Lazy Obama Editorial: Luke Boggs Phones It In

Conservative writer Luke Boggs was apparently so busy with other things this week that he decided to create his latest opinion column via cookie cutter. The result? The paint-by-numbers predictable “Obama’s frequent regrets may make us sorry.”

It’s a standard recipe in the world of political hit-pieces:

  1. take the latest random minor controversy about an enemy candidate.
  2. Claim that it’s part of a larger pattern demonstrating deep insight into a key character flaw.
  3. Use that flimsy premise as a free-associating excuse to repeat, for the 8000th time, every other gaffe or controversy you can think of from the past several years, just in case readers have forgotten all the other columns that have been written bemoaning each of them in loving detail.

If it almost seems to write itself, that’s probably Boggs and his ilk on both sides of the partisan divide have already written it and things like it a million times over.

In this case, the free association that ties everything together is “regret.” Boggs wants us to believe that there is something significant and unusual about Obama regretting things. It’s a crude fiction: pretending that Obama is more likely than any average person, or any average politician, to regret decisions (all leading to dramatic concluding fantasies of promised presidential pratfalls). It’s an especially silly premise in the current political/media environment, where the cycle of gaffe to controversy to apology/regret plays out with a new story for each candidate nearly every week.

But in trying to prove his point that Obama is almost pathologically regretful, it doesn’t take long before Boggs turns to what might be the new standard in utterly vapid, meaningless columnist drivel: the Google search hit comparison.

So what jumped out at me was how quickly Obama regretted his decision. And that, in turn, made me wonder how often the senator has regretted other choices. Answer: pretty often. (Googling “Obama” and “regrets” yields more than a million hits.)

In addition to demonstrating ignorance of how search engines work and the confounding factors, Boggs is so lazy that he didn’t even control his “study.” “Obama regrets” indeed nets 1,150,000 hits. But “McCain regrets” gets 902,000 hits, almost as many. Mitt Romney only has 79,200 regrets, making it truly a tragedy for America that he lost the Republican nomination. “Bush regrets” nets 2,370,000 (handily beating Obama, despite Boggs’ claim that Bush has a laudable lack of regret).

Boggs should get extra points for making Obama’s children the random jumping off point for his rant, while at the same time purporting to lecture nameless “humorless activists” for criticizing Obama’s decision to allow them an interview. How dare anyone accuse someone of exploiting children for political gain when he’s doing it!

As I’ve argued before, most people are wasting their time when they pretend that they can actually judge what the psychological or personal character of any given public figure is “really” like. Media snippets, scandals and sound bytes are not exactly deep wells of objective or comprehensive insight. The commentariat simply finds some simple, emotionalized caricature for each figure and then constantly reinforces it with selection bias and forced interpretation. But it’s rare that the initial slate of traits they pick has much merit, or really sets the candidate so far apart from any other.

And that’s just the regular journalists. Pretending that an outright partisan like Boggs can perform objective psychological analysis on someone’s character right in the midst of an election is even more ridiculous.

The sensible standard is simply to figure out whether a candidate’s political stances, party, and/or what he’s likely to do in office, all fit what you want out of the next 4 years. Treat attempts to pigeonhole politicians on anything but their political history and proposals with extreme skepticism, if not blanket disdain. Of course, if everyone approached politics that way, people like Luke Boggs, who trade in sub-rational “psychological analysis” instead of real policy debates, wouldn’t have a place in the funnypapers. Or, at the very least, they wouldn’t be able to meet their deadlines, now forced to put some real, time-consuming thought into policy analysis.

Update: According to Google, Boggs himself has only 26,300 regrets. But at least for the moment, this very post tops the results list.

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7 Responses to Lazy Obama Editorial: Luke Boggs Phones It In

  1. Ray Burgh says:

    Um, dude, it’s column, not collumn…. Speaking of lazy thinking, you’ve managed mostly to miss the point of the article when you think of it as a psychological analysis. You’ve also managed to criticize everything in the COLUMN that is side commentary. Good luck thinking your way through this election cycle. I already feel sorry for the voting booth you will enter on November 4th.

