Together in Chains and T-Shirts
by EDWARD CLINE
January 18, 2011
Politics is the art of looking for trouble, finding it whether it exists or not,
Diagnosing it incorrectly, and applying the wrong remedy. – Ernest Benn
On the premise that words have meanings, and in the spirit of vitriol, eliminationism, toxicity, and incivility, I offer here an inflammatory, abrasive, and indecorous critique of the latest bucket of double-talking swill to be dumped on America by the White House.
On Wednesday, January 12th, President Barack Obama delivered a “eulogy” that magically but predictably morphed into a campaign speech before some 14,000 people in a university sports arena. It was a slyly spun delivery that fooled such stalwart “right-wingers” as Glenn Beck, Brit Hume, and Michael Gerson, and won their wholesome praise and uncritical adulation. Even dependently acerbic Charles Krauthammer, usually so sensitive to the nuances and syntactical trickery in Obama’s speeches, and so mercilessly forthright in his appraisal of the president’s utterances, was taken in.
Appearing on Fox News, Washington Post columnist Charles Krauthammer said the speech was a “remarkable display . . . both in terms of the tone and the content,” adding, “You could only conclude that he did exactly what he had to do in a difficult environment,” The New York Times reported.
Those concessions leave one doubtful of the moral certitude of the “right” and of conservatives.
Republican Senator John McCain, defeated for the presidency by Obama in 2008, went out of his way to congratulate Obama in aWashington Post article in calling for a “gentler form of politics.” His article could have been written by Obama’s speechwriter.
President Obama gave a terrific speech Wednesday night. He movingly mourned and honored the victims of Saturday's senseless atrocity outside Tucson, comforted and inspired the country, and encouraged those of us who have the privilege of serving America.
The president appropriately disputed the injurious suggestion that some participants in our political debates were responsible for a depraved man's inhumanity. He asked us all to conduct ourselves in those debates in a manner that would not disillusion an innocent child's hopeful patriotism. I agree wholeheartedly with these sentiments. We should respect the sincerity of the convictions that enliven our debates but also the mutual purpose that we and all preceding generations of Americans serve: a better country; stronger, more prosperous and just than the one we inherited.
The question is: When political opponents begin to sound like each other, as McCain and Obama do here, and invest effort to soften their principles (if any) and criticisms, so as not to sound “hurtful” or “caustic,” and seem to be saying the exact same things, what difference will it make to the electorate? When no one brings any metaphorical weapons to a fight – recall Obama’s advising allies to bring a gun when the opposition brings a knife – what else can be substituted but Aunt Emma’s Etiquette for Polite Political Engagement?
Who wins in such a confrontation? The party that has the most to hide, the most to protect, the most to shield from criticism. In this case, the Democrats. If one is reluctant to call a leftist a leftist, a socialist a socialist, a power-luster a power-luster, who gains in that political version of tag football? Civil discourse by the opponents of the administration’s policy of statism will only mean their defeat. “Civil discourse” in the spirit of compromise and bipartisanship can mean only the routing of the White House’s “enemies.” As novelist-philosopher Ayn Rand noted in her prophetic novel Atlas Shrugged in 1957:
In any compromise between food and poison, it is only death that can win. In any compromise between good and evil, it is only evil that can profit.
When the chief target of the Democrats and the Left, Sarah Palin, responded to the libelous charge that she was in large part responsible for Jared Loughner’s homicidal mental state, theAnti-Defamation League (ADL) also joined in the “civil tongue” mantra over Palin’s use of the otherwise odious term blood libel:
In response to rampant speculation that a map that had appeared on Palin’s website, which placed a crosshairs-like image over Rep. Gabrielle Giffords’ district, may have inspired the shooting, Palin responded that “journalists and pundits should not manufacture a blood libel that serves only to incite the very hatred and violence they purport to condemn.”
The Anti-Defamation League responded with a statement issued by national director Abraham Foxman, in which he noted, “while the term ‘blood-libel’ has become part of the English parlance to refer to someone being falsely accused, we wish that Palin had used another phrase, instead of one so fraught with pain in Jewish history.”
