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Reasons to Believe

A Reply to Cass Sunstein

Cass Sunstein honorably comes to the defense of his friend and former colleague, Barack Obama. His doing so reminds me of why I am among Sunstein’s many admirers. Unfortunately, his loyal reply has nothing to do with what I wrote

My essay was not about Obama, and certainly did not “smear” him. The subject was the way Obama’s devotees in the press have made their case for him on the basis of emotional appeals about “intuition” and “identity”--a kind of delusional political journalism we have seen before. Those supporters occasionally cite a bill or two that Obama has sponsored, or some position he has taken, while ignoring how, for example, he has been negligent as chair of the European Affairs subcommittee of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. But Obama’s credentials, such as they are, seem insufficient as a basis for recommendation among his more delusional supporters.  So they emphasize matters of symbolism, emotion, and “intuition.” And they seriously expect us to regard this piffle as reasonable arguments to support a presidential candidate.

This would be ridiculous if it weren’t alarming--not so much about Obama and his campaign (although, to their discredit, they embrace it) as about the bizarre state of so much political commentary today. Take a look, once again, at the first five paragraphs of the Boston Globe’s pro-Obama endorsement editorial, which Sunstein cites and which I have criticized for its emptiness, and you’ll see what I mean.

Sunstein offers his own reasons to vote for Obama. I find them unpersuasive when compared to the reasons to vote for Hillary Clinton, whom I’ve openly supported for some weeks--but at least Sunstein’s are cogent, based on something other that emotional symbolism. If only the writers I criticized, including Fareed Zakaria and David Brooks, were as reasonable and substantial! (For a more recent example of the delusional style, see this piece by Dominique Moisi for The Guardian's website.)

But, unfortunately, they have not been, and their irrational appeals to promote their views echo far and wide. Hence, I wrote my essay on their delusional style. 

Sean Wilentz is a contributing editor at The New Republic, and the author of The Rise of American Democracy: Jefferson to Lincoln (Norton).

By Sean Wilentz