Carly Fiorino and the Factless Fact-Checkers

Carly Fiorina had a good night on Wednesday. One way we can tell this is that the honest evaluations in the media of her good performance are being accompanied by (rather snide) ‘take down’ pieces in mainstream and liberal (but I repeat myself) ‘news’ outlets. Like mushrooms after the rain, these pieces seem to spring up in the wake of any significant movement in the GOP field. The tact they seem to have agreed on is that, yes, Fiorina did a fine job, but her rhetoric is a trick, designed to persuade the rubes of the GOP.

The reality is that many of the pieces follow the tact of this article on the Rachel Maddow blog (written by Steve Bennen), which is not so much a refutation as a disagreement. That is, as seems to be the habit on the left these days, Mr. Bennen labels opinions and interpretations of the facts that she does not share as ‘wrong’ and ‘false’, rather then simply differences of opinion. Consider the paragraph that is the meat of the article’s condemnation;

Her rhetoric about Planned Parenthood was plainly at odds with reality. She said it takes “two-thirds of the states” to ratify a constitutional amendment, but it actually takes three-fourths. Her comments about the criminal justice system were simply untrue. She insisted that Democrats, who’ve been pleading with Republicans for years to pass immigration reform, “don’t want” to pass immigration reform. Her defense of her failed tenure at HP was hard to take seriously. Her rhetoric about foreign policy was “bizarre.”

The only one of these things that Mr. Bennen cites that seems genuinely wrong is also the one thing that is almost certainly a slip of the tongue; that Constitutional ratification is 3/4 instead of 2/3.

Other then that, everything Mr. Bennen cites as “false” is either actually a difference of opinion, or actually true but something the left cannot acknowledge. Consider the statement that “Her rhetoric about Planned Parenthood was plainly at odds with reality”. To support this Mr. Bennen references… an opinion piece by Amanda Marcott in Slate. Ms. Marcott in turn relies and links to other leftist opinion sources. The problem, of course, is that other sources of differing politics claim exactly the opposite: “Watch the full video for yourself. It does, in fact, show a fully formed fetus, heart beating and legs kicking.” writes Mollie Hemmingway at the Federalists. Given that Hemingway provides what she claims to be the video where the scene in question occurs, I am inclined to credit her accounting.

The other points are all variations of debatable, and often bad faith debates: for example, Mr. Benen baldly states “[Fiorina’s] comments about the criminal justice system were simply untrue”, but then links to a Slate piece by Leon Neyfalk that points out (emphasis mine);

She is far from alone in perpetuating this idea—President Obama has done it too, along with just about every other mainstream politician who has expressed support for criminal justice reform in recent years.

Have Mr. Benen or his headliner Ms. Maddow similarly dismissed President Obama’s stance on Criminal Justice Reform as “simply untrue”? Moreover, given that her position is apparently shared by “just about every other mainstream politician”, is it not more likely, perhaps, that what Mr. Benen claims as “simply untrue” are

Mr. Benen seems to regard his denunciation on immigration as so self-evident as to require no source at all. I treat his dismissal in the same fashion, save to point out that if we take as gospel fact “pleading” from Washington, then Obama is Israel’s best friend, Iran is ready to join the community of nations and Global Warming is responsible for the refugee crisis in Europe.

Mr. Benen’s dismissal of Fiorina’s business leadership links to an analysis by Neil Irwin at the New York Times (hosted at the Boston Globe), which is scarcely the complete dismissal Benen presents it as. Rather it is a piece that points out that “Fiorina emphasized metrics of success that captured less of her success at leading Hewlett-Packard and more of the fact that she acquired a much larger competitor”, and that “many analysts view the merger, her defining action as chief executive, as ill-advised”. That many analysts disagree with her actions and the Fiorina chooses to emphasize what she sees as her strengths (and presumably gives greater credence to those analysis that do not disagree with her actions) is scarcely an open and shut case of dissimulation.

Mr. Benen’s dismissal of Fiorina’s “bizarre” foreign policy prescriptions links to (again) an opinion piece at Vox, where Ezra Klein pronounces himself puzzled that Fiorina thinks conventional strength would persuade Putin when “America has enough nuclear weapons pointed at Russia to level the country thousands of times over”.

