Politics, et Cetera
A publication from The Political Forum, LLC
Tuesday, June 23, 2015
They Said It:
All obstructions to the execution of the laws, all combinations and associations, under whatever plausible character, with the real design to direct, control, counteract, or awe the regular deliberation and action of the constituted authorities, are destructive of this fundamental principle, and of fatal tendency. They serve to organize faction, to give it an artificial and extraordinary force; to put, in the place of the delegated will of the nation the will of a party, often a small but artful and enterprising minority of the community; and, according to the alternate triumphs of different parties, to make the public administration the mirror of the ill-concerted and incongruous projects of faction, rather than the organ of consistent and wholesome plans digested by common counsels and modified by mutual interests.
However combinations or associations of the above description may now and then answer popular ends, they are likely, in the course of time and things, to become potent engines, by which cunning, ambitious, and unprincipled men will be enabled to subvert the power of the people and to usurp for themselves the reins of government, destroying afterwards the very engines which have lifted them to unjust dominion.
George Washington, “The Address of General Washington To The People of The United States on his declining of the Presidency of the United States,” (Farewell Address,) September 19, 1796.
CHARLESTON AND THE DANGERS OF FACTION.
As the country reels from another mass shooting and another episode of racially motivated violence, we think it is important to understand why, on matters of race, violence, and guns in particular, our beloved ruling class is at its most feckless, deceptive, and ineffectual. Or, to put this another way, why the social and cultural forces underpinning the current spate of civil unrest are hopelessly beyond the reach of public policy.
We will begin by noting two typical responses to the recent murders in South Carolina, one from the media and one from a politician, each of which is representative of the pathologies that plague our contemporary American culture and have made the current epoch one of the more dysfunctional in recent memory. The responders in question are both well know and highly respected among certain cohorts, and both have contributed and continue to contribute to the fundamental unseriousness and moral obtuseness that characterizes our ruling class today.
The first of these responses came from Jon Stewart, the comedian who just happens to double as the most trusted and admired news source in Progressive Land. As a comedian, Stewart is quite funny. But he is also a self-serving, self-aggrandizing, self-righteous self-promoter who makes a lot of money, mostly for badgering political and cultural conservatives because he thinks that they are self-serving, self-aggrandizing, self-righteous self-promoters.
Stewart’s monologue on the evening after the Charleston shooting was described by his friends and fans in the media as “blistering,” “somber,” “scathing,” and “heartbreaking.” It may well have been all of that. But it was also haughty, condescending, dishonest, ignorant, and just plain wrong. Stewart was clearly and understandably upset by the events, but his reaction was, in some ways, thoroughly bewildering. He couldn’t tell jokes, he said, couldn’t even try to write comedy, not just because of the heinous crime committed, but because he knew full well that the American political system would respond by doing nothing. He put it this way:
I have one job, and it’s a pretty simple job. I come in, in the morning, and we look at the news, and I write jokes about it . . . But I didn’t do my job today, so I apologize. I got nothing for you, in terms of jokes and sounds, because of what happened in South Carolina. . . .
I honestly have nothing other than just sadness once again that we have to peer into the abyss of the depraved violence that we do to each other and the nexus of a just gaping racial wound that will not heal, yet we pretend doesn’t exist. And I’m confident, though, that by acknowledging it, by staring into that and seeing it for what it is, we still won’t do jack s—. Yeah. That’s us.
And that’s the part that blows my mind. I don’t want to get into the political argument of the guns and things. But what blows my mind is the disparity of response between when we think people that are foreign are going to kill us, and us killing ourselves. . . .
Nine people shot in a church. What about that? “Hey, what are you gonna do? Crazy is as crazy is, right?” That’s the part that I cannot, for the life of me, wrap my head around, and you know it. You know that it’s going to go down the same path. “This is a terrible tragedy.” They’re already using the nuanced language of lack of effort for this. This is a terrorist attack. This is a violent attack on the Emanuel Church in South Carolina, which is a symbol for the black community. It has stood in that part of Charleston for 100 and some years and has been attacked viciously many times, as many black churches have.
