No Armistice in Sight
by Stephen Cox | Posted August 08, 2012
Recently in this journal Robert Miller made the apt observation that Stalin’s Soviet Union was the only country that had to fight on just one front in World War II. All the others had to battle at least two forces simultaneously. Pity Word Watch, which is always fighting on a dozen fronts.
Some of these are characterized by chronic trench warfare. Last month, I noted that Karl Rove is too polite to speak the word “hell.” He says “heck” instead. This month, I have been informed by Brit Hume, in an interview he gave to Fox News, that Mitt Romney won’t even come that close to hell. Romney says something like “h, e, toothpicks.” I’m not kidding. Just when you think the forces of freedom have broken through the prudery line, you find them repelled, once again, by Republicans.
Meanwhile, President Obama, former recreational drug user, goes on the Jimmy Fallon show, stylishly and smirkingly calls marijuana “weed,” and claims of his administration: “What we are trying to do when it comes to drugs is treating it [sic — there’s another battlefront: the president’s wretched grammar] as a public health problem. When we provide prevention and education to folks, that can make a huge difference." Barack Obama, chief law enforcement agent of the United States, the man who is currently persecuting medical marijuana dispensaries (thus "providing prevention and education to folks"), is capable of saying things like this.
So that’s four fronts, right there. Bad grammar, scrambled syntax (in normal life, do we ever hear phrases like "provide prevention"?), condescension ("folks"), and sheer hypocrisy. The war continues.
Here’s another battle that the Rebel Alliance has been fighting for years, against the united forces of the Empire — though victory may now be in sight, because Brit Hume has joined the rebel cause. On July 30, the eponymous host of the "O’Reilly Show" asked Hume whether Sarah Palin, a person whom neither of them seems to like, was “prepared to run the country.” Instead of responding in the normal, softball way, or even going after the question directly, Hume said, “I don’t think the president runs the country, but the government, perhaps, or the executive branch.“
Just when you think the forces of freedom have broken through the prudery line, you find them repelled, once again, by Republicans.
This column has been harping on that “runs the country,” “runs the state,” “runs the city” locution for years. It’s one of the main bastions of statism. It insinuates — nay, preaches — the idea that we elect politicians to run things — to run our nation, our homes, ourexistence, us. Things are bad enough as they are, but just imagine Barack Obama actually running the United States, as people run hardware stores or their children’s lives. I’m not risking much by speculating that within a month we would all be starving. And in place of Barry Obama, insert any political functionary you please, with an option to replace “United States” with California, Oklahoma, Peoria, or Rives Junction.
Speaking of California, there’s a linguistic battlefront if ever there was one. Last month, I called particular attention to Gov. Jerry Brown’s relentless assaults on the English language. Since then, he’s reiterated his attacks with a phrase that he apparently thinks is invincible, because it declares invincibility. It’s an odd phrase, hubristic — the kind of phrase that isn’t supposed to be used in a democratic society. It is “crush the opposition.”
In talking, for instance, about “clean” energy (nobody ever talks about dirty energy; if it’s dirty, it’s not energetic, I guess), he recites a Satanic mantra, in which hypocrisy and brutality are conceived as virtues. First, he says, you need to "talk a little bit” to people. This is apparently supposed to neutralize their opposition. Then, he says, “at the end of the day you have to move forward.” So much for talk; you had no intention of listening. Now what you do is something he claims to have learned “in Oakland” — as if Oakland, where he once was mayor, were a school of civic conduct, like Philadelphia in the days of Washington and Madison. But what did he learn? “I learned that some kind of opposition you have to crush.” By that he means opposition to his plans to save the environment by imposing ever more restrictive regulations, and also opposition to his plans to ruin the environment by slashing a 200-billion-dollar railroad across 500 miles of outraged landscape.
There’s more. Brown avers, "We need a centralized base of arbitrary intervention to overcome the distributed political power that is blocking forward progress.” James Madison couldn’t have said it any better — that’s exactly what republican government , with its distributed political powers, exists to frustrate: the centralized bases of arbitrary intervention. To the classical American, classical liberal way of thinking, the clearest sign of illegitimate government is a reliance on or boasting aboutarbitrary power. Nothing could be clearer. Yet virtually no one in my besotted state has called attention to Brown’s absurdly authoritarian rants.
Maybe people have accepted the mindset of the political ad men, for whom the meanings of words are the last things to be taken seriously. And look out — here’s another incoming from that quarter. Did you know that what most of us call attack ads are commonly called, by the people who produce them, contrasting ads? This came out when the two presidential campaigns allegedly suspended their contrasting ads because of the Colorado theater shootings. “Contrasting”? Well, yes, those ads present a steady contrast to truth and decency.
Just imagine Barack Obama actually running the United States, as people run hardware stores or their children’s lives. I’m not risking much by speculating that within a month we would all be starving.
Such ads are also called negative campaigning — which reminds me of yet another front. This column is a frequent complainer against the word negative, when used as a synonym for unfavorable, slanderous, vicious, Hitlerian, or any of the thousand other meaningful adjectives for which unfavorable can be an ignorant stand-in. I don’t care about the 99% of the populace that uses negative because it can’t think of any other word. It’s incompetent, irrelevant, and immaterial what 99% of the populace thinks about certain subjects, and this is one of them. Negative is appropriate only to mathematics and old-fashioned film processing. Otherwise, it’s just a cover-up for what you really mean. Don’t get me started on that. I mean, don’t get me restarted.
