Politics, et Cetera
A publication from The Political Forum, LLC
Tuesday, November 5, 2013
They Said It:
IT IS THE RESPONSIBILITY of intellectuals to speak the truth and to expose lies. This, at least, may seem enough of a truism to pass over without comment. Not so, however. For the modern intellectual, it is not at all obvious. Thus we have Martin Heidegger writing, in a pro-Hitler declaration of 1933, that “truth is the revelation of that which makes a people certain, clear, and strong in its action and knowledge”; it is only this kind of “truth” that one has a responsibility to speak. Americans tend to be more forthright. When Arthur Schlesinger was asked by The New York Times in November, 1965, to explain the contradiction between his published account of the Bay of Pigs incident and the story he had given the press at the time of the attack, he simply remarked that he had lied; and a few days later, he went on to compliment the Times for also having suppressed information on the planned invasion, in “the national interest,” as this term was defined by the group of arrogant and deluded men of whom Schlesinger gives such a flattering portrait in his recent account of the Kennedy Administration. It is of no particular interest that one man is quite happy to lie in behalf of a cause which he knows to be unjust; but it is significant that such events provoke so little response in the intellectual community — for example, no one has said that there is something strange in the offer of a major chair in the humanities to a historian who feels it to be his duty to persuade the world that an American-sponsored invasion of a nearby country is nothing of the sort.
Noam Chomsky, “The Responsibility of Intellectuals” The New York Review of Books, February 23, 1967.
“YOU CAN KEEP YOUR HEALTH PLAN,” AND THE DENIAL OF REALITY.
It is, of course, not news that the Affordable Care Act – a.k.a. Obamacare – is in serious trouble But a brief recitation of its woes is still enlightening. First the web site didn’t work. Then the prices for “affordable” insurance were far higher than most people expected. And now, it has become obvious that the President was wildly mistaken when he told us all – over and over (and over) – that “if you like your plan, you can keep it.” Turns out, you can’t. And worse yet, even as the President was promising you that you could, he knew otherwise.
The near-universal conclusion on the Right is that this is an obvious and indisputable case of the President lying to the American people, presuming that their stupidity and his cleverness would combine to compensate for his duplicity.
The inimitable Mark Steyn declared that “nowhere in the Western world has the governmentalization of health care been so incompetently introduced and required the protection by such a phalanx of lies. Obamacare is not a left-right issue; it’s a fraud issue.” The Wall Street Journal’s James Taranto also referred to the law as “fraud,” writing bluntly that “Either he [Obama] was lying and knew better, at least by 2012, when he said if you like your plan you can keep it, or he suffers from a dissociative disorder, a pathological disconnection with reality.” The screenwriter and novelist Roger Simon lamented that “He [Obama] never had a moral basis for honesty. Lying, from the Choom Gang through Reverend Wright and beyond, was his lifestyle.” And even the Harvard-trained physician Charles Krauthammer explained that the “three pillars of Obamacare” are “mendacity, paternalism, and subterfuge.”
For our money, though, the most vicious attack on the President’s truthfulness came from the film critic and essayist Kyle Smith who took to the pages New York Post to denounce the President in the most unpleasant and unflinching terms:
How Americans see President Obama changed in an important way this week. It’s because there is a huge difference between lies and bulls – – t.
Obama says a lot of things that are not true, even nonsensical. But it’s easy to shrug off most of these, because they aren’t really lies. They’re just bulls – – t.
Bulls – – t is airy, meaningless drivel, the stuff that campaigns are made of. Or it’s a misleading oversimplification with hidden qualifiers. Not only do we forgive bulls – – t, we like it. Especially suckers who have far too high an opinion of the importance and efficacy of politicians, people who hope casting a ballot is a way to expunge sin or join a noble crusade. “We are the ones we have been waiting for”? Not a lie. Just bulls – – t….
This week was something new. It was the week Obama was revealed to be a stone-cold liar.
Some 10 million Americans are going to lose their health insurance as a direct result of the Affordable Care Act.
On June 15, 2009, Obama said, in one of hundreds of similar statements, “No matter how we reform health care, we will keep this promise to the American people: If you like your doctor, you will be able to keep your doctor, period. If you like your health-care plan, you’ll be able to keep your health-care plan, period. No one will take it away, no matter what.”
This wasn’t just bulls – – t. This was a lie . . .