I heard someone on the news say ”Tragedy has visited this church.” This wasn’t a tornado. This was a racist. This was a guy with a Rhodesia badge on his sweater. You know, so the idea that — you know, I hate to even use this pun, but this one is black and white. There’s no nuance here.
And we’re going to keep pretending like, “I don’t get it. What happened? This one guy lost his mind.” But we are steeped in that culture in this country and we refuse to recognize it, and I cannot believe how hard people are working to discount it. In South Carolina, the roads that black people drive on are named for Confederate generals who fought to keep black people from being able to drive freely on that road. That’s insanity. That’s racial wallpaper. That’s — that’s — you can’t allow that, you know.
Good Lord. Where does one even begin?
Well, for starters, this diatribe is dripping with condescension, both for the American people and their institutions. When Stewart says “we” – as in “we are steeped in that culture in this country and we refuse to recognize it” – what he means is “you,” which is to say that you are steeped in this culture and you refuse to recognize it. He gets it, you see. He didn’t write any jokes today because he gets it. But then, he’s not like the rest of us. He’s enlightened . . . or tolerant . . . or progressive and rational . . . or . . . something. The rest of us, though, we are backward and stupid and racist, and the only way for us to prove that we are not is by adopting his positions. To do otherwise would be “working hard to discount it.”
Of course, to Stewart, it doesn’t matter much what you want anyway. This whole “representative government” thing is overrated. For example, in the year 2000, after a decade of debate, the Democratic governor of South Carolina (James Hovis Hodges), signed a compromise law, whereby the Confederate battle flag would be removed from the State House and placed on a pole nearby, at a memorial honoring Confederate soldiers. The compromise was passed and signed lawfully and stipulates that: “The provisions of this section may only be amended or repealed upon passage of an act which has received a two-thirds vote on the third reading of the bill in each branch of the General Assembly.”
Stewart doesn’t like this, though, i.e. “you can’t allow that, you know.” It’s not that you – notice here that he has at least acknowledged that you not we are the problem – shouldn’t do this or that you might want to rethink this. It’s that you can’t allow it. The Confederate battle flag makes Stewart unhappy. Therefore, it should, by force of government, be banned.
Now, we’ll let you in on a little secret. We don’t much care for the Confederate battle flag either. But then, the people of South Carolina didn’t ask us. They asked their elected representatives. And those representatives wrote a law. As is customary in this country, that law can be changed, either by an act of the same legislature that enacted it or by the process of judicial review, assuming, in this latter case, that there is something unfair, unjust or unconstitutional about it. Indeed, South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley has already begun the process of requesting that the Confederate battle flag be removed from the state house grounds, not that Stewart is likely to apologize to her or acknowledge that she is, contrary to his rant, doing something. For most of the ruling-class Right and nearly the entirety of the Left, the democratic process is too slow, too uncertain, and too subject to . . . well . . . the will of the people. They want that flag down and they want it down now!
The biggest problem with Stewart’s rant, though, is the fact that it’s patently absurd. Yes, there is racism in this country. No one denies that. And yes, sometimes that racism pushes people to do truly horrific and violent things. That said, this idea that we “still won’t do jack s—,” by which he means that we have never done jack s—, is mindbogglingly stupid.
In point of fact, for the last six decades, we have been doing everything imaginable to address the very issues that Stewart complains we won’t address. Beginning in 1954, with Brown v. Board of Education, the federal government – again, we – has been relentlessly pursuing the very cause of and attempting to eliminate racism in this country. From desegregation to the Civil Rights Acts; from busing to affirmative action; from diversity training to powerful cultural forces conveying disdain for racism, this country has been fighting racism actively and aggressively for more than half a century. And that’s not even counting the hundreds of thousands of men who died in the line of duty fighting a war that ultimately ended the barbarism of slavery.
