A Philosopher's Blog

Trump & the Third Party

Posted in Politics by Michael LaBossiere on March 18, 2016

Trump’s ongoing success has created quite a disturbance in the Republican establishment. While some have merely expressed opposition to him, there is a growing “never Trump” movement. While this movement is currently focused on preventing Trump from becoming the candidate by supporting his few remaining opponents, there has been some talk of putting forth a third party candidate.

Third party candidates are nothing new in the United States. Ralph Nader made a bid on the left for president and Ross Perot made an attempt on the libertarian side. The main impact of these attempts was to pull voters from one party and enable the other party to win. For example, Ralph Nader helped defeat Al Gore. As such, the most likely effect of a conservative third party candidate running against Trump and Hillary would be a victory for Hillary. Given that the main concern of most political partisans is the victory of their party, it might be wondered why a third party option would even be considered.

One reason is that of principle. In the case of Nader and Perot, their supporters believed in them and supported them—even though it should have been obvious that doing so would not result in a victory and would, in fact, help someone they ideologically opposed reach the White House. In the case of Trump, there are those who oppose him as a matter of principle. Some oppose his apparent racism and bigotry while others contend that he is not a true conservative in regards to fiscal and social matters. As such, people would most likely be voting for the third party candidate because he is not Trump and not Hillary rather than because of who he is.

While politics is seen mainly as a matter of pragmatic power seeking, a moral case can be made for a Republican to vote for a third party candidate on the basis of principle rather than for Trump or for Hillary. If Trump and Hillary are both regarded as roughly equal in evil and the person wishes to vote, then voting for either would be wrong from that person’s perspective. After all, voting for a person makes one responsible (albeit to a tiny degree) for the consequences of their being in power. Voting for a third party candidate the person either supports or regards as the least evil of the lot would thus be the best option in terms of principle. If the person regards one of the two main candidates as the greatest evil, then the person should vote for the lesser evil that is likely to win, as I argued in an earlier essay.

A second reason to run a third party candidate is a matter of damage control. The predictions are that while Trump is winning the largest fraction of the minority of Republican voters who vote in primaries he will have a negative impact on voter turnout. While the third party strategy concedes that Trump will lose the general election, the hope is that a third party alternative who is popular enough will get people to vote. This, it is hoped, will help the Republicans do well on other parts of the ticket, such as elections for senators and representatives. As such, there is an excellent pragmatic reason to run a third party option to Trump—to reduce the chance that the never Trump voters will simply stay home to Netflix and chill on election day.

While this strategy might have some short term benefits to Republicans, running a third party candidate against the official Republican candidate would make the chasm in the party official—it would presumably be the potential beginning of the end of the party, splitting the establishment from a very active part of the base. This could, of course, be a good thing—the Republican Party seems to have been fragmenting for quite some time and the establishment has drifted away from much of the common folk.

A third reason to run a third party candidate is to hope for a Hail Mary. There is some talk that a third party candidate could cash in on the never Trump and Hillary Haters to create a situation in which there is no winner of the election. In such a situation, the House would pick the president and the Senate would select the vice-president. Since the Republicans control the House and Senate, the result would mostly likely be that the third party Republican would be president.

While this is a longshot, it is not impossible. The likely result of such a power play would be to break apart the Republican party—those who support Trump already loath the establishment and this would probably distill that into hatred. But, looked at pragmatically, the game is about holding power for as long as one can—so the power players would probably be content to take the win on the grounds that the party was probably going to split anyway.

This election could see a truly historic event—the end of the Republican party as it currently exists and perhaps the rise of a new party or parties.


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Posted in Philosophy by Michael LaBossiere on May 22, 2015

If you have made a mistake, do not be afraid of admitting the fact and amending your ways.



I never make the same mistake twice. Unfortunately, there are an infinite number of mistakes. So, I keep making new ones. Fortunately, philosophy is rather helpful in minimizing the impact of mistakes and learning that crucial aspect of wisdom: not committing the same error over and over.

