Wednesday, November 10, 2004

Lefty Whining and Righty Gloating

So! You thought the left had the market cornered on anger! Last night I was watching Real Time with Bill Maher (on in demand, I was too busy crying in my beer Friday) and I saw an amazing sight. Two of Maher's guests, former senator Alan Simpson and gay conservative Andrew Sullivan took it to Maher, attacking him on all sides. It was an intense show and it exposed a few things about both the left and the right. It was as though now that they had won (or that Simpson had won, since Sullivan ended up endorsing Kerry) all the pent up rage on the right about how they felt they had been slighted by the left was exploded forth. The republicans are not only emboldened in their agenda, they are emboldened to stand up and give the left a black eye for all the pummeling they feel they've endured from Maher and Michael Moore et al. Maher while sticking to his act, was mostly contrite, saying "congratulations, you guys won." But he went on to ask the question that got him in trouble: "What's wrong with the left? What aren't we getting?" And boy! Did they let him know. They attacked him for being pretentious, demeaning, elitist, unfair, and insulting to average Americans. They let him have it.

Now, my own lefty leanings aside, they're beef with Maher is legit. He is terribly demeaning to people of faith. He goes so far as to call them "stupid" for their belief in God. He insists that faith is not rational, and that as a "rational" person he is better qualified to vote then Christians. When he says things like that it gets a roar of approval from the audience, so Maher is obviously playing to his crowd. But he acts surprised when people call him on it, as Sullivan and Simpson did. They made it clear that they were tired of being picked on, and their attitude (though they didn't say it out loud) was "you lefties lost and now you can finally shut up."

Susan Sarandon was on as well. She was in denial. She said all sorts of things about voter fraud in Ohio, which, whether it's true or not, shows she's having trouble accepting that the majority was against her this time.

The most amusing moment to me was when Sullivan said "the answer to all this is federalism. Let California have stem cell research, let Massachusetts have gay marriage and let Mississippi do what it wants to do." To which guest D.L. Hughly replied that if Mississippi could do what they wanted, he'd still be a slave.

But the real high point came when Maher showed his interview with Noam Chomsky. Sullivan lit into Maher for having Chomsky, whom he referred to as evil and a liar, on his program (exactly the same language Richard Belzer used to describe Ann Coulter the week before). Chomsky, long a target of the right, said on the air that the invasion of Iraq was a war crime, and sited as precedent the Nuremberg principles, which establish invasion and wars of agression as crininals a crime. It is the "first to strike is guilty" precedent. According to Sullivan, Chomsky must be lying, because as Sullivan put it "I assume he's smart enough to know he's wrong."

That is just the kind of rhetorical baiting and bashing Sullivan had decried in the previous breath. Chomsky, a well known linguist and liberal, is the preeminent philosopher of the United States and, since the recent death of Jacques Derida this year, probably the world. In my own field of media studies Chomsky is the most considered to be by far the most important scholar, and his work on language and power forms the foundation of much of the analysis and critizue of media on both the left and the right. That doesn't mean he's right all the time, but it does mean he's smart and Sullivan knows it. His insult was petty.

Chomsky cited a precedent to back up his position that the invasion of Iraq was a crime and his precedent was correct. The invasion of Iraq seems to be a violation of international law. That doesn't matter: we ignore international law all the time. As the world's only superpower we get to do that. We are not part of the international tribunal on war crimes for this very reason. Sullivan is correct in saying that Chomsky's and other liberals critical view of the United States is one reason people think the left is out of touch. You can't tell people they are evil and expect them to vote for you. Chomsky's position isn't that the US is evil, btw, only that it often commits evil acts. He's not alone in this. Most of the world right now seems to agree with him. Certainly most of the people in Iraq do. Sullivan screamed that Saddam Hussein was an evil dictator, and in my opinion he was, and the Iraqi people are better off without him it's true, but those same Iraqi people now see us as an evil occupier, and if Sullivan denies it then he's the one who's lying. It is nothing new. A majority of people in Latin America saw us as evil in the 50s and 60s and 70s when we were enforcing the Monroe Doctorine. A clear majority of people in Iran saw us as evil when we were propping up the Shah. Most people in Russia prior to 1989 grew up believing we were the evil empire, not themselves.

When you extrapolate Chmosky back to the roots of his arguments you get a basic set of principles based on the Nuremberg trials in which Nazi leaders were tried and condemned. In fact the crime he cites was not a war crime but a "crime against peace" that crime being aggression. His argument regarding Iraq is actually quite simple when you look at it as a syllogism:

Invasion is a crime against peace (Nuremburg Principal)

The United States invaded Iraq

ergo the United States is guilty of a crime against peace.

Chomsky's minor premise is clearly true. The problem lies in his major premise. Sullivan clearly doesn't agree that the invasion of Iraq was a crime, so he has to be arguing that invasion itself is not a crime. But to do that he has to reject one of the most important of the Nuremberg principles. It will raise the possibility that the invasions of Poland and Norway were *not* crimes (the case in which the precedent was set was primarily the case against Herman Goering). That is slippery ground for anyone to stand upon.

The actual wording of the section on crimes against peace, which was adopted into international law by the UN in 1946, defines a crime against peas as "Planning, preparation, initiation or waging of a war of aggression or a war in violation of international treaties, agreements or assurances." Chomsky's position is that the invasion of Iraq was both a war of aggression and a war in violation of international treaties agreements or assurances--the latter was the position of France and Germany, who stated that the war was illegal because it was never sanctioned by the UN security council. We all know how well that played in Ohio.

Simply saying "The situation is different. Saddam Hussein was a war criminal and had to be taken out," has problems too. First it is arguing that the end justifies the means. Second it ignores the fact that a growing number of people believe that George Bush is a war criminal, and that the United States is a criminal state. Would they be justified in invading us to bring George Bush to justice? Let's be clear here. If they do I will be out there on the beaches with whatever weapon I can dig up to defend my country. I'm just pointing out a fallacy in Sullivan's argument. Whether or not something is evil is a question of value--that is, it is based on the values and opinions of the person making the statement. I assume Sullivan is smart enough to know that.


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