Clintonspeak

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Almost everything about the Clinton email scandal makes me laugh, but two things especially.

One is the claim that Mrs. Clinton never sent or received classified information on her personal email account, which was the only account she used to conduct business. But if, as secretary of state, she wasn’t getting classified information on that account, what kind of information was she getting? The same kind all the rest of us get? Is that because nobody trusted her enough to tell her anything confidential? That would be funny enough, but the irresistibly comic part is that she and her zombies see this as the best story they can tell.

I said “zombies,” and I mean zombies. You remember those scenes in The Manchurian Candidate in which brainwashed people hear the name of a former comrade in arms whom they know to be a cold, twisted, thoroughly unpleasant person (“It isn’t as if Raymond’s hard to like. He’s impossible to like!”), and they declaim, with glazed eyes, “Raymond Shaw is the bravest, kindest, warmest, most wonderful human being I've ever known in my life.” That’s how the Clintonites react when their leader’s name is mentioned. It’s a phenomenon hitherto unknown to American politics. And that part isn’t funny.

If, as secretary of state, Clinton wasn’t getting classified information on that account, what kind of information was she getting?

The second thing I find amusing — even more amusing than the first — was the interview in which Mrs. Clinton finally “took responsibility” for something. Her remarks were generally headlined as an “apology.” This might lead you to believe that she was actually accepting responsibility for her dangerous breach of security, for the foreign hacking that undoubtedly occurred because she hid her communications as secretary of state in a makeshift server operating, first, out of her house, and second, out of somebody’s bathroom in Colorado. But here’s what happened in the interview:

“In retrospect, as I look back at it now, even though it was allowed, I should have used two accounts — one for personal, one for work-related emails. That was a mistake. I’m sorry about that. I take responsibility,” Mrs. Clinton said in the TV interview.

Pressed to clarify whether she made a mistake in setting up a private email account and private server to conduct official business, Mrs. Clinton responded: “I did. I did.”

“As I said, it was allowed, and there was no hiding it. It was totally above board. Everybody in the government I communicated [with] — and that was a lot of people — knew I was using a personal email,” she said. “But I’m sorry that it has, you know, raised all of these questions. I do take responsibility for having made what is clearly not the best decision.”

Please transcend normal indignation at Mrs. Clinton’s impudence, at her cynical assumption that people who care enough to watch her interviews are dumb enough to be impressed by this kind of talk. Move beyond normal amazement that anyone who talks like this could possibly think that normal people would see her as one of them, and like her. The literary question is: how does she put this stuff together?

The short answer is, she has a great deal of help. Hers is not the ordinary rat’s nest of political verbiage. It’s not like a statement I read in the Detroit Free Press on September 9, in which Josh Cline, a staffer for scandal-stalked Republican State Representative Todd Courser, declared his resignation from that high office: “After tolerating months of e-mails that were disrespectful, unprofessional and demeaning, the e-mail sent to me and the entire staff on March 27th, with the subject of 82-issues to deal with, was offensive, ungrateful and beyond reproach.” The literal meaning of that statement is that the email of March 27 tolerated months of disrespect, etc., before deciding that the treatment accorded it on that date was something nobody should complain about (“beyond reproach”). That’s not what Mr. Cline intended to say, but that’s what he wrote.

Clinton’s statements were more carefully, less candidly, and (thank God) less effectively constructed, by a multitude of hands.

Picture an office full of political hacks, painstakingly assembling the famous formula by which Al Gore maintained, concerning certain actions he had taken, “There was no controlling legal authority that says this was in violation of law.” (Also picture these words being delivered in Gore’s arrogant, peevish, foghorn drone.) Can you imagine how many alternative expressions his assistants had proposed for every part of speech in that miserable little sentence?

Please transcend normal indignation at Mrs. Clinton’s impudence, at her cynical assumption that people who care enough to watch her interviews are dumb enough to be impressed by this kind of talk.

