Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Evil Judges And Dumb Politicians

June 25, 2008

Re: Evil Judges And Dumb Politicians.


This space, as the media columnists call it, frequently rails against the stupidity of politicians and the evil done by judges. In recent days two events have added to these views.

To start with the one that will be more quickly dispatched, there is the comment made by Antonin Scalia at the very end of his dissenting opinion, which was the final opinion appearing, in the recent Guantanamo case. This is a case whose “backstory,” as the media types say, is an Executive Branch that fraudulently took us into war, held even innocent people in prisons for months and years, illegally spied on Americans, kidnapped people off the streets of foreign countries to be sent to various foreign nations for torture, tortured people itself in Guantanamo, Abu Ghraib and various secret prisons in places like Poland, did all this at the behest and with the approval of George Bush, and, as Justice Souter repeatedly said in a concurring opinion explaining some of what the dissenters willfully ignored, has kept people locked up without trials for fully six years now.

And, with this backstory, what was the final comment in Scalia’s opinion? It was “The Nation will live to regret what the Court has done today.” Imagine that. One of the guys who made George Bush president, some think the guy who made George Bush president, and who thereby caused, or at minimum enabled, the disasters which have beset us for the last seven years, has the inconceivable gall to say that the nation will regret the effort of the Court to make some dent, however small at present, that will help reverse one part of the evil done by the people he put into office. That Scalia made this inconceivable remark puts one in mind of the comment made by Joseph Welch to Joe McCarthy when the latter savaged Welch’s assistant, Fred Fisher, a comment to the effect that until that moment Welch had never really plumbed the full depth of McCarthy’s evil. That Welchian sort of comment is the only appropriate sort of response to Scalia. A guy responsible for putting Bush into office and causing a seven year disaster says the nation will regret a decision that makes an inroad on the disaster. Such judicial mendacity is just too much.

As a further fillip, Scalia’s opinion, in which he made the inconceivable brass-balls remark, was joined, and the remark therefore was joined, by John Roberts. Roberts obtained his justiceship by (i) unethically sitting on, and casting the deciding vote for the Executive on, a court of appeals case from Guantanamo involving the same kind of question at issue in the recent case, while (ii) meeting with Dick Cheney, David Addington, et. al. to assure them of his intellectual fealty to the ideas they wished to prevail. His conduct in meeting with Cheney, et. al. to further his judicial ambitions, while sitting on a case of crucial importance to them, was deeply unethical. I have said this previously, and in future will continue to say it even though all the mass media in the United States do not give a tinker’s damn that Roberts acted unethically. Perhaps I should add that neither the mass media, nor anyone else whom I’ve read so far, seem to have noticed nor cared about the fact that a guy who gave us George Bush (Scalia) now has the gall to tell us we will rue the day that the Court began to undue some of the evil done by the guy he gave us.

Turning now to the stupidity of politicians (who give us people like Scalia, one notes), I never thought to see the day when one of their own -- a highly regarded one of their own, no less -- would in effect say politicians are stupid. People like Hillary Clinton, after all (not to mention her equally venal husband), are widely thought to be so smart; one is clearly odd man out when one says, as has often been said here, “Not so.”

But that most politicians are not smart is the inescapable import of comments made by Chuck Hagel to the writer Elizabeth Drew when discussing Jim Webb, who was the subject of a lengthy article Drew wrote for the New York Review of Books. Here is what she reported:

Republican Chuck Hagel,
who isn’t spendthrift
with his praise of colleagues,
says, ‘I think Jim Webb is
one of the smartest guys
I’ve ever known. He has an
ability to think through
issues; not many here do.
(Emphasis added.)

* * * * *

Hagel continued:
He questions, he probes,
he thinks through the
consequences -- we
almost never do. We
take an action -- like
going to war – without
thinking. (Emphases added.)

There you have it. A well known, highly regarded politician says most of his colleagues cannot and do not think, which inescapably means they are stupid. It is hard for me to imagine a more explicit remark by a politician about the widely unrecognized mental boobdom, the mental kakistocracy, that has so long led us, that with but few exceptions, and those sometime evil or incompetent for other reasons, has so overwhelmingly been in high office since at least November 22, 1963. As one whose views on this and other subjects have often been regarded as far out, to put it mildly, I cannot tell you the satisfaction given by the fact that the highly regarded Senator Hagel says exactly what I think: that most of his colleagues cannot or do not think. (One wonders what Hagel would say about the stupid, unthinking, and often evil mass media, who give voice to his dumb colleagues and contribute thereby to the disasters they help cause (as with Iraq).)

You know, the older I get, the more the years in which I see the stupid or the evil or the insanely megalomaniacal -- the likes of Jeff Sessions and Jon Kyle and Trent Lott and Joe Lieberman and George Bush -- prevail and/or be given loud voice by the mass media, the more I find myself thinking, elitistly I am sure, that this country needs to be run by people of high intelligence, people who can and do “think through issues,” can and do “think[] through the consequences.” The older I get and the more I see, the more contemptuous I become, perhaps again elitistly, of views like Hillary Clinton’s claims that seventeen million people who voted for her -- though she may really mean the women who voted for her -- are being disrespected. I rarely watch cable news, so I really can’t comment knowledgeably about the claims of sexism leveled against the likes of Fox or CNN. But I do know that lots of us who disliked Hillary Clinton did not dislike her because she is a woman. We disliked her for the same reason we loathe her husband, who, after all, is a man. We disliked her because she, like he, is a liar, a dissembler, feels entitled, and will do anything, however rotten, to win. She, like he, is the very antivalues-epitome of the values we grew up with. Views like Hillary Clinton’s -- that we inevitably must disrespect women because we loathe her (as we do her husband too, and for the same reasons in both cases) -- are simply more consequences of the pervasive can’t- and-don’t-think nature of our politicians.

