Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Obama's Scare Tactics through a Jaundiced Eye

In the wake of passionate protests over Obama's health care plan, his administration has gone on the "offensive":
Briefing reporters Tuesday, White House spokesman Robert Gibbs suggested that the opposition is being organized by a small group seeking to create "manufactured anger."

"I hope people will take a jaundiced eye to what is clearly the AstroTurf nature of so-called grass-roots lobbying," Mr. Gibbs said.
Leveling these accusations, that those opposing health care "reform", are nothing more than an "anti-reform mob" or "astro-turf" protesters organized and funded by the insurance lobby, has become the M.O. for leftist supporters of socialized medicine. The protests, the left claims, are designed to intimidate the American people into opposing the Dear Leader:

Braced for a fight he never got, President Barack Obama went on the offensive in support of his health care plan Tuesday, urging a town hall audience not to listen to those who seek to "scare and mislead the American people."
Paul Krugman even had the temerity to accuse the protesters of racism! Says Krugman:

...they're probably reacting less to what Mr. Obama is doing, or even to what they've heard about what he's doing, than to who he is.

Ironically, in this instance, the Left is posing as calm, rational expositors of the Truth while dismissing the protesters as an uninformed, irrational mob. Yet, the reality is precisely the opposite. This typical leftist tactic, i.e., castigating their enemies with ad hominem attacks, smears, and even violence, is an approach I have discussed before in detail [1,2], and I believe it has a deeper philosophical explanation that goes to the essence of the debate over freedom and dictatorship. If one wishes to advocate freedom rationally, it is important to be aware of the causes and use of this tactic in order to defeat it.

Fear is "an emotion experienced in anticipation of some specific pain or danger". If someone knows something to be dangerous, it is entirely rational and practical to experience fear. The angst and passion demonstrated by the protesters is hardly "manufactured." Rather, it is a real and rational response to an anticipated danger: the potentially deadly consequences of Obama's socialist health care plan. These protesters have not been misled. On the contrary, the intensity of the protests has increased in direct proportion to increased knowledge of its frightening provisions, which even liberal Camillie Paglia rightly fears will lead to a "nightmare of red tape and mammoth screw-ups."

A conceptual approach to the problem would require Obama to argue for his plan and explain exactly how it will “work” using facts and logic. All he has to do to convince the protesters is to show them - stand up and explain exactly how this plan will work. I would not fear living in a home that was built according to the laws of physics and mechanics. Similarly, I would not fear a rational government policy . Of course, he can not do this, because, logically, his plan must fail, and consequently, examples of a conceptual approach to health care can only be found in the work of opponents of socialized medicine. See, for example, John Lewis' excellent
executive summary of the bill, Lin Zinser and Paul Hsieh essay on the history of socialized medicine, Moral Health Care Versus Universal Health Care, this recent WSJ article on the economics of socialized medicine, or Dr. Reisman's essay, The Real Right to Medical Care Versus Socialized Medicine. These essays demonstrate, unequivocally, that socialized medicine is immoral and impractical.

On the other hand, consider a non-conceptual approach to health care, i.e., an approach that does not rely on facts, logic, or principles. If you abandon reason, how can you demonstrate that you are right? Logically, if you abandon a conceptual approach there is only one path left, faith, i.e. you must urge a belief in the absence of evidence. You must urge that others accept your idea on the basis of some non-cognitive method such as emotion or some form of mysticism. You must urge others to believe your idea, not because you are right, but because it feels good to them.

As I have argued countless times [
1, 2, 3], Obama does not take a conceptual approach to any problem. He is a philosophical pragmatist who rejects reason as an absolute. As he once said, "as a manager of the economy you should base your decisions on facts not ideology". In other words, he does not want to hear debates about freedom, individual rights, or economics. His goal is to act and make things "work". What is his definition of "work"? Every pragmatist has a default philosophy absorbed from others. In Obama's case, his default philosophy is liberation theology or Christian Marxism which he absorbed from his mentor, Pastor Wright [see also "black liberation theology"]. To Obama, "to work" means to achieve an egalitarian society based upon the religious morality of self-sacrifice fused with the economic precepts of Marxism. This wholesale rejection of reason forms the guiding non-philosophy of modern academics, which is to say, the Left.

