Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Self-Hauntings

Today's reflection might strike you, Gentle Reader, as a bit odd, though, given the five-million-plus words of commentary I've pumped out since embarking on this course in 1997 for absolutely no compensation, why my drivel should be anything else remains an open question.

Ghost stories are among the longest-lived of our tales. They reach well back into history. Some survive from the era of classical Greece. No doubt there are even older ones from the Far East. They appear to serve an important function in our psyches. However, that doesn't suffice to explain why anyone would create "ghosts" of his own: specters formed from his own words and deeds that he must surely know would come back to haunt him.

I speak here not of blatantly criminal conduct, which is usually committed either out of a desire for unearned gain or from a failure of impulse control in the heat of passion. I'm thinking of the sort of emission...or omission... that stems from a confusion among one's priorities: an elevation of the transient over the permanent, or of the trivial over the critical.

How many of us have made such errors? Surely the tally approaches 100%. Think back over your own history. Can't you remember at least one instance where you sacrificed the greater for the lesser, or your long-term interests for a short-run indulgence? What's that you say? You were never such an adolescent? Please!

That sort of misstep is often visible in the conduct of politicians.


Politicians are people who desire power over others, whether they sincerely seek to serve the public, or believe themselves worthy of it, or are simply pursuing their own interests by political means. In the overwhelmingly most common case, power is their highest priority; for some, it's the only thing that matters. It causes them to say things they come to regret, and sometimes to do things they later wish they'd never done, specifically to gain or retain high office.

Even Thomas Jefferson, by far the most intelligent, principled, and clear-sighted of the Founding Fathers, had many regrets about his time in public life. Indeed, his regrets over the extra-Constitutional measures he approved, several of them out of reluctance to challenge their proponents within his supporters' ranks, were the seeds that, through the efforts of Andrew Jackson, Martin Van Buren, and Thomas Hart Benton, in 1828 birthed the Democratic Party.

Contemporary politicians don't bear comparison with Jefferson in any way. The best of them is a gutless, brainless pygmy compared to the Sage of Monticello. Yet if Jefferson could falter and fail in a fashion that would haunt him forever after, how much more easily would such failures come to a self-promoting, conscience-challenged, power-uber-alles politician of our time?


One of the most common political spectacles of our time is the back-and-fill: a politician's rhetorical attempt to qualify his past statements or actions in order to make them seem consistent with current realities. Barack Hussein Obama is currently straining to do just that in the face of the ISIS slaughters in Iraq. Today he claims that it was not his decision to pull America completely out of Iraq in 2011 -- that prior decisions by George W. Bush had tied his hands. Anyone familiar with the actual history of the thing will know better, of course:

Accordingly, when Obama had the opportunity to negotiate a long-term "status of forces" security agreement with the government of Nouri al-Maliki, under which the U.S. would retain active bases in Iraq and a security role in collaboration with Iraq's own military, he refrained from even attempting it, thus giving rise to the current situation.

The reason for such attempts to rewrite history is a simple one: politicians hate to admit to mistakes. Obama's mistake was an especially severe one, stemming from his 2008 campaign promises to extract America from Iraq entirely. As the electorate tends to punish politicians for their mistakes, a self-absorbed type like Obama will move heaven and earth to blot them from memory. Now that the consequences of the American pullout have become all too clear, it is vital to his "legacy" that Obama contrive to displace the odium onto other shoulders, and his predecessor's shoulders are the ones he prefers to burden.

It is dishonest.
It constitutes bearing false witness.
And it will ultimately, if not soon enough, cost him dearly.
But it flows from his highest priority: that he be seen as omniscient and morally superior.

This is what comes of the lust for power and prestige.


The worst form of political deception is self-deception. Here, too, Jefferson was the superior of any politician of our time. He could not and did not deceive himself about his missteps. A letter he wrote to Benjamin Rush gives us some indication of why that was so:

To the corruptions of Christianity I am, indeed, opposed; but not to the genuine precepts of Jesus himself. I am a Christian, in the only sense in which he wished any one to be; sincerely attached to his doctrines, in preference to all others; ascribing to himself every human excellence.