Indeed, one might reasonably argue that no other people on the face of the earth – or in its history – has ever done so much to combat racism as the American people. Now, one might also argue, given the nature of the American slave system, that no other people had so pressing an obligation to do so. And that may well be true. But that’s not pertinent to Stewart’s point, which is that we will do nothing about racism because we have never done anything about racism.
Yet the undeniable fact of the matter is that racism – particularly institutional racism – has been greatly reduced in this country. Even South Carolina, the state many Southerners consider to be the most endemically racist, has made tremendous progress on this front. Consider, if you will, the following paragraph, which comes near the end of the sick and twisted “manifesto” written and published by the Charleston murderer Dylann Roof:
I have no choice. I am not in the position to, alone, go into the ghetto and fight. I chose Charleston because it is most historic city in my state, and at one time had the highest ratio of blacks to Whites in the country. We have no skinheads, no real KKK, no one doing anything but talking on the internet. Well someone has to have the bravery to take it to the real world, and I guess that has to be me.
Read that fourth sentence again, if you will: “We have no skinheads, no real KKK, no one doing anything but talking on the internet.” Got that, Jon? That’s progress, whether you believe it or not.
As we see it, Stewart has two problems. The immediate one is that he is neither intellectually nor politically up to the challenge of thinking rationally about the efficacy of the current liberal establishment’s efforts to reduce racism. To do so would raise a great many scathing indictments of some of the most aggressive of these programs, including affirmative action, abortion, wealth redistribution, and the notion of victimhood.
The second, more existential one, is that he is a permanent citizen of the liberal dream world in which all of the problems of mankind can be not just controlled but eliminated by the collective actions of government agencies. In the dream world, racism is not a problem to be managed and minimized, but a relic that can be completely eradicated from the human experience, if only government tries hard enough. As we have noted many times in these pages, the people who live in this world are what the great philosopher Eric Voegelin described as Gnostics. They know the way to the perfect society, a world of never-ending happiness, where you can always see the sun, day or night. He put it this way:
In the Gnostic dream world . . . nonrecognition of reality is the ﬁrst principle. As a consequence, types of action which in the real world would be considered as morally insane, because of the real effects which they have, will be considered moral in the dream world, because they intended an entirely different effect. The gap between intended and real effect will be imputed not to the Gnostic immorality of ignoring the structure of reality but to the immorality of some other person or society that does not behave as it should behave according to the dream conception of cause and effect. The interpretation of moral insanity as morality, and the values of sophia and prudentia as immorality, is a confusion difficult to unravel. And the task is not facilitated by the readiness of the dreamers to stigmatize the attempt at critical clarification as an immoral enterprise. As a matter of fact, practically every great political thinker who recognized the structure of reality . . . has been branded an immoralist by Gnostic intellectuals . . .
The identification of dream and reality as a matter of principle has practical results that may appear strange but can hardly be considered surprising. The critical exploration of cause and effect in history is prohibited; and consequently the rational coordination of means and ends in politics is impossible.
You see, the Voegelian dream world is based, in part, on the Rousseauian conception of man, the state of nature, and especially the disposition of man’s institutions. “Everything is good as it leaves the hands of the Author of things;” Rousseau wrote at the beginning of Emile, but “everything degenerates in the hands of man.” What this means is that man’s institutions are endemically corrupt and must therefore be perpetually tweaked to achieve the ideal state.
To the descendants of Rousseau – the contemporary Left – the problem is always the institutions. And the solution is always fixing the institutions, no matter how many times or how ineffectively they’ve been “fixed” before. If banning the Confederate battle flag doesn’t end racism, well, that just means that they haven’t tweaked the institutions enough. They might have to ban pickup trucks next. Or gray flannel suits. Or . . . well . . . whatever. The Gnostic Left is never wrong; it can never be wrong. Whenever “reform” fails, it’s because the Right prevented the reform from going far enough, and thus reform must be revisited time and again in order to compensate for the Right’s intransigence.
