Three Ways of Reacting to the Obvious


At this writing, no one can say what happened in Benghazi on September 11, when Ambassador Chris Stevens was brutally murdered by a mob of Muslim fanatics, driven to frenzy by an obscure YouTube feature. Or was he murdered by a Muslim army, conducting a well-planned attack? Or was it an inside job, perpetrated by Libyan employees of the embassy? Or perhaps all three?

The administration’s account of the enemy has frequently changed. But what about America’s arrangements to defend its people and property? What about our own operations? What happened with them? Mrs. Clinton’s State Department clearly wants everyone to assume that adequate security was in place. But . . . but . . . what about the obvious? The ambassador is dead.

The badly named Buck McKeon (R-CA), who serves on the House Armed Services Committee, made that point. It’s an obvious point, but he made it, and he did a little something with it: “It’s pretty obvious he did not have adequate security. Otherwise he would probably be here today. . . . I’m really disappointed about that. I think when we put our people around the world at risk and don’t provide adequate security, shame on us.”

This is one kind of response to fact. It’s banal, it’s obvious, but at least it recognizes the obvious. It recognizes things as they are, and allows for some further investigation, and perhaps some redress of grievances.

A second kind of response is represented by President Obama’s bizarre remarks of Sept. 20, about what he had learned as president: "The most important lesson I've learned is that you can't change Washington from the inside. You can only change it from the outside."

In making this comment, Obama assumed a general recognition of the obvious: he had not managed to fulfill his promises of hope and change. An obvious response would be, “Well, maybe somebody else can fix things.” But that’s not the tack Obama took. That’s not what he said he had learned. He said he’d learned that you can’t change Washington from the inside, that you have to be an outsider to do that.

There’s no way you can make sense out of that. Obama couldn’t be farther inside, and he’s campaigning to stay that way, despite the fact that insiders can’t change anything. But obviously, when he was on the outside, he didn’t manage to change anything, either — because otherwise why would he have campaigned to get on the inside?

This dilemma has no exit. It’s a radical form of conservatism: since no one, either inside or outside, can do anything about anything, we need to stay exactly where we are right now. Obama happens to be in the White House, so that’s a good deal for him. As for the rest of us . . . we’ll always have Social Security to fall back on.

Or will we? On September 20, Paul Ryan addressed the convention of the American Association of Retired Persons, otherwise known as the world’s greatest purveyor of direct mail, and said what is obviously true and admitted by all: Social Security is broke, and getting broker, and if something isn’t done about it, the system will fold. This non-news should, theoretically, be of the first importance to the AARP. The AARP should want to do something about it. But what it did was to boo and hiss Paul Ryan.

This is the third kind of reaction to the obvious — an impassioned resistance to knowing or doing anything. It’s a conservatism so militant that even Jerry Falwell, were he still on earth, might pause and admire it. It’s the kind of conservatism that one sees everywhere in the campaigns of incumbents (and this year, the Democratic Party is the chief incumbent). Every Obama sign and sticker is like a giant billboard reading SO WHAT? The failure is obvious; the intention to fix it, nonexistent. The program is, keep everything exactly the way it is. The fact that this program will probably win is an even ghastlier reflection on American politics than the Republicans’ tedious gyrations between truth, untruth, and sort of truth.

“Fact checks” almost always hurt the Republicans, because the Republican campaign is predicated on the idea that facts exist and must be faced. But they do nothing to hurt the Democrats — and that’s the really awful thing.

rsquo;s not the tack Obama took. That

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Greg Robbins

I think the magazine does a fine job critiquing both Romney and Obama. If more space is devoted to Obama bashing, I suspect that's because there's more to bash. He's a disaster from a libertarian perspective.

Rodney Choate, P.E.

Thanks for the piece.

Re: the "So What" observation.
A clever way to put that. Nice!

Welcome to a post-Constitutional, post-truth, post-conscience society. In my view, the affliction that Cox rightly laments first showed itself fully, and on a national scale, in the Florida "re-count" of 2000-2001. Prior to this there was election fraud, but it was done quietly if possible. Now, in Florida, the liberal side felt safe enough in their support to OPENLY, PUBLICLY, try to steal the election. (Of course, factors beyond their control had fallen into place to provide a plausible opportunity. But that they had the audacity to take advantage of it illustrates my point).

This time in 2000-2001 marked, for me, the turning point, the beginning of my current fears and depressions. Facts, truth, reality now appear to be irrelevant to over 50% of the voters. It will likely get worse.

I didn't realize that the Republicans were still promoting military spending INCREASES!!! If true, this would be another example of flouting facts, reality, truth, just as the other side is doing. It would be stunts like this position that give the other side undeserved credibility. The conservatives have been their own worst enemy, as Rand said in her old essays.

Good points made by all.

