Vignettes from 1925

These are from various articles and authors in the May 1925 issue of H. L. Mencken’s American Mercury.

Politics:

What shall the end be? Will that race of men who for a thousand years have asserted the “right of castle,” rejected governmental interference in domestic affairs, proclaimed the right of the free man to regulate his personal habits and to rear and govern his children in accordance with the law of conscience and of love, now become subject to a self-imposed statutory tyranny which from birth to death interferes in the smallest cocerns of life? Shall we endure a legal despotism, the equivalent of which would have provoked rebellion amongst the Saxons even when under the Norman heel?

I doubt not these statutory bonds will be eventually broken. The right of the free man to live his own life, limited only be the inhibition of non-infringement upon the rights of others, will again be asserted. But before that day arrives, will the splendid symmetry of our governmental structure have been destroyed?

Alas, my friend, there is yet no light at the end of the tunnel.  Next, from an article about the Mexican border towns entitled “Hell Along the Border,”

I have studiously observed the viciousness and even the mere faults of decorum in Juarez, largest of the corrupting foci, in season and out for a least twelve seasons. I have had my glimpses at the life of the equally ill-reputed Nogales, Mexicali and Tia Juana. I have been in confidential communication with habitual visitors to Nuevo Laredo, Matamoros, Piedras Negras, and Agua Prieta. And I can find in all these towns no sins more gorgeous than those enjoyed by every Massachusetts lodge of Elks at its annual fish-fries prior to 1920.

Regarding the evangelical clergy, the televangelists of the day, immortalized by Sinclair Lewis in his Elmer Gantry,

The net result, as I say, is to inspire those of us who have any surviving respect for God with an unspeakable loathing. We gaze on all this traffic and, without knowing exactly why, we feel a sick, nauseated revulsion. We feel as we felt when we were children, and had a bright glamorous picture of Santo Claus, with his fat little belly and fairy reindeer, and then suddenly came on a vile old loafer ringing a bell over an iron pot. It seems a blasphemous mockery that men can preadch such vulgar nonsense, call it religion, and then belabor the rest of us for not being washed in the blood of the Lamb.

Concerning the latest in the hotel trade,

Whatever I might write were the latest wrinkle would not be the latest wrinkle by the time these lines get into type. But one of the latest, certainly, is radio service in every chamber.

Of anthropology, from an article entitled “The New History,”

The anthropologists have paralleled the achievements of the archeologists by making careful studies of existing primitive peoples. Ten years ago we possessed in this field only the chatty introduction by Marett, and Professor Boas’ highly scholarly but somewhat difficult little book, “The Mind of Primitive Man.” Today we have admirable general works by Goldenweiser, Lowie, Kroeber, Tozzer, Levy-Bruhl and Wissler with several more in immediate prospect. These deal acutely and lucidly with primitive institutions.

As the cognoscenti among my readers are no doubt aware, this was written on the very threshold of anthropology’s spiral into the dark ages of the Blank Slate, from which it has only recently emerged.  The good Professor Boas played a major role in pushing it over the cliff.

Concerning the value of morality in regulating society,

Once we give up the pestilent assumption that the only effective sanctions for conduct are those of law and morals, and begin to delimit clearly the field of manners, we shall be by way of discovering how powerful and how easily communicable the sense of manners is, and how efficiently it operates in the very regions where law and morals have so notoriously proven themselves inert. The authority of law and morals does relatively little to build up personal dignity, responsibility and self-respect, while the authority of manners does much… I also venture to emphasize for special notice by the Americanizers and hundred-per-centers among us, the observation of Edmund Burke that “there ought to be a system of manners in every nation which a well-formed mind would be disposed to relish. For us to love our country, our country ought to be lovely.”

and finally, from the collection of anecdotes Mencken always included under the heading Americana,

Effects of the Higher Learning at Yale, as revealed by the answers to a questionnaire submitted to the students there:

Favorite character in world history: Napoleon, 181; Cleopatra, 7; Jeanne d’Arc, 7; Woodrow Wilson, 7; Socrates, 5; Jesus Christ, 4; Mussolini, 3. Favorite prose author: Stevenson, 24; Dumas, 22; Sabatini, 11; Anatole France, 5; Cabell, 5; Bernard Shaw, 4. Favorite magazine: Saturday Evening Post, 94; Atlantic Monthly, 24, New Republic, 3; Time Current History, 3. Favorite political party: Republican, 304; Democratic, 84; none, 22; Independent, 3. Biggest world figure of today: Coolidge, 52; Dawes, 32, Mussolini, 3; Prince of Wales, 24; J. P. Morgan, 15; Einstein, 3; Bernard Shaw, 3. What subject would you like to see added to the curriculum: Elocution and Public Speaking, 24; Business course, 8; Deplomacy, 7; Drama, 4.