One key aspect to avoiding the repetition of errors is skill in critical thinking. While critical thinking has become something of a buzz-word bloated fad, the core of it remains as important as ever. The core is, of course, the methods of rationally deciding whether a claim should be accepted as true, rejected as false or if judgment regarding that claim should be suspended. Learning the basic mechanisms of critical thinking (which include argument assessment, fallacy recognition, credibility evaluation, and causal reasoning) is relatively easy—reading through the readily available quality texts on such matters will provide the basic tools. But, as with carpentry or plumbing, merely having a well-stocked tool kit is not enough. A person must also have the knowledge of when to use a tool and the skill with which to use it properly. Gaining knowledge and skill is usually difficult and, at the very least, takes time and practice. This is why people who merely grind through a class on critical thinking or flip through a book on fallacies do not suddenly become good at thinking. After all, no one would expect a person to become a skilled carpenter merely by reading a DIY book or watching a few hours of videos on YouTube.

Another key factor in avoiding the repetition of mistakes is the ability to admit that one has made a mistake. There are many “pragmatic” reasons to avoid admitting mistakes. Public admission to a mistake can result in liability, criticism, damage to one’s reputation and other such harms. While we have sayings that promise praise for those who admit error, the usual practice is to punish such admissions—and people are often quick to learn from such punishments. While admitting the error only to yourself will avoid the public consequences, people are often reluctant to do this. After all, such an admission can damage a person’s pride and self-image. Denying error and blaming others is usually easier on the ego.

The obvious problem with refusing to admit to errors is that this will tend to keep a person from learning from her mistakes. If a person recognizes an error, she can try to figure out why she made that mistake and consider ways to avoid making the same sort of error in the future. While new errors are inevitable, repeating the same errors over and over due to a willful ignorance is either stupidity or madness. There is also the ethical aspect of the matter—being accountable for one’s actions is a key part of being a moral agent. Saying “mistakes were made” is a denial of agency—to cast oneself as an object swept along by the river of fare rather than an agent rowing upon the river of life.

In many cases, a person cannot avoid the consequences of his mistakes. Those that strike, perhaps literally, like a pile of bricks, are difficult to ignore. Feeling the impact of these errors, a person might be forced to learn—or be brought to ruin. The classic example is the hot stove—a person learns from one touch because the lesson is so clear and painful. However, more complicated matters, such as a failed relationship, allow a person room to deny his errors.

If the negative consequences of his mistakes fall entirely on others and he is never called to task for these mistakes, a person can keep on making the same mistakes over and over. After all, he does not even get the teaching sting of pain trying to drive the lesson home. One good example of this is the political pundit—pundits can be endlessly wrong and still keep on expressing their “expert” opinions in the media. Another good example of this is in politics. Some of the people who brought us the Iraq war are part of Jeb Bush’s presidential team. Jeb, infamously, recently said that he would have gone to war in Iraq even knowing what he knows now. While he endeavored to awkwardly walk that back, it might be suspected that his initial answer was the honest one. Political parties can also embrace “solutions” that have never worked and relentless apply them whenever they get into power—other people suffer the consequences while the politicians generally do not directly reap consequences from bad policies. They do, however, routinely get in trouble for mistakes in their personal lives (such as affairs) that have no real consequences outside of this private sphere.

While admitting to an error is an important first step, it is not the end of the process. After all, merely admitting I made a mistake will not do much to help me avoid that mistake in the future. What is needed is an honest examination of the mistake—why and how it occurred. This needs to be followed by an honest consideration of what can be changed to avoid that mistake in the future. For example, a person might realize that his relationships ended badly because he made the mistake of rushing into a relationship too quickly—getting seriously involved without actually developing a real friendship.

To steal from Aristotle, merely knowing the cause of the error and how to avoid it in the future is not enough. A person must have the will and ability to act on that knowledge and this requires the development of character. Fortunately, Aristotle presented a clear guide to developing such character in his Nicomachean Ethics. Put rather simply, a person must do what it is she wishes to be and stick with this until it becomes a matter of habit (and thus character). That is, a person must, as Aristotle argued, become a philosopher. Or be ruled by another who can compel correct behavior, such as the state.


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Posted in Ethics, Philosophy, Politics by Michael LaBossiere on May 17, 2013
Seal of the United States Department of Justice

(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

During the Bush administration, I was critical of the misdeeds of government. Being consistent, I apply the same standards to the Obama administration.

