Political Animal


August 21, 2011 9:40 AM ‘The ultimate political ad hominem’

By Steve Benen

A couple of weeks ago, in a speech that was probably bigger than was appreciated at the time, President Obama delivered a speech in Michigan that presented a new theme to his economic message: there’s nothing fundamentally wrong with the nation, its institutions, or even the structure of its underperforming economy. What’s broken is American politics. The economy is a symptom of a larger disease — policymakers are fully capable of addressing this and other problems if our politics weren’t so badly broken.

As the president put it, “There are some in Congress right now who would rather see their opponents lose than see America win — and that has to stop.” Obama liked the line so much, he repeated it a few days later in his weekly address.

This appears to have outraged Charles Krauthammer.

Charging one’s opponents with bad faith is the ultimate political ad hominem. It obviates argument, fact, logic, history. Conservatives resist Obama’s social-democratic, avowedly transformational agenda not just on principle but on empirical grounds, as well — the economic and moral unraveling of Europe’s social-democratic experiment, on display today from Athens to the streets of London.

There’s a quite a bit wrong with this assessment, so let’s unpack it a bit.

First, to compare the White House’s agenda to “Europe’s social-democratic experiment” — or more to the point, comparing the administration to Greece and Britain — is just ridiculous, even for Krauthammer. It’s a lazy, reactionary argument with no basis in reality. If anything, it’s backwards — has Krauthammer even heard of the European austerity agenda?

Second, it’s rather ironic that Krauthammer would complain bitterly about accusations of bad faith in the same column in which he accuses President Obama of acting in bad faith. For that matter, the far-right columnist may not have noticed, but this “ultimate political ad hominem” has been a standard Republican line against this president for years, with nary a complaint from Krauthammer.

But even putting all that aside, I’m hard pressed to imagine how any reasonable observer could question the veracity of the president’s claim. Is it really that hard for Krauthammer to believe that “some” congressional Republicans place a higher priority on undermining Obama than helping the country? Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) hasn’t exactly been cagey on this point — asked about his party’s agenda, he’s argued, more than once, that his “top priority” isn’t job creation or economic growth, but rather, “denying President Obama a second term in office.” He’s all but conceded Obama’s point, on the record.

Jon Chait added in response to Krauthammer:

[T]he circumstantial evidence strongly suggests that Republicans have decided they’d rather defeat Obama than agree to a compromise that might benefit him politically while advancing their agenda. The economic consensus overwhelmingly holds that looser money and fiscal stimulus are the appropriate policy response to the Great Recession. In 2001, when we had a Republican president and a much less dire economic emergency, Republicans demanded looser money and more stimulus. They have undergone an intellectual conversion at a time that makes very little sense given economic circumstances but a great deal of sense given the partisan circumstances.

This is the whole point of the “sabotage” question. Coming on the heels of the debt-ceiling standoff — Republicans have said their own plan included holding the economy “hostage” — it’s impossible to take Krauthammer’s incredulity seriously.

Steve Benen is a contributing writer to the Washington Monthly, joining the publication in August, 2008 as chief blogger for the Washington Monthly blog, Political Animal.


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  • SW on August 21, 2011 9:44 AM:

    It is impossible to accurately portray the Republican party and its tactics today without outraging Charles Krauthammer. Therefore, outraging Charles Krauthammer should be among one's primary goals when running a campaign against Republicans.

  • Danp on August 21, 2011 9:51 AM:

    Is it really that hard for Krauthammer to believe that “some” congressional Republicans place a higher priority on undermining Obama than helping the country?

    "some"? How about "all"?

  • Walker on August 21, 2011 10:11 AM:

    Krauthammer also (like many conservatives), does not understand the definition of Ad Hominem. Just because a statement is an attack on a person does not make it the Ad Hominem fallacy.

    If a person is making an argument from authority (as opposed to data or other external evidence), then attacks on that authority are logically valid. Furthermore, when someone continually bases arguments on lies and false evidence, it is logically permissible to point out that they are doing so.

  • Larry on August 21, 2011 10:12 AM:

    The first thing Michele Bachmann says upon alighting from her tour bus is "let's make Obama a one-term president."

  • c u n d gulag on August 21, 2011 10:14 AM:

    To quote Ralph Kramden on this subject, "Ad hominem, hominem, hominem..."

    Ralph was much smarter than Mr. SourKrautNozzle.

  • Taobhan on August 21, 2011 10:15 AM:

    Krauthammer is paid to carry water for the GOP. He's going to carry that water no matter how badly it reeks. In other words, never expect intellecutal honesty from Krauthammer and you'll never be surprised at his utterances and scribblings.