Foxman acknowledges the secular currency of the term “blood libel,” but denies its legitimate usage at the same time. The ADL subsequently called for Americans to “reach out.”
As one part of our overall effort, ADL has launched a campaign to make this the moment when our country dramatically shifts the tenor of our national discourse—an appeal for leaders to work together to change the bitter climate of political and policy debates. Our call is not directed at Republicans or Democrats. It is a call for all America’s leaders to consider the impact of their words and to reject appeals that exploit voters’ fears, frustrations and prejudices.
An impromptu but none too subtle slogan for the memorial service, originating in Obama’s “Organizing for America” (aka, “Organizing of America”) was “Together We Thrive.” Attendees of the memorial service, as they entered the stadium, were handed blueT-shirts bearing that slogan. There is a picture of rows of stadium seats with the T-shirts neatly folded over the chair backs. This leaves one to wonder: Why did it take so long for the service to be orchestrated? One presumes it would have taken time to have all those T-shirts produced and sent to Tucson. Or were they reallyproduced in Tucson?
Who were all those people? Did they arrive by the busload from out of town, from out of state? That would have taken time to schedule. It would be interesting to know the composition of the audience. For it was not strictly a memorial service, but a performance for an audience, and nationally televised. Why did it feel to free to cheer, virtually on cue? One smells the manipulative hands of George Soros and the Democratic National Committee behind the wholememorial-cum-rally.
Why a stadium? Why did not those who had a more intimate connection – the husband of Gabrielle Giffords, the relatives of Judge John Roll, and the relatives and friends of the others killed and injured during the Tucson shooting of January 8th – insist on a more private occasion, held, say, in a chapel, with attendance limited to perhaps two hundred, including the press? Perhaps saying “no” to the White House’s desire to transform the service into a podium for pontificating was thought to be an offense to the office and fraught with a perceived insult that may have had unpredictable consequences. It is, after all, hard to reject the wishes of a party one suspects is imbued with delusions of absolute power.
His speech? Here is a selection of ideological non sequiturs to ponder:
On Saturday morning, Gabby, her staff and many of her constituents gathered outside a supermarket to exercise their right to peaceful assembly and free speech.
Is the recent rule-making of the Federal Communications Commission on broadband availability but an overture to an administration-sanctioned takeover of the Internet? What else could it be but an overture, a first installment?
They were fulfilling a central tenet of the democracy envisioned by our founders –- representatives of the people answering questions to their constituents, so as to carry their concerns back to our nation’s capital. Gabby called it “Congress on Your Corner” -– just an updated version of government of and by and for the people.
The Founders never envisioned a democracy – except as an overture to tyranny – but an individual rights-defending, limited government republic. But this is something we either cannot expect Obama to understand, or correctly assess his hostility to, on the evidence of his words and actions. And when the concerns and questions of the people were carried back to Washington in 2009 and 2010 – sometimes by their representatives, but mostly not – how were those concerns and questions treated by Obama’s Congress? With arrogant dismissal and the condescension of an elitist political class.
And by “government of and by and for the people,” Lincoln surely did not mean mob rule by the United Auto Workers, the SEIU, manufacturers of solar panels and ethanol, and other groups with a vested interest in billion-dollar handouts and subsidies.
Speaking of Gabrielle Giffords and one of the murder victims, Phyllis Schneck, Obama said:
A gifted quilter, she’d often work under a favorite tree, or sometimes she'd sew aprons with the logos of the Jets and the Giants to give out at the church where she volunteered. A Republican, she took a liking to Gabby, and wanted to get to know her better.
A sly appeal for “bipartisanship”?
Speaking of Gabe Zimmerman, the Giffords aide who was also murdered, Obama remarked:
As Gabby’s outreach director, he made the cares of thousands of her constituents his own, seeing to it that seniors got the Medicare benefits that they had earned, that veterans got the medals and the care that they deserved, that government was working for ordinary folks.
“Ordinary folks”? Another patronizing and populist sop. The only legitimate “work” the government can perform is to protect individual rights, and not help people get their alleged welfare state entitlements.
