24 May 2013

Charles Krauthammer's rhetorical hypocrisy

The syndicated columnist Charles Krauthammer accuses Barack Obama of conducting an "ad hominem presidency." He blames the IRS's selective auditing of applicants for tax exemptions and the Justice Department's investigation of journalists allegedly involved in leaking on the President's "concerted campaign to demonize Fox News" and his characterization of 501(c)(4) entities as "special interest groups." Obama need not have his fingerprints on any orders to harass or intimidate dissidents, Krauthammer argues, for his attitude to have inspired government bureaucrats to make life difficult for political opponents, real or perceived. "The great rhetorical specialty of this president has been his unrelenting attribution of bad faith to those who disagree with him," the columnist claims.

A few lines earlier, Krauthammer wrote:

No one goes to jail for creating such a climate of intolerance. Nor is it a crime to incessantly claim that those who offer this president opposition and push-back — Republicans, tea partyers, Fox News, whoever dares resist the sycophantic thrill-up-my-leg media adulation — do so only for “politics,” power and pure partisanship, while the Dear Leader devotes himself exclusively to the nation, the middle class, the good and just.

Krauthammer was building up a nice argument against ad hominem or bad-faith politics until he suddenly turned the knife on himself. Do you see where that happened? Two simple words -- "Dear Leader" -- wreck Krauthammer's credibility on this issue. Whether he means to suggest that Obama thinks of himself as a "Dear Leader," or that his supporters see him as one, let's remember that "Dear Leader" was the preferred epithet for the late Kim Jong Il, the hereditary dictator of North Korea. So Krauthammer, while complaining about a Democratic tendency to presume bad motives on the part of Republicans, attributes to Democrats, possibly from the top down, the mentality of North Korean Communists. It is, after all, his bad-faith, ad hominem assumption that liberal Democrats, whether from lust for power or an irrepressible busybody impulse, want to increase government control over our lives to a totalitarian extent. That, naturally, colors his perception of all the scandals currently swirling around the Obama administration.

Ideology and ad hominem rhetoric go hand in hand. Once you decide that there is only one right way for the world to be run, it follows that anyone who disagrees is not just wrong but wicked, the more hatefully so the more they persist in error. If anything, Charles Krauthammer is more of an ideologue than anyone in the Obama administration. In fact, it's often hard to see Obama as any kind of ideologue -- though I'm sure Krauthammer would blame my difficulty on ideological blindness. That aside, when one ideologue accuses another, or anyone, of bad faith, that itself is a better illustration of bad faith at work.

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