Times change in 85 years.

The Politics of Genetic Determinism

Another article has just appeared on the website of the journal Evolutionary Psychology relating to the influence of our innate mental wiring on the likelihood that our political outlook will be conservative or liberal. Entitled, “Extending the Behavioral Immune System to Political Psychology: Are Political Conservatism and Disgust Sensitivity Really Related?” it isn’t fundamentally different from other papers that have appeared in behavioral science journals recently exploring the same theme.

The conjecture that human beings have an innate tendency to identify with ideological points of view that are either to the right or the left of the political spectrum has been around for a very long time, and recent research seems to verify it. However, such work must necessarily be carried out in the context of human societies charged with the types of emotion it seeks to study. It is hardly as irrelevant to those emotions as, say, research into the behavior of some new type of amoeba. It should come as no surprise if the results of such studies are crudely distorted and transmogrified into propaganda weapons by one ideological faction or the other.

Specifically, there is a danger that research in this area will be trivialized to “prove” determinist arguments the same way other research into innate aspects of human behavior has been used in the legal system to claim that criminals are not responsible for their behavior because “their genes made them do it.” An example of what I’m talking about turned up on the Foxnews website today. Referring to a different but related study, it carries the headline, “Researchers find the ‘Liberal Gene’”. This is immediately followed by the byline, “Don’t hold liberals responsible for their opinion – they can’t help themselves.” The rest of the piece is considerably more nuanced. For example, a bit further down we read,

“The way openness is measured, it’s really about receptivity to different lifestyles, for example, or different norms or customs,” he (research paper author James Fowler) told FoxNews.com. “We hypothesize that individuals with a genetic predisposition toward seeking out new experiences [a measure of openness] will tend to be more liberal” — but only if they had a number of friends when growing up, Fowler cautioned.

This isn’t a typical gene association study,” he said. “There’s a combination of genes and environment that matter.”

No matter, as all good propagandists and students of the media are aware, a great number, if not most, readers never look beyond the headline and the byline. That’s where you should always look if you want to get the “message” straight up. That “message” is set forth a great deal more explicitly in an “opinion” piece that is linked directly under the main article entitled, “A ‘Liberal Gene’ You Say — Now That Explains It All, Doesn’t It?” The author, Martin Sieff, quickly hammers the nuanced scientific observations of the original article into a handy propaganda tool:

Can there really be a liberal gene? They’ve got to be joking.

But no here it is, straight from Fox News today: James Fowler, a professor medical genetics and political science (cool combination) says liberals can’t help being – liberal.

Sieff goes on to “rearrange” the research paper to suit his own political point of view:

Of course, what Fowler calls the “liberal gene” he also explains as being the “open minded” gene. And that might well apply to modern conservatives instead of liberals, because which of them is more open-minded?

After all, Fowler defines his “liberals” as being open minded and open to new ideas and new solutions. But does that fit modern American liberals, who stick to disastrous failed ideas and policies in the face of all the evidence? Or does it apply to American conservatives, who are right now thrashing out a redefinition of conservative policies for the new century?

So perhaps Fowler’s “liberals” were really open-minded conservatives all alike, and his “liberals”, while certainly not conservative, were just rigid, closed minded defenders of a disastrous, failed status quo all along.

The deterministic message is again served up straight in the “zinger” lines at the end of the article:

This means of course, that conservatives should show more tolerance the next time they hear President Obama or House Speaker Nancy Pelosi. After all, they can’t help it, can they?

It also means that so-called principled liberals, like Obama, are far more likely to run the country into the ground than cynical opportunists like President Bill Clinton did. Obama and Pelosi, by contrast are what they are, and they always will be. Not even national ruin will change them.