It was credible, concrete and important.
As we said, this is unflinching, brutal. And it is the absolute and largely indisputable truth as most Americans understand it.
It’s important to remember, though, particularly in this context, that Barack Obama is not most Americans. He’s something completely different. He’s a Leftist. And that means that he doesn’t care what Kyle Smith thinks. Or what the American people think. Or what the right-wing commentariat thinks. He knows what he knows. And he knows that he did not lie. Indeed, he CANNOT lie. Lying is what people do when they want to hide the truth. And Barack Obama does not want to hide the truth. He wants instead to rescind it.
You may or may not recall that during the 2012 presidential campaign, we spent what might have seemed like an inordinate amount of time discussing the philosophical and epistemological underpinnings of the contemporary Left. Specifically, we spent a great deal of time discussing the Left’s fixation on language and its manipulation and on its conception of reality. In an article dated June 19, 2012 and titled “The Post Modern Left and Interpreting Cool,” we put it this way:
It is widely acknowledged that the contemporary Left is “postmodern” in its epistemology; that is, in its understanding of the nature of knowledge, and therefore of truth. Put simply, “postmodernism” is an anti-Enlightenment philosophical tradition. It explicitly rejects the foundations of the Enlightenment, and of modernism itself, which is to say that it rejects reason as the source of knowledge and rejects the individual as the repository of this knowledge.
As such, postmodernism rejects objective reality, preferring to define reality as nothing more than the amalgamation of language and power. It also broadly espouses a view of the individual as a derivative of the collective, the “group,” and of the collective’s social and linguistic attributes. Stephen Hicks put it this way in his classic Explaining Postmodernism:
Metaphysically, postmodernism is antirealist, holding that it is impossible to speak meaningfully about an independently existing reality. Postmodernism substitutes instead a social-linguistic, constructionist account of reality. Epistemologically, having rejected the notion of an independently existing reality, postmodernism denies that reason or any other method is a means of acquiring objective knowledge of that reality. Having substituted social-linguistic constructs for that reality, postmodernism emphasizes the subjectivity, conventionality, and incommensurability of those constructions.
Hicks notes that what this means in practice is that the postmodern Left views reality as a construct of language and views language “primarily as a weapon” in the accumulation of power.
We spent so much time on the postmodern roots of contemporary liberalism because we believe that the worldview that grew from these roots is inextricably intertwined with left-wing policy-making. Note here that we DID NOT say that the postmodern worldview is inextricably intertwined with leftist ideology, although it is. Our interest here is not in the ethereal debates over knowledge, language, transcendent nature, and the state of being. We find these fascinating, no doubt. But we spend our own time on those pursuits. YOUR time, by contrast, we at least try to spend discussing solid, substantive, and pertinent political matters. And despite what you might think, postmodernism most definitely fits this categorization.
Believe it or not, postmodernism is largely a policy-oriented worldview. Yes, the antecedents to the postmodernists may well have been interested in the pursuit of knowledge and its acquisition, but postmodernism as we have come to know it is principally dedicated to battle-field preparation, which is to say the construction of arguments that permit obedience to failed policy notions even in the face of their manifest failure. As Steven Hicks put it:
In the past two centuries, many strategies have been pursued by socialists the world over. Socialists have tried waiting for the masses to achieve socialism from the bottom up, and they have tried imposing socialism from the top down. They have tried to achieve it by evolution and revolution. They have tried versions of socialism that emphasize industrialization, and they have tried those that are agrarian. They have waited for capitalism to collapse by itself, and when that did not happen they have tried to destroy capitalism by peaceful means. And when that did not work some tried to destroy it by terrorism.
But capitalism continues to do well and socialism has been a disaster. In modern times there have been over two centuries of socialist theory and practice, and the preponderance of logic and evidence has gone against socialism. There is accordingly a choice about what lesson to learn from history. If one is interested in truth, the one’s rational response to a failing theory is as follows:
– One breaks the theory down to its constituent premises.
– One questions its premises vigorously and checks the logic that integrates them.
– One seeks out alternatives to the most questionable premises.
– One accepts moral responsibility for any bad consequences of putting the false theory into practice.
This is not what we find in postmodern reflections on contemporary politics. [Instead] Truth and rationality are subjected to attack . . . .
