Commentary Magazine


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Unforced Errors and Truth Tellers

The two surprising openings the McCain campaign has gotten from the Obama campaign — Obama’s “spread the wealth around” comment to Joe the Plumber and Joe Biden’s mind-boggling “we’re gonna be hit and Obama’s going to do something unpopular in response” statement over the weekend — are prime examples of the way human beings can muck up theoretical certitude. Arguments are linear; people aren’t. Any matter in which people involve themselves will therefore follow not a mathematical course but a unique path that sets and resets itself daily.

On the one hand, these Obama and Biden remarks seem to fall into the category of “unforced error” — things they said they should not have said, and which they said when they were not under any kind of pressure. They improvised, and out of their mouths came a kind of reverse gold, a sudden strategy for their rivals to use to run at them.

But maybe these aren’t unforced errors. Maybe, in fact, what happened here was that when the words came out of Obama’s mouth, he had no idea at all he had made a mistake — because Obama is so deeply embedded ideologically into the notion that it is the role of government to redistribute income, he couldn’t even read the clues in Joe the Plumber’s question that answering as he did was just throwing fuel on the fire.

As for Biden, he was just filling the role Obama had set for him: The foreign-policy expert. And what does a foreign-policy expert do but talk about the dangers posed by the world beyond our borders?