One implication of a non-conceptual approach, such as pragmatism, is that Obama must appeal to people in some non-cognitive fashion such as appeals to emotion. This is vividly demonstrated in the above quotes. Their entire approach consists of demonizing the protesters as a racist, uneducated, mob, motivated, ironically, by emotion! In fact, their whole conception of the problem is one of warring mobs as it has to be under this doctrine. If faith is our only means of cognition, then logically, man's only choice is to join a gang with no means of persuading its opponents except physical violence. In this type of world, since nothing is true (except that nothing is true), and nothing can be proved absolutely, Obama's only recourse is to seek "consensus" (as opposed to a solution), and if that doesn't work, the point of gun.

This is why, rather than elucidate his reasoning, he seeks to forge a consensus, which, in practice, means getting others to “feel” good about his ideas. To get people who are scared to feel good about his plan, he must paint his critics as the cause of the fear rather than face the flawed logic of the plan. Further, he and his supporters must suggest that anyone who disagrees with them is immoral. Ayn Rand identified this fallacy as the "
argument from intimidation":

[It] consists of threatening to impeach an opponent’s character by means of his argument, thus impeaching the argument without debate.

The essential characteristic of the Argument from Intimidation is its appeal to moral self-doubt and its reliance on the fear, guilt or ignorance of the victim. It is used in the form of an ultimatum demanding that the victim renounce a given idea without discussion, under threat of being considered morally unworthy. The pattern is always: “Only those who are evil (dishonest, heartless, insensitive, ignorant, etc.) can hold such an idea.”

Note, this is exactly the tactic employed by Krugman when he declares, in essence, that anyone who disagrees with Obama is a racist. Quoting Rand:

How does one resist that Argument? There is only one weapon against it: moral certainty.

When one enters any intellectual battle, big or small, public or private, one cannot seek, desire or expect the enemy’s sanction. Truth or falsehood must be one’s sole concern and sole criterion of judgment—not anyone’s approval or disapproval; and, above all, not the approval of those whose standards are the opposite of one’s own.
One might argue that the cause of these tactics is some form of elitism, i.e., the intellectuals on the Left see themselves as Philosopher Kings anointed to grasp and convey Truth to the illiterate "red state" Americans. This philosophy is essentially Platonism, which I discussed in detail in this post as it relates to Cass Sunstein. I consider both pragmatism and Platonism to be different forms of the same essential problem, i.e., the rejection of reason and objectivity. One form (pragmatism) tends to lead more to skepticism, cowardice, and consensus seeking while the other form (Platonism) leads to elitism and power lust. Of course, most Leftists exemplify mixtures of both forms.

There is a further more ominous implication to the non-conceptual approach to knowledge - the relationship of faith and force. Quoting
Ayn Rand:

I have said that faith and force are corollaries, and that mysticism will always lead to the rule of brutality. The cause of it is contained in the very nature of mysticism. Reason is the only objective means of communication and of understanding among men; when men deal with one another by means of reason, reality is their objective standard and frame of reference. But when men claim to possess supernatural means of knowledge, no persuasion, communication or understanding are possible...Anyone who resorts to the formula: “It’s so, because I say so,” will have to reach for a gun, sooner or later.
Whether it be the Byzantine health care bill, taxation, cap and trade, the Fairness Doctrine, "Choice Architecture", collectivized farms, state run media, gulags or concentration camps, this is precisely why the Left, as does any movement based on faith and not reason, always reaches for a gun.


Anonymous said...

I am confused by this statment:

One form (pragmatism) tends to lead more to skepticism, cowardice, and consensus seeking

It has been my long held view that skepticism and consensus are two opposite ends of a logical argument. Consensus is an argument by authority, a logical fallacy (albeit informal), whereas skepticism is embodied in the scientific method, and, from my position (as an engineer), purely based on reason and logic.

Please explain how you came to include this term (otherwise, great article).

Mark T.

Doug Reich said...


Thanks for your comment.

There is a rational form of skepticism which I believe is the term to which you are referring. This would mean the tendency to continually test ideas for their relationship to reality before accepting them as true. This is how the term is used in science as in "The Skeptical Inquirer".