My intention here is not to single out conservatives for criticism. Leftists can and will bowdlerize exactly the same research papers to create deterministic mythologies supporting their own points of view. In the process they will be just as adept as conservatives in transmuting nuanced predispositions into rigid instincts.   In fact, there is no single gene that determines an individual’s political point of view, nor is environment irrelevant to shaping that point of view, nor are our highly developed rational minds incapable of overriding ideological predispositions. Perhaps more importantly, the degree to which ideas are true or false is not altered by the degree to which they fall on one side or the other of the political spectrum. Researchers might do well to lay more stress on these facts in their research papers, and at the same time bear in mind the fact that they are not immune to the emotional behavior they are studying themselves.

Of “Eco-Fascism” and Tea Parties

The 10:10 Campaign is an effort by British environmentalists to get businesses and individuals to cut their carbon emissions by 10% in 2010.  Recently the organization released (and then quickly withdrew) a remarkably self-destructive video in which 10:10 promoters murdered anyone (including children) who refused to go along by pressing a button that caused them to explode, spraying blood and gore on those around them.  In an incredibly lame apology, the producers said this was intended to be “funny.”

Opponents of environmental activism on the right quickly seized on the incident to tar the entire movement with the same brush (for example, here, here, and here), suggesting that all environmentalists either are or sympathize with extremists whose tastes run to homicidal “humor” about blowing up their opponents.

In a sense, the left has been hoisted on its own petard. They have been desperately casting about for “evidence” that the Tea Party Movement is “extremist,” seizing on the flimsiest incidents to “prove” that it is racist, bigoted, violent, etc. For example, when a few local activists put up a sign equating Obama with the likes of Hitler and Stalin, they immediately worked themselves into a fine lather, shouting down their anathemas on a loose organization with tens of millions of supporters as if every one of them had collaborated in putting up the sign (see, for example, here and here).  I especially liked the BBC’s “objective” report about the incident, which had the lurid headline “Tea Party fund sign linking Obama to Hitler,” along with plausible denial that they were taking sides in the form of the usual “he said, she said” stuff buried in the body of the article.  Classic!

Conservatives have rightly objected to the left’s “extremist” propaganda narrative, noting the studied silence from those quarters when the “extremists” turn out to be provocateurs. Now, however, they are using the same tactics, implying the collective guilt of tens of millions of people who happen to disagree with them because of the ill-considered acts of a few.  It’s certainly understandable in terms of human nature, but it doesn’t really make a lot of sense.

State’s Rights and Federal Power

There’s no doubt the federal government of the United States is bloated beyond anything the Founding Fathers ever intended.  For example, Benjamin Franklin wrote in response to a scornful letter from some Englishmen, who were our enemies at the time,

The weight, therefore, of an independent empire, which you seem certain of our inability to bear, will not be so great as you imagine; the expense of our civil government we have always borne, and can easily bear, because it is small. A virtuous and laborious people may be cheaply governed, determining, as we do, to have no offices of profit, nor any sinecures, or useless appointments, so common in ancient or corrupted states. We can govern ourselves a year for the sum you pay in a single department, for what one jobbing contractor, by the favour of a minister, can cheat you out of in a single article.

James Madison, a major architect of the Constitution, rejected the broad interpretation of the General Welfare clause that later became an essential rationalization for the cancerous growth of government.  As noted in Wikipedia,

Madison vetoed on states’ rights grounds a bill for “internal improvements,” including roads, bridges, and canals:

Having considered the bill … I am constrained by the insuperable difficulty I feel in reconciling this bill with the Constitution of the United States…. The legislative powers vested in Congress are specified … in the … Constitution, and it does not appear that the power proposed to be exercised by the bill is among the enumerated powers.[27]

Madison rejected the view of Congress that the General Welfare provision of the Taxing and Spending Clause justified the bill, stating:

Such a view of the Constitution would have the effect of giving to Congress a general power of legislation instead of the defined and limited one hitherto understood to belong to them, the terms “common defense and general welfare” embracing every object and act within the purview of a legislative trust.

As noted at OffMyFrontPorch, he also wrote the the Federalist Paper, #45,

The powers delegated by the proposed Constitution to the federal government are few and defined. Those which are to remain in the State governments are numerous and indefinite……The powers reserved to the several States will extend to all the objects which, in the ordinary course of affairs, concern the lives, liberties, and properties of the people, and the internal order, improvement, and prosperity of the State.

