Everybody's Got One
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Thursday, December 15, 2005

Gimme a T, gimme an R, gimme ... uh ...  

I have been troubled of late by my reflexive, muttered reaction to some preposterous claim from the Left that no one with the sense God gave a goose could take seriously: Are you lying, or just stupid? Not because it's inaccurate, but because it's an exact reflection of the systematic attempts over four decades to delegitimize conservatives as stupid, evil, or crazy. To briefly recap:
  • Goldwater: crazed warmonger (daisy commercial, In your guts you know he's nuts)
  • Nixon: evil paranoid (Okay, give you that one)
  • Ford: out-of-his-depth stumblebum
  • Reagan: clueless actor, amiable dunce (personally thought ketchup was a vegetable and trees caused pollution)
  • Bush 41: out-of-touch patrician, Just doesn't get it
  • Quayle: moron, couldn't spell potatoe
  • Gingrich: spoiled brat (a tough one: clearly smarter than his detractors and personally honest; his overreaction to Clinton's blow-off on the flight back from the Rabin funeral was a godsend)
  • Dole: doddering grandpa
  • Bush 43: take your pick
Now, I'm as glad as the next guy to see what goes around come around, but the similarity disturbs me. It was shameful and dishonest when they (and I at the time) did it first, and we have a responsibility not to sink to that level again. It doesn't help that lately I've found Shrinkwrapped, Neo-neocon, Dr. Sanity, and Robert Goodwin to be spot-on political diagnosticians, so the dismissive trifecta is now complete. Maybe you can't actually argue with the Left, but it should be possible to dismiss their ideas without needing to dismiss them.

The other day I went to visit friends I hadn't seen in many years (since 9/11, I suspect). And, as it too often does, politics eventually came up. It's an important signaling device, especially when beliefs are bound up in self-image and personal worth. Now, I'm not going to argue with someone in their own home; it's tacky and rude, as well as a complete waste of time. No minds would be changed or eyes opened; the only outcome would be hard feelings. Fortunately I wasn't the only guest, so my refusal to engage wasn't too noticeable (I think). But I learned some things by listening and making polite, non-committal noises.

One thing that struck me was the urge to replay old grievances and elections and, of course, the War That Embodies All Wars. A comment in the course of familiar recitation was Kerry was hated because he came back from Vietnam and told the truth - a striking claim from someone who thinks that Bush Lied is a metaphysical certainty beyond any conceivable dispute. My demure I don't know about that was taken as disbelief in the hatred. Why, just look at the personal attacks by those lying swiftboat vets! (As I said, no teachable moments here.)

But this really does unpack some interesting questions. There's a spectrum of truth-telling between utter fabrication and the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but (which no one actually expects any more, in court or anywhere in public.) A rough listing :
  • Completely true
  • Testifiably true (no overt lies of commission)
  • Substantially true
  • Factually (sometimes technically) true
  • Mostly true (usually except about some degree of personal involvement)
  • Largely true
  • Half-truths (which are usually somewhat less than half)
  • Partially true (an even smaller proportion)
  • Possibly true
  • Whole cloth fabrication that doesn't contradict any known facts (this is what lawyers and spinners do for a living)
  • Mostly lies with a grain or kernel of truth
  • Utter BS
So the question is, Where do you draw the line? And is the line different depending on the situation? Or depending on the person?

Back to Kerry for a moment. Where does he fall on this spectrum? He didn't speak The truth, to power or to anyone else, but he did speak A truth. The anger and hatred (which I don't dispute) was and is a reaction to the attempt to make this partial truth stand for the whole truth, or at least be a defining part of it. But he falls too far down the spectrum for that to happen.

We know that some of the testimony at the Winter Soldier hearings (where Kerry got the bulk of his “truth”) involved what is technically known as “making s**t up.” Guys who weren't in the military or weren't incountry or weren't anywhere they could have seen or did the things they claimed to.

Now, guys have always lied about what they did in the war. By no means all, but enough to make “war stories” a synonym for “fish stories.” But where it traditionally revolved around how many Jerries or Japs they killed, now it includes how many civilians; not how much action they saw, but how many atrocities.

A strange new definition of martial heroism, indeed. How much of this is due to redefined models of masculinity, or a sense that real heroes fight not for king and country but for the right thing, against the military if need be, or an unexamined assumption that real soldiers, the ones who were really in it, necessarily did some horrible stuff because that's what the military does, is an interesting question, but that's for another time.

Just note that, while people always claimed to be Green Berets when they were in the motor pool, or active duty rather than deferred, now the false claims are used to give moral authority to being anti-war.

But I digress. We know that some of Kerry's “truth” contained deliberate falsehoods; how much does that invalidate the basic argument? And before you answer that, consider that Ahmed Chalabi and some of the other Iraqi exiles fed deliberate falsehoods about the WMD program to the CIA.

As the man said, What is truth?

posted by Kelly | 6:19 PM link