Politics & Policy

So You Think You Can Nuance?

From Left to Right.

I guess it was only a matter of time before this happened: The Left is now blaming President Bush for the weather. Specifically they’re claiming that the current heat wave is a result of the global warming President Bush just hasn’t done enough to stop. Whereas the consensus in the scientific community seems to be leaning towards an alternate explanation: It’s summertime. Oh, but this is a different kind of heat, the Left insists. It’s…hotter, somehow. (At least they aren’t claiming it’s a dry heat). But if the current heat wave bolsters the theory of global warming favored by noted climatologists like Barbra Streisand and Bill Maher then surely last winter’s record cold spells weakened the case for global warming, right? Well, no. See, global warming doesn’t just make the Earth hotter. Sometimes it makes the Earth much, much colder, as depicted in the recent docudrama The Day After Tomorrow. So it’s that kind of warming.

On another front, those clamoring for the head of Karl Rove have concluded, sans evidence, that Rove smeared Joe Wilson because Wilson’s detective work in Niger weakened the administration’s case for war in Iraq. This despite the fact that a bipartisan Senate intelligence panel, among others, has already debunked or discredited just about everything Wilson has had to say about his Niger trip or the circumstances surrounding it. Rove’s antagonists seem to genuinely believe that since (prior to his mint-tea-drinking “mission”) Wilson guessed correctly that Saddam Hussein had no WMDs that all of Wilson’s statements before or since have also been credible and true. They forget that even a broken clock is right twice a day. Or to put it another way, even convicted perjurers and the hopelessly insane will occasionally make a truthful statement, if only randomly. Like Joe Wilson’s apparent prescience on Iraq’s arsenal, they’re meaningless flukes. In fact, Joe Wilson is sort of the Jeanne Dixon of Iraq-war whistleblowers: He made one, single correct prediction, a long time ago, and he’s been dining out on it ever since.

Then there’s the Downing Street Memo, a document long touted as a smoking gun that’s so irrelevant it’s known around my house as “Number Two Downing Street.” The key passage in this handwritten copy of a third-person account of an alleged conversation suggests that prior to Saddam Hussein’s removal from power “…the intelligence and the facts were being fixed around the [regime change] policy” by the White House.

Now, to be fluent in English is to understand that the word “fixed” has several meanings, and that the term “fixed around” spoken by a Brit means something completely different than the word “fixed” does when spoken by an American. To review: When an American says “fixed” he usually means repaired, corrected, modified, or otherwise changed, whereas when a British person says “fixed around” they mean arranged about, lined up alongside of, placed adjacent to, and so on–without any of the elements being manipulated having been intrinsically changed. Thus, the key passage in this memo suggests nothing more insidious than that proponents of forcible regime change in the Bush White House argued their case by prominently displaying the facts and intelligence which best supported it. Just as anyone would do when arguing for a particular point of view. Just as you are mentally doing at this exact moment, in the event that you disagree. All of which places the Downing Street Memo smack dab in the middle of a virtually gun-free, smoke-free zone.

But try telling that to amateur linguist Paul Krugman, who presented the “facts fixed around the policy” passage as definitive proof of the president’s treachery, adding, “It doesn’t get much clearer than that.” Or Arianna Huffington, who upon being informed of the distinction between an American’s “fixed” and an Englishman’s “fixed around“, dismissively chuckled, “Fixed is fixed, in any language!” (And if you believe that, just try telling an American woman and an English woman, respectively, that you’ll “knock them up” in the morning and note their reactions.)

Which brings us to the central question of this discussion: Aren’t you Leftists supposed to be the nuance people? The party of linguistic, not to mention moral, relativism? The ones who pride yourselves on taking as many positions on every issue as possible? The ones for whom a word can have any definition assigned to it, or none at all, depending on the situation? In fact, aren’t you the folks currently in the process of secularly canonizing an American president whose gift to history was a self-indulgent exploration as to the various meanings of the word “is”? Hint: Yes, you are.

