Monday, January 28, 2013

Shifting Blame

New York Daily News photo of Hillary Clinton by Kevin Lamarque/Reuters
This past week, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton engaged in congressional testimony to determine facts associated with the deaths of four Americans in Benghazi, Libya on September 11, 2012.

Think Progress has a transcript of portions of the Secretary’s remarks.  Here is an exchange between Senator Ron Johnson (R-WI) and Mrs. Clinton over why she failed to set the record straight on the cause of the attack:

JOHNSON: Madam Secretary, do you disagree that a simple phone call to those evacuees to determine what happened would have ascertained immediately there was no protest? That was a piece of information that could have been easily, easily obtained; within hours if not days.

CLINTON: Senator, you know, when you’re in these positions, the last thing you want to do is interfere with any other process.

JOHNSON: I realize that. I realize it’s a good excuse.

CLINTON: No, it’s a fact.

JOHNSON: Again, we were misled.  There was supposedly protests and something spraying out of that; assault spraying out of that. That was easily ascertained that was not the fact and the American people could have known that within days and didn’t know that.

CLINTON: With all due respect, the fact is we had four dead Americans! Was it because of a protest or was it because of guys out for a walk one night decided to go kill some Americans? What difference at this point does it make? It is our job to figure out what happened and do everything we can to prevent it from ever happening again.  (My emphasis)

I would have liked Senator Johnson to come back with this response…

JOHNSON: Mrs. Clinton, it is true that America has suffered the death of four of its citizens.  Keep in mind that we confirmed you to head our State Department.  You allowed four employees to die on your watch.  You allowed a false narrative to be imposed on the American people.  And now, you are shifting blame by intimating that “we” are all responsible.

Mrs. Clinton shifts blame either to her underlings (for whom she apparently has no presumed accountability), or to the American people in general (who must bear the shame of underfunding her operation).  As Secretary of State, she assumes the role of an advisor who only has responsibility for trying to do the right thing.

It is a familiar tactic.

The Democratic Party takes no blame for bringing civil war to America.  Slavery is America’s stain.

The Democratic Party takes no blame for segregating the South.  It is conservatives who are to blame.

Why do we give Democrats a pass in this shifting of blame?  It is because our culture assumes the Democratic Party is trying to do the right thing.  That is a wonderful trust relationship to have with the American people, but the part that’s missing is the “for whom” that comes after “trying to do the right thing.”

In the case of Mrs. Clinton, she is trying to do the right thing for the Democratic Party.  Americans assume this has congruence with a desire to do the right thing for America.

What should be of concern is, “What if that assumption is false?”

Wednesday, January 23, 2013


Aaron Swartz (on the left) with Lawrence Lessig, Professor of Law at Harvard University

Glenn Reynolds points to a poignant post by Larry Lessig on the death of Aaron Swartz.  Here are the final two paragraphs:
But for now, I need to step away. I apologize for the silence. I am sorry for the replies I will not give. Aaron was wrong about very few things, but he was wrong to take his life. I have to return to mine, and to the amazingly beautiful creatures who are trying to pull me back.

I will always love you, sweet boy. Please find the peace you were seeking. And if you do, please find a way to share that too.

Professor Lessig is grieving for a friend.  Aaron Swartz was victimized by our political system, and he chose to extinguish his life.  It is an American tragedy.

We give our trust to institutions and to people, and when that trust is broken, it is difficult to comprehend.  Aaron Swartz trusted the “rightness” of America and its institutions, and that trust was betrayed.

My post on gender-based authoritarianism touches on authoritarian figures who have broken our trust.  The betrayals don’t resonate with the authoritarians themselves, as they have an expectation of unquestioning loyalty.  They don’t reflect on the feelings of those who view that trust relationship with a sense of intimacy.

Lawrence Lessig gives us a sense of what a non-authoritarian feels.  He dwells on the intimacy of trust.  When that perceived intimacy is revealed as inauthentic and political, it causes a realignment of feelings and perspective.

Sure, it’s not a big deal that Nancy Pelosi digitally enhances historical pictures or that Beyonce Knowles (maybe) lip-syncs our national anthem, but each action is a betrayal of trust.

Human beings don’t like that.

UPDATE 1/31/2013:
The Los Angeles Times characterizes Aaron as a martyr in the fight for Internet freedom.

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Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Ignoring the Themes

Ben Shapiro being interviewed on Piers Morgan Tonight

Hugh Hewitt highlighted the Piers Morgan interview of Ben Shapiro on Thursday, 1/10/2013.  The discussion was on gun violence, and Mr. Hewitt describes the interview as an “embarrassment” for Mr. Morgan.

Mr. Shapiro, a 29 year-old Republican, makes the case for the 2nd Amendment to the United States Constitution, and Mr. Hewitt sees it as effective political debate.  Watch the video here.

