Where No Man Has Gone Before
Rich Lowry's reply to Michael "Hockey Stick" Mann's threat to sue the National Review over a Mark Steyn article which reflected less than creditably on the climate scientist was essentially met by a dare to open a can of worms. Lowry wrote:
Possessing not an ounce of Steyn’s wit or eloquence, poor Michael didn’t try to engage him in a debate. He sent a laughably threatening letter and proceeded to write pathetically lame chest-thumping posts on his Facebook page. ...
If Mann sues us, the materials we will need to mount a full defense will be extremely wide-ranging. So if he files a complaint, we will be doing more than fighting a nuisance lawsuit; we will be embarking on a journalistic project of great interest to us and our readers.
Go ahead. Make my day.
That is to say any lawsuit Mann might attempt would force upon the all the files and records on which Mann's reputation depended and Lowry was confident that Mann had so little left he would not risk the pitiful remainder. This is the standard defense against plaintiffs with too much to hide. The reason "espionage trials are rare [is] because there’s a danger the accused will spill even more secrets during the court proceedings — a defence tactic known as 'greymail,' said Craig Forcese, a law professor at the University of Ottawa who has written extensively on national security."
It's hard to know when climate science became vulnerable to greymail which is more popularly known through the phrase "you don't want to go there". It captures the essence of this argument. People who live in glass houses should not throw stones. And the effects of "going there" were felt again as government officials cracked down on a "former Navy SEAL who penned a firsthand account of the mission to kill Osama bin Laden".
Most recently, a small group of former special operations and intelligence officials - many with Republican ties - published an online video called "Dishonorable Disclosures" in which they say the President was trying to take credit for bin Laden's death from the SEALs on the ground. That video was later reportedly criticized by others in the military as "unprofessional" and "shameful."
Brandon Webb, a former Navy SEAL and writer , told ABC News that Owen may be compromising one of America's most elite and secretive commando groups, even if he used a pseudonym and changed the names of the other team members.
But the administration was there first. And the political problem with the crackdown is that administration has been leaking Bin Laden secrets like sieve when it can make those diclosures flattering to the administration. That makes their protests about protecting national security less convincing than they might have been. Even Glenn Greenwald writing in the Guardian can see the double standards flapping in the wind.
What makes that so much worse, though, is that at exactly the same time that it was telling a court that the mission is too secret to permit such disclosure, the White House launched a coordinated campaign of selective media leaking that had only one purpose: to glorify the president for political gain.
Thus the same administration that resisted judicial disclosure pursuant to transparency laws leaked bits and pieces about the mission (always favorable to the president) to their favorite media message-carriers; secretly met with and shoveled information to big Hollywood filmmakers planning a pre-election release of a film about the Bin Laden raid (now pushed back until December in the wake of the ensuing controversy, though the already-released film trailer – see below – will soon be inundating the nation); and then sat down with one of America's most obsequious, military-revering news anchors for an hour-long prime-time special that spoke of the raid with predictable awe but asked none of the hard questions about these lingering issues.
The administration can hardly declare as sacred soil a patch of ground over which it has itself led a herd of trumpeting elephants. Recently Tim Stanley writing in the Telegraph made exactly this kind of observation after President Obama demanded that Romney release his tax returns. "Perhaps it's time Romney asked to see his college records." These days you don't have to be a Birther. Just being a Colleger will do.
The current presidential campaign is like those cartoons where the animated protagonists resort to successively more outrageous methods of retaliation. Eventually Daffy Duck ends it all by blowing away Donald Duck with a howitzer. But the political races to the bottom aren't usually as funny as the Loony Tunes.
Greg Sargent of the Washington Post notes that President Obama made a special appearance at the White House briefing room to declare that Mitt Romney's campaign was based on lies. "In a surprise appearance before reporters at the White House just now, Obama made a striking, if perhaps long overdue, charge: He pushed back on GOP claims he’s running a dirty campaign by arguing that Romney’s entire campaign is based on flat out lies." Ironically the lie he accuses Romney of was of the form: 'Governor Romney is lying when he says I lied.'
Obama was questioned sharply by a reporter who pointed to the Priorities USA ad featuring the dead woman and the Obama campaign’s pressure on Romney to release his tax returns, and asked whether he regretted his campaign’s tone. Obama responded, in part:“I don’t think that Governor Romney is somehow responsible for the death of the woman that was portrayed in that ad. But keep in mind, this is an ad that I didn’t approve; I did not produce; and as far as I can tell, has barely run. I think it ran once. Now, in contrast, you’ve got Governor Romney creating as a centerpiece of his campaign this notion that we’re taking work requirement out of welfare. Which every single person here who’s looked at it says, it’s patently false...
“Everybody who’s looked at this says what Governor Romney is saying is absolutely wrong. Not only are his Super PACs running millions of dollars worth of ads making this claim; Governor Romney himself is approving this and saying it on the stump. So the contrast I think is pretty stark. They can run the campaign that they want; but the truth of the matter is, you can’t just make stuff up. That’s one thing you learn as president of the United States. You get called into account.”
Surely the President doesn't lie. When did he ever? But given the number and frequency of dubious political accusations out there one is tempted to conclude the president can be wrong. Of course you can make stuff up. The trick is to invent falsehoods and sling mud so fast and furiously that before one lie is discovered you are on to another. It is like skating on ice. If you can propel yourself forward quickly enough momentum alone will keep you upright. If you head for the bottom fast enough, you'll get there before the Rich Lowrys of the world have the time to catch up to you. Maybe that way you can get to the White House via the basement. By all means necessary; any which way you can.
In the most recent twist, Obama's Dashboard Platform which can be used to launch whispering campaigns had this interesting suggestion from an activist. "I'm thinking that even though we don't LIKE campaigns to get nasty, we in the south (TN) come to EXPECT it," De Palma began. "What we also know is that we have a very 'rigid' view of Christianity, and apparently, Mormonism isn't anywhere in our views. This could easily win TN/SC/AL/GA, etc." And therefore it behooved them to allege that Mormonism taught that there countless gods and beings on other planets. You know, just like Gaia and Xenu, who of course are alright.
Michael Mann is a one hockey-stick player. But the politicians have got a whole lot of hockey sticks, baseball bats, boxing gloves and medicine balls they can still toss around. Maybe the only truth left in politics is that so very little of it is true. Maybe the most interesting thing about the cheapening of the truth is it indicates the breakdown of civil discourse.
In a society where citizens are at peace with each other even little lies are serious. But in one riven by conflict, nothing matters but the "larger truths"; the fibs told to advance the cause are not frowned on because all is fair in love and war. In Christianity where all men are exhorted to be at permanent peace lies remain sins -- at least in theory. But in religions or ideologies at permanent war with unbelievers, lies are of no consequence if they advance the goal.
This is perhaps the biggest price political discourse will pay for the cheapening of this campaign. It has become about winning at all costs.