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Which way is Up

There’s a New Yorker cartoon of two gormless hikers lost in the desert and looking at a map. One is pointing at the sun and saying, “Well, there’s the sun so that way is up.”

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They’re way ahead of some of us here in the good old U. S. of A. There are people here who need to have it explained to them why it is wrong to use the legal system for persecution.

“Whaddya mean, the President can’t fire prosecutors investigating corruption in his party? Why not? It stops the investigation. That’s what he’s trying to achieve. What’s wrong with trying to achieve your goals?”

I am not making this stuff up. I wish I was. See, for instance, responses from Josh Marshall, TalkingPointsMemo [1], and Glenn Greenwald [2] to these loonies, some of them highly placed. Might has been so successfully conflated with right that boatloads of people can no longer tell the difference. I guess, it’ll only become clear to them once they find themselves at the wrong end of the gun.

Greenwald makes the point that media elites are protecting their own privileges by “degrad[ing] the public discourse with their petty, pompous, shallow, vapid chatter that transforms every important political matter into a stupid gossipy joke.” That’s been said repeatedly, and can’t be said often enough.

However, I’m beginning to wonder if it’s really the whole story. After all, if these people feel that might makes right then the only point of interest for them is who’s on top and who is not. Huge issues of democracy versus dictatorship are reduced to a horse race “story” not only because that supposedly pulls in viewers, but also because that really is the way these people view the world.

Consider the first — and biggest — of the life-of-the-Republic issues: the US government policy of using torture. The US, as a state, was found to be committing crimes against humanity. The day after the evidence surfaced, the tide of outrage should have led to the end of a criminal Administration. Instead there was some embarrassed mumbling, and some discussion about whether being anti-torture meant being weak on terrorism. The lethal wrongness of it all disappeared into us-versus-them. who’s strong, who’s weak, and the whole hoodlum-level morass of might making right.

The second issue is denial of habeas corpus. It met the same fate. The third issue is illegal wiretapping. Government surveillance of civilians to enforce political orthodoxy is yet another classic feature of dictatorships. But there was no mainstream discussion (that I saw) about what we’d become. It was all framed in issues of weakness and strength. And now, the most recent blow has been the perversion of law to persecute opponents. Stalin would have been proud. And yet, as Greenwald’s clip shows, the discussion is all about who’s up and who’s down, who’s hot and who’s not.

(Today’s update via Crooks and Liars [3] and Atrios [4]: ‘Broder seems to believe Dems shouldn’t pursue the [US Attorney] scandal seriously because it’s unlikely that the party’s lawmakers can “help themselves” by investigating wrongdoing.’ Same thing again: the agenda is to be on top, not to do what’s right.)

Maybe, self-interest among media elites is just a contributing factor to their inability to criticize the powers that be. Maybe the real problem is that they live in a world where the king can do no wrong.

Maybe we have to stop deluding ourselves that it’s just a small problem of grubbing for money or privilege. We need to start pointing out that the rules of the jungle kill the rule of law. And that people who can’t see anything except the jungle subvert the rule of law. And that there’s a simple name for them. It’s “criminals.”

Technorati tags: media, bias, current events, opinion, chattering classes