“There was no law . . . ?” “No, no. Too blunt.” “Well then, let’s start with a big set of adjectives. How about duly enforceable?” “No, sounds too governmental.” “Binding?” “You mean he wouldn’t be bound by the law?” “Then what about controlling? Maybe there was a law; maybe there wasn’t. The issue wasn’t whether he was bound to do something; it was whether somebody, or something — some authority — could control him.” “Say! That’s right! Nobody likes to be controlled.” “No. Nobody does. So call it a controlling legal authority.” “Sounds good! But we’re still talking about the law, aren’t we?” “Sure, sure. Tuck that in at the end of the sentence. By that time, nobody will be listening. They’ll still be trying to figure out what a controlling legal authority is.” “What is it, anyway?” “I don’t know — who cares? But if they start thinking about that, they’ll see that it can’t be a law, or he’d be in violation of it. Which, yeah, he was. But that’s the problem; that’s not the solution.”

So much for Gore. Back to Clinton. Imagine a conference of politicos, filling a space somewhat larger than the Royal Albert Hall. (Note: allusion to a Beatles song.) These people are assembled to craft some statement that will get Hillary Clinton out of her current jam. (Don’t you love that verb craft? It makes every dumb political dodge look like a fine piece of furniture.) The resulting words are the product of many kinds of verbal manipulation. It’s fun to try counting them. I’ll list the first few that come to my mind; you’ll find more.

1. The “Mistake.” Consider the words sin, crime, offense, violation, blunder, screw-up, error, mistake: Which is the weakest word? Mistake. Normal people say they made a mistake about what they put in the salad, or about the first name of their cousin’s second husband. These are mere mistakes, things you wouldn’t bother to apologize for. True, criminals often say they made a mistake when they robbed the liquor store, but that’s an attempt to minimize serious and obvious guilt. When sharply interrogated, they say they made a bad choice. But Mrs. Clinton didn’t even say that. Mistake was as far as she would go.

2. The Exculpatory Prologue. “In retrospect, as I look back at it now, even though it was allowed . . . “ By the time we swim through Clinton’s introduction and lie gasping on the barren beach of her mistake, the mistakenness is shrinking fast.

3. The Old Shell Game. If Hillary did make a mistake, where, exactly, was it? It wasn’t at the point where she did something that wasn’t “allowed.” She says that it was allowed. So where did she make the mistake? Maybe it was when she decided not to “us[e] two accounts.” But that doesn’t sound like much of a mistake, does it? Chris Cillizza, who dogs Mrs. Clinton’s heels for the Washington Post, is more of a Pekinese than a pit bull. But although he shows no teeth, he keeps on gumming his prey. Thus, while describing the ridiculousness of the Clinton campaign, he says that “last week Clinton decided to offer an unequivocal apology for her decision to set up a private e-mail server after months of insisting no apology was necessary.”

These are people who are intimately acquainted with their boss’ ruthless ambition, towering arrogance, and sickening greed.

4. The Aggressive Passive. Not that Mrs. C is ever passive, in the psychological meaning of that term; she’s always as aggressive as situations (and interviewers) permit her to be. Which is plenty. But should you ask, “By whom or what was it allowed?”,you won’t find an answer. The passive construction obviates the need for one. In fact, it aggressively denies any standing-room for such a question.

5. The Mysterious “It.” The more one reflects on Clinton’s “it was allowed,” the more one wonders what she means by it. When the interviewer “press[es her] to clarify” her meaning, she agrees to an innocuous-sounding phrase (“setting up a private email account and private server to conduct official business”), then shifts back to the shifty passive, “As I said, it was allowed.” Tell me, does that it include the things that other people really worry about: the exclusive use of the private server, the presence of classified information on the server, the hiding of the server, the (reported) deletion of half the messages on the server, the use of the server by other government employees and sort-of employees . . . .

6. Spread the Guilt. “There was no hiding it,” Mrs. Clinton says. Everybody, she says, knew about it, whatever exactly it was, and, by inference, approved of it. If you’re so worried, go blame all those people. But the guilt spreads farther. Proceed to No. 7.

7. You’re the Problem. “I’m sorry that it has, you know, raised all of these questions.” Have you ever had a conflict with someone who told you, as a means of “settling” the matter, “I’m sorry that you feel that way”? Did you take that as an apology? I doubt it. But what did you feel — respect or contempt? The second, surely. The contempt was directed at the speaker’s effort to make you feel guilty for his mistake. But such real-life responses have never occurred to the all-wise elite of the Hillary circle.