Not to needlessly belittle Mr. Klein but his befuddlement seems rather more an indictment of his own tactical depth (or lack thereof) then an rebuttal of Fiorina’s ideas. After all, if we are to credit his statement as his actual beliefs, he would seem to be almost hopelessly naive in matters of the military. By contrast, serious military thinkers, such as Professor Victor Davis Hanson, have a rather less sanguine view of America’s tactical doctrines under Obama.

As I mentioned, this is all of a style: the left disagrees with a policy proposal and labels it ‘wrong’ for being a position other then their own. What makes this particular article such a case of bad faith is that in the instance of criminal justice reform, the position isn’t even one that the left disagrees with. Mr. Benen simply found a piece that labeled Fiorina wrong on the issue and linked to it, without pointing out that Fiorina’s position is shared by Barack Obama and a broad coalition of criminal justice reformers on both the left and right.

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Trump takes the GOP Back to School

It seems that the Donald Trump phenomenon is something that pundits and commentators can’t seem to stop talking about, but also something they can’t seem to actually understand. One particular remark on Special Report Online struck me: Dr. Charles Krauthammer wondered how it was that a man born in wealth and with a tremendous fortune, how can he connect with middle and lower economic class voters?

The problem, it seems to me, may be that Dr. Krauthammer is a great intellect (and avid fan of baseball), but it seems he doesn’t watch enough movies. Because, as Ace of Spades explains, politics has become a a movie, analyzed in terms of a heroes journey and the sensibilities of plot, pacing and motivation. But how does that help us figure out the Trump phenomenon?

There are a lot of theories among pundits: some think he panders, some thing he simply shoots from the hip, some point out his crudity, borderline vulgarity and so on. All of that has some merit, but none of them capture the whole picture: Donald Trump is Thornton Melon.

Back to School is a great comedy, and a big part of the success is the ensemble cast. That’s because, just like Donald Trump, Rodney Dangerfield’s Thornton Melon is a man we root for in part in spite of himself. The thing is that if take away the loathsome, hidebound, patrician economics professor, the cartoon jock villains and the unctuous dean, and we’re left with Melon… who’s kinda an insufferable schmuck.

Insufferable perhaps, but a snappy dresser.

At the risk of fantastically over-analyzing a light 80’s comedy, Thornton Melon would be nearly intolerable in real life: he is constantly breaking the rules and suffering no consequences because he throws large amounts of cash at problems, he’s unashamed about being crooked and simply bribing public servants, he’s a womanizer, a coward and, most significant to the plot, he’s a cheater.

In Back to School we don’t root for Melon because he’s a hero, we root for him because he’s not actively a villain. Once we realize that, and that Paxton Whitehead‘s acerbic and patronizing performance is as important to the movie as Dangerfield’s own,  we understand Trump and his role in this film.

Because if Trump is Melon, who has been cast in the role of the uptight, head-up-his-ass professors that everyone wants to see get their comeuppance?

Heirs to the legacy of Lincoln, or two putzes in need of a pie to the face?

Since putting in the Republican Congress Republican Voters have been subject to one episode after another of what Ace aptly terms failure theater. No principle seems too big to sacrifice on the alter of expediency, no favor to donors too imbecile to come through on. The Republican base is appalled and feels betrayed. They’ve delivered both houses of Congress to their party only to be told ‘oops, turns out nothing worthwhile can be done without the White House too‘. The Republican leadership is running a con job on its voters, and they have noticed.  In other words, the base has collectively decided that it’s time to do something futile and stupid.

Enter Trump, stage right.

Not a Modern Holocaust: a response to ‘The Unspeakable Comparison’

At City Journal, a normally very reliable source for clear thinking articles and commentary, Guy Sorman presents a shocking article: The Unspeakable Comparison. In this article the author sets out a simple formulation; that the tide of refugees entering Europe at the moment is nothing less then the modern incarnation of the Jews fleeing from the Nazis in the 1939s. This is no idle speculation or sly innuendo but explicit in the article, which enters into the comparison within two sentences;

Several million refugees escaped from Germany, Poland, and the Baltic countries between 1933 and 1940, fleeing Nazism and throwing themselves against closed borders.

