Entry from November 19, 2015

Commenting on President Obama’s press conference in Turkey on Monday, Jonathan S. Tobin of Commentary wrote this:

For all of his manifold talents, President Obama’s chief shortcoming remains a dogged refusal to ever consider the possibility that he might be mistaken. To an objective observer, the course of the war in Iraq and Syria, as well as the spread of Islamist terror on his watch, would at the very least call into question the president’s strategy. Yet everything that has happened in the last seven years has only served to deepen Obama’s conviction that he was right about everything in the first place. As much as it is hard for [George W.] Bush to shake the reputation of a failed president, he had one characteristic that Obama lacks: the ability to admit error and change his mind to adapt to circumstances.

Well, that’s what we get for having elected an ideologue to the presidency. The left likes to claim that conservatives are prisoners of some ideology of their own, but the test is this inability to change one’s mind no matter how circumstances change, no matter how overwhelming the evidence that one has been mistaken. The pragmatist (Mr Tobin’s example is President Bush’s Iraq Surge of 2007) can do it; the ideologue cannot.

And what’s the reason? The ideologue can’t change his mind about anything because to do so he would have to change his mind about everything. His ideology has given him a handy intellectual tool for connecting all his discrete beliefs about the world together into a comprehensive world-view that identifies him with others holding the same viewpoint and calling themselves "progressives." But being progressive is more an identity than it is a system of beliefs. It is who you are, not just what you think. Therefore, for a progressive ideologue to change any part of his beliefs would be to call into question all the rest, along with his sense of self, his very identity, which is intimately bound up with his progressivism.

Any amount of intellectual contortionism must be preferable to that, as we can tell from the particular strand of the progressive ideology which was called into service in response to last Friday’s massacre in Paris. I refer to the pacifist strand. The progressive must suppose that mass murderers in the cause of an ideology of their own have been au fond provoked to such wicked deeds by something their victims or those near and dear to them have done to the murderers, or to those near and dear to them. In other words, it’s all part of a "cycle of violence" which can only be escaped — so the pacifist ideology would tell us — by the victims’ or their survivors’ refusing to perpetuate it by retaliating.

Of course, those without any ideological blinders on will see at once that this theory of the cycle of violence doesn’t work in reality. Not even close. Whether we retaliate, as we did under President Bush, or we don’t retaliate, as we are doing under President Obama, the terrorists go on hitting us just the same. Again and again. At least if we retaliate, common sense tells us, there will be that many fewer jihadis to worry about. But no, our ideologically sophisticated president, now lecturing us from the Philippines, tells us that "I cannot think of a more potent recruitment tool for ISIL" than "some of the rhetoric" of his get-tough Republican critics.

Gosh! After so many terrorist atrocities in the last 20 years, wouldn’t you just hate to see what ISIL does if it gets really mad at us? Better to accept our lumps, it seems, and trust in his long term "strategy" (whatever that is) to knock off the bad guys for us. Or perhaps to turn them into good guys. I like to think that even 15 or 20 years ago — say after 9/11 — Mr Obama would have been laughed to scorn for such comments by a media culture not yet so completely politicized as it has since become. But now the ideologues hold the whip hand, in the media as in academia and elsewhere, and we can be pretty sure they’re never, ever going to be able to recognize, let alone to acknowledge and seek to correct, their own manifest mistakes.

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