And that’s what’s really wrong, and really funny, in both senses of that word, about Clinton and her clones, about all those people who sat in that enormous room — actual or virtual — and figured out what she was supposed to say this time. These are people who are intimately acquainted with their boss’ ruthless ambition, towering arrogance, and sickening greed. Yet they are wholly unacquainted with normal human responses to such characteristics. They assume that everyone who matters speaks Clone, believes Clone, is a Clone, and that everyone else will simply scratch his head and utter a bemused “whatever” when smacked with the latest helping of Clonespeak.

There are media gurus still trying to save cuddly socialist Hillary from rapacious Wall Street Hillary — as if Wall Street and socialism hadn’t been working together for a hundred years or so.

Why else would they have her say what they have her say, and even brag about the nonsense she is about to say? Whenever their war elephant takes a detour into the swamp, which is all the time, they inform the Clinton-friendly media about the tricks they’re going to use to pull her out. Formerly, the media greeted these “confidential” insights with relief. Now they’re beginning to notice something about them that seems just a tad peculiar.

Dana Millbank of the Washington Post is one of the media gurus who are still trying to save cuddly socialist Hillary from rapacious Wall Street Hillary — as if Wall Street and socialism hadn’t been working together for a hundred years or so. Never mind; Millbank makes a good point about the smell that wafts from Hillary’s army. His article is entitled “The Clinton campaign puts the ‘moron’ into oxymoron.” He’s referring to Clinton’s scripted displays of “spontaneity.” In one passage he says:

We knew Clinton was going to be funny and warm because her aides told the New York Times she was going to be funny and warm.“Hillary Clinton to Show More Humor and Heart, Aides Say,” was the headline on Amy Chozick’s piece this week.

But to me, the most valuable article about Clinton’s absurd behavior is Guy Benson’s piece in the not-mainstream Townhall (September 14). Benson provides a crisp, clean review of the email scandal, emphasizing the bizarre isolation of Mrs. Clinton and her gang:

Amid sliding poll numbers, a growing credibility gap, intense media scrutiny, and a federal investigation, the Clinton campaign was caught off guard by challenging questions? That crosses the line from counter-productive insularity into shocking ineptitude.

Several of the Republican candidates, led by Carly Fiorina, have started talking about the incompetence of “the political class.” Liberty has used that term for years, so it’s gratifying to see it spread. There’s a need for it, because there is a distinct, and distinctly repellent, political class in this country. It never wants to admit it’s a class; like other classes, however, it declares itself plainly by its peculiar ways of communicating or not communicating with the rest of the populace. What has aptly been called “the Clinton world” is the clearest representation so far of the ways in which the American political class isolates itself within its own rhetoric. May the isolation continue, and become complete.

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The Two Americas

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I don’t want to poach on Stephen Cox’s territory in his monthly Word Watch column, but I have an observation to make about rhetoric. The observation is this: The function of rhetoric isn’t just to appeal to an audience; it is also to identify an audience. Lately this has been happening a lot, and with instructive results.

Three examples:

1. President Obama’s response to the question about whether he knew about the scandalous behavior of the IRS. He said that he didn’t know about the report on the scandalous behavior. This was a shockingly obvious dodge. It starkly revealed the president’s stupidity. But it was a carefully prepared response. It was a calculated dodge. It was calculated to appeal to partisan insiders, who knew (wink, nod) that the rhetoric was grossly misleading but hoped it would save some part of the president’s bacon. So it identified that audience. And it identified another audience — the general American population, which was expected to receive Obama’s claims with passive credulity, thus proving itself even stupider than the president himself.

2. Hillary Clinton’s screaming fit before a congressional committee, some months ago, about the causes of the Benghazi attack. Arms waving, she shrieked, “Was it because of a protest or was it because of guys out for a walk one night who decided they’d go kill some Americans? What difference, at this point, does it make?”Never a good actress, Clinton wasn’t up to the role of Lady Macbeth, despite the fact that she is Lady Macbeth, and she had obviously been practicing her outburst. Now, who can take seriously a secretary of state whose head blows off at the suggestion that it might be of some interest to discover why people attacked an American diplomatic outpost and murdered an American ambassador — and on her watch, too? The answer is . . . the mainstream media! They took it seriously. Their commentators almost unanimously lauded her powerful and unanswerable performance. Of course, her act was precisely the opposite of strong and convincing; looking back on it, Washington insiders wince about the expectation that it would delude the rubes. But here are the two audiences that her rhetoric identified — the insiders and the rubes. The rubes, it turns out, were not fooled, but the insiders were.