Jefferson was of like mind with respect to the meaning of the Taxing and Spending Clause, writing in the Kentucky Resolutions of 1798,

Resolved, That the construction applied by the General Government (as is evidenced by sundry of their proceedings) to those parts of the Constitution of the United States which delegate to Congress a power “to lay and collect taxes, duties, imports, and excises, to pay the debts, and provide for the common defense and general welfare of the United States,” and “to make all laws which shall be necessary and proper for carrying into execution, the powers vested by the Constitution in the government of the United States, or in any department or officer thereof,” goes to the destruction of all limits prescribed to their powers by the Constitution: that words meant by the instrument to be subsidiary only to the execution of limited powers, ought not to be so construed as themselves to give unlimited powers, nor a part to be so taken as to destroy the whole residue of that instrument…

Even arch-Federalist Alexander Hamilton wrote,

The State governments possess inherent advantages, which will ever give them an influence and ascendancy over the National Government, and will forever preclude the possibility of federal encroachments. That their liberties, indeed, can be subverted by the federal head, is repugnant to every rule of political calculation. (Speech to the New York Ratifying Convention, June 17, 1788)

But as the plan of the convention aims only at a partial union or consolidation, the State governments would clearly retain all the rights of sovereignty which they before had, and which were not, by that act, EXCLUSIVELY delegated to the United States. (Federalist No. 32, January 3, 1788)

That and much more like it can be found in the writings of the men who actually drafted the Constitution, and nothing that supports the creation of a centralized state of the kind the United States has become today.  Such ideas are now labeled “extremist,” as is anyone who objects to the radical redefinition of government in the United States that has taken place since the New Deal.  The Taxing and Spending Clause became the key to the massive growth of a centralized state after all, and the Tenth Amendment has become a nullity.  To remedy the situation, some are now calling for a Constitutional Convention to reign in the power of the federal government.  It won’t happen, or at least not anytime soon.  Franklin Roosevelt managed to stay in power through almost four terms, in spite of his dismal performance in managing the economy until he was rescued by the start of World War II, by passing out benefits to favored blocs of voters, who could then be counted on to defend their own interests on election day, normally conflating them with the interests of the country.  Federal power will continue to expand for the same reason, and all the Tea Parties in the world won’t stop it.

Der Spiegel’s Denatured News

The editors of Der Spiegel have never been behindhand when it comes to peddling anti-American hate.  Among the first to discover how lucrative it could be in Germany following the demise of Communism, they began publishing quasi-racist diatribes against Amerika that would have made Walter Ulbricht blush. Occasionally their website would be so saturated with such stuff that it was difficult to find any news about Germany.  Germans lapped it up.  It was a case study in the sort of tribalism their brilliant countryman, Konrad Lorenz, tried to warn them about, but, like the rest of the world, they weren’t listening.  One would think that, given their history in the 20th century, they, of all people, might have learned that hatred of outgroups is a bad thing.  Apparently all they did learn is that, if you happen to hate Jews, you should keep it under your hat, but open hatred of Americans is OK.

Eventually a few German blogs began pushing back, and increasing numbers of Americans began to notice. The editors realized they couldn’t keep it up without losing “respectability,” even among other journalists. As a result, blatant anti-Americanism in Der Spiegel had become a shadow of its former self by the final years of the Bush Administration. Occasionally it still leaks out around the edges, though. Of course, racists love their stereotypes, and one of Der Spiegel’s all time favorites is that Americans are “prudish.” Trust me, we could all be screwing in the streets, and they would still describe us as “prudish.” Sure enough, the meme turned up again in an article about Masters and Johnson a few days ago. The byline reads, “The prudish Americans were once enlightened by sex researchers William Masters and Virginia Johnson. A biography exposes the shocking life of the couple.”

Of course, the editors of Der Spiegel are nothing if not “professional.” They have a finely tuned sense of nuance, and realize that the level of scorn that Germans expect to find in “objective news” about anything foreign just wouldn’t do in pieces written for non-German audiences. A nice example of the sort of “nuance” I’m talking about turned up in a recent article about the victory of Christine O’Donnell in the Republican Senate primary in Delaware. Here’s the English version, and here’s the German.  The biggest “nuance” in the German version was (you guessed it), the care taken to feed German confirmation bias about “American prudishness.” It’s all about this crazy woman who has a hangup with masturbation.  According to the byline, “She once called masturbation a sin, and the fight against AIDS a waste of tax money.”  The first paragraph continues the meme, throwing in the “Americans are religious nuts” stereotype for good measure;

“According to the Bible, lust is the same thing as adultery. One can’t masturbate without experiencing lust.” Christine O’Donnell fixes her gaze on the camera. She patiently explains the world to the MTV moderator. “There is god-given sexual desire,” she says. However, sex outside of marriage is fundamentally wrong. It violates the sixth commandment.

