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John Guardiano Is Forgetting Commandment #1 of Responsible Political Punditry: Thou Shalt Not Talk Through Thy Hat

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Posted on March 15 2010 2:56 pm
David Swindle is the Managing Editor of NewsReal Blog and the Associate Editor of FrontPage Magazine. Follow him on Twitter here

Guess I need to figure out the other 9 commandments so I can carve them into stone tablets.

Two blog entries that David Horowitz wrote in the fall of 2008 on the economic meltdown have stuck with me:

Beware of Talking Through Your Hat, Particularly About Economics

Many people are still talking through their hats (yeah, including me).

Fall 2008 was an important time in my political development. It was when I was beginning to make my transition from antagonizing David to supporting him. What really blew me away with these short posts from David was this: he was openly admitting that he did not have the answer. He was showing some intellectual humility — a tremendously rare thing in this age in which political pundits are expected to be experts in everything. He saw the complexity of the economic meltdown and did not rush to embrace simple answers. The lesson to learn for a young political writer: if you don’t know about something, don’t pontificate on it. (And also that “talking through your hat” is a wonderful phrase to use.)

John Guardiano has not learned this yet. And it’s time he did.

John, our root disagreement really is not about Islam, moderate Muslims, or proper strategy in fighting the War on Terror. It’s about intellectual humility. If you don’t know about something, don’t pontificate on it.

And you do not understand Robert Spencer’s work at all. (And to be honest I’m rather offended that you have yet to acknowledge this when I called you on it in my first response to you.) You harshly criticize my Freedom Center colleague and your fellow NRB blogger as “ignorant,” “caricaturing,” and “right-wing.” Yet you have never read one of Robert’s books. You think that you know more about Islam than Robert does because you’ve known Muslims when you served in Iraq. That’s like a leftist saying he understands Conservatism because he’s met a handful of conservatives. Meanwhile you ignore the sizable number of testimonies of Spencer-supporting, ex-Muslims who spent MUCH MORE time in the Middle East than you. Your next response to me is required to include the names Walid Shoebat and Mosab Yousef in it.

You’ll notice that I have not uttered a word about Dinesh D’Souza’s book The Enemy at Home. I have reason to be skeptical of D’Souza’s arguments but I will not publish a sentence in opposition to his book. Why? Because I have not read it. Who knows? Maybe I might be persuaded by his case. I’m open to allowing that possibility. It would not be the first time I embraced an idea that I once regarded as insane. I used to consider David’s Unholy Alliance thesis as absurd, dangerous crackpot. Then I read the book and had to eat my words and revise my positions.

Do not talk through your hat if you’re ignorant about a subject. It’s one of the core concepts of my writing — and should be for all who consider themselves politicos or intellectuals. It’s why I don’t blog much about economics or global warming. I don’t have a science background. My BA is in political science and English. If I want a post on arcane economics points then I’ll email Michael Rulle. I get hammered for this by my “progressive” friend Pat. I’m not willing to join him in saying that the federal government should not have bailed out the banks. (Nor will I defend the decision.) I have not read enough books and weighed the arguments deeply enough. (And neither has Pat. But that won’t stop him from yelling at me that I’m a “corporatist fascist” for my bailout agnosticism)

I’m certainly no Islam scholar either. But I do know how to analyze texts, weigh evidence, and judge arguments. And Robert’s writings are solid. They’re meticulously researched texts that every defender of freedom needs to read. Disagree, John? Then try taking the arguments seriously by taking them apart yourself.

John, you owe Robert an apology for attacking him so viciously without having read one of his books. He gets enough of that from the Left and the Islamofascists. He should not have to get it from conservatives.

And P.S. Holding up Daniel Pipes as some sort of reasonable antidote to the “ignorant” Robert Spencer is silly:

“Robert Spencer and I have discussed the perceived differences in our view of Islam. He and I concluded that, although we have different emphases – he deals more with scriptures, I more with history – we have no disagreements.”

“We all see things differently from each other on small matters, to be sure; perhaps I should have said that Robert Spencer and I have no significant disagreements.”

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