Entry from August 20, 2009

The death of Robert Novak, like that of William F. Buckley Jr. last year, is proving the occasion for both men’s political enemies to justify their own rhetorical excesses while giving a good hiding to conservatives. This is all part of the bizarre but continuing claim on the part of the left-leaning but ostensibly “objective” media to be the gate-keepers of the right. Within what limits is it permissible, according to the media, to be conservative without condemning oneself — as Rush Limbaugh and Sarah Palin have been condemned by, for example, Joe Klein in a piece in Time modestly titled “The GOP has become a party of nihilists” — to banishment from decent society? Now that they are safely dead, both Buckley and Novak may be said to have cleared the media’s high bar. I leave it to you to decide whether this has anything to do with the fact that both men, one much sooner than the other, came to oppose the Bush administration over the Iraq war.

Yes, we are told, it is possible to be a conservative and a human being — but not if you go as far as Mr Limbaugh or Mrs Palin go. Both have seen their words ripped out of context and endlessly repeated with opprobrious epithets attached to them in order to make this point. Here be “lies”, “misrepresentations” even “hallucinations” and a “disinformation jihad” (according to the understated Mr Klein) that, to some, amounts to “evil” — a word which briefly fell out of favor when it seemed to be evidence of the speaker’s stupidity or morally simplistic world view in the days of “the evil empire” or “the axis of evil” but is now perfectly acceptable, as Harry Reid has shown, when applied to conservatives. Mr Klein, for example, writes that

Until recently, the Republican Party contained a strong moderate wing. It was a Republican, the lawyer Joseph Welch, who delivered the coup de grâce to Senator McCarthy when he said, “Have you no sense of decency, sir, at long last?” Where is the Republican who would dare say that to Rush Limbaugh, who has compared the President of the United States to Adolf Hitler?

Ah, yes. The old reductio ad Hitlerum. How could anyone want to be associated with such a person? Yet I don’t remember Mr Klein’s protesting when anti-war Democrats routinely compared Republican presidents to Hitler. As for Mr Limbaugh’s evil twin and her “death panels,” he blithely writes of “the obscenity of Palin’s formulation.”

Here, clearly, is a man who abominates rhetorical excess.

Good luck with that, Joe. For, in truth, as his intemperate piece itself demonstrates, rhetorical excess is an inevitable concomitant of the moralization of politics — which is itself an example of excess. I may have mentioned this before. Both sides share the blame for the escalation of politics into matters of good and evil, but the Democrats, now and for eight years past, have been far more guilty of it than the Republicans. It’s a bit rich to see them getting on their high horse now that what they have done is being done to them in turn. Joe Klein is so addled by this rough treatment that he has failed to spot such doubtless inadvertent untruths of his own as the statement that “there is no Republican health-care alternative in 2009.” Hey, Joe. Look here and here. I look forward to reading your correction.

Now we learn from The New York Times that President Obama’s response to criticisms about his health-care proposals is to double down on the moralism.

President Obama sought Wednesday to reframe the health care debate as “a core ethical and moral obligation,” imploring a coalition of religious leaders to help promote the plan to lower costs and expand insurance coverage for all Americans. “I know there’s been a lot of misinformation in this debate, and there are some folks out there who are frankly bearing false witness,” Mr. Obama told a multidenominational group of pastors, rabbis and other religious leaders who support his goal to remake the nation’s health care system.

If the President is himself identifying what he supports as good and (therefore) what anyone else supports as evil and so playing the left’s game of banishing his political opponents from the precincts of truth and decency, we’re not likely to see any early end to rhetorical excess.

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