As Spiegel’s sage German readers shake their heads about the poor, perverted American religious fanatics, they’re fed another helping of the same:

In 1997, Christine O’Donnell said that the government was spending too much money for fighting AIDS. That America was wasting a bundle on pornographic condoms. That cancer was an “Act of God,” but, on the other hand, AIDS was a punishment for individual behavior. That one could eradicate venereal disease within a generation if all Americans kept in mind their Christian values.

Moving right along, Spiegel keeps spanking the monkey:

Masturbation opponent O’Donnell could come up short in the election for Congress.

and

After winning the primary, she celebrated with as much gusto as she did in her 1996 anti-masturbation campaign.

Got that?  You didn’t miss that masturbation thing, did you?  Oddly enough, the English version only mentions the unmentionable sin once, and that merely as an afterthought;

The Tea Party movement has won a succession of Republican primaries, with its conservative, anti-establishment candidates. O’Donnell is known for her pro-gun, anti-abortion stance, as well as her belief that masturbation is a sin.

Apparently Spiegel wants to spare the sensitivities of its American readers, who will surely know that masturbation makes you blind and sterile.  Other than that, the English version is the soul of non-partisan objectivity.  For example, in the above, the Tea Party movement is “conservative.”  Later on we learn that it is a “grass roots” movement whose “popularity is widely attributed to dissatisfaction with US President Barack Obama and frustration with the lackluster US economy.”  The English version concludes with a selection of similarly bland comments about O’Donnell and the Tea Party movement that have appeared in the German media recently. 

The German version adds a little more “context” and “detail.”  In the opening section we learn that O’Donnell is not merely “conservative,” but an “arch-conservative,” and the Tea Party movement is an “arch-conservative group.”  Predictably, the editors throw in the “extremist” meme, familiar to readers of lefty blogs in the U.S.

In year one after the world economic crisis, there are poisonous political discussions in America about a political drift to the liberal left. The political camps are becoming polarized. Many would say: They are becoming radicalized.

If you happen to be planning a trip to Germany, you’re more than likely to learn firsthand that the home-brewed picture of Amerika that German’s are fed by their media is somewhat different from the “English version.”  Either wear Lederhosen and try to blend in, or brace yourself for the attentions of any number of earnest Teutons, who will eagerly do you the favor of explaining your own country to you.  As for the editors of Der Spiegel, don’t take it personally.  They’re just as “non-partisan” when they’re reporting about events in Germany.  No matter that the German economy is booming, unemployment is less than it was before the economic crisis began, and employers are having an increasingly difficult time finding skilled help.  They still bitch about Chancellor Angela Merkel as if she were, well, as if she were Barack Obama.  After all, she, too, is an “arch conservative.”

UPDATE:  Zombie at Pajamas Media (hattip Insty) has turned up some very interesting Christine O’Donnell/Jimmy Carter quotes.  Don’t look for them on Der Spiegel, though.  They don’t fit the narrative.

Of the Alternate Universe of the “Progressives”

A popular theory has it that the Internet is contributing to political polarization by providing innumerable blogs, news aggregators and other websites that enable users to filter reality to fit their ideological preconceptions.  Whether that’s really true is still open to question, but I recently noticed some anecdotal evidence in the form of a couple of web essays that tends to confirm it.  The first was a piece written for the Telegraph by Janet Daley, who (for a European at least) showed a remarkable grasp of the reasons for the popular unease that fuels the Tea Party movement and disenchantment with Barack Obama and Big Government.  For example, quoting Daley,

The president’s determination to transform the US into a social democracy, complete with a centrally run healthcare programme and a redistributive tax system, has collided rather magnificently with America’s history as a nation of displaced people who were prepared to risk their futures on a bid to be free from the power of the state.

Americans who have risen from poverty to become qualified tradesmen or entrepreneurs generally believe that they have a right to put what wealth they produce back into their own businesses, rather than trusting governments to spread it around among those judged to be deserving.

What is more startling is the growth in America of precisely the sort of political alignment which we have known for many years in Britain: an electoral alliance of the educated, self-consciously (or self-deceivingly, depending on your point of view) “enlightened” class with the poor and deprived.

