Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Liars vs. the perfect world

A Wall Street Journal editorial comments on the lowered state of political debate in the US:
Important as was yesterday's appearance before Congress by General David Petraeus, the events leading up to his testimony may have been more significant. Members of the Democratic leadership and their supporters have now normalized the practice of accusing their opponents of lying. If other members of the Democratic Party don't move quickly to repudiate this turn, the ability of the U.S. political system to function will be impaired in a way no one would wish for.

Well, with one exception. MoveOn.org, the Democratic activist group, bought space in the New York Times yesterday to accuse General Petraeus of "cooking the books for the White House." The ad transmutes the general's name into "General Betray Us."

"Betrayal," as every military officer knows, is a word that through the history of their profession bears the stain of acts that are both dishonorable and unforgivable. That is to say, MoveOn.org didn't stumble upon this word; it was chosen with specific intent, to convey the most serious accusation possible against General Petraeus, that his word is false, that he is a liar and that he is willing to betray his country. The next and obvious word to which this equation with betrayal leads is treason. That it is merely insinuated makes it worse.


In an editorial on Sunday, the New York Times, after saying that President Bush "isn't looking for the truth, only for ways to confound the public," asserted that "General Petraeus has his own credibility problems." We read this as an elision from George Bush, the oft-accused liar on WMD and all the rest, to David Petraeus, also a liar merely for serving in the chain of command. With this editorial, the Times establishes that the party line is no longer just "Bush lied," but anyone who says anything good about Iraq or our effort there is also lying. As such, the Times enables and ratifies MoveOn.org's rhetoric as common usage for Democrats.


Can this really be the new standard of political rhetoric across the Democratic Party? There was a time when the party's institutional elites, such as the Times, would have pulled it back from reducing politics to all or nothing. They would have blown the whistle on such accusations. Now they are leading the charge.

Under these new terms, public policy is no longer subject to debate, discussion and disagreement over competing views and interpretations. Instead, the opposition is reduced to the status of liar. Now the opposition is not merely wrong, but lacks legitimacy and political standing. The goal here is not to debate, but to destroy.

I disagree with the WSJ to the extent that they claim this is something new: Liberals have always maintained that their answer is the only possible answer and those who disagree must do so for sinister reasons. A part of their philosophy is that the world is perfectible. If you believe that the world is perfectible, it follows that questions have only one correct answer (and that would be, obviously, the liberal answer). This also explains their extreme frustration with current events: they believe that the world would be perfect if only Republicans stopped disagreeing with them.

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