Lazy Obama Editorial: Luke Boggs Phones It In

July 10, 2008

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.