Cynicism or realism, hope or action
The most highly esteemed world-leader, the benevolent, the all-wise Obama gave a speech on July 10, 2014 in Austin Texas—a national stronghold of conservative ideology. The things he said were quite revealing about the state of our nation and the world. Unfortunately, what he said was founded on highly debatable “facts” and structured in a way to inflate the size of what few legitimate claims he made, while glossing over the real problems we face. The speech can be read as what we in the field of rhetoric call an “apologia”—a speech in defense of one’s character or actions. Why not take a closer look (if you can stomach it) and see what Obama really said. I suspect it will harden your resolve to continue preparing your life and family for the new economy, as it has mine.
Obama’s lead speechwriter, Jon Favereau, is 33 years old and has worked as a professional right out of college since the Kerry campaign in 2004. He majored in political science and sociology—fields that help him understand and gain the explicit trust of the “community organizer” for whom he works. You don’t find many conservatives in America’s colleges, and they are even rarer in poly-sci and sociology departments. I can safely presume he received the best liberal education one can get. But in addition to a good education, this guy has a “gift.” Students who “get it” excel at this part and go on to careers in public relations, advertising, journalism and sometimes even speechwriting. There is a “knack” as Plato called it that cannot be taught. But it can be fully developed through study and practice. Favereau seems to have it all going for him. And in Obama, he has a mouthpiece who is articulate, has a golden voice, is comfortable before crowds, and “appears” to put his real personality out on display for his audience. A speechwriter couldn’t ask for a better teleprompter reader.
In recent years, Obama’s popularity rating has plummeted as voices across the country criticize his decisions. Obama must do something to stem this downward trajectory in his public image and perception. His legacy needs it, Hillary needs it. The democrats need it if they want any chance at beating the Republicans in the fast approaching 2016 campaign. So Obama needs to address the criticism.
Obama’s team chose to deliver this particular speech in heart of conservative country (rather than in New Mexico or some other border state), a salient site of the latest controversy. Even the media journalists notice that he focused on the economy and hardly mentioned the immigration controversy. But that is because he has bigger problems than immigration.
Every aspect of the location for this speech, the stage and the way he appeared was carefully scripted. His sleeves are rolled up in his typical attempt to connect with working people (with common folks behind him--backing him)—his shirt a light shade of blue (blue-collar). He referred to his own economic struggles of the past in an apparent fabrication. The Obamas married in 1992 after both had received law degrees and after he was employed teaching at the U of Chicago. From that point, his career has been on the fast track. The facts suggest that the Obamas have been part of the higher classes since their marriage—not the struggling working class. To connect with this audeince, he delivers teleprompted colloquial phrases like “me and Michelle” and “working their tail off” with a natural ease that belies his elite background.
Favreau’s puppet opens the speech by establishing his talking points as being called forth by the American public and not from his own agenda. This is simply another tactic. He cites the multiple thousands of letters her receives, no doubt, even admitting that half of them are negative. Then he selects a “representative sample” to present to the audience: a single letter from a young woman, Ms Kinsey, who tells a story of her productive hardworking family, bashed by Bush era economic problems that brought hardship and career change. Obama identifies with the Kinseys. Says that their struggles have been the struggles of his own family. Riiiiiggghhhhttt.
The use of the “selected example tactic” is difficult to challenge. It is a real story from real people. You cannot refute its verity. The Kinsey story is moving. Told by their daughter, it engages the audience emotions, bringing the problem near to the heart, eliciting compassion. The fallacy lies in its “representativeness” of the mainstream of US citizens. But who wants mention sampling errors at a time like this and demean their hardship. But they only represent themselves and their letter probably falls in the 2nd or 3rd standard deviation of “success levels of people who worked hard.” In other words, Obama builds a general case on the outlier example. This is an argument fallacy. As we all know, the use of emotional proofs weighs heavily on the scale of decision, usually outweighing facts and rational argument.
Favereau knows the difference between fallacious and valid argumentation. His selective use of evidence indicates his willingness to employ sophism. Then these letters, of which he only refers to one, contain the concealed thesis of his speech—Obama will talk about the economy.
From this point, Obama parrots all the “official statistics” regarding the economy, not looking deeper but taking them at face value:
- 10 million new jobs—never mind that a majority are part time
- Housing is rebounding—never mind that too many of these sales are to investors.
- Auto industry is booming—thanks to channel stuffing
- Manufacturing jobs are increasing—note the graph below and find the silver lining. Since the late 90s the US has lost 6 million jobs, and only recovered 8% of them since 2008.
- Unemployment rate the lowest since 2008—never mind that the labor participation rate is falling—many thanks to the hard work of the statisticians at the BLS.
To keep his feet on reasonable ground, he is forced to admit that things are tough. Yet that difficulty for people is always framed within an overall optimistic outlook. In the next section he argues (fallaciously) that the US economy is recovering, concluding that “Americans bounce back.” From there he touts the emerging successes made with his oversight.
- He claims we produce more oil than we buy, but includes natural gas as a component of energy to claim we produce more than any other nation in the world. If the numbers with a gas inclusion were not high enough, he could have included corn-based ethanol. One way or another, he was determined to make that energy claim.
