Thursday, April 30, 2009

Obama: Master of Smooth Rhetoric and Operational Madness

Peter Boettke analyzes President Obama in light of last night's speech. I think Boettke nails it. Obama comes off as a man of reason, even though his policies may be mad. I would further suggest that Obama must have contempt for just about everyone, if he is also lying about his true goals, e.g., as Boettke asks "how sincere does one believe..[Obama's] claim that the US government wants to return the banking system and the auto-industry to the private sector as quickly as possible really is?"

Here's more from Boettke:
Ok, who listened to President Obama's press conference last night discussing his first 100 days in office? If not, track down a transcript. First, despite the fact that the questions are scripted and it is not an open give and take forum, Obama is masterful at making one think it is an open and critical dialogue in which the best argument wins. His rhetoric appeals to anyone who finds reasonableness a virtue --- which should be anyone. Conservative pundits often point back to Reagan as the example of rhetorical master, but Reagan was a rhetorical master based on an ideological
principle --- "Mr. Gorbachev Tear Down This Wall" or "Trust But Verify" when
dealing with the "Evil Empire". Obama is a rhetorical master for the egg-head class. We want rigorous debate, we want all sides heard, we come at this with no ideological blinders on, but instead let good argument and evidence win the day. We listen hard, think even harder, and make up our minds based on reason and evidence. He uses this rhetoric so much, we believe it. Politics not by principle nor by interest, but politics as good conversation, where good is defined by the norms of academic debate in the ideal. It is as if the intellectual culture of the University of Chicago has come to Washington...

Whatever doubts one might have, one must admit that to egg-heads the professorial style that Obama adopts and the ease with which he speaks to us is pretty effective that he is a man of "reason" and not ideological emotions run amok all the while his administration is engaged in a series of hyperactive ideological moves to transform the US economy. Obama is masterful in his rhetoric, but the consequences will be devastating in reality if the mainline of economic thinking (from Adam Smith to F. A. Hayek and Milton Friedman) is the more accurate portrayal of reality. The most ambitious ideological dreams do run afoul of a refractory reality.
Boettke's full post is here.

1 comment:

  1. The English classicist Peter Jones, author of a great book comparing ancient Roman and Greek approaches to major problems to modern western approaches, has written an excellent piece in the UK "Spectator".

    "Paeans of praise are being heaped on US President Barack Obama for being able to speak well in public, while commentators trace his skill back to the rules of rhetoric invented by Aristotle and Cicero. Plato would be spitting.

    The main difference between our orators and the ancient Greek rhêtor in democratic Athens is that the ancient rhêtor had no political power whatsoever. He was trying to persuade an Assembly of citizens (males over 18) to do what he wanted, but it was they who made the final decision whether to act on his advice or not.

    In our system, an Obama or Brown can speak well or badly, intelligibly or incomprehensibly, it will still be (s)he who makes the decisions and not the listeners. Ancient rhetoric, then, unlike the modern, was absolutely central to the democratic process..."
    In ancient democracies, rhetorical skill was an equalizer. It was taught and learned so citizens could use it in the assembly. Under today's oligrachic rule, rhetoric is a dis-equaliser. Either way Plato warned his students against smooth rhetoric.

    Why did Plato object? Rhetorical skill and training did not help the speaker distinguish right from wrong.

    "Plato was, as usual, right. The silky rhêtor was not a figure to be taken at his word. Neither should Obama, nor Brown nor Cameron nor Mandela, nor any of the rest of them. Reflect that the 20th century’s most effective rhêtor was possibly Hitler — an absurd figure to us, but not to those who listened to him. He knew exactly what they wanted to hear. "