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Greg Sargent's Odd Eisegesis of Obama's Speech


Greg Sargent at the Post had an interesting theory on the real meaning of Obama’s memorial speech:

It’s true that Obama stated clearly there that rhetoric didn’t cause the shooting. But these lines are best understood as a set up to the larger point that followed, which is that the shooting confers a moral obligation upon all of us to improve the tone and integrity of our discourse. If Obama had delivered this latter message in isolation, without the set up, conservatives would have rejected it as political, as criticism directed at them…

Even if Obama didn’t say so, his larger mesesage that we all tone it down was mainly — though not exclusively — directed at the right. In a context where prominent conservatives have called accused Obama of not loving America and have called him a socialist, a Marxist, a secret Muslim sympathizer, and a coddler of our enemies, Obama’s insistence that we improve the discourse for the sake of our children and our country was unmistakably aimed mostly at them.

This is quite an interesting formulation. What Obama did say was only a clever pretext for what he didn’t say but really meant. I suppose anything is possible, but it’s not clear how Greg Sargent can claim to accurately know what Obama really meant if, by his own admission, it was left unsaid. Sure, in Greg’s mind, Obama had to be aiming his rebuke primarily at the right because of all the terrible things they’ve done. But of course he would say that.

Let’s briefly review some of Greg Sargent’s recent work and then decide whether he’s seeing this speech clearly or reading into it what he wants to hear. When Alan Grayson released his infamous “Taliban Dan” ad, the one that likely cost him his seat, Greg Sargent wrote that it was Grayson acting “playing like a Republican.” So, in Greg’s mind, the most outrageous liberal lies and demagoguery are only an echo of ongoing Republican perfidy.

When staff at an Alaska TV station were caught on tape plotting the downfall of conservative Joe Miller, Sargent leapt to their defense claiming the audio was “unclear” and possibly out of context. In a tacit admission that this was false, the station eventually fired the employees in question.

Perhaps most significantly, in the wake of the Shirley Sherrod affair, Sargent wrote:

Do some left wing commentators say crazy things? Sure. But high-profile commentators on the left, for instance at networks like MSNBC, inarguably hold themselves to a higher factual standard than Glenn Beck and Bill O’Reilly…Do both sides do it? I say No, they don’t.

Doesn’t that paragraph have an odd ring to it in light of recent events?

All of that to say, Greg Sargent is not someone who has shown himself particularly attuned to the existence of media malfeasance on the left. Of course he thinks Obama’s speech was talking mostly about the right. That must be the case because (in his view) the right’s behavior is obviously so much worse. To his credit Sargent himself did not jump on the Palin-blaming bandwagon, though he did provide numerous links to those who did.

Sargent’s post is actually a textbook example of how to perform eisegesis rather than exegesis. But reading one’s own bias into the text doesn’t change the fact that the one specific rebuke in Obama’s speech was aimed at the left, not the right. Krugman, Kos and Sargent seem to be somewhat stunned by that fact.

Here’s a thought. If you want civility how about an end to the meme that says the left simply doesn’t incite violence with their rhetoric the way the right does. This week has certainly proved that one wrong.

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