Now what Voegelin doesn’t say, but which is increasingly clear in contemporary America, is that the love and devotion that Jon Stewart and ilk have for the dream world is not based on ignorance but on the fact that they are important in this world. In the real world, Jon Stewart is a comedian. But in the dream world he is one of those great men and women who have assumed the burden of determining what the various governmental institutions must do to achieve the goal of utopia. His importance is paramount to the redemption of man. Yes, you heard it right. The redemption of man.
In the real world, of course, evil is as much a part of the human condition as life itself. As we’ve said countless times, it all goes back to a story about a man, a woman, a snake, and an apple. Recognizing this reality, people who live in the real world understand that the way to minimize evil is to teach our children the difference between right and wrong. If this isn’t done, they grow up to be little better than animals, entirely self-centered, and therefore unsuited to the needs of the greater society, and in many cases downright vicious.
In short, in order for a society to function with a minimum of violence, its citizens need to be assertively civilized. They need to learn what Aristotle called “moral virtue,” which he said was taught by repetition and learned, if at all, at a very early age. Citing Aristotle, C. S. Lewis put it this way in his remarkable little book, The Abolition of Man. “The little human animal will not at first have the right responses. It must be trained to feel pleasure, liking, disgust, and hatred at those things which really are pleasant, likable, disgusting and hateful . . . Without the aid of trained emotions, the intellect is powerless against the animal organism.”
In the dream world in which Jon Stewart and other denizens of the Left live, moral instruction is frowned upon. It is viewed as the means by which fascists control and restrict the freedom of others to pursue their “rights” and their various pleasures. The little human animal is not taught to control his or her own actions, but to police and criticize the actions of others who do not buy into the flights of fancy that pass for “truth” in the dream world.
And this brings us, at long last, to the other previously mentioned representative response to the recent murders in South Carolina. This one by a politician. And not just any politician, but to the front runner for the Democratic nomination for President of the United States, i.e., Mrs. Bill Clinton.
In case you didn’t hear, this gifted politician responded to the Charleston shooting precisely as you would expect her to do, that is, by blaming Republicans. Or more specifically, by blaming Donald Trump and talk radio. She put it this way:
We have to have a candid national conversation about race, and about discrimination, prejudice, hatred. The people who do this kind of dastardly, horrible act are a very small percentage. But unfortunately public discourse is sometimes hotter and more negative than it should be, which can, in my opinion, trigger people who is (sic) less than stable to do something like this. . . .
I think we have to speak out against it. Like, for example, a recent entry into the Republican presidential campaign said some very inflammatory things about Mexicans. Everybody should stand up and say that’s not acceptable. You know you don’t talk like that on talk radio. You don’t talk like that on the kind of political campaigns (sic). I think he is emblematic. So I want people to understand, it’s not just him, it’s about everybody.
Note that there at the end, Hillary lets the proverbial mask drop. She starts out with “a recent entry into the Republican presidential campaign,” but quickly transitions to “everybody,” or at least everybody on the Right. Her rant is about Trump – but not just Trump. It’s about us. It’s about you (and you and you . . .). Anybody who varies at all from the accepted script on immigration, Ferguson, Baltimore, or any of a hundred different subjects is, in Hillary’s world, a malefactor, a villain who must be reproached. This is Hillary’s conception of “politics.” This is how she operates, what she believes, and how she intends to behave as president. If you’re not with us, you’re against us, no matter how trivial the matter. Hillary plays the politics of division, the politics of hate, and the politics of conflict like a champ. And we think that it’s important to remember that she comes by her skill in that arena honestly. She learned the game from the best.
