Ignorance Is a Political Strategy

Days, even weeks later, I am still recovering from Pres. Obama’s State of the Union address. Mostly, I am amazed that I still don’t dislike the guy. (Of course, I am at heart a racist like all Obama critics, goes without saying.) Even right after the speech, I could see how I would easily have a beer with him. Why, I don’t even dislike all of his proposals, in a way! A couple of examples. Yes, I would be glad if we could phase out the burning of coal. There is no doubt that it’s a gross pollutant. That’s true even if you are a climate change “denier” like me. And I really wouldn’t mind if the federal government gave a little push to hasten the improvement of alternative sources of energy. I especially like the elegance of solar energy with its promise to allow some people to get off the grid. That’s a decrease in government power any way you look at it. I am against the Federal Government subsidizing buddy-companies as the Obama administration has done notoriously, of course. But I wouldn’t mind if the Federal Government spread insignificant amounts of money around research institutes and qualified universities. (I have not forgotten that a no-strings-attached grant from the Department of Defense is at the origin of the Internet. That was tax money well spent, no kidding!)

I hold both Obama administrations to be almost unmitigated disasters. He has even failed to fulfill his promises to his most ardent supporters. Seven years later, Guantanamo Bay, that he was going to close within six months, is still operating. That’s remarkable because no one denies that the president is Commander- in-Chief of the armed forces. Guantanamo is a military facility. He could have closed it with one phone call and let Congress pick up the pieces.

He seems to have disturbed everyone with his signature achievement, “Obamacare” (actually a Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi product). You can’t open a newspaper or turn on a radio without reading or hearing some group or other complaining bitterly about it: surging health insurance premiums, shortage of doctors, small businesses limiting their workers’ hours, the mass failure of the intermediate organizational structures that were supposed to relay government intervention; you name it. The Obama administration claims many beneficiaries of the massive reform but they, the beneficiaries are strangely silent. In fact, I have never heard any of them or even heard of any of them. (This may be a function of what I read and listen to. If anyone gives me an example, I will put it up on this blog in a prominent manner.) In the seventh year of his administration, it’s difficult to find even a Democrat not directly involved in the administration to argue that the president’s policy of international disengagement has improved overall American safety in the world. Everyone understands that the executive nuclear agreement with Iran is a fool’s bargain. (How many weeks notice of a surprise inspection again?) Even the deadly clown in North Korea has adopted a more bellicose tone toward what used to be a superpower. In fact he is flipping us every third week or so.

To my knowledge, Mr Obama has taken only one initiative that should have easily obtained the backing of the Republican opposition. I mean the Trans-Pacific Partnership. The truth is that it’s a trade agreement similar to dozens of others signed by his predecessors. The request for “fast-track” authority associated with it is historically normal, not an aggressive power grab. If it’s signed, if it’s implemented, it will reduce trade barriers to the benefit of American consumers and of almost all American workers. People who have studied international trade a little pretty much agree that such trade agreements are overwhelmingly beneficial. It’s not even pushing the envelope to think of trade barriers as hidden taxes. In this instance, Mr Obama is thus trying to lower taxes. Conservatives should support all trade agreements until proven guilty. (Donald Trump is a stubborn ignoramus on international trade, as he is on several other topics.) The agreement should have sailed through a Republican majority Congress. It did not because Mr Obama has reached the point of bad relations with Congress where legislators would hesitate to approve a federal initiative to donate ten dollars annually to Mother Teresa’s order of nuns.

The problem is this: Mr Obama seldom tells the truth and when he does, it sounds almost inadvertent. Below is a handful of telling examples.

Three minutes into his speech, Mr Obama delivered himself of a gross untruth. He listed among his coming challenges the battle for “equal pay for equal work” (for women). You can check the speech; those are his exact words. The problem is that it’s not a forthcoming challenge because it’s already the law of the land. Has been for many years. Any employer who would pay women less than men doing the same job, without educational or seniority qualifications, would expose itself to massive, devastating class action suits. What the president should have said is, “Equal pay for equivalent work,” a very different proposition that promises us endless committees of experts to reduce the irreducible subjectivity of which jobs are equivalent (nurses vs truck driver?), and yet another federal bureaucracy to summon experts, hear appeals, guide their work, and enforce their findings. Is it likely that thousands of women listening to the president’s words came out re-inforced in their fallacious impression that women are routinely paid less than the men next to whom they labor? (Even though no woman can actually point to such a situation.) To ask the question is to answer it.

Note that I am explicitly not calling Mr Obama a liar in spite of his many statements at variance with verifiable facts. There is a reason why. Further on in his speech, Mr Obama delivered himself of a complicated sentence that included the assertion that Russia is using its dwindling resources to “shore up” the Ukraine. Even a legal alien like me knows that “to shore up” does not mean the same as “to destroy,” or “to harass,” or “to undermine.” I am pretty sure that Mr Obama probably did not expect anyone to believe that Russia is helping the same country of Ukraine it is stabbing in the back. He was not trying to mislead when he said those words. It’s greatly more likely that he does not know any better, that the false statement did not ring a warning bell in his head. He is just indifferent to facts.

Similarly, when the president, in the same State of the Union address, claims repeatedly that his nuclear agreement with Iran has avoided a war, he is not lying. He just does not have what it takes to consider other hypotheses. The fact that before the agreement, UN-nuclear Iran was moaning under the weight of economic sanctions makes no impression on him; the fact that no war was threatening on the eve of the signing, or in the near future, makes no impression on him either. The opinion of critics that the agreement guarantees that Iran will get a nuclear weapon does not exist in his mental world. If it did, someone in his entourage would quickly squelch it. I suspect Mr Obama does not know either set of facts, has never heard that logical opinion. He is a man of very limited exposure to other viewpoints, to other possibilities. One suspects he listens to only a handful of people who are not well informed themselves.