  • berttheclock on August 21, 2011 10:24 AM:

    Unfortunately, our Oregonian will re-print Kraut's gibberish. A couple of days ago, they posted Rich Lowry's attack on the Left beginning their Hate Machine against Perry.

    I wish they would print both Kraut, Will and Lowry in the same copy which talks about our insipid Liberal Mayor Sam Adams, who, is going to implement curb side food scraps recycling, while cutting our trash pickups to every other week. Oh, and, Mayor Sam is going to provide us with waste pails to place in our kitchens. If, all of these can be in the same paper, then, I could use that paper for wrapping fish. Insipidness can exist on both spectrums of politics.

  • Larry on August 21, 2011 10:26 AM:

    As is usual in Republican opining, especially Krauthammer's, there are the trappings of logical argument just for the sake of sounding learned, but the terms are misapplied or irrelevant.

    It's irrelevant to whine about "ad hominem" attacks in political discourse, because the issue of personal character -- even though it probably has no bearing on whatever greater social issue is at stake -- is one that Americans accept, prize, and wanna be able to talk about.

    I agree with Walker's comment, that Krauthammer's particular use of "ad hominem" is wrong. Obama is not changing the issue by discussing the collective character of his political opponents; the current Republican hive-mind IS the issue. Even the number-crunchers at Standard & Poor's could see that.

  • kevo on August 21, 2011 10:29 AM:

    Charles K. would do well to realize
    the waters he's in are from da nile,
    which is the world's longest river
    he's trying to swim!

    Charles, oh Charles,
    come ashore
    someday soon
    before you lungs
    are too submerged!

    Ad homenin, Dear Charles,
    you charge so boldly?
    What with your tendency
    to pen pieces so unholy!

    You attack your political enemies
    and now you wish us to believe
    as you attack our president,
    your legecy is not in rhetorical extremities!


  • hell's littlest angel on August 21, 2011 10:38 AM:

    This is an argumentum ad hominem :

    Charles Krauthammer's economic theories are wrong because he is a nasty motherfucker.

    This is not an argumentum ad hominem:

    Charles Krauthammer is a nasty motherfucker.

    I'm sure everyone here already understands that, but I just like calling Krauthammer a nasty motherfucker.

  • PTate in MN on August 21, 2011 10:43 AM:

    Over the past several years, when conservatives have called Obama a gangster, a boy, a tar baby, a anti-colonialist or "not a real American citizen", and we accused them of racism, Republicans have swooned in horror, "how dare liberals accuse poor innocent us of being racists...!" and successfully stopped the criticism.

    So it is not surprising that when Obama accuses them of bad faith, the reactionaries take out their fans and put their hands to their brows and deny it. Of course they will respond with swooning horror, "how dare liberals accuse us of sabotage...." because hypocrisy and denial are their first lines of defense.

    But it really is rich--in an appalling, face-of-evil way--for the Odious Krauthammer to object. In what twisted, sick worldview does he manage to reconcile his objection with what the Republicans have been doing, publicly, openly?

    They claim to be Christian, the Republicans, but since it is Sunday, I'll quote another WWJD that these hypocrites totally fail to observe, Matthew 7:3, "Why do you see the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye?"

  • Rip on August 21, 2011 11:04 AM:

    The more conservative mouthpieces are afraid of a Democrat's rhetoric gaining traction, the louder they squeal.

    Here's a tip for Democrats: If Republicans aren't hysterically accusing you of class warfare and wanting to punish the job creators - you aren't getting your message across.

  • Anonymous on August 21, 2011 11:05 AM:

    It's easy: President Obama just has to give "argument, fact, logic, history" and the Cabbagehammer can go on his merry way. Why won't Mr Obama lay out the argument, facts, logic and history? What's stopping him?

  • MNRD on August 21, 2011 11:18 AM:

    The Republicans were warned repeatedly from a very wide range of sources that using the debt ceiling as a hostage-taking political maneuver was dangerous for our country's economic stability. They went ahead with their debt ceiling hostage taking anyway - and there is now overwhelming concrete evidence that their hostage-taking has indeed had a strong destabilizing impact on our country's economic stability. And yet, there is no remorse on the part of the Republicans! On the contrary, they are deliberately doubling-down on the behaviors that have caused so much damage - and they are trying to deflect all of the blame onto the President! There is the proof that their plan all along has been to deliberately destabilize the economy and then use that destabilization as a political weapon with which to harm the President politically.

  • c4Logic on August 21, 2011 11:21 AM:

    Krauthammer is a whore. He is paid to politically debase himself. He doesn't do it out of love or passion--just for money. Grease his palms and he will go on the attack for you, with whatever he has to work with, no matter how ridiculous or out of touch with reality.