While Obama failed to close the infamous prison and has run a drone assassination campaign of dubious legality and morality, his administration  has largely avoided the volume of scandals that have hit previous administrations. While the same Republicans who said very little about 54 attacks on American consulates/embassies under the Bush administration worked tirelessly with the Fox News allies to make Benghazi into a scandal, it would seem that Fox News’ dream has come true: two true scandals on Obama’s watch.

The first involves the IRS which apparently flagged conservative groups applying for tax-exempt status for special review. While it has yet to be proven that Obama was directly connected to this, I do hold that leaders are accountable for the actions of those who fall under their authority. This is, of course, can be mitigated by various factors such as reasonable knowledge and the extent to which the leader directly oversees those in question. For example, the CEO of GE is obviously not accountable for a low-level employee stealing office supplies in some office overseas.

While some claim that this scandal has been deflated, this matter probably needs more sorting out.

The second involves the Justice Department obtaining two months of the Associated Press’ telephone records.  As happened so often in the Bush Administration, this apparent violation of rights was  defended by concerns of national security. In this case, the concern was in regards to a criminal investigation of leaked information in a May 7, 2012 AP story about the CIA stopping an al Qaida bomb plot in Yemen.

During the Bush years, I was critical of using appeals to national security to warrant violations of rights and liberties. Being consistent, I must be critical of the same approach when it is used under Obama.

As I have argued before, such apparent violations can sometimes be properly justified by appeals to national security. In the AP case, there do seem to be legitimate grounds for an investigation. However, the handling of the phone records by the DOJ certainly seems to be excessive and unwarranted and it seems to have grotesquely violated the rights of the reporters and editors, not to mention assaulting the foundation of the free press.  This is clearly an unjust act on the part of the department of justice.

Naturally, I cannot help but compare the views expressed on Fox News and by some Republicans when a Republican administration was engaged in violating rights (such as illegal wire tapping, illegal detention and torture) as well as other wrongful and/or incompetent behavior (such as the invasion of Iraq on the basis of lies). This time around, Fox News and I are sort of on the same side in that we are critical of the IRS and DOJ. However, I am acting on the basis of a consistent application of moral principle and the folks at Fox News are presumably following their usual approach of attacking Obama.


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Republicans Going Dove?

Posted in Politics by Michael LaBossiere on July 2, 2011
P dove

The new Republican icon?

I remember when we got into Afghanistan and Iraq. The Republicans were stoked about the wars and defended them all through the Bush years.When liberals cried out against the war, conservatives smeared them with the “cut and run” label and accused them of being weak on terror. Argument after argument was presented as to why the wars were just and why we had to remain.

Now that they have become Obama’s wars, the Republicans seem to have shed their hawk feathers for the gentle raiment of the dove. To be fair, the Republican’s love for the wars had begun to fade towards the end of the Bush era, but many pundits still defended them (if only from reflex).

On the face of it, the switch can be seen as politics as usual: the wars are Obama’s now and the Republicans must oppose him on all things, even the wars they started and defended for years. As such, the principle they are operating on is the principle of opposing Obama, rather than the principle of what is best for America. After all, they were for the wars when they belonged to George.

Of course, the situation has changed and perhaps the Republican shift is based on actual changes in these wars, rather than the change in who sits in the oval office. If so, perhaps we should head the Republican call and give peace a chance. If a Republican gets elected in 2012 and then owns the wars, it will be interesting to see if the Republican dove remains a dove or tears away the false plumage to reveal the classic hawk.

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Obama & Leaks

Posted in Ethics, Law by Michael LaBossiere on June 17, 2010
Logo of the United States White House, especia...
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Obama has, in many ways, attempted to define his presidency in terms of doing things differently from his predecessor. One change that is being put into place is that the Obama administration seems intent on cracking down on leaks of classified material. This is supposed to involve a more streamlined process for handling leaks as well as commitment to dealing with leaks rapidly. One rather interesting aspect of the new approach is that the Obama administration seems to be more willing to go after journalists. Naturally, this approach raises numerous concerns.

On one hand, an excellent case can be made for cracking down on leaks. The defense of the United States from foreign and domestic enemies often requires strict secrecy. Leaked information of this sort could do serious harm to the United States. As such, cracking down on leaks seems to be an excellent idea and perfectly legitimate.

