Thursday, June 28, 2012
Comfortable Illusions, Hard Reality
Today is a sad day in American political and judicial history. Our Supreme Court has shown itself once again to be masters of sophistry, laying themselves open to the preposterous arguments of the Obama Administration which claims on certain days of the week that the individual mandate is not a tax and on other days that it is a tax; in so doing, the current ruling lies in a tradition of decisions based upon untruth. The beginning of this tradition is the claim in Griswold v. Connecticut that when the Constitution supplies no grounds for a certain decision, shadows and penumbras (i.e., pretexts) will provide the excuse necessary to allow a ruling that the actual text of the Constitution will not allow; one remembers, too, that Roe v. Wade was based upon the lie that Norma Jean McCorvey had been impregnated as a result of rape, a lie that McCorvey herself has often repudiated. That we are governed by sophistry is really no surprise, since sophistry is simply the most expedient alternative to truth. Truth, which is simply the description of reality, conveys the realities of existence, one of the most basic of which is that success requires hard work and that short cuts usually give us terrible results. Today's decision bynthe Supreme Court underscores precisely those truths about life. As a society, we reject ever more emphatically these ancient truths, and so we are left with illusion, with the hope (half, after all, of the President's reason for being) that we can leave easy, comfortable lives not requiring much in the way of hard, sacrificial contact with the rough surface of reality. It is precisely this love of illusion, which tells us that we can have something for nothing, that has placed us in our current predicament. Several years ago, when things in Iraq were difficult, we began as a society to say that we never needed to be there to make that sacrifice, that in fact the only reason we were there is because President Bush unilaterally decided to invade that nation. We delude ourselves into forgetting that Congress voted to give the President the authority to invade Iraq--even those liberal Senators voted for it. So then, faced with historical reality, we fall back on the illusion that President Bush lied us into war, that he tricked us, once again ignoring the historical reality that President Bush provided all the relevant intelligence to Congress before their vote and that most of those who voted for the invasion and later claimed to be against it refused even to look at the President's evidence when it was offered. So we prefer illusion, which is more convenient in the short term, though it leaves us with the dangerous ability to justify virtually any conduct with virtually any argument. It is this love of illusion that led many people to vote for President Obama in 2008, on the grounds that "Hope and Change" actually meant something, that it was not the empty slogan of the demagogue. And in voting for him, so many were able to congratulate themselves on choosing cool over the solid virtue and hard-won accomplishment of John McCain, President Obama's opponent. Such was the clear implication of Peggy Noonan, who, if she really is as sophisticated as she thinks of herself as being, ought to have known better. But that's precisely the problem: she, and so many others like her, are sophisticated, too clever for the hard old virtues, and so she breathed huskily about how cool and sophisticated Senator Obama is. Her sophistication also expressed itself with disdain about Sarah Palin, also a person who achieved success with hard work bred by her association with old unsophisticated understanding of the hardness of the world in the way it really works. This illusion that we can be politically cool without consequence is now shown finally to be dangerous. A vote for Obama was a vote, as he warned us, for a complete transformation of our society. Now that the damage has been done, we are again faced with a choice, this time perhaps possibly final. The only way to repudiate the dangerous life of political illusion into which we have fallen is to wake ourselves and take up the hard task of hard electoral politics. That it can be done is evident by the recent victory in Wisconsin, but it will take across the nation what it took there--sacrificial financial contribution and sacrificial commitment of time and energy. In the short term, this decision by the Supreme Court is a good thing, since, by placing the very unpopular health care bill at the center of the summer campaign, it may well be the nail in the President's coffin. But the defeat of Obama will not undo his legislation. The only way to do that is to keep the House and win the Senate by an overwhelming margin. Again, that can be done, but it will take a commitment to almost superhuman and sacrificial political virtue. If, as has so far been the case, we prefer life of illusion because political life in the real world is just too hard, then we will find that we have today taken a very great slide along what Hayek called the Road to Serfdom. A couple of months ago on The O'Reilly Factor, Bernie Goldberg made the arresting remark that Americans are addicted to entertainment and that that addiction is a very bad thing. Entertainment gives us cool; its very heart blood is to take the empty and insignificant and by dressing it smartly, providing it with an emotional soundtrack, giving it a script full of currently cool expressions, and surrounding it with carefully-coordinated pastel backdrops, making us believe that it means anything. The mere fact that we can let ourselves be thus deceived--and deceived to the point of electing Barack Obama--means that we are no longer instinctively at home in the world of hard reality. The only way to recover our identity as truly free men is to tear our eyes from the meretricious and eternally flickering images on the wall of Plato's cave and begin the long, hard slog up the tunnel into the harsh light of the world of reality. If we don't, we can continue to enjoy the life of illusion for awhile longer. But if we wish to recover what we've lost, we will need to elect a conservative Congress that will not only repeal the Affordable Care Act and confirm as a matter of course conservative justices to the Supreme Court, year after year. Nothing else will do.