Belmont Club


We all are familiar with the urn experiment from our college statistics classes.  Suppose you have an urn with an unknown proportion of red and green marbles. After being blindfolded you reach into the urn and withdraw a marble and without replacing it draw 9 more. At the conclusion of the sampling there are 10 red balls on the table. What’s your best guess about the proportion of red and green marbles in the urn?

Roger Simon makes a disturbing conjecture: “what if all the marbles in the urn are red?” What he actually he writes is “What if It’s All True?”, by which he means that the president has been caught spinning fictions so often that it is now reasonable to ask, what if it’s all fiction? Simon casts his mind back to a meeting with Jerome Corsi.

Which leads me back to Jerome Corsi. A few years ago, in Chicago for a conference, I was introduced to the author-presidential gadfly who had rented a limo for the day to tour Obama and Obama-related real estate properties in that city’s Hyde Park district. He asked me to come along and, never one to refuse a free invitation, I went, but although I found Corsi personally engaging, I kept thinking quietly that the man was cracked.

No longer. Years and a multiplicity of deceptions later, I think what Corsi said and says is mostly (as in more than fifty percent) true.

That doesn’t mean I believe that Obama was born in Kenya. … Nevertheless, in the wake of the serial lies about Obamacare, Benghazi, the IRS, Fast and Furious, media surveillance, the NSA, Syria, Iran, etc., etc., I’m now prepared to believe many things of which I might initially have been at least somewhat skeptical. …

What if they were all true — or, if not all, say thirty, forty or even fifty percent? What if this were actually demonstrated while he was still in office to the degree that the standard spin that all politician lie no longer applied? What if we could prove that it had gone well beyond that, beyond Nixon and Clinton far into the realm of an invented man? What it would that mean, exactly?

It’s not just Roger who’s thought the unthinkable. Just prior to Roger’s article the International Business Daily wrote in an editorial: “Obama biographer David Maraniss, who documented at least 38 instances in the president’s life story that were fabricated. Obama made up people, events and history. … Did America elect a fiction to the White House? Are voters victims of an elaborate con? It’s high time the national media started asking hard questions.”

It won’t help that “President Obama acknowledged on Thursday that he lived with his Kenyan uncle for a brief period in the 1980s while preparing to attend Harvard Law School, contradicting a statement more than a year ago that the White House had no record of the two ever meeting.”

The Globe was at pains to point out that the error came not from the President, but from his underlings. “On Thursday, a White House official said the press office had not fully researched the relationship between the president and his uncle before telling the Globe that they had no record of the two meeting. This time, the press office asked the president directly, which they had not done in 2011.”

Another red marble.  But the problem remains: what percentage of the marbles in the urn are red and how many green? It’s an important question. For example when Obama says he has a good and verifiable agreement with Iran, is that true? When he says he has a good arms control treaty with Russia, is that true? Or is it as true as his statement that “if you like your healthcare plan, you can keep it. Period”?

Donald Rumsfeld once observed that “There are known knowns; there are things we know that we know. There are known unknowns; that is to say, there are things that we now know we don’t know. But there are also unknown unknowns – there are things we do not know we don’t know.”

  1. Known knowns;
  2. Known unknowns;
  3. Unknown unknowns.

The known knowns are, as Roger Simon observed, very disturbing. They show he has lied frequently in the past. Therefore Obama’s remaining promise is the future, among the known and unknown unknowns.   When Obama’s supporters argue that the public should have ‘faith’ in the president, or the sampling process has been off to a “rocky start”  what they are actually saying the red marbles have already been drawn, having been placed  by ‘saboteurs’ near the top of the urn. From now onward we will see the ‘real Obama’ and it will be green marbles all the way down.

As David Plouffe put it, by 2017 the green marbles will start to show up.  Just you wait. The unknowns when they become known will all be good things, every one emerald green. The alternative thesis is Roger’s worst fear: that it is red marbles right on down.

The main argument against believing the worst is it implies something so monstrous that our minds instinctively rebel against it. As Andy McCarthy put it, lying on the imputed scale would stagger the imagination.

fraud can be so brazen it takes people’s breath away … the individual false statements, sneaky omissions, and deceptive practices… The president’s audacity is bracing, and not just because he lies so casually while looking us in the eye. Obama also insults our intelligence. … To be so bold is to say, in effect, ‘The public is too ignorant and disengaged to catch me, and the press is too deep in my pocket to raise alarms.’”

