Come for the Politics, Stay for the Pathologies

Saturday, June 13, 2009

The Rhetoric of Moral Equivalency

Since I was unable to provide analysis on BHO’s historic Cairo speech to the Muslim world beyond this rudimentary observation, I decided to let the always articulate Charles Krauthammer do it far more eloquently.

He begins with a comment on Obama’s European tour de force:

"acting the philosopher-king who hovers above the fray mediating" between America and the world.

This is a skill Obama developed on the campaign trail. He grew accustomed to standing on stage above his minions, looking down at them, looking back at him.

MSM believers reiterate his observation, only in earnest:

Now that Obama has returned from his "Muslim world" pilgrimage, even the left agrees. "Obama's standing above the country, above -- above the world. He's sort of God," Newsweek's Evan Thomas said to a concurring Chris Matthews, reflecting on Obama's lofty perception of himself as the great transcender

The rest of Krauthammer’s column consists of pointing out that the balance of the speech amounts to taking shots at America and invoking cultural sensitivity and moral equivalency in applying the rules of relativism to the rest of the world.

That's the problem with Obama's transcultural evenhandedness. It gives the veneer of professorial sophistication to the most simple-minded observation: Of course there are rights and wrongs in all human affairs. Our species is a fallen one. But that doesn't mean that these rights and wrongs are of equal weight.

Here-in is the danger of rhetorical speech: it sounds wise and even-handeded, but put to the scrutiny of logic, it appears painfully sophistic. Relativism relies on such fallacious thinking:

Obama offered Muslims a careful admonition about women's rights, noting how denying women education impoverishes a country -- balanced, of course, with this: "Issues of women's equality are by no means simply an issue for Islam." Example? "The struggle for women's equality continues in many aspects of American life."

Well, yes. On the one hand, there certainly is some American university where the women's softball team has received insufficient Title IX funds -- while, on the other hand, Saudi women showing ankle are beaten in the street, Afghan school girls have acid thrown in their faces, and Iranian women are publicly stoned to death for adultery. (Gays, as well -- but then again we have Prop 8.) We all have our shortcomings, our national foibles. Who's to judge?

Indeed, who is to judge? Surely not us: the colonialists, the imperialists - the great Satan of the West.

Krauthammer concludes:

Obama undoubtedly thinks he is demonstrating historical magnanimity with all these moral equivalencies and self-flagellating apologetics. On the contrary. He's showing cheap condescension, an unseemly hunger for applause and a willingness to distort history for political effect.

Distorting history is not truth-telling but the telling of soft lies. Creating false equivalencies is not moral leadership but moral abdication. And hovering above it all, above country and history, is a sign not of transcendence but of a disturbing ambivalence toward one's own country.

I don’t know what’s worse - to assume Obama’s pandering, or assume he’s sincere. Either way, I don’t see the upside.