Recall that almost exactly 20 years ago, Hillary’s more lecherous half, the 42nd President of the United States, made the same argument. A lunatic named Timothy McVeigh had just blown up the Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City. Bill, then struggling in the polls and fearing for his reelection, made the conscious decision to pin the bombing not on McVeigh and his accomplice Terry Nichols, but on the “climate of hate” that he insisted incited the terrorists. At a speech in Minneapolis less than a week after bombing, Clinton declared:
We hear so many loud and angry voices in America today whose sole goal seems to be to try to keep some people as paranoid as possible and the rest of us all torn up and upset with each other. They spread hate. They leave the impression that — by their very words, that — violence is acceptable. You ought to see — I’m sure you are now seeing the reports of some things that are regularly said over the airwaves in America today. It is time we all stood up and spoke against that kind of (pounding podium) reckless speech and behavior.
Like his wife, Bill didn’t mention anyone by name, but it was clear that he intended to blame Rush Limbaugh for Oklahoma City, just as Hillary intended to pin Charleston on Donald Trump. In so doing, Clinton blazed a new trail in partisan politics. In a fit of desperation and self-righteous pique, he tied his political opponents to an act of heinous violence in which they had no role whatsoever and, in so doing, forever altered the tenor of political discourse in this country. And it worked. Clinton blamed Rush, talk radio, and conservatives in general for Oklahoma City and not only was he not roundly rebuked (as he should have been), he was celebrated and rewarded for his brazen act of political savagery. Five years ago, on the 15th anniversary of the attack, Byron York explained the brilliance and loathsomeness of Clinton’s Oklahoma City gambit as follows:
Clinton was in deep political trouble in April 1995. Six months earlier, voters had resoundingly rejected Democrats in the 1994 mid-term elections, giving the GOP control of both House and Senate. Polls showed the public viewed Clinton as weak, incompetent and ineffective. House Speaker Newt Gingrich and his GOP forces seized the initiative on virtually every significant issue, while Clinton appeared to be politically dead. The worst moment may have come on April 18, the day before the bombing, when Clinton plaintively told reporters, “The president is still relevant here.”
And then came the explosion at the Murrah Federal Building. In addition to seeing a criminal act and human loss, Clinton and [Dick] Morris [Bill’s political advisor and whore-hopping buddy] saw opportunity. If the White House could tie Gingrich, congressional Republicans and conservative voices like Rush Limbaugh to the attack, then Clinton might gain the edge in the fight against the GOP.
Morris began polling about Oklahoma City almost immediately after the bombing. On April 23, four days after the attack, Clinton appeared to point the finger straight at his political opponents during a speech in Minneapolis. . . .
At a White House meeting four days later, on April 27, Morris presented Clinton with a comeback strategy based on his polling. Morris prepared an extensive agenda for the session, a copy of which he would include in the paperback version of his memoir, Behind the Oval Office. This is how the April 27 agenda began:
AFTERMATH OF OKLAHOMA CITY BOMBING
- Temporary gain: boost in ratings — here today, gone tomorrow
- More permanent gain: Improvements in character/personality attributes — remedies weakness, incompetence, ineffectiveness found in recent poll
- Permanent possible gain: sets up Extremist Issue vs. Republicans
Later, under the heading “How to use extremism as issue against Republicans,” Morris told Clinton that “direct accusations” of extremism wouldn’t work because the Republicans were not, in fact, extremists. Rather, Morris recommended what he called the “ricochet theory.” Clinton would “stimulate national concern over extremism and terror,” and then, “when issue is at top of national agenda, suspicion naturally gravitates to Republicans.” As that happened, Morris recommended, Clinton would use his executive authority to impose “intrusive” measures against so-called extremist groups. Clinton would explain that such intrusive measures were necessary to prevent future violence, knowing that his actions would, Morris wrote, “provoke outrage by extremist groups who will write their local Republican congressmen.” Then, if members of Congress complained, that would “link right-wing of the party to extremist groups.” The net effect, Morris concluded, would be “self-inflicted linkage between [GOP] and extremists.”
