Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Fallows v. Ferguson

Niall Ferguson, a tenured professor of history at Harvard, wrote a cover story for Newsweek making the case for the defeat of President Obama. Numerous pundits and fact-checkers have gone over the article and pronounced it flawed, including blaming the president for bad things that happened a year before he took office.

But leave it to James Fallows of The Atlantic (and a Harvard alum) to really give Mr. Ferguson his comeuppance, and it is a thing of beauty.

– “I was a good loser four years ago. But this year, fired up by the rise of Ryan, I want badly to win.”

According to an article in the Telegraph this year, Ferguson has chosen America over Britain because the intellectual life back home is so shallow. It is good that he is deepening our discourse with observations like these. (To the best of my knowledge, he is not a U.S. citizen, which I note only because it gives the “good loser” and “want badly to win” observations an unusual edge.)

There is lots more, which you can judge for yourself. Let me re-establish the point: I have no complaint with anyone making a strong case against Obama, or in his favor. That’s what an election year is for. My point concerns the broadside pamphleteering nature of his argument, which is no worse than what we expect on cable-news talk shows but also no better. And it comes from someone trading heavily on the prestige that goes with being a tenured professor at the world’s leading university.


You can say these things if you’re a talk-show host or a combatant on some cable-news gabfest. To me this is not what the tradition of Veritas and the search for scholarly enlightenment is supposed to exemplify. Seriously, I wonder if one of Ferguson’s students will have the panache to turn in a similar paper to see how it fares.

Game, set, match.