(Though he was not a Christian of any orthodox description, and disputed the very existence of an immaterial Creator, Jefferson held Jesus's moral code to be "the most sublime and benevolent code of morals which has ever been offered to man." He deemed it superior to the preachments of any cleric, holding them to be enemies of liberty in all places and times. Something to think about when your parish pastor next preaches politics from the pulpit.)

Today's politicians treat religious affiliation as a campaign attribute, a tactic. Few have been regular practitioners of any sort of religious observance. (While in the White House, professed Christian Obama has attended a Christian religious service exactly twice. Compare that to his 400 fundraisers and 150 rounds of golf.) We may take it as written that their attachment to the Commandments is tenuous at best. Alternately, as Robert Shea and Robert Anton Wilson wrote in Illuminatus!

He [the president] was, in fact, characteristic of the best type of dominant male in the world at this time. He was fifty-five years old, tough, shrewd, unburdened by the complicated ethical ambiguities which puzzle intellectuals, and had long ago decided that the world was a mean son of a bitch in which only the most cunning and ruthless can survive. He was also as kind as was possible for one holding that ultra-Darwinian philosophy; and he genuinely loved children and dogs, unless they were on the site of something that had to be bombed in the National Interest.

Such a mindset makes self-deception possible, even straightforward. He who loves power above all other things could hardly be of another.


Except for those who die in office, a politician cannot escape his ghosts. They will follow him. Only the man entirely devoid of conscience -- the man so venal and self-absorbed as to qualify as a sociopath -- will fail to be haunted by his conduct in office. Unfortunately, the dynamic of power-seeking, coupled with the "gimme-gimme" ethic of contemporary special-interest politics, raises exactly that sort of man high among the political elite.

Yet he will leave ghosts: memories of his betrayals and deceits that might still be useful to us, if not to his immortal soul. They can become object lessons to his successors, if pressed upon them with sufficient clarity and force. They can be coupled to promises to punish similar behavior: the theme should be framed as "We have learned better, and we won't permit the same sort of obfuscation or evasion to you." Even the most utterly corrupt politician will usually back away from a course of action if he can be convinced that it will cost him his office and his "legacy."

The obvious challenge is to find a way to countervail the "gimme-gimmes:" to render them less audible, and less politically effective, than the demands and retributions of the still-decent majority of Americans. It's a tough nut; special interests are high in the saddle because their agendas are short and coherent, and thus can motivate their allegiants more powerfully than the more diffuse priorities held by others. But this could be the guide we need to thwart them. How much shorter or more coherent could an agenda be than this: a demand for absolute adherence to one's given word:

We will remember your promises,
And we will punish you severely for reneging on them.

...no matter what pledges an aspirant to high office might make?

If we leave aside differences in governing philosophy and their practical implications for policy and execution, what else could any decent man ask of a politician?

If you can't persuade your fellows to agree with your policy positions, is it still too much to ask them to demand honesty -- to punish traitors, liars, and hypocrites, at least to the extent of denying them your votes and campaign contributions?

Think it over.

2 comments:

  1. Good post. Just a few thoughts...

    "Now that the consequences of the American pullout have become all too clear, it is vital to his "legacy" that Obama contrive to displace the odium onto other shoulders, ..."

    Obama isn't concerned in the slightest what we think of his legacy. He is only concerned that he pulled it off.

    "Only the man entirely devoid of conscience -- the man so venal and self-absorbed as to qualify as a sociopath -- will fail to be haunted by his conduct in office." Yes, and Obama is that man. He will not be haunted by his conduct in office. He will smile, drink wine and golf, till the end of his days. No ghosts will visit him.

    "They can become object lessons to his successors, if pressed upon them with sufficient clarity and force. They can be coupled to promises to punish similar behavior: the theme should be framed as "We have learned better, and we won't permit the same sort of obfuscation or evasion to you." "

    You are an optimist. And I dearly hope you are correct :)

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  2. Only one thing matters as to what the criminal obama has done, i.e., he has usurped the Constitution of the United States. Everything he says, writes, signs, appoints is blatantly illegal. Every individual who has supported this fraud is guilty of treason. It's high time Americans acknowledge that he is constitutionally illegal or just call for abolishing the Constitution entirely. It means nothing if not enforced.

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