Tuesday, October 31, 2017

“Everybody,” Who?

     The squeaking and shrieking from the political class, its allied interest groups, and its allegiants in the media, has reached the pain threshold and rocketed beyond it. And Americans are increasingly tuning it out. That’s the good news.

     However, the reason Americans are tuning it out is an old saw that cuts straight through the heart of the American political system and its satellite institutions: “Everybody does it.” That’s the bad news.

     Did you ever rise bright and early in the morning, quaff an unexpectedly good cup of coffee, look with approval on an unblemished, wholly promising new day, then read the news and find yourself yearning for an absolute hereditary monarchy and the abolition of all technology more recent than the goose-quill pen? Yeah, me too.

     Sex scandals have been the grist of the media for many years. The tabloids used to feast on them. The media’s “official motto,” “If it bleeds, it leads,” rhymes, has excellent scansion, and is very compact, but the sotto voce codicil to it should receive more attention: “If it oozes from the genitals, it comes ahead of the bleeders.”

     And so we have all manner of media blaring at us about Harvey Weinstein, Woody Allen, and most recently Kevin Spacey. I have a lot of “Who cares?” moments, but this time around I was somewhat more engaged, largely because both the offenders and their defenders have been muttering not-so-silently that “everybody does it.” Hollywood’s “casting couches” have been an open secret for many decades. Given that most aspiring actors and actresses arrive in Tinseltown not knowing how to act and barely able to read a script, the very small number of capable directors and wealthy producers had to apply some discriminant to determine who should receive their attention.

     The defenders of the media figures embroiled in these matters aren’t quite ready to say “everybody does it” in a normal tone of voice. The obvious rejoinder – “Do you do it?” – is one they’d rather not face. All the same, you can hear it in the undercurrents beneath their deflections. You can also hear the unvoiced implication: “And it’ll keep on happening.”

     The recent indictment of Paul Manafort on federal conspiracy-to-defraud-the Treasury charges isn’t on all fours with the Hollywood sex scandals. That is, not quite. Oh, it’s front-page news, but mainly because the political Left is pressing its media allies to promote it. What’s more newsworthy is the use of the indictment to push another, far larger scandal back under the rug where the Left wants it to remain: the Uranium One deal and what it says about corruption in the Obama Administration, most notably former Secretary of State and failed presidential candidate Hillary Clinton.

     Here’s an interesting case where We the People are willing to grant that “everybody does it,” but the key aspect of the thing isn’t corruption. It’s partisanry. When a conservative or a Republican (NB: Not necessarily the same thing) is embroiled in a corruption scandal, the media is all over it like a cheap suit. Manafort, who was at one point a high official in the Trump for President campaign, gets the front-page-above-the-fold treatment from the media. Yet the far larger and politically and institutionally more significant Uranium One scandal has received virtually no air time or column-inches – because the perpetrators are Democrats and favorites of the media.

     Perhaps in this case, the “everybody does it” mantra applies more specifically to the media, which have picked political favorites and used their immense clout to promote them for more than a century. “Why else own a printing press?” they might say. Today the most precious possession of any “journalist” is access. To get access they must give something. As most “journalists” are on the Left, they know what to give and to whom to give it. Manus manum lavat, as the Romans liked to say.

     The worlds of politics and mass entertainment are structurally similar for several reasons. One of the most telling is how internally dependent both are on personal connections and favors. Ascent in politics and ascent in entertainment both require that someone already in the firmament look upon you with favor. In the usual case, that Established One will select from among those importuning him according to personal criteria: “What can I get him to do for me? Can I get something I want more from someone else for the same favor?”

     If you don’t think this is how politics operates, you’ve never attended a major party steering committee meeting. Quid pro quo is the operational guideline. The readiness of the media to offer assistance and the ability of the party to exploit its media connections are critical. Party platforms are unimportant. Principles? Don’t make me laugh.

     How did it get this way, when the Founding Fathers were men of such high principle and repute? Slowly, gradually, by easy stages, as with any transformation the transformers would prefer that you not notice until it’s irreversible. The degeneration from a constitutional federated republic to a demagogic pseudo-democracy took about a century and a quarter. There were a few visible signposts along the way, but most of the critical developments went unnoticed. Those that received public attention were magicked away by the media of the time, or exculpated by reference to some supposed necessity: e.g., “There’s a war on.”

     I could go on, but I think the point has been made. I hope it’s clear that what lit my boiler this morning, when I ought to be tacking up Hallowe’en bunting and performing desultory “quality control” on the goodies to be distributed, isn’t the scandals themselves but the distribution of finger-pointers and minimizers according to the political, ideological, and partisan connections of the players.

     Private citizens have good reason to suspect that everyone in both politics, entertainment, and the news media is at least a little soiled. It’s not true, of course, but as a working assumption it won’t often lead you wrong. Maybe not everybody in those fields “does it,” just as not everyone steals from the office supply cabinet. However, enough people do it, and enough other people dismiss the incidents that come to light with some variety of “everybody does it,” that the entire country is slowly but steadily being convinced that we’re all equally venal and equally rapacious.

     An important but generally overlooked novel of the Seventies, The Wanting of Levine, begins with a similar observation. I don’t have the book near to hand, but the opening passage notes that ordinary Americans, though they knew themselves to be good people and their neighbors to be good people, had been led by their media to believe that everyone, from high to low and including the reader himself, was venal and cruel – that “everybody does it,” for whatever tawdry, grasping, or vicious value of “it” you might care to apply.

     But not “everybody does it.” I don’t do “it,” and I’ll have nothing to do with anyone who does. I certainly won’t vote for him or patronize his news or entertainment medium. I suspect that my Gentle Readers feel much the same.

     To those who would dismiss the misbehavior of their favored ones with “everybody does it,” I maintain that the appropriate reply is “Really? Because I’m part of ‘everybody,’ and I don’t do it. Is this your way of telling me that you do?

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