“A Question About Logic”

December 2, 2007

“A Question About Logic”

Sunday, December 2, 2007

Every Sunday CUIP’s president Jacqueline Salit and strategist and philosopher Fred Newman watch the political talk shows and discuss them. Here are excerpts from their dialogue on Sunday, December 2, 2007 after watching “The Chris Matthews Show” and “Meet the Press.”

Salit: The latest polls on the presidential from Iowa show some slippage. What’s being said by some analysts about Hillary Clinton is that the “inevitability strategy” is a good strategy…until it stops working.

Newman: Is there a strategy that that’s not true of?

Salit: Well, unlike other framings where if a strategy stops working you can open up another front, if your main selling point is your inevitability, and you take that away, then what are you left with?

Newman: What if the inevitability claim is simply replaced by an assertion that she’ll be the winner? Is that a loss or is that a gain?

Salit: At the moment, it seems to be being challenged by ‘Maybe we should take another look at Barack Obama.’

Newman: That’s one scenario. But that doesn’t make it inevitable that if you lose the inevitability aura, you’re worse off. For example, if you win the election, you lose the inevitability aura.

Salit: You’re certainly right there, so I won’t go down that road any further. The Des Moines Register has a new set of Iowa polls out this morning. On the Democratic side, Barack Obama is in first place, ahead of Hillary Clinton, 28% to 25%. John Edwards is at 23%. In New Hampshire, Clinton is ahead and in South Carolina Clinton and Obama are pretty much tied, though Obama is now ahead among African American voters there.

Newman: And, in South Carolina, there are huge “Undecideds.”

Salit: Yes, almost 50%. Going back to this idea of the voters saying ‘Maybe I should take another look at Barack Obama,’ when they take a look, what do they see?

Newman: Maybe they see that the Republicans have a game plan to take on Hillary. It’s not so clear that they have a game plan to take on Barack Obama. That’s a not insignificant plus for Barack. He might be harder to take on than Hillary.

Salit: And that becomes a selling point for him to the voters.

Newman: Exactly.

Salit: Obama met with Mike Bloomberg in New York.

Newman: They had eggs.

Salit: They had eggs. Here’s the takeaway for NBC’s David Gregory: ‘Mike Bloomberg is a power center for independent voters and ideas and that’s what Obama gets off of this meeting.’

Newman: I think that’s a little overblown. Mike Bloomberg is the mayor of New York City. And he’s very popular.

Salit: Obama went to the Apollo. And he had dinner with Al Sharpton. He’s appearing on Hillary’s home turf and he got some good play off of doing so.

Newman: Right. I don’t think that’s because Obama thinks he can carry New York, but he’s making more of a national play, including more of a play for black votes. And that’s good. And don’t forget, Bloomberg is not an unpopular figure in the black community.

Salit: You’re right. And the coalition that supported Bloomberg – the black and independent alliance – is something that Obama would like to attract, too. Then there was Bill Clinton’s remark about having been against the war in Iraq from the beginning which got everybody into an uproar, since he supported the president’s decision to go to war. The consensus among the Chris Matthews crowd is that no one can control Bill Clinton. As Andrew Sullivan said, ‘Bill Clinton can’t control Bill Clinton, so why would you expect anyone else to.’

Newman: That’s pretty ridiculous, if you ask me. Control has nothing to do with it. I think what it does show is the same old Clintonesque policies, and that that supports the underlying message of Obama and Edwards – that Hillary is about the old positions, the old Democratic Party. That helps Obama, but I also think it helps Edwards. He shouldn’t be written off.

Salit: Alright, the Rudy story.

Newman: Rudy’s from New York.

Salit: Rudy’s from New York and now there’s a spate of reporters who are saying, ‘Well, we know the real Rudy and we’ve been waiting for the rest of the country to discover it. Now the rest of the country is discovering it.’

Newman: And they just might like it.

Salit: Well, you’re a New Yorker. You’ve been involved in New York politics, including the 2000 Senate Race That Never Was between Rudy and Hillary. Who is the “real Rudy,” in your book?

Newman: He’s all these different things put together in one package and asking to be voted on. What more can you say about that?

Salit: What about this idea that New York reporters are promoting that Rudy’s got a kind of uncontrollable angry side that he’s kept under wraps because the voters “don’t like angry candidates.” I’m never quite sure where they get these notions from, but they present them as received wisdom. In any event, what you’re seeing now is that side of Rudy. The street fighter, the knee-capper.

Newman: McCain seemed much more angry at Ron Paul in the last debate than Rudy seemed at anybody. This is all psycho-babble.

Salit: Alright. A question about logic.

Newman: Logic.

Salit: Logic, yes. This is off of the interview that Tim Russert did with Virginia Senator Jim Webb. Russert pointed to Webb’s vote against the resolution declaring the Iranian Revolutionary Guard a terrorist organization. Webb said that he polled his staff to find out if our government had ever declared a governmental entity to be a terrorist organization. The answer was “No.” Then he pointed out that the Iranian Revolutionary Guard is part of the Iranian military, it’s part of the government. Then he raised what he described as a “logical issue” which is that international terrorism is non-governmental by design, that terrorism works at “the seams of society.” So it’s a logical inconsistency for a governmental entity to be declared a terrorist organization, since they’re two different things by definition.

Newman: What happens if some group that you declared to be a terrorist organization gets elected the head of government, as has happened with Hamas, for example? Would Webb then argue that the terrorist designation would have to be removed?

Salit: Good question.

Newman: It’s not a logical issue. It’s a question of the United States making decisions as to who it’s going to drop bombs on. The logic, or illogic, comes afterwards.

Salit: A final question on Condoleezza Rice. Elizabeth Bumiller has a new book out on Condi. Part of what it deals with is how effective Condi is. Is she a real force inside the Bush administration? What real initiatives can you credit her with or is she essentially the governmental equivalent of a teaching assistant? And what about the Middle East peace process she’s initiated?

Newman: It’s hard to say what her personal story is. But I will say this. I’m not as pessimistic as the commentators all seem to be about a peace settlement coming off of the process kicked off at Annapolis. If that succeeds, she’ll get a lot of credit. And she’ll probably deserve it. I’m not so fatalistic about it as other people are because I think there are a lot of forces in the Middle East that have been on opposite sides, in the extreme, that feel they might now benefit from a peace settlement. Significant players in the region are becoming upset about the degree of instability that now exists. So, I don’t think it’s out of the question that there could be a peace settlement. I know the argument of the pessimists: “It hasn’t happened, it hasn’t happened, it hasn’t happened.” But there’s a flaw in that argument because everything which eventually happens has a history of not having happened.

Salit: And then it happens.

Newman: Then it happens. I wouldn’t be shocked if it happens this time. The conditions might be quite ripe for it.

Salit: Thanks, Fred.