  2. Bad says:

    Ah you’re right, forgot to spell check as usual: fixed, thanks. Especially “newpapers,” ug. Price one pays for dashing things off.

    As for the point of the article… you’ll have to explain what it was besides:

    1) yet another excuse to simply list the same controversies and accusations that have come and gone all over again, yet another time
    2) to try and claim that Obama is especially prone to making mistakes that he later regrets

    I criticized both. If there really was more to it, you’ll have to enlighten us. Otherwise, it seems like the whole thing was snide side commentary.

  3. Grendel The Martyr says:

    Um, no offense, but you’re becoming as bad as your perceived devils.

    You said:

    “Boggs should get extra points for making Obama’s children the random jumping off point for his rant, while at the same time purporting to lecture nameless “humorless activists” for criticizing Obama’s decision to allow them an interview. How dare anyone accuse someone of exploiting children for political gain when I’m doing it!”

    In fact, what Boggs actually wrote was that any humorless activists who might criticize Obama’s decision to allow his children to participate in an interview would be making an absurd complaint. The pertinent passage from Boggs:

    “I suppose there may be a few humorless activists out there somewhere carping that Obama was “exploiting” his kids for political gain, but that would be an absurd complaint.”

    He then writes a following paragraph defending the time-honored political practice of having one’s family available for photo ops and interviews.

    Boggs biased and subjective? Blogger, heal thryself. And please, at least read what you purport to criticize.

  4. Ray Burgh says:

    As for the spelling error, that was niggling, for which I now apologize. But as to the point of your entry and the point of the article by Mr. Boggs, I stand by my criticism. First, it is just what you said: “yet another excuse to simply list the same controversies and accusations.” I’m not really sure that’s a valid critique as much as a description. After all, the point of an election campaign is to put candidates’ feet to the fire by visiting and revisiting their positions, character, et al.–call it the campaign dialectic. I can hardly fault a columnist for wanting to weigh in on that–that is precisely the opinion columnist’s job. Second, the point is that Obama makes regrettable decisions (whether you or I agree his decisions are regrettable or not is beside the point). It’s not that Obama comes to regret those decisions; rather, it’s that he lacks the experience and judgment (gravitas in the regrettable political jargon) to make good decisions the first time around. (I won’t defend the artfulness of the jumping off point.)

  5. Grendel The Martyr says:

    Precisely. What else would you expect from a conservative columnist than a conservative viewpoint? And what ought we expect from a blog citing on its masthead ‘science and skepticism’, of which objectivity and elimination of bias is everything?

    The labeling of this Boggs column (I’d never heard of Boggs till today, btw) as a ‘standard political hit-piece’ predicated on using the latest minor blowup to reiterate all former blowups is no less a political hit-piece than the one it denigrates, just from someone positioned differently politically. Yours is a counter ‘standard political hit-piece’, which would be fine if you weren’t denigrating the practice.

    The fact is that Obama does do and say things and later voices regret for having done and said them. Whether this constitutes anything noteworthy politically or says anything about a prospective Obama presidency is a matter of opinion, but Boggs is at least accurate on the fact Obama does this.

    I think the overarching point Boggs and other anti-Obama politicists make is that the Obama seen prior to and during the Democratic Party nomination run up and the one we see now are very different people. This is because Obama, having secured the nomination on a very liberal platform, is now revamping that platform as he moves rather abruptly to the center. It’s all good – McClain is likewise moving to the center. But this practice of playing to your party’s extremes during primaries and later moving to the middle is standard political practice at levels of elected office and has been the standard practice for decades and decades, if not centuries.

