Thursday, October 01, 2009

Thomas Sowell, Obama, Hitler, South American dictators, a banana republic and everywhere bananas

(Above: cartoon by Doonesbury. Punchline below)

The intertubes are full of such wonders and weird strangeness that it's rarely necessary or wise to stray too far from home.

But every so often I go for a romp and then return home with some treasure - a mouldy sock, a long buried bone, or some marvel of illogical thinking.

Like that presented by Thomas Sowell, in The Brainy Bunch, almost as a way of proving that he's certainly no member of the brainy bunch. Not even the Brady bunch.

His thesis is elegantly simple, necessary if you intend to be profoundly dumb, and re-write history to fit your viewpoint:

Many people, including some conservatives, have been very impressed with how brainy the president and his advisers are. But that is not quite as reassuring as it might seem.

First Sowell slags off Franklin D. Roosevelt, whose policies are increasingly recognized as having prolonged the Great Depression of the 1930s. rather than ending it. Neglecting to mention that this view has been lathered up by conservatives anxious to demolish FDR, while studiously ignoring the response of Herbert Hoover to the depression (why did I not guess that Sowell is a senior fellow at the Hoover Institution).

And instead marveling at how depressions used to end on their own, much faster without government intervention or massive government spending. Come to think of it, what was wrong with the feudal system and monarchical rule?

Why next he'll be marveling at how wars used to end on their own, without government intervention or massive government spending.

Sorry, got that wrong. Next he'll be contemplating how governments can't seem to run a decent war these days, when it should all be left to private enterprise. So he pauses to contemplate Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara's mis-handling of the Vietnam war under Lyndon Johnson, while studiously failing to mention the mis-management under Nixon. Presumably that's because Nixon qualifies as a dull or stupid person:

There is usually only a limited amount of damage that can be done by dull or stupid people. For creating a truly monumental disaster, you need people with high IQs.

Such people have been told all their lives how brilliant they are, until finally they feel forced to admit it, with all due modesty. But they not only tend to overestimate their own intelligence, more fundamentally they tend to overestimate how important individual brilliance is when dealing with real-world problems.

Well ain't it grand that the bombing of Cambodia, and the regime of Pol Pot can't be counted as a truly monumental disaster. Unless of course he thinks of Nixon as a man with a high IQ.

It occurs to me that as a stupid analysis of monumental disasters, that's pretty ... stupid.

Based as it is on some exotic notion of how Forrest Gump would do better at most things up against people who can actually work out how the world works, and deal with it. Because you need to set up the kind of false dichotomony: dumb = clever, smart = dumb, which come to think of it is about as smart as spending an hour arguing over whether white is black, or vice versa, or whether most situations tend to verge on the grey.

The kind of argument only a dumb cluck with devious intent could manage.

The intent of this dumb cluck? Why once again to compare Barack Obama to Adolf Hitler, thereby proving that stupid is as stupid does when it comes to breaking Godwin's Law with impunity:

Many crucial things in life are learned from experience, rather than from clever thoughts or clever words. Indeed, a gift for the clever phrasing so admired today by the media can be a fatal talent, especially for someone chosen to lead a government.

Make no mistake about it, Adolf Hitler was brilliant. His underlying beliefs may have been half-baked and his hatreds overwhelming, but he was a political genius when it came to carrying out his plans based on those beliefs and hatreds.

Ah yes, Hitler was a brilliant orator, full of clever phrases, like Lebensraum. Remind you of anyone? You know, a clever orator full of half baked hatreds, a deviant political genius?

Starting from a position of Germany’s military weakness in the early 1930s, Hitler not only built up Germany’s war-making potential, he did so in ways that minimized the danger that his potential victims would match his military build-up with their own. He said whatever soothing words they wanted to hear that would spare them the cost of military deterrence and the pain of contemplating another war.

Ah yes, so damnably clever with the soothing words, while building the world to war. In Iraq and Afghanistan for starters. Oops, sorry, wrong President.