I’m moving on, now, to the Jay Carney front. Jay Carney is that little guy who looks like he’s 16 years old, and actually talks like the 16-year-old know it all, the little brat in your sophomore class who kept talking and talking, confidently reciting every cliché he’d ever heard, despite being as dumb as an ox? Yeah, that one. So here’s Jay Carney, White House Press Secretary, as quoted on Real Clear Politics, July 26. Carney was asked what does the administration regard as the capital of Israel.
Jay Carney: Um... I haven't had that question in a while. Our position has not changed. Can we, uh...
Reporter: What is the capital [of Israel]?
Jay Carney: You know our position.
Reporter: I don't.
Lester Kinsolving, World Net Daily: No, no. She doesn't know, that's why she asked.
Carney: She does know.
Reporter: I don't.
Kinsolving: She does not know. She just said that she does not know. I don't know.
Carney: We have long, let's not call on...
Kinsolving: Tel Aviv or Jerusalem?
Carney: You know the answer to that.
Kinsolving: I don't know the answer. We don't know the answer. Could you just give us an answer? What do you recognize? What does the administration recognize?
Carney: Our position has not changed.
Kinsolving: What position?
Carney then moved on to another question.
Now, I know, and you know, that anything having to do with the Middle East is Fraught with Political Terror and, for all I know, Peril. But Carney's line is that the administration has a position, that everyone knows it, and that he refuses to state it. This can be a little bit frustrating, if you want to find something out. I must say, however, that Carney's babble contributes a good deal to my self-satisfaction, as it should to yours. There isn't a reader of Liberty, anywhere in the world, who would ever go on as he does.
One function of Liberty, however, is to show that life does not consist of politics alone. That’s the libertarian idea, is it not? Freedom from politics? And it’s the right idea. It encourages us to enjoy all those parts of life that (thank God!) remain private and nonpolitical.
Unfortunately, it also obliges us to observe those bloody assassinations of language that occur even outside the political arena.
Here’s one. It’s a news article (http://updatednews.ca/2012/07/27/1100-pounds-white-sturgeon-caught-in-canada/) about somebody who caught and, I am happy to say, released a sturgeon weighing 1,100 pounds. I like to eat fish, but when fish get that big, they’re old, and eld has an aura of romance. I love to think about animals that long survive their owners — so long as the owners aren’t me.
The article says, “Incredibly, this massive sturgeon, a prehistoric species, might have been hatched the year the Titanic sank.”
Here's a little platoon of words that is vulnerable from so many angles, I hardly know where to start.
First, I’d like to observe that we’re looking at a normal sentence, as “normal” is understood in the nuthouse of the contemporary media.
Second, I want to say that I am the author of a book about the Titanic (The Titanic Story — go buy it on Amazon), but even I have tired of seeing 1912 represented as the linchpin, the benchmark, the a quo and ad quem of universal history. So what if a fish was hatched in the year the Titanic sank?
Third, there’s this idea — or unfocused interjection — about things that are incredible or unbelievable.The existence of a hundred-year old fish is something I am very capable of crediting. I am very well prepared to believe that there are entities in this world that have existed since 1912. I worship in a church that — believe it or not! — was built in 1912, the year the Titanic sank. The sidewalk in front of my house was laid some years earlier. I have actually known people who were alive, even before 1912— and many people who were hatched in the year itself. When you get to the age of Adwaitya the Tortoise (“Adwaitya, R.I.P.,” Liberty, June 2006, pp. 9–11), then I’ll start paying attention.
Fourth, one fish (“this massive sturgeon”) is not a species.
But, thinking of that, the fifth and truly awful thing is the oohing and ahhing about the “prehistoric species.” All species are prehistoric. Do you think the Lord waited around till somebody was able to write history, before he started evolving sturgeons? Or pandas, or jackals, or smelt? Or us?
Are we really fighting it out on this line? Well, all right, I’ll go on fighting, even if it takes all summer.
But speaking of us (look out, this is going to be an amazing transition), you may have noticed that people sometimes write comments to Liberty accusing us of being weak libertarians, insufficient libertarians, quasi-libertarians, non-libertarians, anti-libertarians, and even worse forms of libertarians. (The phrases are synonymous, their different forms resulting merely from which side of the bed the author woke up on.) The sad truth is that, despite what anybody thinks, we are libertarianssimply, thoroughly, and intrinsically.The nice thing is that libertarians can actually disagree with one another, and violently too, without reading one another out of the family.
So what if a fish was hatched in the year the Titanic sank?
Another nice thing, which I’d like to notice, has to do with the readers who periodically write in to say that Liberty repeats the Republicans’ “talking points.” When I read that, I start laughing. But I hope it comes true. I hope I live to see the day when either the Republicans or the Democrats, or both, actually agree, in their talking points, with the principles of individual freedom advocated by Liberty’s authors (each proceeding in his or her own way, mind you), and agree so fully that Republicans, Democrats, Libertarians, and libertarians can scarcely be distinguished.
I am sorry to say, however, that if Karl Rove ever becomes a libertarian, he will probably still be saying “heck.”
Therefore the fight continues.
Stephen Cox is editor of Liberty, and a professor of literature at the University of California San Diego. His recent books include The Big House: Image and Reality of the American Prison and American Christianity: The Continuing Revolution. Newly published is Culture and Liberty, a selection of works by Isabel Paterson.
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