Ethics Alarms has occasionally referenced the Arthur Herzog novel “IQ 83,” in which mutant DNA infests the U.S. population and lowers its average intelligence disastrously. “Is We Getting Dummer?” a typo-riddled New York Times front page asks. In the novel, the news media is one of the victims of the virus; today, it appears to be spreading the equivalent, and perhaps doing so intentionally.
Less than two weeks ago, we discussed a jaw-dropping (technically “head-exploding”) op-ed in the New York Times that criticized President Biden for giving poor Vice-President Harris assignments that were too darn hard for her, thus undermining her chances at being President, which was much to be desired. “[Biden] had to know that in choosing her as his vice president, he was making her his heir apparent. But based on how things look now, her work as his No. 2 could end up being baggage more than a boon. Mr. Biden and his team aren’t giving her chances to get some wins and more experience on her ledger. Rather, it’s the hardest of the hard stuff,” the Fordham political science professor wrote.
I thought this was about as incompetent an argument as I had ever seen published in a supposedly trustworthy publication, and even sinister in that too many readers lack the intellectual wherewithal to recognize its non-logic for the dog’s breakfast that it is. Prof Greer obviously thinks that Kamala Harris is qualified to be President, though why she does remains vague. But imagine an op-ed that takes the position that Harris is being unfairly “sabotaged” in her Presidential aspirations while simultaneously making it clear that she is obviously unqualified (which, of course, she is.)
You don’t have to imagine it, because Sarah Baxter, the former Deputy Editor of The Sunday London Times, now based in the U.S. and apparently determined to make the U.S. “dummer,” has written it. The op-ed is called “The sabotaging of Kamala Harris: Joe Biden’s reputation has been shored up at the expense of his party’s future.”
The essay reminded me of the several episodes of the original “Star Trek” in which Captain Kirk would defeat an evil computer or android by making it consider some internally inconsistent statement that caused its circuits to overload. We are told by Baxter that Harris has been “unpopular and ineffectual in office” and that “she is the author of her own misfortune.” The author writes, “Biden knew all about her political shortcomings after watching her implode during the campaign for the Democratic presidential nomination — but went on to select her as his running mate, regardless. The optics of having the first woman, first black and first Asian vice-president at his side were too good to resist.” Then she writes, “What nobody expected is that every outing by Harris would be greeted with the same level of apprehension.”
Wait—Baxter just said, accurately, that Harris had no assets to recommend her for national leadership other than her skin-shade, gender and ethnicity. Why wouldn’t anyone with a functioning cerebral cortex be apprehensive about her likely performance? I know I was. Weren’t you?
Then Baxter writes, contradicting herself again, “In any case, it was always highly doubtful she would be an effective vice president. During her botched run for the Democratic presidential nomination, Harris frequently got into a muddle on policy. Was she a progressive or a centrist? Nobody knew for sure, not even Harris herself, it seemed.”
Almost immediately, Baxter reverses herself. “Biden is too frail to shoulder the burden by himself and Harris has become too weak to help him,” she says. “Become too weak”? She just said Harris had proven herself to be weak before Biden even selected her!
Finally, we get this conclusion, which is simply incoherent: “Throwing the most diverse Vice President in history to the wolves doesn’t reflect well on the Democrats, and it has left them dangerously dependent on a geriatric president.”
When they could be dependent on an obviously incompetent Vice-President? How would it better reflect on Democrats to continue to prop up an unqualified Veep and deceive the public that she was a responsible choice for President of the United States? Is Baxter really saying that being “diverse” is more important than being able to do the job?
I’m not sure what she is saying, frankly, but I am sure that publishing incoherent, self-contradictory, wretchedly-reasoned opinion pieces do substantive harm.
When I first started reading newspaper op-eds and discussing them with my father—I was about 13—I regarded them as carefully reasoned and articulated positions by scholars, experts and professionals with special insight and knowledge that I lacked. Most of them were, too, but my father explained that such opinions should not be taken as automatically correct; they needed to be examined, challenged, and analyzed. Still, I assumed, as I think most readers today assume, that an op-ed ends up in print because it possesses some enlightenment, some potential to clarify.
An op-ed like Baxter’s does not. It is careless, lazy, illogical and misleading, and makes any credulous reader less informed or thoroughly confused. And increasingly, such pieces are the norm, not the exception. In my dark moments, I wonder if the news media is intentionally trying to make us less adept at critical thought—“dummer”— so it will be easier to manipulate us.
If we’re stupid enough, after all, even Kamala Harris might seem smart enough to be President.