3. The IRS folk and their government investigator, testifying before Congress late in May. The investigator seemed stupefied that his nothing-but-the-facts rhetoric didn’t cover all the bases: when asked why his interrogators had included IRS supervisors in their interviews with IRS employees, he was shocked, amazed. He hadn’t expected such a question — coming, as it did, from outside the charmed circle of Washington bureaucrats. The IRS directors were a hundred times worse. Asked the most obvious questions — obvious, that is, to anyone not in that circle — they used the rhetoric of word and gesture to convey the impression that they were the victims of lèse majesté. They didn’t know what happened. They didn’t know whom they had asked about what happened. They didn’t know who, if anyone, was “disciplined” because of what happened. Of one thing they were certain: they shouldn’t have been asked about any of it. To communicate this idea, they sighed; they sneered; they made faces; they made unfunny jokes about Easter egg hunts; they tried every form of rhetoric available to them to communicate the idea that the questions — again, the perfectly obvious questions — were grossly inappropriate and outré. They assumed that the only audience that mattered was people like themselves, people who are entitled to power and justifiably resent all attempts to wrest it from them. The rest of us couldn’t possibly be significant.

Well. What does this mean? It means one of two things:

1. These people are right: There are two Americas, two audiences for American political discourse. One consists of people like themselves — wise leaders and their intelligent, well-educated, politically correct students and disciples, the modern-liberal establishment and power structure. This is the only audience that counts, either culturally or politically. The other America consists of people who, being perpetual fools and dupes, are out of power and always will be.

2. These people are right: There are two Americas, two audiences for American political discourse. One consists of people like themselves — simpletons who are prepared to swallow almost anything, from the idea that prosperity results from giving the government all your money to the idea that Barack Obama is an honest man. The other America consists of people who know better, and are sometimes willing to do something about it.

I think I know which view is right. But I thank Obama, Clinton, and the minions of the IRS for revealing the issues so clearly, though so unconsciously, in their inimitable displays of rhetoric.




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Obama and the Harvard “We”

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When I attended Harvard Law School, just before Barack Obama and at the same time as his wife, it was (surprise) a place steeped in a particular sort of elitism. I think there are two kinds of elitism, a good one and a bad one, and that President Obama may have been corrupted by the latter during his time at Harvard. I don’t suppose that the Harvard of my and Obama’s generation intentionally aimed to produce the bad kind of elitism, but it soaked its students in a bad elitist culture. Even the vocabulary of the students changed to accommodate elitism. The best example is what I call the Harvard “we.”

You have heard the editorial “we,” as in “we believe that HLS promotes insidious elitism.” In that case “we” means “I,” because the editorialist thinks that “I” is bad style. You have also heard the nursing “we,” as in “have we had our daily enema?” The nursing “we” means “you,” and I think might be derived from baby talk. Further, you have heard the spousal “we,” as in “we need to take out the trash,” which actually means “we,” but as between the two of us, it’s really your job. And you have heard the royal “we,” as in “bring us our scepter and our breakfast.” The royal “we” means “God and I,” because the king’s power derives from God. In addition, you have certainly heard the Harvard “we,” and I’m going to tell you what it means.

The Harvard “we,” as in “we need to make a rule prohibiting home schooling,” means “we” but not just any “we”; it means we who know better than you. It means we who have power, or should have power.

The “we” speakers themselves often are unaware of this, but any sentence in which the Harvard “we” occurs refers to the uses of state authority. It’s sort of the obverse of “they,” as in “they just passed a new law that says you can't drive and talk on your phone,” or “they say we don’t have enough information to make our own health insurance decisions,” or “check this out: they made somebody put a warning label on a toilet brush: ‘do not use for personal hygiene.’”

The Harvard “we” means we who know better than you. It means we who have power, or should have power.

(By the way, when “we” elites become the all-powerful “they” of whom regular folk speak, you become an inferior “them” as in candidate Obama’s notorious observation, “It's not surprising then they get bitter. They cling to guns or religion or antipathy to people who aren't like them or anti-immigrant sentiment or anti-trade sentiment as a way to explain their frustrations.”)

