google it.

    Be careful when you defend people who spout this rhetoric. They don’t have to be explicitly Islamophobic or racist anymore. To the type of people who have been swallowing this rhetoric whole for the last decade, Kenyan=terrorist. Free health care=Bolshevism. Gay rights=rampant paedophilia and AIDS epidemics. Fair immigration policies=hand outs to the “less deserving” 3rd world hoardes. Tax hikes to accomplish any of the above=implementation of a totalitarian regime.

    It’s all fear mongering, and the associations are so deep now that a nasty racist rant is no longer required to evoke the fear. All the right wing has to say is “That KENYAN…” to achieve the desired effect. That’s one of the scariest things about propaganda. To paraphrase Jean Luc Picard in my favourite TNG spin on Orwell’s classic, “I knew there were only four, but I actually saw 5 lights.”

    Don’t let those RACISTS fool you into believing that they’re not so bad. As for reasoning with these people, I don’t know if that’s even possible. They’re stuck in the belief that Liberal=K’hmer Rouge and the sins of the father have magically possessed the son, their new antichrist. They’re looking for a holy war, and I’m sure that a majority of them are among the 47% of Americans who believe that evolution could not have happened. How do you reason with that kind of indoctrination?

    (This is why I’ll occasionally defend the odd group of harmless crackpot religious zealots who aren’t really bright enough to-oh, BLOW UP THE PLANET! If they’re not organized enough to control politics and they’re so weird that the other crackpots don’t even take them seriously, then they’re almost a useful distraction.)

    “Rage” is just more propaganda. I hope my own fears about how Mr. !O!’s presidency may end–I won’t even say it–are completely wrong. He’s a stronger person than I am for holding up against the constant “antichrist” accusations. If it were following me, that kind of slobbering and constantly tailing lynch mob would drive me insane.

  6. Xena,

    Yours strikes me as an unusual description of what Social Darwinismis. But it also seems to me a completely inaccurate description of D’Souza’s thesis. D’Souza thinks the genesis of Obama’s ideas is a question of nurture, not nature. That Obama’s ideas should reflect the intellectual influence of his father (assuming solely for the sake of argument that they did) has nothing to do with heredity.

    D’Souza may be a racist. I have insufficient grounds to know. But that is distinct from the question of whether this particular thesis of his is a racist one. Yet in the space of a couple of paragraphs you skipped from D’Souza’s thesis (albeit, I think, inaccurately characterized) to a broader category of “people who spout this rhetoric” on subjects ranging from health care to tax policy, to the “right wing” generally, without any real segue. Turning and turning in the widening gyre… In my view, this is a kind of Bulverism. (I think suggestions about being a “concern troll” tend toward it as well.)

  7. Sure, Nemo. You’re all rhetoric yourself, and obviously not in a position to examine political arguments for their validity or applicability.

    Wha’d ya study? Philosophy of mind?

  8. That’s a nice distraction, Nemo, though untrue. You didn’t adequately justify how my unpacking and critique of the right wing’s party platform amounts to “Bulverism”. And exactly how is putting D’Souza’s argument into the broader context of his party’s circular and incorrect commentary on Obama and “socialism” to demonstrate where HIS premises are flawed “Bulverism”?

    And hollering “bulverism” or “fatty” or “bitch” does nothing to demonstrate that your reasoning is any better than mine. How can you defend a man based on a one-time reading of a text, without cross referencing? He says it’s so, therefore it’s so? Not very logical, Nemo.

    Putting a speaker’s statements into a broader social and political context is not Bulverism, Nemo. It’s called checking for consistency.

    You didn’t answer my question. Have you taken the courses that would qualify you to criticize my assessment of D’Souza’s criticisms of President O? And what were they?

  9. Xena, your remarks directed toward D’Souza struck me as a kind of Bulverism because, rather than explaining why the thesis is racist (or indeed why it is incorrect, though I did not dispute that), you appeared to me to assume the thesis was racist (and incorrect) and proceeded to account for this chiefly by reference to its author’s membership in a category of persons you think are racist, irrational, disdainful of third world populations, desirous of a holy war, etc. If I somehow misunderstood you there, then I apologize.