On the other hand, there is the concern that the crackdown on leaks will also serve to be a crackdown on those who would expose corruption, incompetence, mismanagement, and other serious problems. For example, a formed NSA official was recently indicted for allegedly revealing a mismanaged computer program.

This nicely reveals the two key concerns here. First, there is the need to ensure that legitimate classified information is properly protected. One way to help reach this goal is to ensure that leaks are swiftly investigated and properly punished.

Second, there is the need to ensure that misdeeds are not allowed to flourish in the shadows created by secrecy. As such, there also needs to be a proper mechanism in place for cases involving legitimate whistle blowing. While it is tempting to say that such cases should always be handled within the cloak of government secrecy, there is the obvious concern that such secrecy will often allow such problems to remain uncorrected. As such, whistle blowers might have to turn to the press to reveal certain problems.

While such whistle blowing might be seen as being against the interest of the United States, this need not be the case. After all, wasting money on useless programs, engaging in deeply flawed operations, or participating in grossly illegal activities do not help the United States become safer. In fact, the opposite is true. As such, those who blow the whistle in cases in which the official channels cannot or will not address the problems should not be treated as criminals. Rather, the investigation should focus on the problem as well as the defects in the official channels that allowed the problem to remain hidden.

As far as the press goes, the general principle should be that if the leaked information exposes misdeeds, corruption or similar problems, then the people involved should be regarded as doing service to the country. If, however, information that should be legitimately kept secret is leaked, then those involved should be regarded as acting in a harmful manner. Of course, officials will tend to believe that exposing their problems or misdeeds is harmful. It would be, of course, to them. But, since they are harming America in this manner, they have no right to expect to be able to hide within the shadows.

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Nuclear Option

Posted in Politics, Reasoning/Logic by Michael LaBossiere on March 14, 2010
{{w|Trent Lott}}, Senator from Mississippi.

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Politics is a theater of rhetoric. One common rhetorical tactic is to make use of a dysphemism. Doing this involves using a term or phrase with negative connotations in place of a neutral or positive term or phrase. The purpose of this is to influence how people feel by appealing to their emotions rather than using an actual argument.

One current rhetorical favorite is the phrase “nuclear option.”  This name is applied to the process by which a majority can put an end to a filibuster or comparable delaying maneuver. Trent Lott is credited with providing the name in 2003. Interestingly, Republican Bill Frist was the person who is often credited with making this option famous in 2005.

Interestingly, Frist threatened to use this tactic against the Democrats and this resulted in quite a furor. This was eventually resolved.

Currently the term is being used by the Republicans (and Fox News) to refer to the reconciliation tactic (in which the issues can be settled by a simple majority without the possibility of filibusters). Of course, when the Republicans used reconciliations they did not refer to this as the nuclear option. Naturally, people tend not to refer to their own tactics using dysphemisms.

People use dysphemisms for an obvious reason: they work. For example, opinions on health care can be influenced by the use of this tactic. Interestingly, people who favor an idea when it is put in neutral terms can often be led to reject it merely by recasting the neutral terms in the form of dysphemisms.

While dysphemisms are part of the political toolbox, their use does raise concerns. The main concern is that they (and other rhetorical devices) can be used to influence people into accepting claims they would otherwise reject or to reject claims they would otherwise accept. Such manipulation is, at best, morally questionable.

Of course, it can be argued that if people are swayed by such rhetoric, then the fault is partially their own. After all, learning basic reasoning is rather easy and hence people have no real excuse for being such easy victims of these tactics.

This same logic could be applied to many scams as well. After all, people who fall for scams should generally know better and hence are partially to blame for their deception. But, this does not seem to diminish the wrongness of using such scams against people who do not know better.

Likewise, the use of rhetoric to manipulate people also seems to be wrong.

It can also be argued that the use of such rhetoric is acceptable because it actually helps people reach a decision. After all, one might argue, if people did not have the negative feelings in question, then a dysphemism (or other negative rhetoric could not trigger them. So, for example, if people did not have bad feelings about health care, then the Republican’s dysphemisms would not have any such bad feelings to tap into.