At Harvard, the professors constantly use the elite “we,” and most of the students pick it up within the first month or two. Like their professors, they become the mighty “they,” at least in their own minds; and so when referring to the powerful “them,” they say “we.” The students don’t openly admit it; they simply assume that they are fit to make decisions for other people. The Harvard “we” is a paternalistic “we.”

Right now, unkempt, spotty geeks who got better grades than you did are sitting in Harvard (and Stanford and Princeton and Yale) lecture halls saying things like, “We should deconstruct the bundle of property rights into its constituent parts and eliminate the strands that impinge on legitimate community rights” — which when translated means, “The government should have the power to take your property in the name of certain social interests that my classmates and I consider to be worthy.”

By the end of the first year, the habit is ingrained. The students have become the “they” and have lost the natural fear of being told what to do by bureaucrats, agencies, and policemen — because they assume that they will now be making the rules. They no longer see any humor in Ronald Reagan’s famous line, “The nine most terrifying words in the English language are, ‘I'm from the government and I'm here to help.’”

By the end of the first year, the students assume that they will now be making the rules.

I’m happy to say that when I was at Harvard Law, I didn’t go in for that “we” business. Despite my own snobbery and angry-young-man ardor, I didn’t want to be part of an elite class that would beneficently lord it over the little people. I still don’t.

The Harvard “we” is an elitist “we.” I admit that elitism isn’t always wrong. People in the good elite stand for good values and set an example that encourages good behavior. People in the bad elite use power to dictate your behavior, because they know better than you. Meanwhile, they exempt themselves from the constraints of values, because they think that their ends justify their means.

Barack Obama is the greatest living practitioner of the Harvard “we.” To understand that is to understand his presidency.

How would the elitist-in-chief govern? He would seek to expand his rule, intervening in important areas of life, without respect for process or checks or balances.

Are there examples?

Certainly there are. One is the fact that “we” want much more power over financial transactions, so “we” — that is, Obama — put Harvard Law professor Elizabeth Warren in charge of the new Consumer Financial Protection Bureau without the inconvenience of a Senate confirmation or any other kind of open political process. She probably would not have survived a confirmation hearing. Even the left-liberal Senator Chris Dodd warned Obama that she might not be confirmable and objected to his nomination maneuver. Naturally, she is one of “us,” having been a professor of Obama’s at Harvard.

This new bureau can grant itself its own budget and has independent rulemaking authority. It is not subject to the oversight involved in congressional appropriations. But it will largely determine how credit is extended by banks, other financial firms, and even small businesses that grant credit to consumers. It will be a huge office with extensive powers. Its director is an important officer of the government. What about the advice and consent clause? Article II, Section 2 of the Constitution says the president “shall nominate, and by and with the Advice and Consent of the Senate, shall appoint . . . Officers of the United States.” The Wall Street Journal put it this way: “To deflect this question, the president’s lawyers have cobbled together yet another legal fiction. The trick is to give her [Warren] a second appointment. In addition to serving as President Obama's special assistant, she will also serve as a special adviser to Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner. This allows her to pretend she is Mr. Geithner’s humble consultant when she and her staff come up with an action plan for the new agency. This legalistic gambit serves as a fig leaf for a very different reality: Mr. Geithner will never reject any of Ms. Warren's ‘advice.’ The simple truth is that the Treasury secretary is being transformed into a rubber stamp for a White House staffer.”

Of course “we” also want power over the businesses of medicine and health insurance. By use of a recess appointment and without a debate in the Senate, Obama put Harvard professor and Harvard alumnus Donald Berwick in charge of Medicare. Under ObamaCare, Medicare has extensive new powers to reshape the business of medicine.

Obama and the man he chose to run the newly empowered agency don’t seem to see any difference between actual government-mandated rationing and the “rationing” that occurs through individual cost-based decisions resulting from a market for services. Berwick said, “The decision is not whether or not we will ration care — the decision is whether we will ration with our eyes open.” And the White House, according to the Wall Street Journal, issued an internal memo with this talking point: “The fact is, rationing is rampant in the system today, as insurers make arbitrary decisions about who can get the care they need. Don Berwick wants to see a system in which those decisions are transparent — and that the people who make them are held accountable.”

Stunning spin. That really is the same as my saying that Ferraris are being unfairly rationed, because I can’t afford one.