    He is a whore. Therefore, nothing he says is worth a bucket of warm scheiss. It's all meaningless drivel. You might as well say it is a tale told by an idiot--full of sound and fury, and signifying nothing.

    Now--the question is--who are these 'Johns' who pay Krauthammer for his lip service? I mean, we know who his pimps are. But what kind of person is titillated by what the big whore has to offer? Ad Hominem is as Ad Hominem does...

  • bob on August 21, 2011 11:30 AM:

    Obviously, Krauthammer is absurd in claiming that Obama is unfairly attacking Republicans, but nobody who is serious pays any attention to Krauthammer's babbling. The unfortunate thing, not remarked upon by Benen (but pointed out by DeLong, Krugman, and many others) is that Obama's repeated claim that there's nothing fundamentally wrong with the economy is misguided and hurtful in an economy with years of 9% unemployment and more to come. Obama has swallowed the GOP line that it is necessary to decrease government spending; in fact it under the present circumstances it is necessary to INCREASE government spending.

  • Anonymous on August 21, 2011 11:35 AM:

    and one would care what the always constipated Krautie has to allow????

    Rantings from the right are all the same... though he is more literate than the usual cut and paste from the single source info consumers!

  • Kane on August 21, 2011 11:57 AM:

    Can you imagine what the media narrative would be right now if the positions were reversed? Can you imagine what the media would be saying about Democrats in congress if they had publicly stated that their primary goal was to hamstring a Republican president? Can you imagine what the media would be saying if Democrats decided to sabotage the economy for the sole purpose to damage the reelection chances of a Republican president? Can you imagine the headlines if Democrats had held the economy hostage and caused a credit downgrade...and then cheered? Can you imagine the media's take if in a recall election, Democrats had placed fake Republicans on the ballot just to muddy the political waters? Can you imagine the stories if a Democratic Congress, elected on the promise of creating jobs, had failed to provide a single jobs bill eight months after taking office?

    It's doubtful that the media would be blaming the Republican president. It's doubtful that the media would be offering the popular meme of both sides do it. It's doubtful that the media would be providing a neverending stream of stories highlighting the discontent within the Republican party political base towards the Republican president, rather than focusing on the outrage of the vast majority of the Republican base towards Democrats.

  • Sparko on August 21, 2011 12:08 PM:

    Right wing zealots only froth at the mouth like this when you have landed an effective punch. And have effectively characterized their strategy. Methinks he doth protest too much. The SOBs need to get the Hell out of the way and let us fix the economy.

  • Jerry Elsea on August 21, 2011 12:19 PM:

    Nowhere in that column does Krauthammer mention 2001-2009, the Bush years. Like many another right-wing pundit, he wants his readers to believe the deep recession and all its causes date from Inauguration Day 2009. In fact, nowhere in that particular column does Krauthammer mention George W. Bush. To see the extent to which the columnist admired Bush, read his bellicose March 2003 column headlined "America is coming ashore!" The fact that Krauthammer has been wrong about Iraq and practically everything else should alert readers to his ignorance, or blind bias, on matters economic.

    In the column Steve Benen cited, Krauthammer once again is guilty of lying by omission -- leaving out vital elements in order to make his case. Similarly, in at least one listing of reasons for blowback from U.S. action in the Middle East, he omitted the fact of our friendship with Israel.

    Almost incredibly, the "Morning Joe" crew on MSNBC lauded Krauthammer for his latest writing, claiming he is perhaps the nation's most respected and well-read columnist. And no one seemed to notice the history lesson began in 2009.

  • Grumpy on August 21, 2011 12:23 PM:

    Ultimately, Rush Limbaugh's hope that Obama would fail will be the most consequential words of the past four years. And if Krauthammer is looking, *that* was the ad hominem argument. Limbaugh claimed failure would be good because Obama hated America, based on nothing Obama had yet done.

  • FRP on August 21, 2011 12:29 PM:

