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Juan Williams, the ‘Greater Good’ … It’s All Semantics

Apparently some lies are good, and some are bad. The trick is to know which is which.

by
Dan Miller

Bio

October 29, 2010 - 12:00 am

Dogs and other “less than human” critters probably don’t lie. People are different. They can and do lie, frequently. It is said that George “Cherry Tree” Washington never told a lie. If so, he must have been a disagreeable chap with few friends. “Do you think I’m fat, George?” “Yes, dear.” Polite people generally don’t say that sort of thing, even if they have to lie (or fake a coughing fit) to avoid it.

In recent years, the concept of polite lies has expanded to the increasingly vast universe of political correctness, where approved lies are encouraged and not telling them can get you fired — pronto. Politically incorrect truths are “inconsistent with [NPR's] editorial standards and practices, and undermined [Juan Williams'] credibility as a news analyst with NPR.” Some credibility; some news analysis! Happy fund raising week! NPR and its affiliates may need it more than ever. There is no truth (probably) to any rumor that Helen Thomas has been hired to replace Williams.

No matter the absurdity of a mere opinion, it is not a lie to the extent that it does not purport to state a fact — either about what was done or said or about what the speaker thinks was said or done. It is my opinion that the honorable (but floundering) Barney Frank is no less despicable than fortunately incarcerated but equally honorable Bernie Madoff, and I can express that opinion truthfully. It may not be accurate as to Messrs. Frank and Madoff, but it is not a lie because I stated that it is merely my opinion and it is. On the other hand, if knowing for a fact that the moon is made of rock (having been there and brought back to Earth moon rock samples), Neil Armstrong were to claim to think it is made exclusively of Gorgonzola cheese, that would be a lie because it is not his opinion.

In politics, lies as to objective facts and the nature of one’s opinions concerning them are not always easily distinguishable. When Barack Obama, our incredible shrinking president, declaimed against the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision during his State of the Union address on January 10, he said:

[L]ast week the Supreme Court reversed a century of law that I believe will open the floodgates for special interests — including foreign corporations — to spend without limit in our elections. (Applause.) I don’t think American elections should be bankrolled by America’s most powerful interests, or worse, by foreign entities.

Citizens United, based on apparently inconvenient First Amendment prohibitions against infringement of free speech, involved a small non-profit corporation with “an annual budget of about $12 million. Most of its funds are from donations by individuals; but, in addition, it accepts a small portion of its funds from for-profit corporations.” It produced a film unfavorable to Senator Clinton to be presented during her run for the Democratic Party presidential nomination during a “blackout period” (thirty days before primaries and 60 days prior to elections). It was produced and to be distributed independently of any political party or candidate. During oral argument, the government conceded that books produced by or for unions or corporations could fall under the same prohibition as movies. It was apparently a tough concession to make.

The decision that the statutory prohibition was in violation of the First Amendment is applicable to for-profit as well as to non-profit corporations, no distinction having been made in the statute. It also opened a door for unions (which have been outspending corporations almost 3:1. Oh well). Justice Sotomayor dissented, and Attorney General Kagan presented the final oral arguments for the government.

The decision had nothing to do with contributions to political parties or candidates, and it affirmed the constitutionality of existing disclosure requirements, stating: “we find the [disclosure aspects of the] statute valid as applied to the ads for the movie and to the movie itself.” Nor did the decision upset statutory restrictions on foreign donations. It stated, among other things:

We need not reach the question whether the Government has a compelling interest in preventing foreign individuals or associations from influencing our Nation’s political process. Cf. 2 U. S. C. §441e (contribution and expenditure ban applied to “foreign national[s].”

President Obama must have known that he was being “less than candid” either about what the Supreme Court had actually done or about his understanding of it. He is, after all, a world class constitutional scholar and very bright; at least he would have us so believe. President Obama could presumably have asked his attorney general or solicitor general what the actual decision did. He did not say, “I haven’t read the Citizens United decision, so this is just based on my gut feeling that the justices who decided the case are beastly union-hating corporate shills.” Still the beat goes on.

There’s no evidence for it, but it is claimed that those dastardly corporations might even outspend unions due in part to dirty foreign money — which some unions (the SEIU and Teamsters, for example) may well themselves use for political purposes; lots more is on the way. President Obama may have opened a Pandora’s box. Mr. Justice Alito’s silent mouthing of “not true” may have been impolite, but it was well deserved and true. Perhaps he does not think that the president should just follow his heart as emphatically as some would like, rather than the laws and the Constitution.

President Obama said on April 27, 2010 that the then new Arizona immigration law was bad because:

[This] law that just passed in Arizona — which I think is a poorly conceived law … (applause) … you can try to make it really tough on people who look like they, “might be illegal immigrants.” One of the things that the law says is local officials are allowed to ask somebody who they have a suspicion might be an illegal immigrant for their papers. But you can imagine, if you are a Hispanic American in Arizona — your great-grandparents may have been there before Arizona was even a state. But now, suddenly, if you don’t have your papers and you took your kid out to get ice cream, you’re going to be harassed. That’s something that could potentially happen. That’s not the right way to go. (Applause.)

He lied, by pretending that he knew what he was talking about (there seems to be a quaint but fading assumption that presidents usually do know what they are talking about). He evidently didn’t since he grossly mischaracterized a law as to which even his attorney general two weeks later had no more to go on than “what he had heard” and had “read in the newspapers.” Yet President Obama flatly stated that it could do precisely what it prohibits.