In philosophy, the term "skepticism" usually refers to the idea of refaining from ever making a claim that something is true on the grounds that knowledge is fundamentally "limited" or impossible. In the sense that modern philosophers reject the possibility of knowing the truth, it leads to this type of skepticism. This is the sense in which I meant it.

My argument then follows that to the extent you reject "absolute" claims about the truth, you would tend to seek "consensus" rather than reach a logical conclusion. It leads to "my gang vs. your gang" in reality since there is no objective framework by which one can ascertain truth.

The early Christians and the Dark Ages were examples of Platonism in the sense that the rejection of objectivity led to faith and Philosopher Kings to divine truth which led to the argument from authority, i.e., do what the Bible says or else.

Modern intellectuals who reject objectivity tend toward skepticism and would see themselves as "opposite" to a religionist who professes an argument from authority because they reject any claim of truth. However, the practical result is the same since they end up as consensus seekers who use their gang to enforce their default political agenda.

Both camps reject objectivity and end up on different sides of a false alternative. One says you can only know if the Bible says so and the other says you can't know anything so all is subjective. The rational alternative is reason and objectivity.

Let me know if that helps clarify my position and sorry this confused.

Doug Reich said...


p.s. to check this more on philosophical skepticism, see

Michael Labeit said...

Gibbs asserts that the opposition to Obamacare is somehow unsound by appealing to the alleged fact that it is "manufactured." This is an invalid argument however and will be the topic of my next post.

Notice the Left's emerging authoritarianism. Left-liberals normally portray themselves as compassionate and caring. Now protestors must cope with union schmucks and threats from the White House about "misinformation."

Critiques of Obama's policies/methods/claims are usually politico-economic. Few levy critiques from epistemology. Nicely done.

*The virtue of "simplicity" in the physical sciences sounds errily like Occam's Razor if you haven't mentioned it already.

Doug Reich said...


Thanks for the great comments as always.

Yes "manufactured" is a classic one. I'm not even sure what this actually means, but of course, it gets back to the idea that any opposition to them can not be valid. Whenever I hear a Leftist argue, especially in the past few years, they always cite who is "funding" the speaker as if this immediately disqualifies their argument regardless of the merit of the claim as in, "he is only saying 2+2=4 because he is funded by the math lobby." It stems from the rejection of objectivity and the corollary that ideas are arbitrary products of warring mobs.

Since they are Marxists, the mob that is wrong is the one that is "exploiting" the proletariat. So, any idea espoused by an alleged "exploiter" is tainted or manufactured, whereas their goals are morally pure and therefore uh, unmanufactured.

I kind of missed touching on this until I read your comment which got me thinking about that angle. Let me know what you think.

Re Occam's Razor, that is great connection, and I think follows as a logical implication of causality and thinking in principle. It's amazing when you grasp the truth of this principle and then consider the idea of someone being criticized as "simplistic".

Michael Labeit said...

Thinking about simplicity v. complexity I've just recalled past informal research into postmodernism, an almost definitionless intellectual movement/method/"philosophy" very popular in social science departments, particularly sociology departments. The imfamous methods of postmodernists are now well known: bombard others with useless verbiage, vocabulary, and esoterica in order to impress/intimidate them.

Anonymous said...

Yes, you have answered my question.

As I noted, as an engineer, I see the world with skeptical lenses, so when I read that sentence, not understanding the context, I was a bit baffled. As you correctly note, the scientific use of skepticism means to continually test ideas for flaws, but in no way do true scientists ever refuse to claim something is true simply because they believe knowledge of truth is impossible. On the contrary, they would behave in the opposite: first asserting (possible) truth then spending their lives attempting to refute it! Quite frankly, most scientists that I know are happy with the notion that absolute truth is difficult to acheive (I've seen a logical proof that absolute truth can exist.) Personally, I'd rather leave the philosophizing to, well, philosophers!


Mark T.

Doug Reich said...


"The imfamous methods of postmodernists are now well known: bombard others with useless verbiage, vocabulary, and esoterica in order to impress/intimidate them."

Well put. It reminds me of a line in The Fountainhead where one of the intellectuals says:

"I don't understand it, so it must be profound."