However, dysphemisms generally do not work by revealing a person’s true feelings about the subject. Rather, they do their work in virtue of the negative connotation of the term or phrase used. For example, suppose some people are referred to as terrorists. If someone take a negative view of them because of this, this just reveals that the person doesn’t like terrorists. It does not prove that the people dubbed “terrorists” are terrorists nor does it prove that the person’s negative feelings are justified.

While politicians will clearly not stop using rhetoric, people should work on their critical thinking skills so as to avoid being swayed by such things.

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Posted in Politics by Michael LaBossiere on March 12, 2010
Democratic Party logo

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The latest rhetorical battle over health care is focused on the reconciliation option. This is a parliamentary procedure that, crudely put, would allow a simple majority  in the senate to pass (in this case) health care.

Since the Republicans are currently against health care, they (and the folks at Fox) are now against reconciliation. Not surprisingly, the Republicans had no qualms about using the same tactic themselves and, when that was done, the Democrats were generally against it.

Of course, the fact that the Republicans were for it then and against it now does not prove that the Republicans are not correct in their current arguments against it. However, the arguments they gave in favor of it can be trotted out again and used against their current opposition to the method.

Two main arguments for reconciliation are as follows. First, it is an established procedure and follows the current rules of the senate. This does not mean that it is correct, merely that the Democrats are not doing anything out of order if they use it. As such, the notions that the Democrats are “ramming” things down America’s throat or exercising some sort of crazy nuclear option do not hold much water.

Second, democracy is based on the notion of majority rule. By the numbers, 51 is a majority in population of 100. True, it is the smallest possibility majority, but that does not change the fact that it is a majority. To use a sports metaphor, winning by 1 point is still a win. It can, of course, be argued that a majority is not enough and that a certain greater percentage must be used. If so, this should be applied consistently across the board and regardless of who is in power. Of course, this view would entail that George Bush was “rammed down the throat of America” when he was elected the first time.

In fact, the senate actually works based on majority rule. The 60% that gets tossed around in the news is not what is required to pass a law. Rather, the 60% is what is needed to create a filibuster proof majority.

As such, the Republican attacks on reconciliation are somewhat disingenuous. there are, of course, reasonable arguments against reconciliation,  but these are rarely presented.

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Going Rogue

Posted in Politics by Michael LaBossiere on November 18, 2009
GOP Vice-Presidential nominee Sarah Palin givi...

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Sarah Palin‘s book, Going Rogue, recently hit the shelves and is selling quite well. Eager to cash in on this, magazines such as Newsweek (which features a ‘pin up gal’ style cover shot) and other media sources are putting forth stories about Palin. Naturally, the left leaning folks are being rather critical and those on her right wing bandwagon are completely thrilled.

What I find most interesting about Palin is the fact that she has been lifted out of obscurity and placed under the bright spotlights of fame for doing very little.

True, she was governor of Alaska, but then quit. Weirdly enough, this made her even more of a hero rather than making her seem like someone who cannot stick with her responsibilities and duties. I am not sure why some people see this as a sign that she would be a good choice for a presidential candidate. After all, if someone cannot handle being governor, then she surely would not be able to handle being president.

True, she was also picked out of the blue as the VP candidate in 2008. However, this did not seem to be based on any merit on her part and even many conservatives regarded this as a bad idea. And, of course, she lost.

Of course, being famous for being famous is nothing new. The media engines did, after all, lift people like Paris Hilton on high so that she might be gazed upon by the masses. While Sarah purports to criticize the media, they have served to put her face on TV and on the cover of magazines. While some folks in the media criticize her and almost cast her as a monster, in many ways she is their monster.

To merely say that she is famous for being famous would, however,be unfair to her. She manages to appeal to a very loud demographic in America-folks who are angry and afraid and who seem to be looking for someone like her to express their views to the world. The fact that she seems to be somewhat confused and unclear about such things as history, science and political ideology merely makes her more appealing. After all, those who find her so dear seem to be in the same boat.

It must also be said that Palin does represent one aspect of the American dream: she arose from humble origins to the national stage, fame, wealth and success. As such, her story is very appealing in a very American sort of way. Even her critics cannot deny that she has become, at least for the moment, a political force. While she might fade into obscurity, she is burning bright across the sky for now.