Or, to put it more bluntly: If reality contradicts your beliefs, in short, embrace a philosophy or worldview that explicitly rejects reality, which is precisely what postmodernism does.
In the context of Obamacare, this means that the vast right-wing conspiracy has completely missed the point. You see, in Obama’s view, he did not lie to the American people. Indeed, no one will ever get him or his supporters to admit that he told a blatant falsehood and, in so doing, sold the American people a bill of goods with the Affordable Care Act. Why? Because they really don’t believe he lied. Why? Because they don’t believe in the concept of “lies,” especially as this concept relates to politics. The notion of objective reality – which is necessary in order to demonstrate a falsehood, or a deviation from reality – simply does not exist in the postmodernist world. What exists instead is a falsely constructed and deceptive “reality” that is little more than the application of power. And in order to counter that false reality, power must be applied inversely to foster new power relationships.
Some conservatives have argued that Obama knowingly lied about the health care bill because he believes that the ends justify the means, an old and interminable Leftist rationalization. The truth is actually far more complicated. As a good postmodernist, Obama does not believe that his means need to be justified. Indeed, he believes that his means are no different than anyone else’s means; that they are the means of power application and reality creation. It just so happens that he is applying his power in contravention to the traditional sources of power, which makes it appear – on the surface, to the uninitiated – that he is seeking to mislead. But he is not – at least as he sees it – because the others before him have “mislead” as well, in constructing their false reality. He is simply pushing back against them and against their fabricated conceptions of objective truth.
The presumption on the Right appears to be connected to the notion that because Barack Obama lied and because he used this lie to sell his health care reform, that reform is somehow invalidated. If Obama had been honest in the first place, then the Affordable Care Act would never have been passed. Thus, the ACA is illegitimate. And the only way to rectify the situation and bring legitimacy to health care is to start over with a new law.
This presumption badly mistakes the intentions and the beliefs of the postmodern Left. The postmodernists do not see failure or acts of ignominy as evidence of the fallaciousness of their political beliefs. Rather, those failures and disreputable acts – or in this case “lies” – are measured not against objective truth, but against the “needs” of the community and the decency of the sentiments that produced them. The past is no reflection on the future and only by continuing to apply the mechanisms of power can the goal of community “solidarity” be achieved. Richard Rorty, likely the most influential American philosopher of the 20th century and the onetime philosopher-in-chief of the Clinton White House, put it this way: “I think that a good Left is a party that always thinks about the future and doesn’t care much about our past sins.” He also argued that the mere “expression of liberal opinions guarantees personal innocence in a cruel world.”
It is worth keeping this in mind, we think, when pondering the Left and its occasional attempts to rehabilitate and resurrect Marx, despite the manifest economic and humanitarian deficiencies of his theories. In the grand scheme of things, what’s a few million people here and a few million more there? The world is overpopulated anyway. And besides, as Lenin said, eggs need to be broken to get to the Workers’ Paradise. THIS time, of course, it’ll be different. The problem with Communism isn’t that it’s wrong, after all; it’s that it hasn’t been done properly yet. Etc., etc., ad nauseam.
You might also want to keep in mind the postmodern Left’s denial of reality and insistence on discounting “past sins” as you watch tonight’s election or results or, preferably, read about them in tomorrow’s paper.
In New York, as you surely know, the city is about to elect as mayor an unrepentant Marxist who not only still seems to admire the murderous Sandinistas he fell for as a young man, but also appears determined to undo two decades of peace and prosperity in Gotham. Past sins and past successes be damned, apparently.
Likewise, further south, the ascendant suburban Leftist conclaves of the Northern Virginia suburbs appear poised to provide the votes necessary to make Terry McAuliffe the governor of the Commonwealth. Indeed, by the time you read this, McAuliffe may already be the Governor-elect of Virginia, which is frankly amazing.
McAuliffe, we should point out, is not much of a politician, but in this campaign, he has benefitted incredibly from the Left’s denial of reality and from his opponent’s inability to describe for voters the difference between a fantasy world and the real world. The Governor of Virginia, for example, cannot, by himself, outlaw abortion or end no-fault divorce – not that you’d know that from listening to either McAuliffe or his incredibly feeble opponent Ken Cuccinelli.