    Your remarks directed at *me* struck me as Bulverism inasmuch as, rather than dealing directly with the substance of anything I said, you went on to suggest explanations for why I said such things (e.g., I may be a “concern troll”, there may be lacunae in my philosophical formation, etc.).

    I must respectfully object, also, to your reference to “hollering ‘Bulverism’ or ‘fatty’ or ‘bitch'”. That is unfairly prejudicial. Of you don’t actually come out and say that I hollered “fatty” or “bitch” – which of course I did not – but you rhetorically link something I did (kind of) do with some other, distinctly objectionable things none of us here would (I hope) ever think of doing.

    There is nothing wrong with “putting D’Souza’s argument into the broader context of his party’s circular and incorrect commentary”, etc., etc. However, that appears to me to be a distinct endeavor from actually engaging the argument as such. We can “check for consistency”, as you say, between D’Souza’s thesis and parts of what you take to be his party’s platform, and no doubt learn many worthwhile things for our trouble. What I do not clearly understand, however, is the mechanism by which doing so will put us in the position of disproving the original thesis (or in this case, more particularly demonstrating that the thesis, on its own merits, is a racist one: my original concern).

    You ask me: “How can you defend a man based on a one-time reading of a text, without cross referencing?” Yet I am defending neither the man nor the truth of his thesis! I am willing to assume, for the sake of argument, that D’Souza’s thesis (which I believe I fairly summarized above) is incorrect, and even that D’Souza personally is in some sense a racist. What I have done is simply to question the idea that this specific thesis is necessarily or implicitly racist.

    To reiterate: the thesis itself does not appear to me to be racist. It is likely that it will appeal to some who have racist motives for wanting it to be true; it is conceivable that its author may himself have had a racist reason for introducing it – but these are distinct matters, as is whether the thesis is actually false.

    Finally, Xena, in the highly unlikely event that I offer an argument from personal authority, I will naturally introduce my qualifications. For now, they are irrelevant.

  10. Nemo –

    Dowd quotes D’Souza twice apparently playing off racist stereotypes and making xenophobic/racist implicatures: first when he calls Obama’s father a `philandering, inebriated African socialist’ and second when he presents Obama’s youth `off the American mainland, in Hawaii, Indonesia and Pakistan, with multiple subsequent journeys to Africa’ as though this were some reason to be concerned about his presidency. Dowd call this a `genetic theory of ideology’, apparently quite incorrectly. There’s nothing in here that looks like a genetic conception of race. Instead, D’Souza’s arguments appear to assume a conception of something like the races-I-mean-civilizations in Samuel Huntington’s Clash of civilizations. Hopefully that clears up your worries.

  11. Nemo and Xena –

    You both should give this paper a read, if you have the time:
    Hundleby, `The Authority of the Fallacies Approach to Argument Evaluation’

    Abstract:
    Popular textbook treatments of the fallacies approach to argument evaluation employ the Adversary Method identified by Janice Moulton (1983) that takes the goal of argumentation to be the defeat of other arguments and that narrows the terms of discourse in order to facilitate such defeat. My analysis of the textbooks shows that the Adversary Method operates as a Kuhnian paradigm in philosophy, and demonstrates that the popular fallacies pedagogy is authoritarian in being unresponsive to the scholarly developments in informal logic and argumentation theory. A progressive evolution for the fallacies approach is offered as an authoritative alternative.

    I don’t think, strictly speaking, the Adversary Method operates as a `Kuhnian paradigm’, but that’s because of technical details about what Kuhn thought paradigms are and how they work. But Handleby makes some very important — and relevant — criticisms about the rhetorical use of fallacies in discourse, and is trying to deploy some tools of feminist philosophy to suggest an alternative.

  12. Thanks for the link, Dan. The paper (what I’ve read so far) addresses some of my biggest pet peeves about the way we’re taught to reason. When I cross-referenced to get a better sense of your thoughts on Kuhnian paradigms, the first thing that came up was Gauthier’s Prisoner’s Dilemma, a perfect example of a technically well structured thought experiment that completely ignores the real life consequences of what it advocates.