What makes the article so shocking is not so much its subject matter, but its quality, or rather the lack thereof. This article dramatically fails to live up to the (admittedly high) bar set for City Journal articles.

First, the article is filled with a number of dubiously truthful and bizarre non-sequiturs. Consider the author’s claim that “Outside the Jewish community, Nathan’s relatives and the 6 million other victims of the events that would later be named the Holocaust failed to inspire any kind of emotion, until Adolf Eichmann was tried in Jerusalem in 1961. The extermination of the Jews had previously been swallowed up by the collective unconsciousness, filed away as a collateral accident of the Second World War.”

This idea, that the Holocaust was unknown outside of the Jewish community until 1961 is simply untenable. As a simple point, the documentary film ‘Death Mills‘ (directed by Billy Wilder) was released in 1945. ‘The Stranger‘, directed by and starring Orson Wells (with Edward G. Robinson) and incorporating documentary footage of the camps, in a story about hunting a Nazi war criminal was released in 1946, becoming “the only film made by Welles to have been a bona fide box office success upon its release.” The film was nominated for an Oscar and made back triple the production costs.

In 1959 the film version of “The Diary of Anne Frank” would win 3 Oscars, and be nominated for a further 5. This is an adaptation of the Broadway play, which in turn was an adaptation of the book of the same name.

Simply put, to say that (at least in the United States), “the Holocaust failed to inspire any kind of emotion” seems irreconcilable with these (and many other) facts. This is but one of the offhand remarks the author makes that inspire puzzlement, rather then confidence.

Second, the author has a habit of simply asserting things, including the point that underlies the moral of his entire article: “This is not the Holocaust—not yet.” “YET”, the author says, with not a shred of justification. But lets go back, for the author seems to understand the weakness of his own argument, and the shameful inadequacy therein.

“Is this situation incomparable because Latifa, Ali, and Ahmed have not been exterminated with the same industrial efficiency as Samuel, Nathan, and Rachel? Why are they incomparable?”

The obvious answer, so obvious it’s painful, to “Why are they incomparable?” is because the author has not mustered a shred of evidence that these refugees are similar to Jews fleeing the Holocaust in the two ways that actually matter: Genocide, and the industrialized killing used to enact that genocidal intent.

The horror of the Holocaust doe not lie simply in the scale of the bloodshed, many more people in total numbers would die in defense of Soviet Russia, but in the deliberate and determined efforts of a nation to eradicate an ethnic group. This defining element of evil is simply not to be found in this conflict, or better put, not a defining characteristic of these refugees. More on this in a moment.

It is true that the conflict in Syria and Iraq is sectarian and barbaric, but it is sectarian and barbaric (for the most part) in a manner that is entirely consistent with the ancient religious wars of the area. “Convert or Die” is the bloody credo of ISIS, it is the way they seek to recapture the 7th century origins of their faith. What they are not is motivated by the pseudo-scientific race hygiene of the Nazis.

As an aside, it’s rather telling that the author pays no special attention to the clearly genocidal elements of the conflict that everyone has seen: the attempted eradication of the Yazidis and the indigenous Christian population. There is very little evidence presented that the refugee masses entering Europe are these critically endangered groups, and certainly none is mustered by Mr. Sorman. In a piece entirely directed to making the moral analogy with the Holocaust, it’s a curious omission.

Above and beyond anything else, while the author’s argument is ripe for being picked apart (so many other tendentious elements remain), it fails for not even mentioning the simplest and first point: that the very first quality of a nation is the ability of that nation, and that nation’s people, to decide who they wish to admit as citizens and residents. Without that, a nation is simply an area on a map.

What the author doesn’t say is again telling: he mentions 3 Muslim nations that “have somehow managed to welcome 3 million” refugees (Jordan, Turkey and Lebanon, who may be themselves surprised to see the word ‘welcome’ used there…). Conspicuously absent from the list of “welcome” countries? Any of the sparsely populated, and very wealthy, nations of the Arabian peninsula.