Still, it’s amazing to us that a man with the “past sins” of Terry McAuliffe could be elected governor of anything. Truth be told, it amazes us that he’s not in jail. For those of you who don’t know McAuliffe, or his litany of political “sins,” we described him thusly in our 2009 domestic policy forecast piece:
McAuliffe is one of the nation’s most patently corrupt political players of the last decade or so. He has had his sticky little ﬁngers in more scandals than almost anyone, anywhere, having been involved in everything from the Clinton fundraising scandals and the fraudulent Teamsters presidential election to the Global Crossing fraud and collapse and the shady ﬁnancing of the Clintons’ home in Chappaqua, which enabled Hillary to run for the Senate from a state in which she’d never lived.
Additionally, and compounding the fun, McAuliffe is also, as we’ve noted many times before, one of the most politically tone-deaf political players around. Recall that it was he, as Democratic party chairman, who proudly led his fellow partisans to the Washington, DC premier of Michael Moore’s anti-Bush screed “Fahrenheit 9/11,” an event that conﬁrmed for many Americans that the McAuliffe-led party was completely unserious about terrorism and the war against it, thereby helping guarantee George Bush’s reelection.
In the four-plus years since we wrote those words, McAuliffe has also been a big-time player in the “green energy” business that has sprung up during the Obama presidency. Indeed, he was the co-founder, chairman, and largest investor in a company called GreenTech, which took in billions of dollars in federal government subsidies, proceeded to do nothing by way of production with those billions, and is currently under SEC investigation. Additionally, and characteristically, McAuliffe has also been linked – by investment, natch – to an annuity scam that “bet” on strangers’ deaths. McAuliffe, for the record, has claimed to have been only a “passive” investor in the scheme, but it is typical of his life’s pursuits.
By any normal, traditional measure of virtue, Terry McAuliffe would be the last person that anyone, anywhere would want in charge of anything, and most especially the nation’s twelfth most populous state. But of course, there is nothing normal or traditional about the postmodern Left. Everyone from the current President and Vice President to the presumed future president have campaigned for McAuliffe over the past several days, all of them arguing that he is unquestionably the “right man” for the job of governor.
Michael Bloomberg, the self-appointed moral scold of the nation, has donated heavily do the McAuliffe campaign and insists that only his guy Terry can save the Commonwealth and its citizens from the moral scourge of the Second Amendment. True to Rorty’s words, this “good Left” cares not about traditional conceptions of right and wrong, good and evil, real and fantasy; it cares not about “past sins.” It cares only about the accumulation of and the use of power.
As you watch the ongoing Obamacare debacle unfold over the next several days, weeks, and months, remember all of this. The Democratic Party in this country – as most Leftist parties throughout the developed world – operates on a different moral plain than do most people outside of politics. Of course, not every Democratic politician or every Democratic booster is a postmodernist “truth denier,” but that is and has been the intellectual direction and underpinning of the party for decades. And this is starting, quite clearly, to exhibit consequences.
The notion that somehow getting caught in an unquestionable and undeniable fabrication would make Barack Obama more humble and circumspect, or more forthright with the electorate is absurd. Barack Obama does not care what the electorate thinks about his truthfulness. Most of the intellectual and ideological driving forces in his party do not care what the electorate thinks of his (or their) truthfulness. Moreover, none of them believes that he has any reason to fear a public backlash anyway, at least not a public backlash with respect to his honesty.
The aforementioned Kyle Smith, among countless others, seems to believe that the “lie” that Barack Obama told will come back to haunt him and will, therefore, mar the remainder of his presidency. To wit:
There is no escape. What Obama said wasn’t true and that’s all there is to it. To the American public, he is a different man than he was last week.
People can handle bulls – – t, but not dishonesty. We don’t like that. His approval rating touched an all-time low this week in the NBC/WSJ poll, and that was before his deception became the news of the week. Obama has rebranded himself as a liar, forever. He will carry this new label to his grave.
This is a sweet sentiment, but it is also – to borrow a phrase from Smith – bulls – – t.
In his condemnation of Obama’s treachery, Roger Simon compared Obama – unfavorably – to Nixon and Clinton, arguing that all three were/are patent liars, but at least Nixon and Clinton “were liars of what we could call self-defense,” while Obama lies out of “ideological volition.”