    But that’s a discussion for another post, I guess. Just expressing my agreement.

  13. Nemo, I think you’re giving D’Souza far too much credit because how much intellectual influence could be had from someone you met only a handful of times? To base your understanding of a person on someone who they’re biologically connected to, but spent the *vast* majority of their life without really knowing, sure sounds to me like an attempt at an argument for nature not nurture.

  14. Kathryn, that’s a good criticism of D’Sousza’s argument as applied to Barack Obama. It’s not, however, a very strong reason for taking it to be the straw version of it presented by Dowd. As far as I can tell, D’Souza is making the nurture claim and not the nature claim, and that strikes me as the first thing we should think if we’re not going to read him in terms of Dowd’s reconstruction from the outset. That the claim is almost impossible to support is a separate issue from whether he is actually making that claim. I have seen no evidence to suggest that D’Souza really believes there to be a socialist gene or anything like that. All such language is new to Dowd’s presentation. Given her long track record of grossly misrepresenting those she disagrees with, anything she says about what her ideological opponents think must be taken with a grain of salt. She’s not really any better than Glenn Beck with regard to getting her opponents correct.

  15. Jeremy: I think Dowd may be following a principle of charity, as philosophers hold it. Her reasoning may go like this:
    Obama had very little contact or communication with his father. Given this clearly available fact, D’Souza is either saying something clearly false or he believes in some sort of transmission between father and son other than contact/communication. That would mean presumably that the father’s dreams are “reincarnated” in the son because the genes carried them.
    If we don’t say this is what he holds, our alternative is to think he is knowingly saying something false. Which would offend against a principle of charity.

  16. JJ: While you are admirably extending the principle of charity in turn to Dowd, I have genuine difficulty believing that she was actually following it herself in this instance – particularly given that the rest of her article, and indeed her oeuvre, reveals little inclination to extend charity towards those with whom she disagrees.

    It is wholly reasonable to doubt whether a transmission of ideas in fact took place between father and son, a fortiori whether the son’s ideas were influenced by the father’s in the way D’Souza speculates. Almost surely, however, Dowd does not believe that there is no mundane mechanism by which such transmission could realistically have taken place, because there are obviously several, beginning (but certainly not ending) with the fact that some of Obama Sr.’s work in political economics was published. The weaknesses of D’Souza’s thesis, such as they are, seem to me to lie elsewhere.

    Consistent with the principle of charity, perhaps we should be willing to believe that Dowd’s drastic misrepresentation of D’Souza’s thesis is the sincere result of her drastic misreading of it. However, in my opinion this requires a suspension of disbelief that would humble Coleridge.

  17. I think the principle of charity goes the other way than Dowd, if that’s what she’s up to. Is it more charitable to attribute an error of reasoning to someone or to attribute racism of a seriously gross nature? She attributes the latter. I attribute the former. I think I’m being much more charitable. I really doubt she’s trying to be charitable, though. Her track record is in not extending much charity.

  18. Dan Hicks: That is an interesting paper you linked, and I thank you for bringing it to our attention. I take Hundleby’s to be principally (though not exclusively) a pedagogical concern; at least, that is the terrain where the article seems most effective. For example, one of her major complaints about the textbooks – no suggestion of the possibility of argument repair – is a very legitimate pedagogical critique if true; on the other hand, in practice, argument repair appears to be a fairly regular preoccupation of so-called “adversarial” philosophical discourse. A second major complaint about the textbooks – ignoring the conditions in which presumptive reasoning named by a fallacy is acceptable – seems to point to an inadequacy in the pedagogy rather than the underlying method. I confess to some skepticism concerning certain of Hundleby’s broader critiques of the authority and alleged authoritarian character of fallacy analysis, but that is matter for another discussion.

    At any rate, my earlier disagreement with Xena (which prompted your post about the Hundleby article) appears to me to be one of the specific-claims situations in which, according to both Moulton and Hundleby, “adversarial” reasoning is most useful. At the very least, I certainly do not exclude the possibility of argument repair (though whether such repairs are forthcoming is anyone’s guess).

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