A little later I ran across the second piece, which seemed almost purposely written to confirm Daley’s take on contemporary America.  Written, appropriately enough, for CNN (you remember, the news organization Germany’s Spiegel Magazine recently described as “non-partisan“) by Julian Zelizer, a professor of history at Princeton and a quintessential member of the elite Daley was writing about, it was entitled, “Why Obama’s poll numbers have sunk.”  Zelizer’s take:

How should we understand the fate of a president and a party who have been relatively successful at passing their agenda, yet don’t seem to be enjoying an electoral bounce?

With the unemployment rate over 9 percent, many Americans are unhappy and scared. But there is more to it than that.

The first factor has to do with President Obama’s decision to focus on controversial issues that he felt were important to the nation, even if they were not the most beneficial issues for his party. In other words, Obama selected issues such as health care and financial regulation that were sure to stimulate conservative opposition and cause concern among moderates.

At the same time, the president is a pragmatic politician who has been willing to cut deals to survive a notoriously difficult legislative process. In making those compromises, he has often angered many of his supporters on the left.

…citizens are deeply cynical. Given the large donations that private interest groups make to candidates, including the health care industry and Wall Street executives, it is naturally hard to believe that Washington would ever really pass government reform.

And so on.  In other words, the factors that Englishwoman Daley has apparently had no difficulty understanding have gone completely over the Princeton professor’s head.  He can come up with all kinds of good sounding reasons for Obama’s drop in the polls, but the one reason that is energizing the Tea Party movement and is ubiquitous above all others on every conservative and libertarian blog, not to mention talk radio and Foxnews, namely, unease at the cancerous growth of the nanny state and the intrusion of state power in the lives of average citizens, has gone completely over his head.  It’s as if the citizens of the United States could not possibly fear the growth of big government itself.  In the good professor’s alternate universe, the possibility that any of them might object to the prospect of serving as dutiful milk cows,  exploited by the state to support programs that benefit other people, whether that prospect is real or not, could not possibly even occur to them.  Based on his article, the thought has never even entered his mind.  Mind you, we’re not discussing whether the real motivations of Obama’s opposition are real or imaginary, rational or the product of some strange hysteria whipped up by Rush Limbaugh.  We’re talking about the very existence of that concern.

If members of the elites Ms. Daley refers to have not merely discounted popular unease at the growth of big government as a problem in itself, but have so insulated themselves from reality that they honestly believe that unease doesn’t even bear mention as a reason for Obama’s drop in the polls, to say they are out of touch is an understatement.  A large and growing number of the citizens in this country fear their future role will be as tax slaves to an alien state power that will milk them to support programs whose chances of ever providing them with benefits in any way commensurate with the resources they will be forced to hand over are vanishingly small.   The question about whether they are right or wrong in that surmise is not the point.  The point is that elites who pride themselves on their infallibility actually seem unaware that such concerns even exist.  The “best and the brightest” among us are, once again, suffering a remarkable disconnect with reality.  It wouldn’t be the first time.

“Right Wing Terror” vs. the Real Thing

Remember the recent hysteria on the left about imminent right wing terror and insurrection promoted by subversive institutions such as freedom of speech?  Here’s what the real thing looks like, but I doubt that the “right wing” was involved in an attack on an oil company executive.  It doesn’t fit the narrative.

Sarah Palin and the Eagleton Meme

When John McCain nominated Sarah Palin as his running mate, it unleashed the most hysterical storm of media muckraking and villification I’ve personally ever witnessed.  She was perceived as a serious threat to their “anointed one,” Barack Obama, and they dropped any pretense of “objective journalism” in attacking her.  For a week and more, one couldn’t watch any legacy media news report that wasn’t repeating some hackneyed anti-Palin smear for the umpteenth time.  Now I’m no fan of Palin, but I couldn’t help feeling outraged at the time at the shear mendacity of their attacks.  Yet journalists as a species are as utterly convinced of their own righteousness as any Pharisee, and in this, as in so many other cases, they ended up believing their own cant.  In their fevered imaginations, they managed to magnify the paltry smears they’d managed to dig up by dunning Palin’s political enemies into derelictions of the first water.  The result was the now largely forgotten Eagleton meme.

