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Sunday, May 17, 2009

Doyle Does it Again with Disingenuous Disinformation

Another Saturday night, another rebroadcast of The Jerry Doyle Show. I have to admit: as much as I might disagree with much of his politics, Jerry Doyle might just be the smartest person in talk radio today.

He’s highly articulate and urbane, and refrains from the simpleminded name calling and other cheap tactics of some of his conservative peers like Rush Limbaugh and Sean Hannity. He seems to draw callers who are more sophisticated and well spoken. And he doesn’t shout.

Doyle often cites persuasive facts and figures to back up his claims, even though he often uses them in ways that seem subtly misleading and out-of-context. He puts impressive, expert talking heads on the air to serve as seemingly credible supporters of his viewpoints. It may be lost on much of the audience that these guests may not represent a preponderance of opinion in their fields or may be affiliated with institutions that represent only a one-sided view of complex issues.

During the broadcast I caught yesterday, Doyle was commenting on a recent commencement speech from President Obama. Doyle focused on sound bites from the speech about “a poverty of ambition” that the President said has characterized the most recent chapter of U.S. history, which closed with the beginning of the current economic crisis. These ambitions, according to the President, were fueled by excessive self-interest, self-enrichment for its own sake and by any means, and superficial, status-oriented aspirations such as having the fanciest corner office.

Predictably, Doyle interpreted these statements as socialistic, anti-capitalist, and representative of a direction American attitudes that, to Doyle, is frightening. In Doyle’s interpretation, the President was attacking the self-interest that is the very fuel of capitalism, the driver of great inventions and industries. He went on to assert that the speech was just another example of the President acting as a puppet for the far left, advocating the surrender of all personal ambition in favor of ever-expanding government, all in the name of “public service.”

I find Doyle’s interpretation disingenuous. There is nothing, per se, anti-business, anti-capitalist, or even particularly “anti-ambition” about the President’s comments. In fact, I would even argue that Doyle’s interpretation depends on a fundamental error in “parsing” the phrase “a poverty of ambition.”

For Doyle, the interpretation seems to be that the President’s phrase “a poverty of ambition” is equivalent to “ambition equals poverty,” or that Obama was suggesting that ambition, as a human motivation, is impoverished in some absolute sense.

I submit, however, that the more accurate interpretation, based not only on the context in which Obama used the phrase but also on the content of the phrase itself, is that the President was referring to an impoverished form of ambition: one that pursues personal gain purely for its own sake, and by any means; that condones self-interest at the expense of others; and that seeks the reward of a superficial status defined solely in material terms, rather than striving for achievements that have the virtue of also benefiting others.

By speaking of a poverty of ambition, the President was asking the students to aspire to a higher standard, one that allows for individual gain while also benefiting society as a whole. This, in my view, is in no way incompatible with capitalism.

While monetary gain is a key incentive to innovate in business and industry, it is not the only one. The true innovators of the world are passionate about what they do and, while money is an important motivator, so, too, is the intrinsic reward of work that produces something of quality, to the benefit of society as well as the innovator.

A higher form of ambition is one that drove, for example, a Henry Ford to invent an industry that revolutionized personal transportation and created a new level of mobility for the common man. Or a Steve Jobs, who has criticized Microsoft for building “so little culture” into their products, to infuse elegance and ease of use into desktop operating systems.

An impoverished form of ambition, on the other hand, is one that drives an investment bank to recklessly trade risky, overly leveraged securities that have the potential to bring down an entire economy, or a CEO of a failing company to move forward with a seven-figure renovation to his corner office.

The case for my interpretation can be supported on a purely linguistic basis. To be correct, Doyle’s interpretation would require the phrase to have been “the poverty of ambition. But the President said “a poverty of ambition,” which can mean one of two things: (1) an impoverished form of ambition, as I have argued here, or (2) a poverty consisting of a lack of true ambition. Either one of these interpretations is in opposition to Doyle’s.

Should we give Doyle the benefit of the doubt and assume he simply erred in his grammatical perception? But if that’s the case, maybe he’s not the smartest person in talk radio after all. Sphere: Related Content

1 comment:

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