In the first half of this decade, I found Forbes magazine helpful in generating investment insights and ideas. However, I eventually let my subscription lapse, as the ideas became increasingly plain vanilla, generated by a fairly predictable stable of columnists, while more interesting and diverse ideas were becoming available on the web (while an annoying barrage of emails has been urging me to subscribe to Forbes investment newsletters). Perhaps we weren’t the only ones to let our subscription lapse. Judging by Forbes’ latest cover story by Dinesh D’Souza, entitled “How Obama Thinks,” they are hurting for some publicity and notoriety.
A distressing yet fascinating aspect to this story is that, while we usually think of muggers as working dark streets and back alleys, aiming for the wallets, purses, and jewelry of innocent passers by, there’s another class of mugger, better paid but operating within the law, some with degrees from prestigious institutions, whose words aim to damage the character and careers of their targets (note that I dropped “innocent”). We shouldn’t fret too badly, as this kind of mugger has been around as long as the other kind. It’s just frustrating that many will make a good living at it as our intense political division continues to unfold in the coming decade. And they’ll do it without creating or providing any real economic value (tellingly, to D’Souza, it seems as though no profit is ever misbegotten, and there’s no such thing as economic rents, abuse, or waste in the private sector).
I understand that Obama fans are a minority among our friends and clients, but I’m really not trying to assert a partisan defense here (I didn’t vote for the guy either). It’s obvious that President Bush was journalistically mugged far more often and frequently than Obama has been, and the media and blogosphere are already mounting a vigorous counter attack against D’Souza and Forbes. My concern is that we face serious challenges in the years ahead, and people need sober, well-reasoned analysis, not increasingly shrill partisan claptrap, in order to make sound decisions.
First off, despite what some of Obama’s defenders will say, D’Souza is not a dumb guy (and he’s a skilled writer too). Some of the issues he touches on are legitimate areas of complaint, such as the auto bailouts, or a schizophrenic energy policy that has gone from earlier Congressional overreach with unintended consequences like international food riots, to incoherent/nonexistent. Many of Obama’s staunchest supporters share his disappointment, albeit for opposing reasons.
But much of the rest of it is incoherent babble, designed to support a bizarre thesis that is more becoming of a camp counselor than a college president:
…our President is trapped in his father’s time machine. Incredibly, the U.S. is being ruled according to the dreams of a Luo tribesman of the 1950s. This philandering, inebriated African socialist, who raged against the world for denying him the realization of his anticolonial ambitions, is now setting the nation’s agenda through the reincarnation of his dreams in his son.
Probably not, Dinesh, unless all of his cabinet, staff, and Congressional leadership have also been possessed by Obama Sr’s ghost (where’s Peter Venkman when you need him?). But there’s nothing like firing up the base. And conspiracy theories offer a quick route to the best sellers list.
One particular nugget of BS:
[The founders] believed the nation was a “new order for the ages.” A half-century later Alexis de Tocqueville wrote of America as creating “a distinct species of mankind.” This is known as American exceptionalism. But when asked at a 2009 press conference whether he believed in this ideal, Obama said no. America, he suggested, is no more unique or exceptional than Britain or Greece or any other country.
Why no direct quote? Perhaps it’s because this is what Obama actually said:
I believe in American exceptionalism, just as I suspect that the Brits believe in British exceptionalism and the Greeks believe in Greek exceptionalism. I’m enormously proud of my country and its role and history in the world.
D’Souza takes the fact that Obama equated exceptionalism with patriotism (a perfectly logical construct) and runs with it. But the word “no” is not there, and it’s questionable whether Obama was suggesting that the U.S. is no more exceptional than the U.K. or Greece. You have to remember the context to make a sound interpretation. In the 2006 and 2008 elections, voters were trying to bring American exceptionalism to heel (as opposed to the Dems’ interpretation that it was a mandate to jack up taxes and regulations), because it had morphed into a go-it-alone mentality with significant human and financial costs. Obama was trying to repair frayed alliances when he said this. But now anyone who reads D’Souza’s piece or hears about it without checking the facts will repeat the faulty meme he’s created – that our president does not believe in American exceptionalism. Nothing like manipulating the mob (though curiously, he says nothing about the birth certificate).
If there’s a valuable lesson in the article, it’s always check the facts. People make stuff up all the time. It’s something we’re very good at. And remember, the hardest facts to check are the ones that support what you already believe. But every time we repeat faulty information, we impose a cost on others. Though we don’t normally think of it this way, the Golden Rule applies to information too. D’Souza, a professed Christian, ought to keep that in mind.
The rest of the article follows the same script. Content and context are conveniently thrown out the window so that D’Souza can spin his scary camp fire story (his economic arguments are just as weak).
In a way, I wish that Dinesh had pushed the envelope of his tale of horror even further, something like:
One day soon, we’ll all be living under sharia law, thanks to the ghost of a broken man from Kenya who died at a young age so that he could possess the body of a son that he saw only once between abandoning him in 1961 and dying in 1982, somehow knowing from his 1971 visit that ten year old Barry would become President of the United States.
If that should happen, my suggested version of sharia would involve only one diktat — that all extreme political partisans, whether on the left and the right, have to dress up as cheerleaders. And some would be required to dress even more provocatively, as a way of communicating to the rest of us that their intellectual “services” were available to the highest bidder.
Just picture Dinesh D’Souza and Paul Krugman living out their careers in drag. Sharia might not be so bad after all!
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