Mr. Shapiro may have been good at making his points, but the main obstacle in the debate was not addressed.  That was the use of the Democratic Party theme “Republicans are harming our children.”

This theme is typically used in debate on the implementation of No Child Left Behind and various school subsidy issues.  Republicans are characterized as harming our children by wishing to enforce standards and compliance.  Sadly, the theme becomes especially potent when attached to school violence.  It stokes anti-Republican hatred.

Piers Morgan employs Dhimmitude to put the Republican in his place.  You can feel it dripping from the imputation, “How dare you!”

Mr. Shapiro retains his composure and makes arguments based on fact and principle, but it is not enough.  Mr. Morgan uses characterization and The Themes to validate his feelings and win the hearts of his viewers.

Republicans always contend their approach is a solid strategy, but it reflects a discouraging pattern.  Republicans must stop ignoring The Themes of the Democratic Party and begin to counter them.

In the meantime, that “little book” Piers gestures with is all we’ve got.

Monday, January 7, 2013

Gender-Based Authoritarianism

Lisa Jackson, former head of the Environmental Protection Agency

This post is about the central tenet of authoritarianism:

Within the past week, there have been three instances of authoritarian figures giving us a tutorial on their techniques.  Each of them is a woman, and each shows how to foster that authoritarian sense of infallibility.

First is Hillary Clinton.  The issue is the reaction of our culture to her recent conduct as Secretary of State.  According to the New York Times, Mrs. Clinton has “indomitable stamina and work ethic.”

Contrast that with the observations of Ann Althouse, where she questions the characterizations of Mrs. Clinton.  Ms. Althouse gives voice to the minority report against our culture’s portrayal of Mrs. Clinton.

Second is Elizabeth Warren.  The issue here is Senator Warren’s use of ethnic heritage to achieve competitive advantage.

William Jacobson notes the use of Wikipedia to cleanse the public record of certain facts about Mrs. Warren.  If Wikipedia is our source, we find a “new and improved” version of Elizabeth Warren.

Third is House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi.  She demonstrates how authoritarians perceive truth.

Roll Call reports that the “official” picture of House Democratic women was modified by Mrs. Pelosi so that it became an “accurate historical record.”  (Does George Orwell come to mind?)

Yes, this is America in the 21st century.  Official photos and official records are edited to reflect what our culture sees as the correct representation.  It no longer matters what is real; the characterization is what counts.  We now must put the word “reality” in quotation marks.

Should I mention Susan Rice or Lisa Jackson?  Some of our female leadership figures have become caricatures of authoritarianism!

If they aren't careful, they just might give the female gender a bad name.

UPDATE 5/19/2013:
A blog post by William Yeatman highlights the acceptance of authoritarianism (and in fact its celebration!) at the University of Colorado-Denver.

Thursday, January 3, 2013

Political Theater

Michael Bennet made news this week.  He is a United States Senator from Colorado and the chairman of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee (DSSC).

On the first day of 2013, the U. S. Senate held an early-morning vote over the issue of how much to “tax the rich.”  Senator Bennet ended up voting against the position favored by his party.

It created such a stir that Maureen Dowd devoted a column to it.  How could a Democrat (gasp!) break ranks?  What is going on here?

Pull up a seat.  We have the rare opportunity to watch the calculated political transmogrification of Michael Bennet.

Here is Michael Bennet writing for the DSSC in April of 2012:

First right-wing extremists took aim at women's healthcare. Now, they're trying to double interest rates on millions of student loans.

And thanks to the Citizens United ruling, Karl Rove and the Koch brothers will try to make this radical agenda law by defeating President Obama and taking over the Senate with nearly unlimited cash.

Our side's different -- 97% of our support comes from grassroots donations. It's you vs. the Rove and Koch attack machine.

That could be considered “us vs. them” rhetoric.  (In fairness, it is the expected tone of the DSCC.)

Here is Senator Bennet just eight months later (as quoted in The Denver Post):

The notion that we are raising taxes and not in any meaningful way to deal with the deficit, I don't think that makes sense to Colorado.
What I think is that it's important that you ... voted your conscience, and you did it on behalf of the future of our state. I think people will understand that.

This might be considered “trying to do the right thing for Colorado” rhetoric.

Senator Bennet is telling us he awoke on the last day of 2012 and suddenly felt the need to vote his conscience.  (This revelation from the Chairman of the DSCC, whose sole task is to strengthen the power and authority of the Democratic Party in the U. S. Senate.)

The Denver Post characterizes his action as “intrepid.”  Maureen Dowd describes him as “the future of his party.”

A Colorado Senator casts a symbolic vote in a legislative action whose outcome is pre-determined through secret negotiations between party leaders.

Our culture is awestruck by his “courageous act of conscience.”