SOPHISTRY

Posted in Rants on March 1st, 2015 by Ed

Beyond any doubt the most irritating type of person to have in a classroom – not only as a teacher but also as a fellow student – is the one who turns everything he is wrong about into a philosophical question about the nature of truth. This is one of the oldest and lamest rhetorical tactics in the book. "It may seem like I'm demonstrably wrong, but who can really know anything? What is truth?" That kind of crap. It is, to paraphrase my favorite description of Newt Gingrich, the kind of thing that really stupid people think sounds smart. And one of the reasons you hear this kind of thing in a classroom is that young people tend to be overconfident and think that they are more charming, intelligent, and persuasive than they are.

Despite (or perhaps because of) the fact that most people grow out of that around the time they start to drive, it looks like this is going to be Scott Walker's go-to strategy for dealing with criticism throughout his kamikaze run at the White House that we are just now beginning to endure with no end in sight. Does Barack Obama love America? How can anyone really know? How can anyone really know anything? I couldn't possibly say one way or the other without having spoken to Barack Obama about this directly.

Scott Walker: epistemological skeptic.

This kind of logic has always been the backbone of lowest common denominator populism (What do scientists really know? Isn't everything just a theory? Can't I be right even if everything I say is wrong?) and it has quickly become integral to the grand GOP strategy. Having gone all-in on anti-intellectualism and willful disregard for facts in the early W Bush years, they're certainly not going to start telling the rube army that ideology may not always trump facts at this point. The Republican Party is a coalition of smart people trying to sound dumb and dumb people trying to sound smart; Walker is a tool of the former and the archetype of the latter.

Personally I'd love to see Walker win the nomination from a practical perspective – he'd do about as well in a general election as Rick Santorum, in all likelihood. But from the more important perspective of my own mental well-being, I don't know if I can listen to this guy for 617 more days. I'd gladly risk a more electable Republican winning the nomination for the easy to digest, pallid blandness of a Mitt Romney or Jeb Bush. If not, anyone who wondered what it would happen if a hack local politician got thrust into a presidential election is going to get the chance to find out. We will watch the putative greatest nation on Earth ask itself if a guy who looks like, sounds like, and has the intellectual capacity of a career liquor commissioner in Racine should become so-called the leader of the free world. I don't worry about him winning; I worry about having to live through it.

This must be what it felt like to live through the Harding-Coolidge years.