By the way, don’t ever think that Obama’s Harvard “we” means “my constituents and I” or even “my supporters and I.” To know how he really thinks and acts, observe him in a tight spot. My definition of “character” is how you behave under pressure. By October 2010, with midterm elections coming up and his party on the ropes, President Obama was under some pressure. So he said it would be “inexcusable” for Democrats to sit out the November 2nd elections, given the stakes for the country and the potential consequences for their own agenda. He went on to criticize the enthusiasm gap between energized Republicans and members of his own party. Asked about his party’s political troubles, he said, “And so part of the reason that our politics seems so tough right now, and facts and science and argument does [sic] not seem to be winning the day all the time, is because we’re hardwired not to always think clearly when we’re scared, and the country is scared, and they [sic] have good reason to be.”

That really is the same as my saying that Ferraris are being unfairly rationed, because I can’t afford one.

What a linguistic nightmare. Trying to explain why so many of his supporters were abandoning his party, he used another “we” — we the lame-brained human animals who were not admitted to Harvard. Not for a second, though, did he sincerely include himself in the class of great apes not smart enough to “think clearly” when fear strikes. No, he made that very clear. In the same sentence, he ungrammatically shifted to the second person plural, saying, “They have good reason to be [scared].” There, I have to agree.

The idea is that the president is right and rational and, if you voted Republican in 2010, you are scared and irrational. But don’t worry. The president will take some falsely modest blame for the election results. As he told a reporter for the New York Times, “Given how much stuff was coming at us, we probably spent much more time trying to get the policy right than trying to get the politics right. There is probably a perverse pride in my administration — and I take responsibility for this; this was blowing from the top — that we were going to do the right thing even if short-term it was unpopular.” Allow me to translate that into Obama’s Harvard-we voice: “We spent all of our time figuring out how to make you do what is best for you, and not enough time telling you fairy tales.”

Obama’s own aides, it seems, learned a little wisdom and humility, unlike their boss:

"It’s not that we believed our own press or press releases, but there was definitely a sense at the beginning that we could really change Washington,” another White House official told me. "‘Arrogance’ isn’t the right word, but we were overconfident." (New York Times, October 17, 2010)

Yet the question remains: what were they “overconfident” about? What did they want to “change”? All the evidence indicates that these apparatchiks, as well as their boss, were overconfident about their ability to change “they” into “we,” to turn a set of blinkered, bigoted, undereducated elitists into a committee with absolute power over everyone else. Pardon me if I fail to sympathize.




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Defining Democracy Down

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The subject this time is babies, dictators, and democracy.

Here’s how it fits together. Since the last Word Watch, the Islamic world has been convulsed by revolutions and attempted revolutions. The American media have responded as they usually respond — with the dumbest kind of coverage imaginable, intended for the edification of the dummies, the babies, that they believe the rest of us to be.

Example: on February 22, Fox News anchorman Shepard Smith expressed amazement at the fact that Muammar Qaddafi (the Man of a Thousand Spellings), who has ruled Libya for 42 years and who had, at that point, been besieged by protestors for about two days, had not yet surrendered his power. This, to Smith, was “unprecedented,” shocking, disgusting! What could it mean? When would Qaddafi quit? We’re waiting here!

Smith’s attitude was merely an elongation of attitudes already manifested by his colleagues at CNN and the FCC-regulated networks, not to mention the White House. We’re tapping our fingers . . . still tapping . . . still tapping. Now we're tapping our feet as well. Listen, bub, are you gonna quit in time for the six o’clock news or what?

Well, how dumb can you get? How uninteresting can you get? The passion of revolt, the drama of power, the lessons of history, the contingencies of human emotion, the intricacy of human societies . . . . Forget it. When will he quit? He should’ve quit by now. And the same thing had happened a few days earlier, in the case of Egypt’s Hosni Mubarak.

In this atmosphere, it was nothing for foreign correspondents to morph themselves into incarnations of “the democracy movement,” wherever they thought they had found it, heedless of their foreign citizenship and their glaring lack of political knowledge. “We are all Egyptians now!” proclaimed many American welcomers of Mubarak’s fall. I don’t mind that Mubarak fell, although I would like to know who will replace him. But I am not an Egyptian, nor do I walk like one.