The question is rhetorical, of course, because the Leftist perspective is anything but nuanced on virtually every important issue. That’s why a Leftist becomes either baffled or enraged (or both) when a conservative tries to explain to him how market forces are actually more effective than lawsuits at fighting air pollution. Or why it was absolutely necessary to liberate Iraq even if the Hussein regime had no direct involvement in 9/11. Or why free trade and what Leftists call “corporatism” is in the best long-term interest of every nation on earth, not just the rich white ones. Or why the most irresponsible thing the United States could possibly do today would be to bring all our troops home from Iraq immediately. Or just how often in the course of human events war is, indeed, the answer–even given the horrors of war. Likewise with tax policy, poverty, affirmative action, the minimum wage, bilingual education–the list of proven, documented counterintuitive truths of life that are too nuanced for the Leftist mind to grasp literally goes on and on. And yes, the fact that this contention flies in the face of current conventional wisdom only confirms its veracity.

During the last presidential campaign we were endlessly reminded that John Kerry was the standard bearer of the Nuance People, whereas President Bush was the intellectually incurious, black-and-white, simplistic non-thinker who didn’t appreciate life’s shades of gray. This notion became so ingrained in the conventional wisdom that President Bush himself famously announced that, “I don’t do nuance,” simultaneously thrilling his base and his intellectually pretentious antagonists to approximately the same degree. Suddenly pretending to be a nuanced thinker threatened to replace dabbling in Kabbalah or third-world adoption as the fad du jour of the incurably trendy. And of course, recreational nuancing evoked memories of The Great Nuancer himself, Bill Clinton, whose propensity for longwindedly dithering while Rwandans died and bin Ladens gallivanted was the stuff of Leftist legend. The Clinton years were the heyday of nuance abuse. It took the form of pedantic showboating (“I’ve just discovered another facet on Castro–how many do you have?”), a means of proving that you weren’t close-minded or judgmental, and most importantly as a substitute for taking action. You’ll recall that it was Clinton and his Cabinet who blathered on and on and on about regime change in Iraq and President George W. Bush who actually implemented the policy.

It got to the point during the Clinton years, a time when even the definition of sex became open to considerable debate, that nuanced thinking threatened to replace Pilates as our national pastime. People from every walk of life were suddenly pondering the subtle gradations in meaning between wage- and price-based cost of living increases. Free trade and third-world workers’ rights. Diet Pepsi and Pepsi One. Nuance fetishism had the added advantage of feeding the perception that George W. Bush, because he didn’t similarly indulge, was a dunce. Indeed, this myth grew to such proportions that at one point a significant segment of the American electorate actually believed that John Kerry had much better grades in college than George W. Bush did, as preposterous as that might sound today.

In the midst of this nonjudgmental, live-and-let-live thicket of nuance and relativism we all woke up one morning to find the World Trade Center and the Pentagon in flames. Suddenly all those gray areas were replaced with a refreshing wave of black-and-white, good-vs.-evil, right-and-wrong kind of thinking. This was no longer an academic exercise or late-night college bull session: There were people in distant lands who wanted us all dead, and mostly because we supported Israel and let our women wear clothes from the Gap. Wallowing in nuance suddenly seemed so two Twin Towers ago. Well, for most of us, anyway. While some mourned the dead and prepared for war the nuance machine rose from the ashes, virtually intact, and started spitting out questions like, “What did we do to bring this on ourselves?” and “What can we do to better understand our attackers?” As if the murder by sneak attack of 3,000 innocents could ever, in any context, be anything but an unforgivable act of war.

And to any of you Lefties still reading this, take heart. You’re not bad people, you’re just different. It’s not your fault that certain concepts–like, for example, that estimates of federal deficit are currently being revised downward because President Bush lowered the top marginal tax rates-might just be beyond you. To put it simply, that level of nuanced understanding is…well, it’s a conservative thang.

Ned Rice is a staff writer on the new and improved CBS talk show The Late Late Show with Craig Ferguson. Rice is also an NRO contributor.


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