Friday, January 20, 2012

Newsweek/Sullivan/Obama/Ferguson . . . . .

by Edd Doerr

While I have never been a fan of writer and former New Republic editor Andrew Sullivan, I must say that his 4-page piece on Obama, "The Long Game", in the Jan 23 Newsweek is a pretty good defense of Obama's record of accomplishment. I recommend it.

The same issue of Newsweek also contains a rather dumb 4-pager titled "Rich America, Poor America" by conservative British historian and Newsweek columnist Niall Ferguson that features praise for discredited American Enterprise Institute writer ("The Bell Curve") Charles Murray. But what is most peculiar about Ferguson's piece is that in the penultimate paragraph he makes this totally unconnected recommendation: "Finally, end the state monopolies in public education to launch a new era of school choice and competition." In other words, Ferguson is advocating tax support for a growing multiplicity of mostly discriminatory faith-based private schools that would fragment American education along religious, ideological, class, ethnic and other lines. I have been writing on this subject for over 45 years and thus recognize that Ferguson is regurgitating the endless nonsense of the religious right.

Ferguson's weird attack on public education and church-state separation is all the more peculiar because his wife is -- take a breath here -- none other than Ayaan Hirsi Ali, the Somali woman who escaped a forced Islamic marriage by moving to the Netherlands, where she was elected to Parliament. In that position she stirred up an investigation into Islamic "honor killings", which in turn led to threats on her life that required 24/7 police protection. When it was found that she had entered the Netherlands illegally she lost her seat in Parliament and immigrated to the US, where she is reportedly working for the conservative think tank, the American Enterprise Institute.

So, if Ferguson gets his way with "school choice" and school vouchers (which AEI supports), wouldn't that mean tax support for Islamic as well as other church-related private schools? And how would that square with his wife's antipathy toward Islam particularly and religion generally?

In the same paragraph Ferguson also recommends: "Scrap the failing welfare programs of the '30s and '60s ... [and] Ensure that everyone has a basic income." Will someone please explain how one can espouse the ultraconservative line and its socialist opposite in the same breath.


Explicit Atheist said...

I read that article a day or two ago and I also agree that, given the context of the strong republican opposition in Congress, Obama has been successful in getting substantial legislation passed. But I don't find the argument that the compromises with liberal objectives and values are due to some long term strategy that outmaneuvers the opposition. Its more likely that the compromises are partly a current effort to deal with the current opposition and partly a reflection of Obama himself genuinely being more flexible and not being as liberal as the many of the liberal members of his own party's constituency regarding various government policies. Sullivan is partly a salesperson, I don't think he writes only with the goal of being accurate, I think he writes as an advocate to try to persuade, so I don't normally read him. I just happened to read this particular article because it got extra publicity as a result of right wing criticism.

Ingmar53 said...

"I don't think he writes only with the goal of being accurate, I think he writes as an advocate to try to persuade, so I don't normally read him."

Isn't that what a columnist does? He doesn't claim to be a news reporter. So you avoid all writers who have a POV?

Don Wharton said...

I will never be able to understand the madness of “conservatives.” You asked, “Will someone please explain how one can espouse the ultraconservative line and its socialist opposite in the same breath.” It cannot be done without there being a simple repudiation of logic.

Niall Ferguson recently wrote an essay for The Telegraph in which he argued that religion needed to be rekindled because hard shelled materialism will result in the belief in almost anything. See”

A small quote of Feguson's demented nonsense: “Chesterton feared that, if Christianity declined, "superstition" would "drown all your old rationalism and scepticism". When educated friends tell me that they have invited a shaman to investigate their new house for bad ju-ju, I see what Chesterton meant. Yet it is not the spread of such mumbo-jumbo that concerns me half so much as the moral vacuum our dechristianisation has created.“

We need to more forcefully confront the elite academic nonsense that science does not imply a rational view of ethical value. My discussion group the evening will focus on this issue.

Gary Berg-Cross said...

I agree that Sullivan has a skill of selling his arguments, more than they might deserve based on their merits. This might mean sacrificing some accurate, historical context, limited view of alternatives etc. to win over people. However, I find him lower on these than many other conservative voices. He has more intellect.

Niall Ferguson also is fluent & has intellect or at least a better veneer of one. Like Sullivan he had angst during the Bush Admin and wrote Colossus: The Rise and Fall of the American Empire (2004)about the inept job... But he likes the white man's burden of empire, just wants a better job doing it.

I find his work to be more bristling with polemic. I'm disturbed that he inflames a topic with analysis and predictions but never comes back to acknowledge how wrong he has been. An example was his joint US-China construct called Chimerica.

In this he is just like too many light weight conservative writers.
His recent book Civilization: The West and the Rest was taken apart by Pankaj Mishra in the London review of Books. See

"He seeks to mitigate the crimes of his beloved Western empires – what he calls ‘ugly methods of expropriation and enslavement’ – by also implicating ‘non-Western’ empires in them. "

Explicit Atheist said...

Ingmar53 "Isn't that what a columnist does? He doesn't claim to be a news reporter. So you avoid all writers who have a POV?"

Advocacy is good, i like well grounded advocacy. Like I said, I think he makes a good argument in this article that Obama has done well during his first term. That is an argument supported with facts. It is this columnist's additional argument in this same article for the proposition that Obama is out-maneuvering the opposition with a sophisticated long range strategy that I dislike To me, that is just spin, there is no substance to assertions like that. That is a universally applicable argument tactic for trying to burnish any sitting leader's record, it isn't a fact grounded argument. And I have seen Sullivan argue for his Catholic religious beliefs. His arguments in that context were incredibly awful, so bad that it hurts his credibility.

Edd.Doerr said...

Thanks, Don and Gary. The Ferguson/Hirsi Ali marriage must be interesting. Imagine Margaret Sanger married to Rick Santorum, or Madalyn O'Hair hitched to Pat Robertson.

Don Wharton said...

Ayaan Hirsi Ali Is under a death threat from the militant Islamists. The Christian right sees such people as the enemy. Since Ayaan is against them by an odd definition she becomes a member of the Christian right tribe. That tribe is willing to pay up to support to a greater extent than we are. That means that they are much more willing to finance the guards that are needed to protect her life. Obviously it remains a most strange relationship.