Clinton’s proposals — for example, new limits on firearms and some explosives that were opposed by the National Rifle Association — had “an underlying political purpose,” Morris later wrote in another book about Clinton, Because He Could. That purpose was “to lead voters to identify the Oklahoma City bombing with the right wing. By making proposals we knew the Republicans would reject . . . we could label them as soft on terror and imply a connection with the extremism of the fanatics who bombed the Murrah Federal Building.”
It was a political strategy crafted while rescue and recovery efforts were still underway in Oklahoma City. And it worked better than Clinton or Morris could have predicted.
Of course, Hillary is not nearly as good a politician as is her husband. And it would appear from the lameness of her performance so far that she has no one on her staff as good as Dick Morris was.
And this brings us to a final point. That being that the Left today is in deep trouble intellectually.
We didn’t choose Jon Stewart’s and Hillary Clinton’s remark about South Carolina because they were the most vapid of all the statements made by leftist gurus or because they were the most easily ridiculed. We picked them because they were “representative” of the entire pack, delivered by highly recognized and respected representatives of this crowd. And in Hillary’s case, the comments were delivered by the future titular head of the Democratic party, the party’s presumptive nominee for president. As the most respected media voice and the most powerful political voice, respectively, Stewart and Clinton perfectly represent the Left today and encapsulate its intellectual position.
That this is the case doesn’t speak particularly well of the Left, we think, but then, it has always been so. Jean-Jacques Rousseau died 237 years ago, and in all that time, the Left has yet to produce an intellect capable of offering anything substantively different from that which he produced. From then to now, the Leftist political program has been Rousseau repackaged and restated, always light on intellectual insights and heavy on gratuitous blathering. Consider, for example, the following specimen of Leftist political rhetoric. As you read it, try to guess who among the Left’s greatest minds said it.
What is the goal toward which we are heading? The peaceful enjoyment of liberty and equality; the reign of that eternal justice whose laws have been inscribed, not in marble and stone, but in the hearts of all men, even in that of the slave who forgets them and in that of the tyrant who denies them.
We seek an order of things in which all the base and cruel passions are enchained, all the beneficent and generous passions are awakened by the laws; where ambition becomes the desire to merit glory and to serve our country; where distinctions are born only of equality itself; where the citizen is subject to the magistrate, the magistrate to the people, and the people to justice; where our country assures the well-being of each individual, and where each individual proudly enjoys our country’s prosperity and glory; where every soul grows greater through the continual flow of republican sentiments, and by the need of deserving the esteem of a great people; where the arts are the adornments of the liberty which ennobles them and commerce the source of public wealth rather than solely the monstrous opulence of a few families.
In our land we want to substitute morality for egotism, integrity for formal codes of honor, principles for customs, a sense of duty for one of mere propriety, the rule of reason for the tyranny of fashion, scorn of vice of scorn of the unlucky, self-respect for insolence, grandeur of soul over vanity, love of glory for the love of money, good people in place of good society. We wish to substitute merit for intrigue, genius for wit, truth for glamour, the charm of happiness for sensuous boredom, the greatness of man for the pettiness of the great, a people who are magnanimous, powerful, and happy, in place of a kindly, frivolous, and miserable people – which is to say all the virtues and all the miracles of the republic….
We want, in a word, to fulfill natures’s desires, accomplish the destiny of humanity, keep the promises of philosophy, absolve providence from the long reign of crime and tyranny.
Hmm. Could it have been Woodrow Wilson? Or perhaps Franklin Roosevelt? Or maybe Lyndon Johnson, or Bill Clinton, or Barack Obama. Could have been any of them. Right?
Well, it wasn’t. It was Maximilien de Robespierre, who was responsible for the slaughter of thousands upon thousands of French men, women, and children during “The Terror” that was carried out in the aftermath of the French Revolution by Max’s co-called “Committee of Public Safety,” in the name of none other than the aforementioned Rousseau.
As some wise man once, said, the more things change, the more they stay the same.