Friday, November 09, 2007


Moral Reasoning

If I have to pick one quality that makes James Taranto an incredibly readable commentator, I’d say it’s the strength of his logic. On Thursday, he deployed that logic in devastating fashion against highly offensive comments by Senator Chris Dodd.

Sen. Dodd, in a speech he gave in Iowa, made this highly surprising assertion:

Compare that case to the case of Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, who organized the attacks of 9/11. He was held in a secret prison, where he claims he was tortured severely. Whether he is lying or not, by our actions we have allowed Khalid Mohammed to claim the moral high ground. Khalid Mohammed plays martyr to a world that is inclined to believe it.

Yes, assuredly, but does Dodd believe it? For some, by asking that, I leave myself open to immediate outrage in response, accusing me of questioning Dodd’s patriotism. I don’t question his patriotism, but his judgment. This is not an attack, but a question to probe the true intent of someone making such an assertion, an assertion that opponents of the President make repeatedly. This assertion is matched by a host of related assertions, about the standing of the US in the World, how we’re perceived, our government, as a nation, even as individuals.

Taranto challenges Dodd precisely along these lines:

Dodd does not quite have the courage of his convictions in this matter. He does not actually make the primary assertion: that KSM is morally superior to USA. Rather, he relies on a secondary claim: that unspecified other people--"a world," presumably meaning Earth--are "inclined to believe it."

Is even this secondary assertion true? Color us skeptical. Sure, a significant portion of the "world" is inclined to believe bad things about America. How much weight such opinions are due, both as a practical matter and as a moral one, is a legitimate topic for debate. But we don't recall ever hearing a serious person say that Khalid Sheikh Mohammed has the moral high ground vis-à-vis the U.S.

Possibly our information is incomplete and someone actually has said such a thing. Doesn't Dodd agree that this is an outrageous slander? And if America is being slandered, doesn't Dodd, as an American political leader, have an obligation to set the record straight?

Either Dodd is condoning the most vicious defamation of America or he is engaging in such defamation himself via a straw man. Whichever the case--and regardless of the merits of the policy under debate--his rhetoric is despicable.

Even if one accepts on good faith the presumed intent of Dodd in making this argument, one can fault him on the attention he pays in world opinion, when it is factually wrong.

Much like decision-making or leadership by polls, while it is often informative to see what others think, even a majority of others, it is morally and ethically wrong to use such “consensus” or opinions of others as a determinant for action. Unless of course, you share those views.

And it isn’t questioning his patriotism to ask how thoroughly Dodd and other Democrats have thought through the logical chain of their arguments. By elevating the moral standing of our enemies most foul, partisan opponents burnish and enhance those enemies, and are part of the wrong-headedness and lack of perspective that allows the “world” to think wrongly, with an attendant suffering in our esteem.

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