McCarthy’s observation is interesting because it suggests the existence of a “legend”, a term is used to describe a synthetic identity which replaces an actual biography.  It is not about occasional, isolated falsehood but about a comprehensive alternative reality.  But like all fictions it depends on superficial plausibility.

This vintage OSS training film describes how much attention was devoted to crafting first impressions right down to the labels on a person’s clothing.  But the most important task in a crafting a legend was to create an authentic starting point, which investigators could safely be allowed to examine, since as the OSS noted that having found a surface of fact most sleuths would stop and dig no further.

Thus when dealing with a legend you would expect a thin layer of green marbles at the top and all the red marbles concealed beneath. Indeed the most convincing counterargument to the conjecture “what if it’s all true?”  — is that “they wouldn’t dare” letting anyone see the red marbles found so far.

The most famous rebuttal of “they wouldn’t dare” comes from Adolf Hitler, who I quote with trepidation. However there is no doubt Adolf was an authority on the subject of lying. Hitler argued that a Big Lie was easier to tell than the small one. “In the big lie there is always a certain force of credibility … in the primitive simplicity of their minds they more readily fall victims to the big lie than the small lie, since they themselves often tell small lies in little matters but would be ashamed to resort to large-scale falsehoods. It would never come into their heads to fabricate colossal untruths, and they would not believe that others could have the impudence to distort the truth so infamously. Even though the facts which prove this to be so may be brought clearly to their minds, they will still doubt and waver and will continue to think that there may be some other explanation.”

The idea was not original with Hitler. Anthony Hope Hawkins in his classic the Prisoner of Zenda, had it before him, arguing in his novel that it was easier to personate the King than anyone else. For as long as a man reported to a superior he might be questioned. But once you were acting the king or president, who might question you without risking himself? The Big Lie was safer than the small one.

But there’s a danger. The Prisoner of Zenda correctly notes that every Rudolf Rassendyl must have a Rupert of Hentzau since some rascal who knows the truth can hold the King at risk. Roger Simon arrives at the same conclusion and argues that if Obama were constructed on a legend it would provide huge leverage for America’s enemies.

Consider for a moment that whatever theories we have about Obama, whatever prevarications and deceptions of which we are aware or unaware, are known equally to our adversaries — the intelligence agencies of China, Russia and Iran. Even if they were too dumb to figure it out for themselves, which they’re not, they read our newspapers and blogs.

These totalitarian — or near totalitarian, depending on how you want to parse it — states depend on lies for their existence. In Obama they have found a partner in crime, a semblable, as Baudelaire would say. They are currently exploiting this. In all likelihood our world will never be the same.

We are for the moment left in suspense. But one would be a fool not to recognize that Obama’s lies — the known knowns — have created an enormous amount of uncertainty about the unknowns. There’s a lot yet to find out about the President, there are a lot of cards still to turn over. They may be big smiling cards — ask Plouffe — or they might be the mother of all losing hands.

He’s almost the equivalent of his eponymous healthcare act. You had to pass that one to find out what it said. America has had to elect Barack Obama to find out who they elected. Perhaps we should end on Zenda’s last words and George Smiley’s observations on deceit:

Where is young Rupert of Hentzau—the boy who came so nigh to beating me? When his name comes into my head, I feel my hand grip and the blood move quicker through my veins: and the hint of Fate—the presentiment—seems to grow stronger and more definite, and to whisper insistently in my ear that I have yet a hand to play with young Rupert; therefore I exercise myself in arms, and seek to put off the day when the vigour of youth must leave me.

One break comes every year in my quiet life. Then I go to Dresden, and there I am met by my dear friend and companion, Fritz von Tarlenheim. Last time, his pretty wife Helga came, and a lusty crowing baby with her. And for a week Fritz and I are together, and I hear all of what falls out in Strelsau; and in the evenings, as we walk and smoke together, we talk of Sapt, and of the King, and often of young Rupert; and, as the hours grow small, at last we speak of Flavia. For every year Fritz carries with him to Dresden a little box; in it lies a red rose, and round the stalk of the rose is a slip of paper with the words written: “Rudolf—Flavia—always.”

“Of all men living, only Karla had seen the last little doll inside Bill Haydon”.

Great Moments in History

Great Moments in History

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