Those of you with long memories will recall that George McGovern nominated Missouri Senator Thomas Eagleton as his running mate after clinching the Democratic nomination for President in 1972.  When it was discovered that Eagleton had received medical treatment  and was under medication for a mental health problem, McGovern threw him under the bus, replacing him with Kennedy in-law Sargent Schriver.  Of course, the “similarities” with Palin immediately occurred to mainstream media journalists.  For them, the historical parallel was “obvious,” and they immediately got in the tiresome habit if asking anyone they could find to interview if they thought Palin had been properly “vetted,” as if the whole world must believe the same fairy tale.   They were cocksure McCain would have to abandon her, and that with alacrity.  For example, from Joshua Green of the Atlantic:

Here in St. Paul, talk of Palin has dominated the Republican convention—even more so than cable news—and by Monday night discussion among Republican operatives and reporters had turned to whether Palin would survive or become the first running mate since Thomas Eagleton in 1972 to leave a major-party ticket.

The more circumspect CNN played the familiar journalistic game of using an incendiary headline, but hedging its bets in the body of the article itself.  The headline of an item that appeared on September 3, 2008:

Betting on a Palin withdrawal

The more subliminal Eagleton reference in the body of the article:

Placing a Palin withdrawal at even 12% seems bullish; no presidential candidate has withdrawn his VP selection since Thomas Eagleton left Democratic candidate George McGovern’s ticket in 1972.

The Grey Lady was less subtle.  It’s headline, by op-ed guy Gary Wills:

McCain’s McGovern Moment

and his sage advice, after being “shocked, shocked,” to learn that Palin was “an initial supporter of the so-called bridge to nowhere; an appointer of a man who had been officially reprimanded for sexual harassment as the public safety commissioner in Alaska; a mother of an unwed and pregnant 17-year-old; and other things being ferreted out by the minute.”

Perhaps Senator McGovern should not have deserted Tom Eagleton. Perhaps Senator McCain should stick by Governor Palin. But if he does soldier on with her by his side for a while, will he end up having to call another midget convention like the one that had to be cobbled together to nominate Sargent Shriver? That is hardly in his best interests.

Perhaps Governor Palin, realizing that and trying to minimize her own humiliation in coming days, should withdraw before she is nominated and let Senator McCain turn again to one of his more experienced options. We should remember that Senator Eagleton went on to serve honorably after his withdrawal, both during his time in the Senate and in charitable work after he retired from public office. He died last year, respected and beloved.

Gives you the warm fuzzies, doesn’t it?  Well, the Eagleton meme is no more, the MSM’s curiosity about whether Palin was properly “vetted” seems to have evaporated, and the former governor’s political stock seems to be doing just fine at the moment.  Still, it’s interesting to recall the fantasy worlds journalists occasionally create for themselves when they take themselves too seriously.

Tony Hayward sans Sackcloth and Ashes

The media in the U.S. have been making a big fuss about a sighting of BP CEO Tony Hayward at a yacht race. Apparently he’s supposed to be walking around in a circle hitting himself on the forehead with a board like the monks in Monty Python’s “Life of Brian.” I don’t blame him. He seemed to take the self-righteous hazing he endured at the hands of our grandstanding politicians with a good grace. Rep. Joe Barton, who apparently hasn’t learned that it’s a breach of protocall to refer to McCarthyism by its proper name if it’s for a good cause, actually dared to apologize for the public flogging. However, he quickly got back into line after a judicious jerk on his choke chain. As for Hayward, it seems to me that watching a yacht race is not really a mortal sin. He deserves a break, and hitting himself on the forehead with a board probably won’t significantly slow the flow of oil into the Gulf.

Of the Naval Treaty of 1922 and Novel Trends in British America Bashing

The BP debacle has spawned some previously untapped new variants of America bashing in the UK. Not that the British were remarkably behindhand in piling on during the worst of the latest climax in European anti-Americanism that reached its peak several years ago. It was so much the more surprising to learn in an article by Peter Hitchens that appeared on the website of the Daily Mail that his countrymen have been “fawning” on the United States. Of course, the citizens of our mother country are noted for their reserve, but I have visited many British websites and forums in recent years, and never discovered anything that it would ever occur to me to describe as “fawning.” Be that as it may, the Brits, like most Europeans, have remarkably thin skins. They have been dishing out abuse to America with the best of them for years, but, as their response to criticism over the BP affair demonstrates, they can’t take it.