- He takes credit for the subsidized industries of wind and solar energy, yet these subtract from the production of nuclear and coal electric generation.
- Graduation rates are at record highs because of a dumbing down of the requirements and record enrollments due to the poor economy. Hardly something one wants to take credit for—unless you don’t look under the hood.
- He mentions the Affordable health Care Act (a rhetorical title if ever I heard one) and defends it with a hypothetical outlier case once again: “They won’t go broke just because they get sick.” Never mind that this is socialistic medicine, paid for by those who do work.
- Obama’s claim that the deficit has been reduced to half is based on CBO prediction, not actual numbers. It is still higher than any time in history except his first four years in office, and the prediction has been achieved by tax hikes and artificially low interest rates from the FED. Though the claim may be technically true, a glance under the surface nullifies any notion that the economy is better.
- Then he exemplifies “world class education” as a technical certificate granted by a community college to open a door to factory a job. One can only shake their head in response.
The case that Obama offers his audience is based on positively framed, superficial statistics, vaguely generalized, with linguistic devices, to suggest it applies to a majority of Americans, though it is based on the story of only one family or the selected examples he typically uses in a speech. From here Obama attacks the republicans as being the real impediment to progress. He heaps blame upon them—in essence, “attacking his accuser”—an old stand-by tactic for the apologia speech. If you can cast blame for problems on another with any legitimacy, your own character and actions don’t look so bad.
So, in defense of himself Obama blames all problems on the Republicans. He argues that the US economy is better today—that he has overseen the “recovery” of the economy since 2008. He next argues that the economy would be stronger if not for those damned republicans who thwart all his plans and actions. From an uninformed sheep’s perspective, this could be taken as true, though all know the current issues are much more complex than bifurcated partisan politics. Finally, to deflect recent criticism of his prolific use of Executive Orders he says, “I will try to make something happen to help working Americans!” He was forced into all the EOs by … you guessed it, those damned Republicans who won’t do anything to help. It is all up to “lonely” Obama, the advocate of the working class, your friend cause he is just like you.
After lambasting the other party, Obama launches into a hopeful vision of the future—a vision nobody could criticize, yet one that will be difficult to achieve. He suggests that America could achieve that vision if they’ll simply let go of their cynicism and embrace hope. Wow! I didn’t know it was that easy! He divides issues into a bifurcated choice between good and bad, using that phrasing to structure his actions, implying that Republicans are bad.
To climax the speech, Obama presents the false dichotomy of cynicism vs hope. Painting anyone who disagrees with him as a cynic, he goes to work:
“America is making progress, despite what the cynics say. … Cynicism is popular these days. It’s what passes off as wisdom … Cynicism is a choice …Hope is a better choice.”
The fallacy in this section resides in his error in calling the other a cynic. Am I a cynic to look under the hood and see the real problems this nation faces? Am I a cynic to question bald face claims? I thought that was called critical thinking. No, I am a realist, a realist who wants to have hope for the future, but is over-burdened by incompetent and deceptive politicians—politicians who paint rosy views of the future based on flawed statistical methods, politicians who exaggerate truth they like and bury truth they do not, and politicians who take their orders from corporate oligarchical powers on the vast majority of public issues.
I am no cynic. Rather than putting my hope in Obama, I am taking action, buckling my seat belt for the derailment of this train, and setting aside what I will need to start over helping to build a community for the future.
Normally, I agree that hope is a better choice. But hope cannot be founded in wishful thinking and massaged economic statistics. It must come from reality. Read the economic news. Look under the hood of the BLS reports to see the actual data. Notice the revisions as they are released. Are these stats and indicators hopeful? Recognize that the initial numbers at the surface level support Obama’s claims, but a quick analysis tells a different story. Notice how the media ignores the “bad economic news” and broadly covers the fabricated good news. If the only news they have is bad, they frame it best they can and present it as “hopeful.”
When the leader of our nation stoops to falsifying economic statistics, blame-shifting, employing argument fallacies, cherry-picking emotional stories, and then bashing any who disagree with him (damned cynics anyway), then I take note. A world leader should never have to resort to such low tactics. It strengthens my resolve to be ready for what comes.
Humans need hope. But hope founded in fantasy leads to disaster. We need hope, but it must be hope in the right dream. Let us dream for a better world after the central bankers and their lapdog politicians have been swept from power in a non-violent grass roots revolution. The mighty must fall from their towers, be exposed, and not allowed to slink off to a safe haven to start rebuilding their plots. The right dream has to survive the economic chaos they have created, emerge on the other side with what we need to rebuild our communities. We who stack and prepare will survive and come through, but we must also come through with a will to rebuild, possessing practical skills we can teach others. The economy cannot be rebuilt by uneducated, skill-less, former welfare slugs. If basic farm labor is all these people can do, then they’ll dig potatoes if they want to eat. But we will need people skilled in trades, teachers, entrepreneurs, merchants, leaders. All these positions require some form of education, whether it is from a trade school, a college, or mentoring from our elders.
Make learning part of your prepping. Develop your skills as much as you can now. We will need them. Three things will save us in the future: faith in God, some gold, and your gift to others as we rebuild. That is where we must place our hope.