Friday, March 8, 2013


[T]he slovenliness of our language makes it easier for us to have foolish thoughts. -- George Orwell, Politics and the English Language

Certain "clever" uses of the language give me a major charge. Of course, not all such charges are positive.

I didn't know until a brief while ago that it was Theodore Roosevelt who popularized the phrase "weasel words." It's a delicious phrase, and one that many Americans should be using just now, for it seems to be the only language that contemporary politicians speak.

Take the recent dustup between Attorney-General Eric Holder and United States Senator Ted Cruz. Holder, desperate to protect what he sees as the prerogatives of "his" president -- one of "his" people, don't y'know -- persisted in weasel-wording his way around Cruz's clear, simple question. For the benefit of those who get pimples from too close an acquaintance with the doings of politicians, that question was:

Does the president have the power, under the Constitution, to kill an American citizen on American soil without a trial?

Holder engaged in some of the most pathetic verbal arabesques, circumlocutions, and evasions on record to avoid giving the appropriate answer ("Hell, no!"). It's not like there's any ambiguity about the matter:

No person shall be held to answer for a capital, or otherwise infamous crime, unless on a presentment or indictment of a grand jury, except in cases arising in the land or naval forces, or in the militia, when in actual service in time of war or public danger; nor shall any person be subject for the same offense to be twice put in jeopardy of life or limb; nor shall be compelled in any criminal case to be a witness against himself, nor be deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor shall private property be taken for public use, without just compensation. (Amendment V)

That's a blanket prohibition against any official of any branch of any level of government doing so much as confiscating a penny from a person on American soil unless he's first been convicted in a jury trial. (See Amendment VI for the right to a jury trial.) It's a reinforcement of the seldom-discussed underlying principle of Constitutional government:

The American people, not the State, are the sovereigns.

If only a jury can decree that you be punished, government has no power except what a jury allows it. Which, incidentally, explains a huge amount about the explosion of "regulatory law," if you think about it.

Eric Holder, at this time the most highly placed lawyer in these United States, was unwilling to concede what the Fifth Amendment demands. Rather, he characterized Cruz's question as "hypothetical," and at one point tried to slither out from under the matter by calling such a presidentially ordered execution "inappropriate." It took a classic filibuster by Senator Rand Paul to force Holder to concede the Constitution's perfectly clear decree. Disgraceful. Pretty much what we've come to expect from an Obamunist minion, but disgraceful even so.

The disgrace doesn't end there, of course. Hearken to the mealy-mouthed statements from two nominally Republican senators about Senator Paul's forthright and principled action:

Almost exactly 24 hours after Mr. Paul began his information-seeking filibuster against John O. Brennan, Sens. John McCain and Lindsey Graham took to the Senate floor to denounce his demands and say he was doing a “disservice” to the debate on drones.

Mr. McCain quoted from a Wall Street Journal editorial: “The country needs more senators who care about liberty, but if Mr. Paul wants to be taken seriously he needs to do more than pull political stunts that fire up impressionable libertarian kids in their college dorms. He needs to know what he’s talking about.”

The senator went on to say that he didn’t “think that what happened yesterday was helpful to the American people.”

And where Democrats praised Mr. Paul for using Senate rules properly to launch a filibuster, Mr. McCain said it was an abuse of rules that could hurt the GOP in the long run. "What we saw yesterday is going to give ammunition to those who say the rules of the Senate are being abused,” the Arizona Republican said.

Mr. Paul said he was filibustering to get the administration to affirm it won’t kill non-combatant Americans in the U.S. — and his effort was joined by more than a dozen other senators who said they, too, supported his effort to get answers.

Mr. Graham said asking whether the president has the power to kill Americans here at home is a ludicrous question.

“I do not believe that question deserves an answer,” Mr. Graham said.

Just in case your memory has mercifully blotted out all recollection of the 2008 presidential campaign, the Republican nominee was John McCain. As for Lindsey Graham, his long record of unprincipled pro-statist words and deeds should speak for itself.

In a mind-shattering coincidence, McCain and Graham were apparently the "leaders" of a delegation of GOP senators to a dinner hosted by...envelope, please...Barack Hussein Obama! Both senators are notorious sluts for good press -- and there's no better way to get positive ink from the Mainstream Media than to suck up to Obama. Senator Paul's filibuster was was contemporaneous with that dinner, and ruined McCain and Graham's chances of "dining out" on the publicity from it for a week or two. To complete the circle, Senator Cruz should ask those two colleagues, during open Senate session, a simple question. It should be phrased with the directness and clarity he exhibited while grilling Eric Holder:

Do you believe the Constitution of the United States, the Supreme Law of the Land, means what it says?

Perhaps both gentlemen should be reminded of the explicit text of their oaths of office before answering.

Third and last for this tirade is this matter of drones.

A drone aircraft is a mechanical device -- a tool. Yes, a modern military drone is often equipped with weaponry, in some cases weaponry capable of destroying an entire city. But it remains a mindless mechanical device that must be dispatched and directed by human intelligence and will.

The sniping at Senators Cruz and Paul harped on how ridiculous it is to imagine that the president would order a drone strike to kill an American within America's borders. I call this, pace C.S. Lewis, the "red tights and horns" fallacy:

I do not think you will have much difficulty in keeping the patient in the dark. The fact that "devils" are predominantly comic figures in the modern imagination will help you. If any faint suspicion of your existence begins to arise in his mind, suggest to him a picture of something in red tights, and persuade him that since he cannot believe in that (it is an old textbook method of confusing them), he therefore cannot believe in you. [From The Screwtape Letters]

Okay, for sheer plausibility of argument, let's take drones "off the table." No, the president shall not order a drone strike against an American on American soil. What about rifles? What about grenades? What about flammable gas and bulldozers? For that matter, what about ricin-tipped umbrellas?

Does the tool have any bearing on the legitimacy of the deed? Have we lost sight of the distinction between the tool and its wielder? Is that why so many Americans are hopelessly misguided about gun control?

The Fifth Amendment says nothing about what weapons might be involved.

Clarity of thought is only possible to a man who uses the correct words in which to couch his thoughts. We are easily mollified or cowed by political flummery because we seldom pay sufficiently close attention to the locutions politicians use to deflect and misdirect us. Orwell had it right: there is no more critical undertaking than to restore clarity to political speech in our time, lest we be weasel-worded into marching, six abreast and singing the national anthem, into cheerfully decorated cells custom-tailored to our delusions, where we will be encouraged to prattle brightly to one another about how wonderful it is to be free.


YIH said...

Can't say I'm surprised about McCain, I always believed that he would have been just as bad as 0bama just in different ways.

LindaF said...

I did just email Lindsey - again - as he is - sigh - my Senator.

Probably won't do much good, but I feel it necessary to make my opinions heard.