Hitchens’ whining piece complaining about our “hostility” because our President dares to criticize a British company for unleashing the greatest environmental disaster in our history is a case in point. The author wears his paranoia on his sleeve. For example,

Americans may say they love our accents (I have been accused of sounding like Princess Di’) but the more thoughtful ones resent and rather dislike us as a nation and a people, as friends of mine have found out by being on the edge of conversations where Americans assumed no Englishmen were listening.

Perhaps it’s just that the “thoughtful” among my fellow countrymen have been hiding their opinions from me as well all these years, but I can honestly say that I can’t recall a single conversation in which the English were singled out for resentment and dislike, unless Hitchens is referring to George III. On the contrary, other than the occasional Irish Catholic with romantic notions about the IRA, Americans who pay any attention to the English at all tend to be Anglophiles.

Other than that, the article is filled with the usual bitching and moaning about America that we have long been accustomed to. There is one novelty that I haven’t seen elsewhere, perhaps because it is too far-fetched even for most Europeans. Quoting Hitchens,

It was American pressure that forced us out of the first rank of naval powers in the Washington Naval Treaty of 1922, which led to our defeat at Singapore 20 years later.

I had to laugh out loud when I read that bit. It assumes the reader is completely ignorant of the relevant history. In the first place, the treaty didn’t force Britain “out of the first rank of naval powers.” It established a ratio of 5-5-3 in fighting ships among the treaty powers England, the United States, and Japan, respectively. The British and U.S. navies were the most powerful in the world at the time. How, then, did the treaty force Britain “out of the first rank of naval powers?” In fact, the Naval Treaty of 1922 was one of the greatest triumphs of common sense over fear and hysteria in the annals of international relations. It ended a nascent arms race and was of great benefit to all the signatories, and not least to the British. At the time the Conference was called, the pound sterling was at its lowest point, British citizens were paying crippling taxes, and England was facing another period of naval expansion they could ill afford, forced on them by the building programs of the United States and Japan.

They owed the United States a massive debt, and every penny they paid would have directly benefited our building program. On paper, at least, we had already passed Britain in naval strength, and our superiority was only likely to increase. Recall that when countries such as Germany, France, the Netherlands, Spain, and even Denmark had challenged British sea power in the past, it had led to war with an England which felt her life menaced by rival naval powers. In fact, war with the United States was seriously contemplated at the time by many Englishmen as the only alternative to a ruined England and a disintegrated Empire.

In the upshot, the British delegates were delighted by the agreement, as well they should have been. A crippling arms race was avoided, and taxes were lowered. The treaty was of such obvious advantage to England that the prevailing sentiment in the US media was that we had been hoodwinked. They had good reason to feel that way. In 1920 the United States already had an advantage over England in tonnage of capital ships of 1,117, 850 to 808,200. Our advantage in battle guns was 340 to 284. As provided by the treaty, tonnages were reduced to 525,850, 558,950, and 301,320 for the United States, Great Britain and Japan, respectively, giving a slight advantage to the British. The very real and serious potential causes for war among the signatories were removed for many years into the future.

As for the treaty causing the British defeat at Singapore 20 years later, that claim has to take the cake for the most ludicrous of all the ludicrous charges directed against us from Europe in recent years. How, exactly, would crippling her economy by charging ahead with the building of a fleet of obsolete battleships have helped the British 20 years later? As anyone who knows anything about her situation in the years immediately preceding World War II is aware, the economic burden of rearmament in the face of the German threat was painful enough for her to bear as it was. The cost of maintaining a massive navy in an arms race with Japan and the United States for the preceding 20 years would have made it well nigh impossible. When war did come, Japanese airpower made short work of the HMS Prince of Wales and HMS Repulse, the two battleships that actually were on hand to defend Singapore. In the fighting that followed, a superior British force was defeated by a Japanese army perilously short of supplies in one of the greatest stains on the proud tradition of British arms ever recorded. We Americans don’t blame the Bladensburg Races on anything but the cowardice of our troops and the ineptitude of our commanders. I suggest that the British consider the possibility that they may bear some responsibility for their own abject defeats as well.

Well, we did have a difficult adolescence, and perhaps one can’t blame our dear old mother country for occasionally being a bit testy with us. The next time Hitchens directs his poison pen our way, however, he would probably do well to pick a more convincing grievance than the Naval Treaty of 1922.