That's exactly the state of the social sciences. If someone makes a clear argument, it is regarded as indicative of naivete or ignorance. Conversely, if something is unintelligible it is deemed profound.

The "complexistic" idea is interesting because I now see this conflation of "complex" with "unintelligible". In other words, just as modern academics conflate simplicity with "false" they conflate complexity with profound or interesting, etc. This tends to destroy the legitimate concept of complexity. Some things really are difficult to understand because there are many factors. That is not the same as unintelligible non-sense which they spew.

The fact that this non-sense could "impress" is a symptom of the larger problem.

Doug Reich said...


Glad my comment helped to clarify. I couldn't help picking up on your statement:

"(I've seen a logical proof that absolute truth can exist.)"

You have to be careful here. The concept of "absolute truth" presupposes the concept of proof. In other words, I do not see how you can "prove" (or "disprove") that "absolute truth can exist". One must grasp what truth is first in order to grasp the concept of proof and determine what makes a proof valid.

I could discuss further but let me give you two links on the "fallacy of the stolen concept" and "truth" to explore.

let me know if that helps.

garret seinen said...

Thanks for the clarifying post Doug.

Some years ago Chile privatized their bankrupt pension plan and government minister José Piñera showed how a respectful government handles 'selling' a drastic organizational change that is to have a profound effect on eveyone's life.

Here is the link to the story post

A small quote, "Before we introduced a law for pension savings accounts, I spent six months explaining how they would work. Every week, I went on prime-time TV and spoke for three minutes. Sometimes I had a clock right beside me, because everybody knows that politicians promise to be brief, then go on and on. Viewers could see when three minutes were up."

Beth said...

Thank you for a thought-provoking post. I had not thought about the tactics of the current administration in that way before, and it makes a lot of sense.

RE: "The 'complexistic' idea is interesting because I now see this conflation of 'complex' with 'unintelligible'."

Upon reading this sentence, I thought of how many opponents of catastrophic anthropomorphic climate change will use the argument that climate is a complex phenomenon and therefore unintelligible. That too is an error, though in the other direction. Climate complexity is currently beyond our full comprehension--but complexity itself is not a valid argument for eternal incomprehensibility. Maybe someday we will understand enough of the key variables to be able to predict climate change---but we surely aren't at that level of understanding currently.

I guess my point is that complexity in and of itself is not an argument either way. What is important is whether or not we have appropriately identified and understood all the essential principles--not whether the number of principles is great or small or if their relationship is simple or complex. Reality is what is is--sometimes we can simplify, and sometimes we can't.

Doug Reich said...


Thanks for the link. If reason and reality on your side, you should be eager to make your case, just as a scientist is happy to explain his theories and integrate with evidence. The fact that our politicians are hiding speaks for itself.


"I guess my point is that complexity in and of itself is not an argument either way."

EXACTLY! Both sides conflate simple and complex with wrong and right. That is why "simplistic" and my made up word "complexistic" are anti-concepts.

That's another great example you cite. Even opponents of the GW theory should be careful not to make the "infinitely complex" argument. My point with regard to actually "complex" science is that part of being a good scientists is understanding the context in which you make a claim which means stating what you do know and what you do not or what is impossible to state with certainty give the present state of our understanding. The use of computer models is case in point. They are only as good as the logic upon which they are based, i.e, current understanding of the factors which impact climate.

I think scientists are still less guilty than social scientists since the social scientists tend to advocate "complexity" in the sense of it being necessarily indicative of something profound or important.

Katrina said...

The quote that inspired the title of this post is itself a perfect example of "complexistic" thinking. The word jaundiced was most likely chosen because of its double-meaning as a medical condition, therefore seemingly clever and intellectual. However "taking a jaundiced eye" to something means to view it with prejudice, to deliberately distort it negatively.

I doubt anyone, even educated people, listening really understood that term. I doubt even the speaker really understood it. But they all want to sound smart and talk fancy.

That's all too common now. At least once a day I hear highly educated people use "disinterested" to mean "uninterested," and they do it just because the word is more complicated. I often wonder if anyone actually understands me -because- I use words correctly. Eesh.