And we are grateful for the doctors and nurses and first responders who worked wonders to heal those who’d been hurt. We are grateful to them.
But not grateful enough to refrain from advocating and signing legislation which will make those doctors, nurses and first responders indentured servants of the state and of any person who claims their skills as a right.
But at a time when our discourse has become so sharply polarized -– at a time when we are far too eager to lay the blame for all that ails the world at the feet of those who happen to think differently than [sic] we do -– it’s important for us to pause for a moment and make sure that we’re talking with each other in a way that heals, not in a way that wounds.
Who was the first “polarizer”? Pima County Sheriff Clarence W. Dupnik, who, in addition to reporting a crime almost immediately after its commission, made improper political remarks about everyone being culpable for Jared Loughner’s mental state. His rant set the tone for what was to follow, a kneejerk smearing by a desperate Left of anyone speaking his mind about the political state and direction of the country. Dupnik excoriated “the vitriolic rhetoric that we hear day in and day out from people in the radio business and some people in the TV business,” and claimed that Arizona was becoming a “Mecca for prejudice and bigotry.”
And when discussing political differences, why is “wounding” a necessary consequence of speaking one’s mind and disagreeing with another person’s political notions or ideology? Why not lay the blame “for all that ails the world” on a particular philosophy and moral code? Why engage in any “civil discourse” if one cannot name one’s own premises and conclusions without risking the wounding of someone’s tenuous self-esteem?
Yes, we have to examine all the facts behind this tragedy. We cannot and will not be passive in the face of such violence. We should be willing to challenge old assumptions in order to lessen the prospects of such violence in the future.
Which “old assumptions” are these whose elimination would “lessen the prospects of such violence in the future”? Identifying the facts of reality? Identifying culprits and the guilty? Naming names and producing evidence? The inviolateness of the First Amendment?
Rather than pointing fingers or assigning blame, let’s use this occasion to expand our moral imaginations, to listen to each other more carefully, to sharpen our instincts for empathy and remind ourselves of all the ways that our hopes and dreams are bound together.
It is only by pointing fingers and assigning blame that one can identify wrong ideas and the perpetrators of disastrous policies. The “hopes and dreams” of the Tea Party are not shared by anyone who takes for granted big government and billion dollar. No “empathy” is possible between the two groups.
Let’s make sure it’s not on the usual plane of politics and point-scoring and pettiness that drifts away in the next news cycle.
This may or may not have been a reproachful allusion to the likes of Paul Krugman and other liberal pundits who immediately began to smear Sarah Palin, the Tea Party, and other opponents of Obama’s policies. Obama cannot have been unaware of the vicious mud-slinging that Sheriff Dupnik’s remarked instigated. But then, Obama, Nancy Pelosi, Harry Reid and other Democrats disdained Americans who protested their collectivist agenda, raising contemptible point-scoring and pettiness to a new plateau of political dissimulation.
The most despicable part of Obama’s speech occurred at the end, when he used the death of nine-year-old Christina Taylor Green as a point of comparison, and suggested that he is the moral equivalent of her.
And I believe that for all our imperfections, we are full of decency and goodness, and that the forces that divide us are not as strong as those that unite us. I want to live up to her expectations. I want our democracy to be as good as Christina imagined it. I want America to be as good as she imagined it. All of us -– we should do everything we can to make sure this country lives up to our children’s expectations.
Aside from the offensive notion of putting himself on the same moral plane as a child – this man who uses gangster metaphors to advance a gangster government – Obama’s remarks are puerile to say the least. Mozart at the age of nine understood the principles of composition and developed the imagination to write music which adults of his time could not even conceive of. With all due respect to Christina Green, I do not think she was such a prodigy that she had developed any adult expectation or conception of what America politically should or should not be. This is Obama tugging at his audience’s heartstrings and pleading for similitude. It is his politics as usual.
Fortunately, there are those of us who will not fall for the rhetoric. We know that together as a chain gang bound together in the mutual fetters of sacrifice, selflessness, and timorous civility, we will not thrive, but move as one in a state of ignominious poverty and servitude.