It was nothing for foreign correspondents to morph themselves into incarnations of “the democracy movement,” heedless of their foreign citizenship and their glaring lack of political knowledge.

David Hume, who had an important, though not a crucial, influence on libertarian thought, observed that “in reality there is not a more terrible event than a total dissolution of government, which gives liberty to the multitude, and makes the determination or choice of a new establishment depend upon a number which nearly approaches to that of the body of the people.” I’m not sure that this is true, though I suspect it is. A "total dissolution" of government by the mob is plainly not what even anarchist libertarians ever had in mind, because it is likely to lead to a new and terrible establishment of power. Shouldn’t a more reserved, conceivably more skeptical, point of view be entertained, if only for a moment, when the media report on the furor of “democratic” crowds?

I’ll return to “democracy” a little later. But here’s Shep Smith, in his impatience for the overthrow of Qaddafi: “If the military doesn’t turn on him, we’re looking at a real possibility of genocide.”

Genocide? Did he say genocide? An attempt to exterminate a whole people? Was Qaddafi attempting to exterminate his fellow Libyans, as the Nazis attempted to exterminate the Jews? Of course not. All we saw in Libya was a revolution and perhaps the beginning of a civil war. Insurgents were attempting to overthrow an absolutist government, and the government was responding as such governments are wont to respond.

Now, this rhetorical redefinition of a morally important word, “genocide,” is disgusting in itself. But consider Smith’s summary of the reasons for his attack on Qaddafi: “This man has sent foreign mercenaries out to murder citizens? Come on!”

It is wrong, by definition, to send people out to “murder” other people. But that isn’t genocide. And the claim that it happened isn’t proof that it happened. Maybe it did. It’s the job of the media to report on that, not to provide us with moral labels in place of news. On all the networks and news services, Mubarak and Qaddafi have been habitually identified, for the benefit of Americans who presumably require such identifications, as “brutal dictator Hosni Mubarak” and “brutal dictator Muammar Qaddafi.” I’m not concerned about the insult to Qaddafi, who is certainly a brutal dictator, or about the insult to Mubarak, who may well have been such; I’m concerned about the insult to the audience. Fox’s slogan is, “We report; you decide.” Well, only in some cases. In others, the audience is assumed to consist entirely of babies, who must be told what to “decide.”

An adult listener might still be curious to know how this insane person could possibly have continued in charge of an ancient, populous country for four long decades.

Actual information about the regimes of the North African authoritarians would be of interest, perhaps of compelling interest. But you could spend (and I have spent) many hours watching network coverage of North African events without ever hearing any presentation of political facts that lasted longer than a minute. One example was the treatment provided by Piers Morgan, the new messiah-interviewer at CNN. On February 22, Morgan modestly stated that CNN had “oversold” him to its audience — a claim he had already proven by his long, lugubrious, pointless conversations with people who asserted some knowledge of Libya. Most of these people were just oohing and ahing about how terrible Qaddafi is, but whenever any of them tried to fill the audience in on the nature of Libyan politics — the tribal divisions, the ideological divisions, the historical divisions, the people's inexperience with self-government — Morgan gave them short shrift. He asked no follow-up questions. He asked for no background information. He asked for no supporting facts. He switched to questions like, “So what is Qaddafi really like?”, and he soon tired of answers that went beyond “He’s a brutal dictator.”

His colleague Anderson Cooper was worse. Rather than presenting Qaddafi’s rants as the news they were, and letting them speak for themselves, he insisted on telling his audience how to think — and even not to think — about them. Introducing a one-minute clip of Qaddafi’s February 22 address, Cooper said, “He’s almost comical in his appearance, but don’t be fooled by his buffoonery.” Thanks, Anderson! I’m a baby, so I’m easily fooled. But you’ve kept me from swallowing that rattle.

After the Qaddafi clip, Cooper introduced Ben Wedeman, CNN’s correspondent in eastern Libya. Wedeman wanted to put Americans at ease with the Libyans. About Libyans’ opinion of Qaddafi he said: “They know he’s insane.” Well good; I'm glad to hear it. But an adult listener might still be curious to know how this insane person could possibly have continued in charge of an ancient, populous country for four long decades? Didn’t anybody know he was insane? If people knew, why didn’t they do something about it? If they didn’t know, what does that say about the Libyan body politic? And what does all this tell us about the possibility of a real freedom movement in Libya? These questions weren’t worth pursuing, either by CNN or by its rival, Fox.