Naturally enough, people are speculating about 2012. I share the view of many conservative thinkers: Palin simply does not have what it takes to be a good President. I think she could probably match George W. Bush, but we certainly do not need that sort of Presidency again. Apparently 74% of Americans think that she is not qualified to be president, so I am not alone in this. But, of course, what people think and how they vote are two different matters. After all, being seen as unqualified does not seem to be grounds for not electing a person-folks on the left say this about Bush while folks on the right say this about Obama.


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Health Care Reform Behind Closed Doors

Posted in Politics by Michael LaBossiere on October 21, 2009
Max Baucus, U.S. Senator from Montana.

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When Obama was running for office, he spoke about how he would handle health care reform: “I’m going to have all the negotiations around a big table,” and it all would be “televised on C-SPAN, so that people can see who is making arguments on behalf of their constituents and who are making arguments on behalf of the drug companies or the insurance companies.”

As they say, that was then and this is now. Now, Reid, Baucus and Dodd are meeting in private to hash out health care. It might be around a big table, but there will be no C-SPAN or any access allowed to the general public. Naturally, various excuses have been given as to why this will be handled in secrecy.

Naturally, there can be legitimate grounds for secret meetings. If , for example, matters of national security are being discussed by Senators and a leak could actually be harmful to the people of the United States, then such a meeting should be secret.

In the case of the health care reform, there is clearly no such justification of secrecy. In this case, I would infer that the folks choosing to take action in secret are doing so because what would be revealed to the people would be more damaging than the fact that the president is breaking his word.

While I can only speculate on what is happening behind the closed doors, I would suspect that it is the usual thing that politicians do behind closed doors. No, not cheat on their wives. Rather, it might be the case that they are working on various dirty deals that that would outrage many people.

Since Obama promised an open process and there seems to be no legitimate reason for such secrecy, what is being done is simply not acceptable. This process should be out in the open, with the full light of public scrutiny upon it.

Yes, I do know that politics is all about secret deals and back room machinations. But, obviously enough, this sort of behavior allows and encourages corruption and misdeeds. I was critical about the secrecy in the Bush administration and consistency requires that I apply the same criticism to what is happening under Obama. It is far past the time when we should demand proper openness in our government. The Bush administration made it quite clear what can happen in the darkness. While the Obama administration will probably commit different sins, keeping a light in things can help keep that sinning down to a minimum.

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Obama Derangement Syndrome

Posted in Politics by Michael LaBossiere on October 15, 2009
President George W. Bush walks across the tarm...

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In 2003  conservative columnist and psychiatrist Charles Krauthammer defined Bush Derangement Syndrome as “the acute onset of paranoia in otherwise normal people in reaction to the policies, the presidency — nay — the very existence of George W. Bush“.

While this is a clever rhetorical definition, it is also interesting for two reasons.  First, it does serve to define an actual condition. While I am no fan of Bush, even I could recognize that some folks would simply fall for or create the most illogical ad hominems regarding Bush and that they would do so solely on the basis of their dislike for the man. In some cases, this seemed to go beyond mere bad reasoning and into a form of derangement. Such derangement is hardly surprising. After all, most folks do not reason when it comes to politics. Instead, they feel and often these feelings are out of proportion to their cause.

Second, it provided conservative folks with a clever way to dismiss criticism of Bush by categorizing it as derangement. In short, it provided a ready made ad homimen (“oh, don’t listen to what he says about enhance interrogation, he has BDS”).

Even before Obama became president, I saw that in addition to motivating people in a positive way, he also had the power to rile up conservatives in a way that seemed to approach derangement. Once he was president, the pitch of this derangement increased, reaching one high point when some conservative folks were filmed applauding Chicago not getting the Olympics because, as some might claim, they hate Obama more than they love America. Of course, that is but one example among many.

Interestingly enough, Obama Derangement Syndrome is just like BDS, except it involves Obama rather than Bush. The symptoms and behavior are basically the same. In some cases, folks really do seem to suffer from ODS just as some folks suffered from BDS.  In other cases, people use ODS as an ad homimen attack on folks who are critical of Obama.

While being passionate about politics is fine, allowing your emotions to derange your assessment of reality is not. People should be critical of the president-we do, after all, need our gadflies. However, unreasoning dislike does not provide anything useful to our country, although it can be tapped by pundits for profits and politicians for power. This applies to Obama, it applied to Bush and it will apply to future presidents as well.

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