Three Ways of Reacting to the Obvious

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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.




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Comments

Jon Harrison

Silly? I don't think so. It happened to be a very close and disputed vote in what turned out to be the crucial state in the 2000 election. It's nice that you believe the Supreme Court ruled properly in the case, but the workings of your mind hardly represent the last word on the matter. Lawyers have debated the correctness and propriety of the Supreme Court's decision without reaching a consensus. But that's beside the point I was trying to make, anyway. The fact remains that a presidential election was decided by five unelected judges. Surely, in this land of lawyers, it would have been possible to devise a "uniform and knowable standard" to conduct a recount. The will to do so was, unfortunately, lacking. Your silence on the obviously important point that one party controlled the process in Florida speaks to your prejudice in the matter, and not to any intellectual insight on your part. Indeed, to aver that all that could be done was to throw the election into the lap of nine judges, a majority of whom were Republicans and (surprise, surprise) upheld the Republican case, amounts to acquiescence in a peversion of the normal democratic process, i.e., making a full faith effort to count the votes cast. A statewide recount should have been held, under a "knowable standard" agreeable to both parties. Anything else (including a decision by unelected judges giving the state to Gore) amounts to a perversion of democracy in the one true national election we hold in the United States.

Rodney Choate, P.E.

From time to time in life we find certain endeavors which must be accomplished without flaw. For example, in my work here there are some things I do where no one checks behind me and I know I need to be extra careful to do the task as perfectly as I can, so as to avoid future inconvenience. The principle is imminently true for a public election. There is no substitute for a 100% perfectly run election. Once the integrity of an election is lost there is nothing that can be done to stisfactorily done to remedy that. The integrity of the Florida election was lost, for whatever reason, and I think there was intention by some party(s) to capitalize on that. The longer the situation would have been dragged out, the less trustworthy would have been the results. I think there were two machine (read: objective) counts conducted statewide (the initial and a follow-up), both of which were wone by Bush.

My feeling is not that the Florida election results were "good" or "right". All I ever meant to imply was that it appears that in a failed election, about which no one should be happy, the person who seems to have received the most votes won. I read the Supreme Court opinion. My impression was that all the Court did was enforce the Florida election rules by allowing their Secretary of State to declare a winner at the end of the allowable counting period. The judges did not elect Bush.

Jon Harrison

Obviously, the justices didn't literally cast ballots for Bush or Gore. But in effect they did. Do you doubt that if one more Democrat nominee had been on the court, the 5-4 decision would have gone the other way? I'm surprised (or maybe not) at the literalism displayed here. Of course the Court didn't literally elect Bush. The point is that there were five partisan Republicans on the Court in 2000, and as a result the Republican became president. Had there been five Democrat justices, Gore would have been "elected" to the top spot. Either way it's a perversion of democracy, just as the election of 1876 was. The only difference is that in 2000 we couldn't be absolutely certain who the winner was, whereas in 1876 Tilden clearly was elected president. The fact remains that we will never know for certain who won the 2000 election. Republican control first in Florida (nonpartisan analysis indicates that most of the ballots thrown out were from heavily Democratic areas), then at the Supreme Court, decided the election.

If the same situation occurred in 2012, with a Democrat-controlled state in place of Florida, and if the same shenanigans took place there as happened in Florida, with the case going to the Supreme Court and being decided 5-4 in Obama's favor (with Chief Justice John "Obamacare" Roberts joining the four Democrat judges), you guys would be up in arms about it.

Rodney Choate, P.E.

Jon, on your comments about the Court's members MOTIVES I agree with you completely! I don't think any comments I've made on the matter deny that the members of the Court are looking like pretty partisan asses. I'm smart enough to maintain the distinction between outcomes and the motives and means by which they were achieved. I never intended to give another impression.

You indicated that ballots FROM CERTAIN AREAS were thrown out (my emphasis)! That is a fantastic claim. I do not remember anything about that. Are you talking about ballots that the machine counter kicked out? I was not a supporter of the hand counts, and certainly not in the way they were being pursued. The losing side clearly wanted to count ballots until Gore finally won. How can anyone still be fretting about the OUTCOME of the Florida election?

Jon Harrison

". . . the Republican campaign is predicated on the idea that facts exist and must be faced." What a whopper that statement is -- except the author of it undoubtedly believes it to be true. Makes my point about all too many libertarians being older white men with a Fox News mentality.

Social Security is going broke, true. But it will continue to exist far into the future. Its demise will come with that of the United States, and not before. Benefits will be reduced, Social Secuirty taxes will be increased, or some combination of the two will be put in place to keep the program running.

The clips I saw had the AARP booing Ryan about his plans for Medicare, not Social Security. Unfortunately, vouchering is not a solution to the enormous problem Medicare represents. Under such a scheme private insurance companies would simply price seniors out of the market, leaving the vast majority of them uninsured. That in turn would place the burden of caring for them upon the public -- that is, once again, government. The idea that our society (so long as it exists as a coherent political organism) will allow seniors to go without health care is absurd. There's no doubt that Medicare requires radical reform. In particular, the enormous amounts of money expended on old, dying people during the last six months of life has to be reduced. Of course, it's hard to see how this can be done, given our society's absurd attitude toward death.

Is the Republican plan for ending the deficit and paying down the national debt -- a plan lacking in actual, detailed policy proposals -- an example of acknowledging and facing facts? Is their proposal for increasing the defense budget, in a time when no major foreign threat exists, realistic or necessary? Do libertarians find comfort in Republican stands on personal freedom issues like gay marraiage, drugs, abortion? Again, this is the stuff that warms the hearts of Fox News viewers. Is this site becoming an echo of Roger Ailes' ideology, rather than an outpost of libertarian thinking?

The Republican Party is as dishonest, corrupt and devoid of sound ideas as its Democratic counterpart. We ought to recognize this and subject the Party to the withering criticsm all too often reserved here only for Democrats. If we are now an outlet for contemporary conservative thinking, for God sake's say so.

Kant feel Pietzsche

Note he says that "Republican campaign is predicated on the idea that facts exist and must be faced". He doesn't state that the predication is accurate.

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