He played some of the most highly educated people of his time for fools — not only foreign political leaders but also members of the intelligentsia. The editor of the Times of London filtered out reports that his own foreign correspondents in Germany sent him about the evils and dangers of the Nazis. In the United States, W. E. B. Du Bois — with a Ph.D. from Harvard — said that dictatorship in Germany was “absolutely necessary to get the state in order.”

Ah that'd be the Du Bois who at the end of his life became a naturalized citizen of Ghana. Remind you of anyone? Anyone from Kenya?

And if you want a full review of Du Bois and his assorted eccentricities, which ranged through a full 720 degrees of the political spectrum, go here. Quoting Du Bois as a man with a Ph. D. as part of a thesis of the kind being mounted by Sowell is an even more extravagant device to prove the point that stupidity has a wondrous universality.

But how to link Hitler to Obama, without actually seeming to do so? Well how about spreading FUD?

In an age when facts seem to carry less weight than the visions of brilliant and charismatic leaders, it is more important than ever to look at the actual track records of those brilliant and charismatic leaders. After all, Hitler led Germany into military catastrophe and left much of the country in ruins.

Yep, a brilliant man left the country in ruins. Remind you of anyone? No stop it, stop mentioning George W. Bush. He's the dumb stupid kind who can leave a country in ruins, which is not the same as a brilliant charismatic man leaving a country in ruins. That's so much worse.

Now I won't feel sated unless we mention a crackpot South American dictator:

Even in a country which suffered none of the wartime destruction that others suffered in the 20th century, Argentina began that century as one of the ten richest nations in the world — ahead of France and Germany — and ended it as such an economic disaster that no one would bother to compare it to France or Germany.

Politically brilliant and charismatic leaders who promoted reckless government spending, among whom Juan Perón was only the most prominent, managed to create an economic disaster in a country with an abundance of natural resources that had been spared the stresses that world wars had inflicted on other nations in the 20th century.

The only good to come from Perón? Didn't he inspire that musical with that wonderful song, Don't cry for me Michelle Obama.

Stop it, you're missing the point. Which is how much Barack Obama's style and strategies resemble those of Latin American charismatic despots. He's not just like Hitler, he's the spitting image of Juan Perón.

Why? Because he's clever and I don't like his policies, and the GFC had nothing to do with George Bush, but perhaps had something to do with Bill Clinton, Jimmy Carter, and certainly FDR.

Don't believe me? Let Sowell tell the story:

Someone recently pointed out how much Barack Obama’s style and strategies resemble those of Latin American charismatic despots — the takeover of industries by demagogues who never ran a business, the rousing rhetoric of resentment addressed to the masses, and the personal cult of the leader promoted by the media. Do we want to become the world’s largest banana republic?

Reading Sowell's column, I did indeed think that America had already become a banana republic, and Sowell was well on his way to becoming a chief banana. Stupid is as stupid does. Or as the new testament put it, Ye shall know them by their fruits.

And his column, which dresses up simple dislike and irrational prejudice in the guise of rational argument, is genuinely fruity.

How mad is the right in America these days?

"There is a remote, although gaining, possibility America's military will intervene as a last resort to resolve the 'Obama problem.' Don't dismiss it as unrealistic...A coup is not an ideal option, but Obama's radical ideal is not acceptable or reversible."
-- Newsmax columnist John L. Perry

Well as the great Harry Belafonte used to sing:

Day-o, Day-ay-ay-o
Daylight come and me wan' go home
Day, me say day, me say day, me say day
Me say day, me say day-ay-ay-o
Daylight come and me wan' go home

Work all night on a drink a' rum
Daylight come and me wan' go home
Stack banana till the mornin' come
Daylight come and me wan' go home

Come, Mister tally man, tally me banana
Daylight come and me wan' go home
Come, Mister tally man, tally me banana
Daylight come and me wan' go home

It's six foot, seven foot, eight foot BUNCH!
Daylight come and me wan' go home
Six foot, seven foot, eight foot BUNCH!
Daylight come and me wan' go home

(Below: really I only wanted to write about Sowell so I could put up this Doonesbury cartoon. More Doonesbury here).

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