Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Constant Vigilance

When asked his opinion of Clement Attlee, Winston Churchill said, "He is a modest man, with much to be modest about."  I feel much the same way about Thomas Jefferson, except Jefferson was not modest.  All the same, he did say one thing to which attention needs to be paid: "Constant vigilance is the price of freedom."  Now, unlike my gun-toting Second Amendment fans, this doesn't mean to be ready lest the UN, under the guise of Agenda 21, come and take our guns from our cold dead fingers.  It means simply this: We need to pay attention to public affairs.  It is sometimes boring, usually venal and small minded, sprinkled with a heavy dose of hilarity precisely because it tends to be so petty.  All the same, it is necessary.

I am an unabashed fan of democracy.  Our particular form, especially.  All the same, far too many of my fellow citizens snooze for three and three-quarters years, waking briefly as the Presidential election season comes around, and wonder for whom they should cast their vote.  Their somnambulism usually brings with it amnesia.  Thus it is that, yet again, Americans are carping about the negative campaign ads "both sides" are running.  The commentariat, usually disdainful of public opinion, loves it when nuggets like this are found amid the detritus of polling, insisting this demonstrates the fundamental fairness of the American people and the base meanness to which our public discourse has sunk.

Here's the thing, folks.

All those ads people are complaining about?  Well, one side uses blatant falsehoods over and over and over and over again in those ads.  They get called on the falsehoods, yet continue to use them.  When I was growing up, when folks deliberately stated something they knew was factually false, it was called "lying".  When people repeatedly lied - that is, repeatedly said things factually inaccurate - they were known as "liars".

With me so far?

Another side is doing two thing: Pointing out said repeated falsehoods.  They are also making it clear that, were the side repeating the falsehoods honest, the American people wouldn't support them, by which I mean vote for them.

For the first time in many years, a Democratic candidate for President is making the very public case that the Republican ticket is not misrepresenting, distorting, being technically accurate while intellectually dishonest, or whatever euphemism currently passes muster.  No.  We have a Democratic candidate who is making it clear over and over again that the Republican candidate's claims about the Democratic candidate are so full of crap, the joints of both the candidates on the Republican candidate squish when they move.

This isn't "negative campaigning".  It is campaigning.  That a Democratic candidate is doing so, with gusto, is something no one has seen in a very long time.  Thus, it is by definition "negative".  Thirty two years ago, when Jimmy Carter made it clear that Ronald Reagan's claims about the budget, about the state of the military under Carter, and about the nature and course of the stagflation through which the US was living were false, the press pretty much ganged up on Carter, scolding him for being mean.  After the first televised Presidential debate, Carter sat back and waited for the press to point out how far from reality many of Reagan's factual claims were.  He is still waiting.

Since then, we've had several gentlemen run for President on the Democratic ticket - Walter Mondale, Michael Dukakis, John Kerry - who thought that, when faced with nastiness, and false nastiness at that, they could at least rely on the press corps to make clear just how false that nastiness was.  In Barack Obama, we have a Democratic candidate who understands there just isn't a bottom to the Republican crazy barrel.  Rather than wait for someone to make the point that the Republicans are lying nutjobs, he is doing so.

And many think that's just mean.

It isn't mean.  It's politics.  And politics, as dirty and nasty as it can be, is a necessary part of human life.  Making the case that one's opponent is dishonest isn't always noble or uplifting.  It is, however, necessary.

It would be less necessary if more of my fellow citizens paid closer attention in the time between Presidential elections.  Even a half-hour a day, perusing whatever news site you prefer.  I'm not concerned with ideology.  I am concerned with vigilance.  "Constant" doesn't mean devoting one's life to the political arena.  It does, however, mean a daily minimum requirement, kind of like vegetables.

Were it the case that more were vigilant, there would be far less carping about "negative campaigning" and far more celebration that the Democrats, at least during this campaign season, have discovered a spinal cord.

Virtual Tin Cup

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