    I imagine the need for a sizable mausoleum for the realistic compassionate conservative Artifact and reworked Hagiographa Placeararia (sic) , is now as much a part of American sensibility as good old apple pie . The busy hands over to Madison Ave have been draining the meaning of individuality and overtime pay for schleps as a continuing effort to compassionize (sic) America for the down trodden billionaire and his poorer cousins the millionaire , part of the unsung national heroes , snif .
    Amongst the competing exhibits of inspirational faith (and party favours) will be suitably preserved organs from the "twelve" apostles of the compassionate conservativia that saved the world from domestic comforts , logic , and common purpose .
    Without lovingly fondling the organs in detail , let the following suffice . Unaccompanied by the sordid dealings of DNA profiling , with which the sainted dozen might be implicated in so called "crimes" from the agonized era of law and its second of three columns , representative government .
    The most popular exhibits are naturally the naughty little bits that resolve frequently recurring controversies such as if Karl Rove was G W Booschie's brain , a crowd pleasing and satisfying answer there , you betcha .
    The most singular exhibit , in this reporters mind , is the resolution which included the easily provoked and outraged Charles Krauthammer's spite gland . The debate over whether or not he belonged next to Sister Sarah's or Mighty Michele's still functioning ovaries is over now and as a nation we are the better for it .
    After his nomination and the agonized screams of protest (which are now part of the background music) that he , "Had only begun to spite" , as the honored gland was searched for then removed for exhibit still fresh with dripping hate and fury .
    Please come one , come all ! Family entertainment along with the healthy triumphal representation of compassionate conservatia's brave elimination of the tired , the poor , the huddled masses yearning to breathe somebody else's payday , the wretched refuse of your teeming shore on your shore .
    Send these, the homeless , tempest-tossed to the ash heap of history , amen .

    We lift our whip of hope beside the golden rule

    Extremism in the defense of liberty is no vice
    Let us remind that moderation in the pursuit of justice is no virtue

    Thank you

  • mpilkanis on August 21, 2011 2:33 PM:

    Krauthammer is a principal component of the wingnut braintrust. Supposedly after you're tired of listening to the childish rants of any of the doctrinaire clownshoes, we're supposed to take Krauthammer's assesments as the distillation of contemporary wingnut thought, with apologies to thoughts everywhere. Trouble is he's as big a clueless asshole as any of the others. NYT, please! Lose the douchebag!

  • John on August 21, 2011 3:24 PM:

    It’s a lazy, reactionary argument with no basis reality.

    This sentence effectively encapsulates every column Krauthammer has ever scribbled down.

  • June on August 21, 2011 8:51 PM:

    Interesting how Pres. Obama used the phrase "some in Washington," and Krauthammer immediately took to his fainting couch.

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  • Christian on August 22, 2011 1:11 AM:

    Although the anti-Obama campaign tactics maybe viewed as bad political strategy on the republican's part, one of Obama's biggest campaign promises was to bring change to Washington and fix the broken American political system. Now after his first presidency he is using the same message. Yes, the President has it tough with a republican majority in the House and all republican's trying to undermine his policies, but this country has always been results driven in everything it does. Obama has followed through on health care and bailed out the automotive and banking industries, but the economy is still not in a favorable place, hurting people's views of him because the bad economy hits them where they feel it the most, their wallets. I don't think he is solely to blame, but ultimately he is the President and he is the leader of this country.

  • yellowdog on August 22, 2011 1:15 AM:

    Krauthammer misuses the word 'obviate' in that sentence. Annoying....

    The GOP as the party of "argument, fact, logic, history" is a riot. GOP empiricism got fatally ill about 1980. Imitators were hired to fill in for a while, in a neat preview of the plot of -Weekend at Bernies- but, eventually they laid that body down. Ronald Reagan dug the grave; Newt Gingrich delivered the eulogy; George W. Bush lowered the coffin into the cold ground. Let us all observe a moment of silence for the death of rational, fact-based conservatism. Krauthammer cannot revive what is dead, dead, dead.

  • norbizness on August 22, 2011 8:26 AM:

    That's too bad; I really wanted to take that reactionary, consistently-wrong hack seriously.

  • Anonymous on August 22, 2011 8:57 AM:

    ...is the ultimate political ad hominem. It obviates argument, fact, logic, history. Conservatives resist Obama's social-democratic...

    obviate verb [ trans. ]
    remove (a need or difficulty) : the Venetian blinds obviated the need for curtains.
    avoid; prevent : a parachute can be used to obviate disaster.

    ...is the ultimate political ad hominem. It prevents argument, fact, logic, history. Conservatives resist Obama's social-democratic...

    It is an a priori argument . The powerful wizard of right wing insolent rant has inferred that by magically invoking vague references to faith , and the inherent qualities within those specific charges , he can envision the machinery of Obama's mind . It is through his magical crystal ball that he sees the prevention , a priori , of the qualities of good decent Republican truculence obviated or prevented .
    Thank you

  • yellowdog on August 22, 2011 1:14 PM:

    Obviate comes from a Latin word meaning to prevent--as in preventing problems, dilemmas, and future events that are unwanted. Obviate means preclude only in the sense that one precludes or prevents possible disaster or misadventure or difficulty--like the sun shining too brightly into a room. It is a minor point of usage. I regret mentioning it. However, Krauthammer makes me ill. I obviate dyspepsia by not listening to him.

    Obviate is not a word one uses to be understood. It is a thesaurus word that writers drop into their text from a great height, to make readers think they know more than they really do. Krauthammer is an irritant and a gasbag. A big thesaurus will not change that.