    What is emerging, and what Obama’s supporters from the far left are complaining about so vociderously, is that Obama is nothing new, isn’t anything like a ‘fresh’ voice in American politics, but just another cynically poll-driven opportunistic politician who’ll assume whatever *stated* platform he believes will get him elected. When he does or says things and then later voices ‘regrets’ for having done so, who could be faulted for wondering if this isn’t just another example of politics as usual from the Obama camp? Works like this: Obama has his children participate in a TV interview. For those who favor this as a campaign virtue, Obama’s done it and the may be happy with it. For those who oppose it, feeling it’s cheap to use your own family thus, Obama has voiced regrets for having done so. Both sides covered. Pure politics. Same with his changing stances on the Iraq war, domestic oil drilling, etc. Having put himself on several sides of these issues, he’s covered. Pure politics.

    So, if Obama is just another politician and not the fresh new face, the icon of ‘change’, upon what then does one judge him? Now we’re back to the problem I’ve had with him from the beginning: He has no experience at the nat’l level in the US Senate. His entire time in the US Senate has been spent running for president. His record in the Illinois State Senate was merely average, sufficient to win the US Senate seat out of Illinois, but in no way indicative of being presidential material above and beyond the other 99 US Senators. His record of congressional votes at both the Illinois and US levels are remarkable for his most common vote: he doesn’t vote at all, abstains, or is absent. It’s very difficult to measure the record of a politician who doesn’t have much of a record, who has obviously avoided going on record on key issues.

    Boggs’ piece was standard political journalism, which is hardly worse from the conservative side of the fence than it is from the liberal side. Ironically, it is your piece, given this blog’s masthead and its implications, that is actually the political hit piece.

  6. Bad says:

    Piffle. :)

    I think I’m being perfectly objective on this one Grendel, and commenting on a crummy and profoundly lazy method of political criticism, not simply returning tit for tat.

    Yes, Ray: the piece does repeat those things, and that is a description. But the issue is whether this piece reveals anything of interest or merit on any of these matters. It doesn’t. Instead, it merely recounts them, with the issue of “regret” as a framing device in order to spin out a thin paper-thin caricature. All of the controversies he names are things that played out big in the media, and then died down again, as most of these things do. And I think the fact that partisan columnists come up with some pathetically lame means to try and bring them up again is worth sneering at.

    For instance, I have little doubt that the Obamas agreed to the kid interview, and then thought better of it. I don’t see the story there, and I don’t see anything telling about it one way or another. Bogg and others want us to draw deep conclusions. You want to think it was a political stunt. I’m deeply skeptical of both ideas. People seem to be under the impression that there is such a thing as a person who doesn’t make minor decisions that have unexpected consequences that causes them to reevaluate things, and Boggs thinks Obama is somehow below this standard. This, frankly, is ridiculous. This is what happens like, litterally every day in political campaigns, almost regardless of candidate or party.

    Who was it that was treating politicians as if they were superhuman again?

    In Boggs’ column, no actual case is made as to Obama actually regretting things more than other politicians (as noted, the utterly laughable “google” is the only real attempt). No case is made that he is more gaffe or mistake prone than other politicians. I personally don’t see any evidence of either, just as I don’t see evidence that McCain is full of rage, or that his many misspeakings belie dementia, which many of the left are gearing up to imply.

    What we do have for both guys is a lot of very useful information about their policy biases, their allies, their party, their voting histories, and so on. That’s real information. Not this lightweight game where you grab a couple of loosely connected controversies and try to tie them all up into a exercise in painfully unobjective hostile psychodrama. Hillary frigid. Bush stupid. Gore exaggerator. McCain angry, confused old man. Dean insane. These are games played for people that don’t really pay attention to issues or politics, and just want a good story they can follow. Actually taking these narratives seriously, though, is nuts. It’s like leaping up onto the stage to try and stop Othello murdering his wife in the middle of a play.

    And I haven’t ever argued that Obama is anything other than a politician. If I’m different from the mainstream, it’s that I have a lot more respect for all politicians of both parties than most people do.

    The thrust of this thing IS all about trying to build a psychological caricature up. It’s not making any rational specific points about his policies or decisions.

    It’s all just boilerplate sub-rational politics: the other guy isn’t just wrong, he’s downright crazy. Feh on that.

  7. Grendel The Martyr says:

    [Moves The Bad Idea Blog from my skeptical blogs folder to my political blogs folder..]

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