This is true, we suppose, but only up to a point. Clinton’s and Nixon’s lies may have differed from Obama’s, but they differed from each other’s as well. Indeed, we would argue that Clinton’s lies, while defensive, were a sign that a creeping postmodernism had already infected the mainstream of the Democratic Party. What, after all, could be greater proof of a reality-denying political tone than a president who would argue that his guilt or innocence hinges on “what the definition of is is”?
There is another significant difference between the cases of Nixon and Clinton, one that suggests the potential fallout of the Obama “lies.”
Bill Clinton, you may recall, lied to the American people in 1998. Also in 1998, the American economy grew at a 4.4% clip. Inflation was near zero. There was near full employment. Mortgage rates were headed down. Stock markets were soaring, with the DJIA growing at better than 16%. Perhaps most notably, 1998 was the first year in nearly three decades in which the federal government ran a budget surplus (of nearly $70 million). All of which is to say that no one – outside of a few freaks like your humble correspondents – cared much about Bill Clinton’s lies. The Republicans in Congress impeached the man for clear and undeniable breeches of trust. And for their efforts, they were rewarded with midterm election LOSSES. Bill Clinton got away with it. And he got away with it because he was, by most other measures, doing a good job. The American voters decided that lies – and the denial of truth – didn’t really matter as much as did their pocketbooks.
Richard Nixon, by contrast, lied to the American people in 1973 and 1974. 1973 brought the Arab oil embargo. Between 1972 and 1974, inflation skyrocketed from just over 3% to just over 12%. The economy fell into deep recession, after years of sustained growth. The stock markets, of course, crashed, enduring a nearly two-year bear market which saw the DJIA lose 45% of its value. Unemployment skyrocketed, eventually reaching 9%. The world was introduced to the term “stagflation.” And Nixon took it in the shorts. In the midst of an economic catastrophe compounded by seeming foreign policy incompetence – from Vietnam to the Yom Kippur War to the collapse of Bretton Woods – the American people decided that they could do without Richard Nixon. They didn’t much care for their dishonest president, and they pushed him out of office and out of town one step ahead of the law.
What does this mean for Obama and for the great Obamacare lying scandal of 2013? Well, put simply, Obama’s fate depends entirely on factors beyond his lies. If he can manage to fix his web site, fix the rest of the problems with the Obamacare rollout, and then convince people that this law is something that he has done for them rather than to them, then he will be fine. He will regain some of his lost popularity and will rebound from his present lame-and-nearly-dead duck status.
If, however, the web site cannot be fixed; or if fixing the web site only makes the deeper problems in the Affordable Care Act more obvious; or if the nervous members of his party force him to give the Tea Party “hostage takers” what they wanted, namely a one-year delay of the individual mandate; then the guy has real problems.
After the now-long-forgotten shutdown debacle, many political hysterics began to wonder if perhaps the Democrats could manage to muster up the enthusiasm to create a “wave” election and take back the House next year. If the Obamcare debacle continues as is, then those prognosticators will look patently ridiculous. The lies coupled with the manifest incompetence will destroy the President’s standing, destroy his party’s standing, and, quite possibly, set the liberal/progressive cause back several decades.
You may note that George W. Bush too won a second term. And he too entered his second term with “political capital” to spend. By autumn of the first year of that second term, though, all of that political capital was gone and his poll numbers were caught in their own “death spiral.” The proximate cause of that death spiral, of course, was the perception of Bush’s incompetence in the face of Hurricane Katrina.
If Obama is not careful and not incredibly lucky, he may well end up worse off for the remainder of his second term than Bush was for his. Kyle Smith is wrong. The American people will not punish Barack Obama for lying to them. But they will punish him – and his party – for lying to them while being incompetent.
Obviously, we have no idea how the Obamacare debacle will be resolved. We suspect, though, given its transparently incompetent design and rollout, that there will be no salvaging this mess. And if that’s the case, then Obama’s health care lies will weigh heavily both on his legacy and on his party’s near term electoral prospects.
Unfortunately, those of us who abhor the postmodern ethos shouldn’t get too terribly excited about this prospect. The fact of the matter is that we have just been confronted by a president and an administration that brazenly and blatantly denied the reality of the health care market in this country, all because they knew better what those who are “disadvantaged” by the current system need. This is a monumental development. Worse yet, the American people would have let them get away with it, if they hadn’t also been epic screw-ups.
The political environment in this country has been changed permanently. And not because the President of the United States lied to the people. But because, in his view at least, he didn’t.