Poe’s Law in effect:
As President Obama enters the uninhibited twilight of his presidency, some of what we are witnessing from him is shocking yet informative. In the past week, Obama’s words and actions have revealed the thought process behind how policy decisions are made in his administration. Some of these recent incidents demand urgent responses from our Republican leaders, who are obligated to oppose the president when he crosses the line. But also, Republicans need to do what they can to pull Hillary Clinton into the fray. She has been getting a pass while Obama lurches to the left and Republicans generate distracting headlines.
Conservative lobbyist Ed Rogers opens with a curious paragraph, the sort of … something, I can’t exactly say what … that at the very least suggests what follows will not be the standard pabulum punditry.
And yet, it is, or, rather, both is and isn’t. It is, in fact, Poe’s Law―the proposition that in written discourse it can become impossible to distinguish between genuine extremism and a parody thereof―in effect.
First, the president’s comments Thursday at the National Prayer Breakfast were jaw-dropping. He said, “Lest we get on our high horse and think this is unique to some other place, remember that during the Crusades and the Inquisition, people committed terrible deeds in the name of Christ.” Why would the president tell the Islamic State, a terrorist group, that he is keeping its actions in perspective? This is an incredible and alarming statement; Republicans need to voice their strong objections and force Democrats to state whether or not they agree with the president. And as the Democrats’ presumptive presidential nominee, Clinton should also let us know where she stands. Does she think today’s actions and sentiments toward the Islamic State should be shaped by the Muslim-Christian battles of more than 900 years ago? Does she also want us to keep those battles in mind, get off our high horse and temper our objections to the Islamic State?
The first thing to note is the weird contextual shift; the second is the odd presentation. As Steve Benen noted of other conservative rhetoric on the issue:
Neither Fleming nor Bolling were kidding. This wasn’t satire intended to make conservatives look foolish; the recordings of both of men make clear they were entirely sincere.
There is a relevant point even in addition to the Poe context.
It is given that the opposition will seek pretense to criticize; this is not an offensive axiom in and of itself. Furthermore, it is generally established that despite a pretentious journalistic effort to equivocate, there are clear differences between the parties both in policy and process. Pointing to inept public relations and tasteless opportunism on both sides of the aisle is like pissing on ducks in a barrel; easy enough to envision, but mind what you hang out for the quacks. The Bush years themselves seemed somewhat strange, but the Obama era has thrust conservative neurotic rupture squarely into the limelight. Pretending that all is normal in the Beltway is something of a silly exercise.
In the cases of Fleming and Bolling, it is nothing more than a determination to miss the point. What stands out about Rogers is the airy presupposition; you know that somewhere in America someone is reading through that article and nodding along affirmatively, but that doesn’t tell us anything about what Rogers thinks he actually means.
So try this one on:
The Post doesn’t say it, but I think Obama is seeking a friendly agreement with Iran that it will not construct a nuclear bomb until after he leaves office. Obama appears willing to leave Iran’s nuclear infrastructure in place and accept at face value the Iranian government’s laughable assurances that it wants only peaceful nuclear technology. He is choosing to ignore all Iran’s previous lies. Maybe deep down he sees a form of “fairness” in letting Iran have nuclear weapons. After all, we have them — and since he dismisses American exceptionalism, he probably doesn’t think we are worthy stewards of these weapons. Israel has them, and this president has made clear that he thinks very little of Israel’s defense posture.
Yes, really, this is what passes for “insider” argument. I mean, really? Yes, really. Really? Hello, Poe?
Because he goes on. Oh, he goes on:
Third, the release of the president’s surreal, liberal dream-budget gives us a government blueprint that shows what he would do if he were King of America. It is almost Chavez-like in its confiscation of wealth, higher taxes, new borrowing and uninhibited spending. Obama wants to reach into the pockets of U.S. companies everywhere, raise taxes on just about every form of wealth and spend more and more on social schemes that corral citizens into the care of the state and freely heap new debt on future generations.
Presidents are supposed to lead, guide and convince. Instead, Obama makes excuses for our enemies, ignores economic reality and acts unilaterally. I know this may sound harsh or partisan, but I don’t feel like I’m straining to reach these conclusions. It is up to Republicans to stand firm, pass alternatives to the president’s policies in Congress and not just be hecklers in the crowd. And Hillary Clinton, Democratic leaders in Congress and their candidates everywhere all need to be asked whether they are Obama-ites or something different.
And at some point we achieve orbit, at the holy shit! valence. This … can’t … possibly … be … real?
Except it is.
It just isn’t what it looks like it’s supposed to be.
Ed Rogers buried the lede: This is about Hillary Clinton.
No, really. Go back and read the first and last paragraphs of Rogers’ piece again.
So, yes, really.
Rogers, Ed. “Obama’s week of jaw-dropping follies”. The Washington Post. 6 February 2015.
Benen, Steve. “Prayer Breakfast flap reaches peak nonsense”. msnbc. 9 February 2015.
Alright, I’m trying to stay open minded here… But I’m not quite sure I understand where you are coming from. For one thing, Christians did do some pretty messed up things in the name of God and called it a Holy War during the Crusades, much as Islamists use the term Jihad today. And they are all using religion as an excuse for political gains, so I really don’t see the difference or the offense at the comparison. Best is to own up to the past, instead of being offended by it. It will make us all more aware to acknowledge what we came from.
Second, is it possible to argue about higher taxes and raising debt in the same breath without further explanation? Higher taxes should be decreasing debt, or at least keeping us from raising the debt higher than it already is. What are you basing this complaint on?
Third, what makes you conclude that Obama is turning a blind eye to Iran? You indicate the Post does not say as much, but that would make your supposition completely speculative, correct?
I am just very confused, as I would like to understand your side of matters, but I’m having a hard time separating fact from fiction and supposition. I would greatly appreciate further clarification on your points.
Well, it seems to me we share a critique of Ed Rogers, but what strikes me about his bizarre screed is that the whole thing is actually about Hillary Clinton. Note the last sentence of both the first and last paragraphs. (They used to teach that in high school composition where I was from; put your thesis at the front or back of the first paragraph, and reiterate in the first or last sentence of the last paragraph.)
It seems I have fallen short to one of my own stead fast rules, which is never voice opinions after midnight, because I know I’m too tired to properly read. I did not see traditional quotes, and therefore assumed (wrongly) that you were stating your own views and agreeing with Ed Rogers. Now that I’m looking again (I know it is still after midnight, but when does a girl have time anymore?) and I not only see that we are in agreement, but both fault the logic of Mr Rogers.
My high school did teach the same thing about putting your thesis in the opening and closing paragraphs, but I knew for a fact that if I didn’t have at last three paragraphs in between that opening and closing that strongly supported that statement, I was not gonna get a good mark for that report.
Mr Rogers does not, in my opinion, meet the criteria of supporting paragraphs. In fact, the more I reread and think about what he has written, the angrier I become. I hope to God Hillary supports Obama’s view that Christians committed atrocities during the crusades, because anyone who would deny that, is contributing to history repeating itself.
Thank you for bringing this to my attention. I’m going to need to write my own blog on my opinion of this piece because o cannot do it justice on a comment. (Believe me, I just spent the last fifteen minutes typing and deleting). Thank you for bringing this to my attention
It’s a completely effed-up piece; I went back and forth so many times trying to figure out the bizarre rhetoric of Rogers paragraphs about the prayer breakfast, Iran, and the budget that … well, okay, it took a few tries, to be certain; in the end, the only thing that makes sense is that the article really is about Hillary, merely throwing meat to the base and dragging her name into it so that, later, Republicans can complain about how she never answers the issues.