The Arizona immigration law states:

For any lawful stop, detention or arrest made by a law enforcement official or a law enforcement agency of this state or a law enforcement official or a law enforcement agency of a county, city, town or other political subdivision of this state in the enforcement of any other law or ordinance of a county, city or town or this state where reasonable suspicion exists that the person is an alien who is unlawfully present in the United States, a reasonable attempt shall be made, when practicable, to determine the immigration status of the person, except if the determination may hinder or obstruct an investigation. Any person who is arrested shall have the person’s immigration status determined before the person is released. The person’s immigration status shall be verified with the federal government pursuant to 8 United States code section 1373(c). A law enforcement official or agency of this state or a county, city, town or other political subdivision of this state may not consider race, color or national origin in implementing the requirements of this subsection except to the extent permitted by the United States or Arizona Constitution. A person is presumed to not be an alien who is unlawfully present in the United States if the person provides to the law enforcement officer or agency any of the following: (emphasis added)

Being harassed by the cops for going out for ice cream with the family? Possible I suppose, if they rob a convenience store en route or otherwise violate laws having nothing to do with mere presence, national origin, color, or race.

Perhaps it was all the ubiquitous TOTUS’ idea (Gosh darn! He goes everywhere with the POTUS). Maybe President Obama, Nobel Prize winning genius that he is, knows about and meant to refer to one of the parallel universes soon possibly to be discovered.

Why didn’t President Obama simply say that immigration control is preempted by the federal government, under his leadership, and that the states have no business interfering? Not much emotional appeal there, and it would not have played the race card, so dear to his true believers; but that’s the essence of the argument later made in court.

“Misstatements” such as these go on to become endlessly regurgitated urban legends. On October 18, 2010, this gem appeared in Salon.com:

Last April … the Arizona Legislature passed an immigration bill that allows state and local police to demand documentation of those who are suspected of being in the United States illegally and then to arrest those who fail to provide it. (emphasis added)

That is not what the statute says. There were and continue to be other such distortions. This is one of many:

[The Arizona] bill that requires police to question people about their immigration status — including asking for identification — if they suspect someone is in the country illegally.

Here is another:

Anyone who “looks the part” is now at risk of being detained, assaulted or even murdered for the crime of appearing to be a potential “unauthorized immigrant.”

Just doing the JournoList twist? Dirty dancing propagandizing? Lies by omission? Is the third example worse? I think so. Such persistent stories often make no mention even in passing of the fact that inquiry into legal status, based upon reasonable suspicion, cannot lawfully occur absent a lawful stop, arrest, or other lawful detention for some valid independent reason. Nor do they often mention the explicit prohibition against profiling. Why not? Maybe, in the words of P. J. O’Rourke, they “just hate our guts” as well as their own.

Similar lies were told about the mandatory insurance provisions of ObamaCare, advanced prior to passage as constitutional only under the Commerce Clause but later also defended in court under the taxing power of Congress earlier claimed by Obama and his colleagues not to be a basis. “I will not have tax with that woman!” Declarations and opinions of these sorts are stated as facts and are therefore lies.

Why do so many so often put up with such tripe, accept its repetition as though it were therefore the truth, and regurgitate it ad nauseam? A. Whitney Griswold, the president of Yale University who died a few months before I graduated in 1963, is said years before to have quipped to a colleague about examinations: “Ah yes, Percy, the vomit returns to its dog.” Accurate then and perhaps more so now. Faith in government officials? Faith in the media? Even comedy skits come to be embedded as “truth” and to rerun as reality. Stupid Sarah Palin as Tina Fey anyone? Even Clinton got in on the act:

They got the wrestling federation lady in Connecticut and the witchcraft lady in Delaware — I tell you, so far, they’ve gathered up everybody for this tea party but the Mad Hatter.

Somehow, it still resonates even though former President Clinton isn’t even a very adequate comedian. Not only that, he is nowhere near as smart as our incredible shrinking President Obama:

On his side are facts, science and argument; his opponents, by implication, appeal to myth, irrationality and demagoguery. His brain trust brings moral clarity and intellectual certainty; his opponents are backward-looking knuckle-draggers. This is the only way he can explain the ingratitude of the American people toward his benevolent regime.

Apathy? Sloth? Ideology? I suspect the latter but have no way of knowing. “Professor” Obama should try to understand that the returning vomit, be it adulatory or based on alleged facts, is just that; he should but won’t; he seemed, at least until recently when we all became so stupid and afraid, to have enjoyed the feedback.

Regardless of ideology, lying sometimes comes back to haunt, and despite its ephemeral effectiveness, does not always work in the long run. Sometimes, it even backfires. The vomit returning to its dog (and vice versa) may and eventually should cease to be palatable. That seems to be happening, perhaps more than slightly, as this year’s elections approach, and many “leftoid” academics — experts, they think, on the T.E.A. groups — and others just can’t understand it. Why don’t the little people adore and show due deference to their betters, the new elite? They worked so hard! Where oh where has the magic of 2008 gone?

How much previously enjoyed pablum can we swallow? How may bumper sticker slogans and thinly stretched gotcha moments?

I have noticed a trend in the MSM that goes like this: the press decides that certain candidates on the right are idiots (Palin and O’Connell come to mind, and Bush before them). There is then a sort of lying-in-wait for the absurd utterance to reveal the utterly moronic nature of that person. However, since the press and pundits are not necessarily brilliant critical thinkers themselves, the utterance they fasten on is often (not always, but often) actually more intelligent than they realize. They may not agree with it, but it is seldom based on nothing, and they reveal their own ignorance in their laughing derision of it.

Many falsehoods by their nature, eventually but sometimes too late, become apparent. Stealth candidates put up by leftists to siphon votes away from stupid conservatives? Is there a shovel ready or at least probable future antidote for some of these maladies? The elections in November may suggest some positive answers. If not, at least I’ll still have something to grumble at.

Dan Miller graduated from Yale University in 1963 and from the University of Virginia School of Law in 1966. He retired from the practice of law in Washington, D.C., in 1996 and has lived in a rural area in Panama since 2002.
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