It seems to me -and I know I am speculating here but my speculation is nourished by thirty years in academia where the Obama types abound – that this all makes perverse sense. When I was a university professor, I was often struck by the common propensity of colleagues I knew to be intelligent to say really stupid things. A high degree of un- information sounds just like stupidity. I even wrote an essay  for this blog about it. Their overall ignorance did not interfere with their careers. It might even have helped by making it easier to focus without being distracted by generalized reality.  “Progressives” like Obama know what they know reasonably well or even very well; they don’t know what they don’t know because they are essentially closed to the world beyond what their doctrine, their dogma tells them to keep an eye on. (A dogma is a set of unexamined beliefs.)

I think that there are two sources to the fact of such a grossly uninformed man as Mr Obama in office. The first is obvious but the obvious often goes unperceived because of the widespread contamination of political correctness. Mr Obama is an affirmative action president. No white man with his qualifications and his lack of a track record would have been elected president (Yes, Bush Two had been governor of a large, prosperous state.) Much of America had the vapors at the thought of electing a black president, nearly all Democrats, most independents, and quite a few Republicans also, perhaps. They shut down their criticality lest it spoil the emotional feast. There are good reasons for this. American society never really paid for the multiple atrocities of slavery. Electing a useless black Senator looked for a while like a symbolic way out of collective historical sinfulness. It didn’t work out that way but there was hope for a while. Americans were not the only one affected by the blackness factor. The old men of the Norwegian Nobel Committee practically wet themselves with sentimentality when they were voting a Peace Prize to a svart mann (or neger – OK, that’s a low blow) who had done absolutely nothing but be elected. (Not my judgment, a simple fact.) I don’t know if we, the American electorate, are free now from this kind of gross mistake. As I write, Sec. Clinton still sounds as if she wanted to be elected because she is a member of the majority of Americans that is female.

The second reason why we have an uninformed man as president is that the Democratic Party, now dominated by liberals and extreme liberals (who prefer to be called “progressives” because it sounds cool), does not have an analysis of society. In the absence of an analysis, of a an analytical framework, simple doctrines take over to the detriment of factual observation, the simpler the better. It used to be “No wars, period.” It’s turned into “Economic equality,” or even “Fifteen dollars an hour for all.” The need to have a knowledgeable president in order to implement such simplicities is far from obvious. An ignorant person who speaks reasonably well, who looks healthy, who is friendly will do. (I was going to say, “who sticks to his guns,” really inappropriate!) In fact, it would not be too difficult to argue that a better informed president might complicate things. There are more registered Democrats than Republicans; I think most (not all) voters who call themselves independent do so precisely because they don’t have an analysis of society, a framework, either. “Independents” are currently more than 40% of American voters. The electoral weight of extreme simplification is simply overwhelming.

We are not, nevertheless, doomed to be governed by ignorant people because their reign soon turns sour and the masses inevitably clamor for change. They are without a proper diagnostic of what went wrong, yet they want change. So, they will turn to the ready-made alternative, the Republican Party. The Republican Party, the home of conservatism in America possesses an analysis of society, a framework. It’s simply a concept of the demanding and counter-intuitive idea of the market. Of course, it’s not the case that Republicans in general refer to this or to any reasonable analytical framework at all. Only a segment of them does. (Hence the lamentable spectacle of a campaigning Donald Trump who is easily as ignorant as the president but who expresses the visceral anger of many, not all of them conservatives.) The existence of this framework somewhere inside the party, and of the media attached to it, is enough to create a sort of intellectual discipline about facts. Someone and some ones there think that facts matter, at least, to some extent. That is completely lacking in the other main party where no one has any analysis but only a disorderly collection of incoherent and shapeless grievances.

The indifference to facts in the Democratic Party unfortunately does not prevent Democrats from being elected. It pretty well insures that they will govern badly, as they do, for example, in hundreds of large American cities.

I tried

My second book in English exists only in electronic form. It’s entitled: Indecent Stories for Decent Women. (2015) It’s under the pen name: “Jean René Adolph.” Reflecting on its title will suggest why I am not using my real name in this one.       http://www.amazon.com/dp/B018ZYR9DS

About Jacques Delacroix

I write short stories, current events comments, and sociopolitical essays, mostly in English, some in French. There are other people with the same first name and same last name on the Internet. I am the one who put up on Amazon in 2014: "I Used to Be French: an Immature Autobiography" and also: "Les pumas de grande-banlieue." To my knowledge, I am the only Jacques Delacroix with American and English scholarly publications. In a previous life, I was a teacher and a scholar in Organizational Theory and in the Sociology of Economic Development. (Go ahead, Google me!) I live in the People’s Green Socialist Republic of Santa Cruz, California.
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2 Responses to Ignorance Is a Political Strategy

  1. alec ulmann says:

    I agree with most of your post except the criticism of the Iran deal. Consider the possibility that it is the Sunni Saudis and not the Shia Persians who are the bad guys. Americans installed the Shah, supported Iraq against Iran in a devastating war, imposed brutal economic sanctions. From the Iranian standpoint the nuclear gambit worked to end the sanctions. The Saudis bankrolled the wahabbi export of radical Islam and blew up the world trade center. Why do we side with the Saudis even as they are dumping oil to crush our fracking industry.

  2. Alec: The fact that the Sunni Saudis are bad guys does not make the fascist (Shiite) Islamic Republic of Iran inoffensive. Saudi Arabia poses no direct, massive threat to Western countries, Iran does, it seems to me. Otherwise, what are the new missiles for? (Iran already had the missiles to reach Israel.)

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