I cannot resist, at this point, throwing in a paragraph about a book I recently read which contains page after page showing, not necessarily always intentionally, politicians’ inability to think and their associated incompetence. The book is Philip Shenon’s The Commission[:] The Uncensored History Of The 9/11 Investigation. Despite efforts to often portray them sympathetically, one sees throughout the book the dumbness and incompetence of the two Commission heads, the politicians Tom Kean and Lee Hamilton, who thought they could accomplish something by playing nice with the White House, by not subpoenaing information but instead foolishly relying on the Executive to produce it voluntarily, who hired to be, and kept on as, Executive Director of the Commission a friend and coauthor of Condoleezza Rice -- who hired as Executive Director a guy who wrote the document which was the basis for preemptive war in Iraq and who tried to get the Commission to endorse the Iraqi war. One explicitly sees how Condoleezza Rice -- often said in this space to be both dumb and a liar -- flatly lied by claiming nobody could foresee what agencies had repeatedly warned of: the use of airplanes as missiles. One sees that the Republicans on the Commission venally sabotaged part of its work. One sees a long failure to pursue critical information such as that in NSA files. One sees how members of the Commission, especially its heads, mainly being creatures of Washington, did not want to point the finger of blame at specific people in Washington who richly deserved blame. One repeatedly sees a tale of venality, dishonesty, and, directly to the point here, stupidity. If you don’t believe it, read the book for yourself. If you do you will understand why the following is Shenon’s last comment in text, at the very end of the “Acknowledgements” section, when he is speaking of the families of the dead of 9/11, who forced an unwilling government to bring into being a Commission which unhappily turned out to be extensively stupid: “If the full truth is ever told about September 11, 2001,” says Shenon, “it will be their doing. It has not been told yet.” (Emphasis added.) One wishes to say “Of course it has not been told yet. The investigation, hearings and report were too often in the hands of politicians -- in the hands of the stupid.

The pervasively unthinking, the pervasively dumb, nature of our politicians is, one thinks, a major reason Obama had such an advantage in the race for the Democratic nomination. Judging by his background, he seems to be someone who can think. Naturally, right wing nuts will jump on that statement to claim I see Obama as blemish free, as never doing anything questionable, as never backtracking hypocritically, and so on. (I note that one already reads assertions, some questionable, some undeniable, that now that he has won the nomination and must be concerned with and obtain votes from middle roaders in the general election, he already is backtracking on Iran, on Iraq, on Jerusalem, on campaign financing, on other things.) Such false accusations by right wing nuts are, after all, a staple of our politics and may even be the staple of the right wing today. Obama has his faults, and it is not sarcasm to say that one of his advantages may be that he hasn’t been around long enough for more of them to have been uncovered. But, whatever his faults, it does seem from his background -- not least his academic accomplishments at Harvard Law School, as elitist as it may be to say so -- that he has the ability to think. Someone who can think is desperately needed now.

Obama’s ability to think will, of course, be tested in the next few months. It is not merely that he will have to determine positions on many subjects, nor merely that he will have to decide what to do in regard to all the trash that will be flung at him by conservatives -- who excel at that above all else, as shown by people like Rove and Bush -- and that will be mindlessly repeated by the mass media. It is also that he will have to deal with views flung at him by (a host of) Democratic Party types who, being politicians, can think no better, can think things through no better, than Hagel says Senators do. He will in particular be subjected to pressure by the Bill and Hillary Clinton types who have desired to make, and long succeeded in making, the Democratic Party a clone of the Republican Party and who wield such power in the Democratic Party. People in his own party will put a lot of pressure on Obama to adopt (failed) positions they favor and to eschew positions they object to. Obama will find it is tough, he probably has already found it is tough, to continuously resist bad ideas insisted upon by friends and allies. It can be even harder than resisting the bad ideas of enemies because enemies, unlike friends and allies, are not people one cares about pleasing. Surrounded by friends, allies and well wishers who, being politicians, are inevitably likely to press one bad idea after another on him, Obama’s ability to think, to resist the bad, will be tested. It probably would serve him well, if he has not done so already, to find, if he can, a corps of people to turn to for advice who, like he himself, are capable of high level thinking instead of merely the thoughtless, unperceptive reactions which, as Chuck Hagel made clear, are the hallmark of most politicians and which many of his allies will press upon him.*



* This posting represents the personal views of Lawrence R. Velvel. If you wish to comment on the post, on the general topic of the post, or on the comments of others, you can, if you wish, post your comment on my website, VelvelOnNationalAffairs.com. All comments, of course, represent the views of their writers, not the views of Lawrence R. Velvel or of the Massachusetts School of Law. If you wish your comment to remain private, you can email me at Velvel@VelvelOnNationalAffairs.com.

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