Among other things, this is a commentary on the American media’s abject devotion to the great and mysterious idol, Democracy. No questions must be allowed to interfere with the liturgy of this god, as recited daily by its media priests. At the same time, I haven’t heard a single question from the media about the authoritarian language that our own government has been using about recent events in North Africa. What kind of government is it that announces to a foreign nation that its leader “must go”? Answer: the Obama regime, first about Mubarak, then about Qaddafi. If the gentlemen in question had possessed any sense of humor, they would have made speeches in which they proclaimed that Obama “must go!”

No questions must be allowed to interfere with the liturgy of the god Democracy, as recited daily by its media priests.

As readers of this journal may remember, I have zero respect for the idea that the boundaries of dictatorial states are somehow sacred and that no armed forces must ever cross them. Those borders aren’t sacred to me. Yet the arrogance of the Obama administration takes my breath away — despite the fact that there’s a long tradition of this: the Bush administration showed the same arrogance, and so did most other administrations, all the way back to Woodrow Wilson. Arrogance, and hypocrisy. When American administrations demand “democratic reforms” in other countries, they never ask themselves whether it’s democratic for foreigners to dictate to the people who live there.

But speaking of democracy in the Middle East, let’s consider the “democracy” movement in Wisconsin, where state-employee labor unions are desperately trying to block the governor and legislature from passing a bill cutting their funds and limiting their power. The Republican governor was elected, four months ago, on a platform of doing exactly that; the legislature, elected at the same time, is overwhelmingly Republican and prepared to follow through on the scheme, if it can get just one Democratic senator to show up and make a quorum. Well, that’s democracy, isn’t it? But no: in the name of “democracy,” union hordes invaded and occupied the capitol, attempting to shut down the government, and Democratic legislators, unanimously friends of big labor, fled the state. Leftist demonstrators continue parading up and down State Street in Madison, carrying signs likening the governor to Qaddafi and Mubarak. They also carry signs announcing their own righteousness, signs saying, “This Is What Democracy Looks Like.”

When American administrations demand “democratic reforms” in other countries, they never ask themselves whether it’s democratic for foreigners to dictate to the people who live there.

We see again the kindergarten approach. What do you think democracy is, children? You don’t know? Well, here’s a pretty picture. But when normal adults see such a slogan, employed by such people, their first impulse is to laugh. Democracy? There was an election; the voters said what they wanted; it just didn't happen to be what the protestors wanted. So who's on the side of democracy — the protestors, or the voters they oppose? And notice, this is a rebellion of people who are getting paid by the voters, people who insist that they have a right to as much pay and power as they can get, no matter what the voters want. Doesn’t that sound more like dictatorship than democracy?

Strangely, however, the protestors’ slogans strike most of the media as cogent indeed. To cite only one of many amusing instances: on February 26, at 3:00 p.m. (EST), CBS Radio’s hourly news offered a report from Madison. It consisted of the following: Young woman’s voice speaking over the noise of demonstrators. Young woman: “This is what democracy looks like. These are the people of Wisconsin, fighting for their rights.” End of report.

The woman may have been one of the demonstrators, or she may have been a CBS correspondent in Madison. The absence of identification allowed listeners to make up their own minds about the provenance of the propaganda. The difficulty of deciding who she was exemplifies how hard it often is to distinguish nonsense from "news," leftist agitprop from normal media blather. Of course no question was asked, no remark made, about any of the brutally obvious issues that the “report” raised. Would you expect there to be? No, not unless the babies in charge of the news were replaced by intelligent people who respected the intelligence of their audience.

You might remark, as many libertarian thinkers have remarked, that “democracy” is not a word that (pace the media) is simply synonymous with “good.” You might make the historical observation that unlimited democracy — democracy without legally enforceable respect for rights or a government of limited powers — has often resulted in predatory regimes. You might record your skepticism about the legitimacy either of crowds shouting in the streets or of dictators who advertise themselves as the embodiments of crowds shouting in the streets. If you did that, you would be expressing nothing more than common sense and common knowledge of the world. But common sense and common knowledge will never get you a job in the information industry of America.




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