Sunday, March 7, 2010

Sense and Sensibility

I had noticed that my good friend Lesly from America's Debate commented on a recent post of I took another gander at her recently dormant blog. There I found her quoting an article from Sic Semper Tyrannis from last August. What we surmised then about the 'tea party' movement has turned out to be dead-on balls accurate [who remembers what movie that quote came from?].

What occasions this? One cause is a kind of conceit that says “My vision of the way the country should be run is the only sound and permissible vision. Stray from it and there will be unprecedented calamity.”

That is one element.

The other is the inability to digest or tolerate the fact of their electoral defeat. One chief feature of a democracy is the rule of law, but the president’s opponents feel they owe no obedience to the law because if a man was elected that they despised, then clearly the election could not, at bottom, be legal. In their eyes, they represent what is morally most admirable about America, and the only way a whole class of sterling, morally superior people, clinging to an identical core of the most admirable convictions – the only way they could be defeated would be because they were victims of the workings of sinister, underhanded forces of fraud, deceit and misrepresentation. They did not lose the election, it was stolen from them by selfish scum.

So the losers’ resentment thus becomes, not an expression of mean-spirited, ill-informed and humiliated spite, not an ambition to regain power, but a kind of rescue effort aimed at restoring the rightful state of things in the land. In other words, Obama’‘s critics – are not blindly petty and vindictive, eaten alive by mindless rancor, they are heroic.

The people who hate Obama and who like to call him a communist actually share a certain similarity of disposition with communism. In communism, it was a central tenet that the Party had a monopoly on the truth and this required complete loyalty and subjugation on the part of the members. To hold back your complete endorsement to your group’s agenda did not mean that you simply disagreed with it. It meant something more menacing – a kind of moral failure, an excessive pride, a stubborn perversity of will that prevented you from seeing the truth. Obama’s critics believe they enjoy the same monopoly of virtue, and feel that what today’s desperate conditions require is intolerance – you can with good conscience cast aside your scruples. The importance of your mission and your certainty of being right relieves you of the burden of having to be truthful, restrained or respectful of the facts. The nobility of your cause means any weapon can be used against the enemy -- vile harangues, calumnies, slander, abuse, libel – you don’t have to use nimble skill in reasoning to outwit your target, you don’t have to have full command of the smallest intricacies of the issues to confute his claims -- you have only to stand and shout your opponent down, drown him out, bury him under a landslide of slights, epithets and insults. After all, you have the courage of a person with a crowd at his back.

Walter Bagehot once said that public opinion is little more than “the tyranny of the commonplace,”and one of its most hapless victims was none other than George Washington, commander of American forces during the Revolutionary War and the country’s first president. It was the custom to revere him, to admire and extol his preeminence as the rightful consequence of what he had accomplished during the war. Elected president in 1788 and 1792, he was called “the man who unites all hearts:” who was greeted by bands playing, “ the Hero Comes” before cheering crowds.

But by 1795, the habit of veneration had died out, replaced by the most extravagant contempt and mean-spiritedness. In the spring of 1794, the British, having broken a pledge, were arming Indian tribes and urging them to attack Americans in the frontier lands that would become Ohio and Michigan nor had the Brits dismantled a chain of forts in that area as they were pledged by treaty to do.

The U.S. public wanted a war, but Washington knew America, a young country, would be ruined by one - above all, it was not ready -- and he exerted every energy to avoid it. He dispatched John Jay to England, yet no sooner had Jay left, then the British took over an American fort, and Washington went into a towering rage, But Jay was abroad to bargain, not quarrel. The treaty was completed in absolute secrecy, but news of it quietly leaked, and when it did, all of America exploded in exasperated rage.

Washington was a man of rectitude who took pride, perhaps too much pride, in what he called “his disinterestedness.” He said that in all the facts of his administration, “I have sought the happiness of my fellow citizens” ignoring “personal local and partial consideration” in favor of the “Permanent interests of the country” and “the dictates of my conscience.”

This no longer mattered. Those who hated the treaty hated its author even more, and hatred knows no law. Vindictive fury “moved like an electric velocity through every state in the Union,” said a contemporary congressman. In Virginia, army veterans in drinking clubs stood to their feet to toast “A speedy death to Washington.” Americans complained Washington was living in a luxury equal in decadence to that of George III, the king they had fought a war to defeat. Some of the more devious critics resorted to forgeries that claimed to show that Washington had been bribed by British secret agents during the war. Still others charged that Washington had stolen military credit from his own generals during the conflict:”With what justice do you monopolize the glories of the Revolution” they charged

The majority of the country had no opinion about the treaty and paid it no attention, but its enemies were ready to go al lengths to destroy it. Washington finally got the treaty approved, but he was sixty three years old and badly shaken by the horrendous misrepresentations and the degree of narrow-minded jealousy and spleen of which he’d been the target. The whole episode “has worn away my mind,” he said

He decided not to run for a third term, weary or being “buffeted in the public prints.” But he had shown that a president to be president, had to get the American public to accept even things it did not like if it were in their long term interests.

But he was soured, As he was leaving for Virginia, he wrote to a friend, “I don’t wish to mix again in the great world or to mix ion its politics.”

And he went home to die.

It was an episode that did little credit to the right of free speech, but as Tocqueville observed, in America, “the parties are impatient of control and are never manageable except in moments of great public danger.” really should start blogging again. the fight against ignorance is indeed tiresome, but more fighters are needed on the front lines.

1 comment:

  1. Ah, DTOM.

    Most of us are unaware of our natural state. Some are aware and deny the worst aspects of human nature to get away with terrible acts. The rest of the voices punctuate the confusion as they're steamrolled in favor of the familiar and the comforting. I can't bring myself to care for the fools and the puppeteers.


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