Why exactly is it incumbent on the nations of Christian (or rather, post-Christian) Europe to put up this army of refugees, when their fellow Arab coreligionists close their own borders? Perhaps the author avoids this because he knows that the answer invalidates so much of his own assertion. He (amazingly naively) states “Do we really think Latifa, Ali, and Ahmed are risking drowning in the Mediterranean Sea, suffocating to death in a truck in Austria, or dying of thirst on some Greek road because they love to travel? Because they are looking for a part-time job in England? Of course not.”

Really? Putting aside that the USA regularly has seen economic migrants suffocating in container trucks, dying in the southern deserts and drowning on their way to the USA, if simple shelter from the conflict drives these refugees, why are they undertaking this arduous trip across a hostile Europe, instead of the much, much shorter trip to the Arabian peninsula?

Because these people are not fleeing a modern holocaust and have no interest in sitting in refugee camps in the Arabian desert. Sitting in the cafes of Europe? That, it would appear, is worth a bit of travel.

By the by, there is some debate about where this footage is from: the Youtube page claims German refugee busses. Other claim a bus in France in 2012. Such wonderful options…

Finally, the slipshod nature of the author’s argument spills into the comments section: a commentator identified as the author writes “Regarding the so called flight of French Jews to Israel , the numbers are stable”.

Which is directly contradicted by numbers supplied to the Washington Post by the Jewish Agency, which “says the number of French Jews leaving for Israel each year had been steady at about 2,000 until 2013, when it hit 3,400. Last year, it jumped to more than 7,000 — making France the leading contributor of immigrants to Israel and marking the first time that more than 1 percent of a Western nation’s Jewish population has left for Israel in a single year, according to Avi Mayer, a spokesman for the Jewish Agency.”
Overall, the greatest flaw in The Unspeakable Comparison is the near total lack of grounding in dispassionate principles. Rather, the entire article is framed as if accepting immigrants from this conflict is the penance that the West must pay for refusing shelter to Jewish immigrants generations ago. Mr. Sorman (in the comments) makes this moral framework explicit: “Angela Merkel is saving the honor of the western civilization” he declares. Quite the endorsement!

Reading The Unspeakable Comparison I could not help but think of an adage for Jewish thought, which I am told is one favored by the Lubavitcher Rebbe: The Head must be master of the Heart. Without calm and reasoned thinking, solutions become impossible, reason breaks down and morality gives way to the flush of excitement, that visceral reaction to doing something that ‘feels right’. Ironically, what the Jewish Mr. Sorman’s article lacks in dispassion, Thomas Sowell admirably supplies in his far superior The Past and Future of the Refugee Crisis. Without going into Dr. Sowell’s recommendations, he points out something that that entirely escapes Mr. Sorman’s jeremiad: that the best solution is not the importation of an indefinite stream of refugees, but acting to ameliorate conditions on the ground in the Middle East. Failing that, Dr. Sowell points out that far closer nations, such as Jordan and Egypt, could be offered compensation to alleviate their share of the refugee crisis and (potentially) provide a more attractive (and certainly closer) point of refuge.

In the end, the most curious part of The Unspeakable Comparison is the author’s… well, his failure to actually pursue the comparison. If, one accepts his argument, that the current refugees are the moral equivalent of the Jews fleeing the Nazis, then is not Assad’s regime and ISIS the moral equivalent of Nazis themselves? If this is to be the case, is not the clearest moral case not that Europe should suffer the tide of refugees, but rather take arms, that by opposition they may end the source of this conflict?

The admonition “Never Again” is, after all, not an admonition for the nations of the world to sit idly by, swelling their intake centers with those poor wretches lucky enough to flee their persecutors. No, it is an argument against allowing evils like the Nazis to hold sway. It is an argument against the indifference shown by the administration to ISIS, to Syria, to Iran, it is, in short, an argument for armed conflict as a method of destroying the greatest of evils.

But I suppose I have answered by own question: Mr. Sorman does not, and perhaps cannot connect that final dot and declare ISIS the moral equivalent of the Nazis, because that would cast his argument down. He desires exculpation from sin through ‘progressive’, ‘peaceful’ means. That these means ultimately do nothing to shorten the crisis… well, what’s a man seeking absolution to do?