Here’s Walter Lippmann, long-time editor of The New Republic, in 1955:
But when the chaff of silliness, baseness, and deception is so voluminous that it submerges the kernels if truth, freedom of speech may produce such frivolity, or such mischief, that it cannot be preserved against the demand for a restoration of order or of decency. If there is a dividing line between liberty and license, it is where freedom of speech is no longer respected as a procedure of the truth and becomes the unrestricted right to exploit the ignorance, and to incite the passions, of the people.
…For the right to freedom of speech is no license to deceive, and willful misrepresentation is a violation of its principles. It is sophistry to pretend that in a free country a man has some sort of inalienable or constitutional right to deceive his fellow men. There is no more right to deceive than there is a right to swindle, to cheat, or to pick pockets. It may be inexpedient to arraign every public liar… But in principle, there can be no immunity for lying in any of its protean forms.
Those two quotes are from Lippmann’s The Public Philosophy, an interesting document of another era from any number of angles, as Reformed historian George Mardsen recently showed, and which our James Ceaser once mentioned as a liberal response to the core challenges raised by Leo Strauss’s Natural Rights and History.
Now here is a quote from Harry Reid last week, offered in response to a question of whether he regretted what he had said about Romney’s not paying taxes, and whether that repeated lie, one picked up and never apologized for by The White House, constituted a kind of McCarthyism:
Well, they can call it whatever they want. Romney didn’t win, did he?
But, as I have been saying about a number of topics lately, what’s most disgusting here is the silence about it on the part of Democrat leaders.
An April-fools version of Virginia Senator Tim Kaine said the statement was “unacceptable,” as I purportedly-reported below. But of course, from the real Tim Kaine, you know, the purportedly-moderate one?
From Elizabeth Warren, Martin O’Malley, Chuck Schumer, Kirsten Gillibrand, John Lewis, Bernie Sanders, Jerry Brown? Or even Jim Webb?
Does anyone know whether there is a single Democratic Senator, representative, governor, or DNC official who has denounced Reid for this?
Well, what about Amy Gutmann, or any of the rest of those liberal democratic theorists who talk up “deliberative democracy?” My searches aren’t turning up anything.
The American Prospect? Vox? Talking Points Memo? The new magazine that claims to be The New Republic? Nope.
If you read the Outside the Beltway piece, you will see that one Washington Post reporter Chris Cillizza, who I presume leans liberal, did come down hard on Reid:
Think about Reid’s statement in another context. I have two little kids. What if I told my son, who has just started playing soccer, that his only aim was to win the game — no matter how he accomplished that goal…Would anyone think that was either (a) good parenting or (b) broadly beneficial for society? …politics ain’t beanbag. I get that. But allowing elected officials to say anything they want about people running for office — and requiring zero proof in order to report those claims — seems to be a bridge too far.
If you look further into his story, Cillizza appears to be of the deluded “blame both sides equally for the present incivility in politics” camp, but despite that, let’s just stand back for a moment and appreciate an American father for saying what has to be said.
But now, let’s indicate what has to happen, despite the fact that it will annoy people like Cillizza. If those who think of themselves as moderate Democrats, ethical liberals, or peace-making leftists want their party to ever again be one that the likes of Walter Lippmann would support, they either have to:
a) Demand leaders who loudly denounce actions like this one Reid took. “Demand” doesn’t mean one complaining e-mail, and some grumbling among friends. Rather, it means that those who in the past who have sent monetary support to the Democrats, to a Democratic candidate, or to any liberal-supporting organization, send a letter along these lines:
“I will cut off all donations to your organization for five years from this date, unless I see you vocally denounce Harry Reid for this statement.”
For rhetorical effectiveness, they could add lines like these:
“I put up with the defending of the Clintons, the rehabilitating of Al Sharpton, the praising of spin-recommending theorists like George Lakoff, and the general bowing before the many lies of Barack Obama, and I did my part to look the other way and assume the same about the other side when it came to the behavior of Bob Filner, Sandy Berger, John Edwards, Anthony Weiner, Dan Rather, Rod Blagojevich, Lois Lerner, etc., etc., etc., even on up through Grubergate, but this undisguised gloating about helping to win an election by means of a gross slander by the number two Democrat is finally a bridge too far. I did not sign up for progressive ends by any means necessary.”
b) Vote Republican in 2016. And not secretly, but openly, for the express purpose of bringing Democrat leaders to reform their own ranks, particularly with respect to the current indulgence of demonizing, deceiving, and slandering.
It is telling that one hardly ever hears of any Democrats doing anything along the lines of a), although admittedly, one would be wrong to put much hope in such even if it were to begin happening on a widespread basis. The time for its effectiveness has not, I suspect, yet returned. Something else has to happen first.
That is, the only way Democratic leaders, political and intellectual, are going to get the message that a line must be drawn against Reid’s kind of behavior, and that they and their legacy media allies have to start disciplining and opposing their members who regularly engage in it, is if the Democrats suffer across-the-board defeat in 2016. The only way back to the ethics-respecting liberalism of Walter Lippmann, is through a repudiation of Harry Reid’s Way so visceral that it dares, at least for one season, to openly vote R.
Otherwise, you can frame it, and put it on your wall. The new motto of the Democratic Party: Romney Didn’t Win, Did He?
(UPDATE: due to complaints from Senator Kaine’s office, we removed my post that fake-reported his condemning Reid’s statement. Yeah, ours is a day when people feel they gotta correct the record even of a pretty-obvious April Fool’s joke, even on a pretty-obscure blog. Oh well.)