Jim Williams

I've noticed the same thing. The politicians from both "major" parties--and their media mouthpieces--don't seem to feel the need to hide the nature of their programs anymore. Oh, they still use cutesy euphemisms (e.g. "enhanced interrogation" instead of "torture"). But we've moved into a world where the president openly has people killed, with the "due process" being whatever random thoughts rattle in his brain while he's sitting on the crapper. And few voters care all that much, even the "liberals" who like to posture about Standing Up To The Man.

Jon Harrison

Do we really know who got the most votes in Florida in 2000? And do you take comfort in the fact that the Republican won by a one-vote majority among nine judges? That the loser of the national popular vote became president? Do you take further comfort in the fact that there followed record deficits, Medicare Part D, No Child Left Behind, and an unnecessary war in Iraq that costs tens of thousand of lives and was funded entirely by borrowed money to the tune of $1 trillion?

Rodney Choate, P.E.

I appreciate your engaging me Jon.

My answers to each of your sentences:

1) Yes we do- Bush did, by at least two counts
2) No, I take no particular comfort in any
decision by the court- they are crazy,
3) Yes I do take great comfort in this point.

and lastly

4) I don't like Bush either, or the things he
did. I was merely opining that the Court got
that one right, by whatever twisted reasoning
they use these days.

Jon Harrison

There were some 180,000 "spoiled" ballots thrown out in Florida in 2000. There is nonpartisan research indicating that Gore would have won a narrow victory in a statewide recount. In such a large state, with the margin so close, it's impossible to know who actually got the most votes. Please note, I am NOT saying that Gore carried Florida in 2000. What I am saying is that no one, including you, knows who won that election. A statewide recount should have been conducted. Instead, five unelected judges chose the president -- with, as it turned out, disastrous consequences fior the nation.

A fault I find with many writers and commenters on this site is the tendency to squeeze facts until they conform to individual prejudices. Your certainty as to the true result in 2000 would be an example. It's a universal human failing, of course, but since I participate here I find it particularly grating.

Rodney Choate, P.E.

Jon, to say that I share with you a frustration regarding a lack of objectivity in most other people would be to put it very mildly. As such, I do my best to be objective myself, I can assure you, as I hate hypocrites. I see the truth as ultimately on my side, which is the only root and cause of objectivity.

Once the votes were cast in Florida it was imperative to follow the established laws and procedures exactly, and for the same reason that the Constitution itself should be followed exactly. Do you know if they were not, and if so, by which side, and to who's ultimate advantage? I seem to recall an initial machine count, and another mandatory machine count of the entire state; after which individual hand counts began under dubious and controversial conditions. That STUNK my friend! It sounds like you may be one who wanted to count ballots until Bush finally lost. Bush hating is not a principle, just as Gore hating would not be.

I am a libertarian minded person who came to it more from the conservative side, and I think that you think that shows in some bias of mine. I will place a gentleman's bet with you that you, yourself, came to libertarianism from the liberal side! Am I right? That seems to show. The only judge of any of this is reality itself.

I promise you this- The Florida fiasco made me truly depressed. If I were really biased I would have looked to alleviate my sadness by proving, in my own mind, that the election had actually been stolen by a small number of people in Florida rather than that an attempt to steal it had been tolerated by hundreds of millions of people, all over the country, and simply failed.

Jon Harrison

Sorry, but I started out as a Reagan voter in 1980. I called myself a libertarian conservative back then, as even then I was disturbed by some aspects of mainstream conservatism. I am baffled by some aspects of Libertarianism (note the capital "L"), but since Libertarians will never gain power in America, I don't worry too much about that. My frustrations here stem from the propensity of some people to, as I said, massage facts until they conform to their prejudices. I expect better from libertarians, but shouldn't. After all, they're just people like everybody else.

I was a JFK supporter back in the day, but I was still in short pants then. I turned against the Democrats as a pubescent boy, when a Texan ruined the country for the first time. That marked my initial journey into the political wilderness, as the Republican Party of Richard Nixon did not appeal to me. Reagan I could support, though with reservations. I was still mostly supporting Republicans until George W. Bush brought our country to ruin for a second time. Today I'm in the wilderness with other former Repubs like Bruce Bartlett. I have libertarian impulses to be sure (else I wouldn't be here), but I can't subscribe to some of the utterly impractical (and in some cases, nonsensical) policy proposals of the LP (or Ron Paul, for that matter). CATO is close to my ideal as a repository of wisdom on matters of political economy, but even they sometimes come out with stuff that clearly won't/can't fly.

Rodney Choate, P.E.

Yea, it sure is hard to find people who don't massage facts when it suits them.


I believe the Supreme Court ruled properly that the vote recount was being conducted with no uniform or knowable standard and must therefore not proceed. The Secretary of State (Florida) had tried to certify the election, with Bush leading the vote. A federal judge had improperly overturned that certification.

Your comment that there's no way to know who won the vote count is kind of silly. I suppose there's no way to know who wins any vote count in any State, is there? We just watch the news and see what the talking heads tell us.

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