Site Meter

Saturday, June 10, 2017

Boring Comment on Kabaservice

Have I come up with a title less attractive than "Worthwhile Canadian Initiative" ? I certainly don't expect anyone to read this post. Also I advixe against reading it -- it is a waste of time.

I am commenting on this op-ed "The Great Performance of Our Failing President". My first thoughts are that it is too kind to Trump and displays shocking ignorance of history (Kabaservice is a historian who's op-ed harshly condemns Trump). My later thoughts are about me, myself, Robert Waldmann and my reactions to the conventions of the essay (or more exactly the op-ed).

I got stuck for many minutes objecting to this sentence

President Trump won the election in large part because he was one of the few candidates from either party to address terrible problems in the left-behind parts of the country, including the drug epidemic, declining labor force participation rates and the rising cost of health care.

I think it is both appallingly vague and clearly false. Before typing on, I want to start with myself. I understand that the passage is a to be sure passage

1) it's role in the essay is to avoid monotony.

2) The denunciation of Trump is made more interesting by suggesting that promise was betrayed.

3) Kabaservice is trying to prove that he isn't a knee jerk Trumpaphobic by noting some appeal of Trump.

4) Exactly because Kabaservice is conceding a tiny bit to Trump supporters here, he doesn't feel any need to be careful in the claim. It is a concession. It isn't really an assertion he is making in his voice.

As often, I find myself fiercely objecting to a "to be sure" passage. I fear that this would give the impression that I am a rigid doctrinaire extremist (but only if anyone reads my blog posts -- so I'm OK). But I do object. In particular, I object to the convention that assertinos in "to be sure" passages don't have to be both meaningful and accurate. I see no reason to allow meaningless or false claims to be made in any context. To be sure, it may be useful to note invalid arguments before refuting them. However, in that case, I think it is necessary to find and quote someone else making the invalid argument. In any case, one can use the subjunctive. One might argue "one might argue that ..." before knocking down the straw man.

OK back to Kabaservice. I object to the vague words "few" and "address". I think they are used in order to write words which appear to amount to a claim, but which don't actually assert anything. I would really like to ask "how few ? Do you mean fewer than 10 ? How about fewer than 10,000 ? OK I guess the set of "politicians" is not defined (candidates for office ? so not Reince Priebus but including candidates for shcool boards) so do you mean fewer than 1% ? fewer than 10% ? I am quite sure that Kbaservice doesn't mean any of these things. I am quite sure he doesn't mean anything. He wishes to assert that there is something notable about Trump's choice "to address" those problems without making any quantitative claim precise or vague. No number of examples of other policians doing the same refutes the claim, because "few" has no firm meaning.

Now how about "address". What does this mean ? A narrow definition would be to describe with some accuracy and propose a solution or, at lease, a melioration. By that definition, Trump did not address the issues. I'm not even sure he mentioned opiates at all, except for noting the smuggling of opiates over the border. As far as I know, he didn't mention the role of prescription opiates in the crisis. It is central. I don't think he showed any sign of knowing what areas are hardest hit by the drug epidemic. In contrast he, falsely, claimed that the crime rate was at an unprecedentely high level. Of course he didn't propose any plausible solution.

In contrast, Clinton specifically discussed the opiate crisis (noting that she kept hearing about it -- she listened to ordinary people as Trump did not). I'm reasonable confident that her issues page includes reasonable proposals to deal with the problem (and totally sure that I won't check and that almost no one else did).

Clearly Sanders addressed the problem of health care costs. Clinton supported the ACA which actually did a lot about it. As noted in the next paragraph, when elected, Trump supported the AHCA which reduces funding for dealing with drug addiction and massively shifts the burden of health care costs to the non-wealthy.

So how would I rewrite the offending sentence ? I feel the need to try to explain how Trump got elected (I can't help it). I'd note a few things. One is Trump's extreme dishonesty and arrogance helped him. He just promised that he would solve the problems. Honest people feel the need to give some hint of an explanation of how they would fulfil a promise. I think it is clear that a lot of voters are willing to believe promises based on no argument or explanation. I think also that Trump's anger helped him appeal to angry people. Finally, angry people want a change. Only once since 1948 has a party won 3 presidential elections in a row. But I don't think it has anything to do with Trump addressing the issues (he didn't if the word is defined narrowly enough that anyone didn't address the issues) or with Democratic politicians failing to address the issues.

I also object to this ahistorical bullshit.

Mr. Trump also lacks the popularity that allowed presidents like Ronald Reagan and Bill Clinton to rally the public behind their proposals and compel Congress to go along with them,

Bill clinton never compelled Congress. He tried to compel congress to reform health care and failed. Part of the problem is that he was unpopular. At this point of his presidency Clinton was about as unpopular as Trump is. Later he signed bills which dramatically changed things. But he didn't compel Congress -- they were right wing Republican initiatives. Clinton reluctantly went along with them. After 1994, Congress was leading and Clinton was following. Finally, after failing to compel congress then bending to Congress's will, Clinton became very popular. Claims about Clinton in the passage are all false. Kabaservice is a historian. I am 100% sure he knows they are false. I think he has chosen to repeat the conventional wisdom which he knows to be false.

Reagan did compel congress to cut taxes and increase defence spending. However, that's about it. He also later bent to Congress's will and signed a huge tax increase. He also followed Kemp and Bradley and accepted the 1986 tax reform (after demonstrating that he had no clue about the contents of the draft bill). It is true that he pushed things through congress (with a Democratic majority in the House) during his first years. So the claims about Reagan aren't all false. However, he wasn't especially popular then ( his approval rating declined unusually quickly and Republicans were hammered in the 1982 mid terms). I am old enough to remember. The popularity came later (mostly long after he left office).

The passage is ahistorical conventional wisdom. It is shocking that a historian wrote it.

But aside from that, I think the op-ed is an excellent essay.


chrismealy said...

I usually stop reading once they start in with "To be sure." BS always follows.

I don't know how people who are supposed to know better can screw up basic facts like Reagan's and Clinton's relations with Congress. I was a kid during the Reagan years and even I know he wasn't calling the shots then.

JimV said...

Well, to be scrupulously fair, Trump did stand in front of a Ford plant which was scheduled to be closed and relocated to Mexico and say that if that happened he would (somehow) impose a large tariff on Mexican imports - or so I read, I think according to Michael Moore.

As for HRC, the idea seems to be that having extensive policy papers on her campaign website doesn't count, only the soundbites in her campaign TV ads count.

My hunch: to get published in the MSM you must conform to their conventional wisdom, especially the part where the MSM is in no way at fault for not informing the public.