Friday, June 03, 2005

Isn't calling someone a "liar or a fool" unnecessary?

I'm happy you asked.

Most people are not really interested in politics, but hold opinions none the less about political things. For example, many otherwise apolitical people have strong opinions about the Schapelle Corby case. Sometimes I think such opinions are well reasoned. Sometimes they are silly, or even stupid. However, I do not attack them for this, if I judge they are sincere.

But Ben Stein is not "most people". First of all, he is a paid columnist. But if he is peddling nonsense, are the readers, advertisers and editors getting their value for money? More significantly, he worked with Nixon in the flesh. He should know better than to pin the genocide in Cambodia on a high ranking snitch like Mark "Deep Throat" Felt. Hell, I reckon he does know better. And if he argues a deeply dishonest argument like he did in Deep Throat and Genocide, then I'm almost 100% certain I am justified in calling him a liar.

However, I did say "almost". I'm still not certain if he remains a fool instead. This paragraph knocked me back on my feet:

The assumption of power in Cambodia by the bloodiest government of all time, the Khmer Rouge, who killed a third of their own people, often by making children beat their own parents to death. No one doubts [Richard Nixon] would never have let this happen.

Excuse me? Are we talking abut the same Richard Nixon here? The one who had Henry "Call me Mr. Realpolitik" Kissinger as Secretary of State? (It was the same Kissinger who sold out the East Timorese to Indonesia a couple a years later, after all.) Tricky Dicky would have probably let it happen. His new best friend China would have told him to lay off their brother ideologues in Phnon Penh, and Kissinger would done his best to force Nixon into line. And that would be that. If Mr Stein (who has probably met Dr K. a few times) believes otherwise, doesn't that make him a fool?

Perhaps it would be more polite to say Mr. Stein is neither a liar or a fool. I could refrain from doing do. But if a paid-up, public pundit with his own history writes something I find dishonest, I feel I should call him on it. He can't plead ignorance - the usual excuse for bad writing. So in the end, I conclude Ben Stein is either lying or fooling. Or both. 

I should add that the blogosphere is on to Ben Stein's nonsense.  The Moderate Voice argues why Nixon's removal should have been irrelevant to what happened later in Indochina:

  1. When Nixon left office wasn't his replacement the highly solid (and underrated in some ways) GOPer Gerald Ford whose Secretary of State remained Henry Kissinger? Is Stein suggesting that when Nixon left these two guys were negligent? There was a continuity of policy. Factors were in play that didn't have to do with Democrats and people hating Nixon because he went after Alger Hiss.
  2. Didn't Nixon himself in some later interviews note that if he hadn't given his enemies the sword they couldn't have used it against him?

The Washington Dispatch - argues like me that Nixon was incompetent. Unlike me, he thinks he wasn't hardline enough. (He advocated more bombing of North Vietnam for starters. Having met victims of said bombing [*], I cannot endorse such as position.) Fortunately, he is on far more solid ground with this paragraph. It describes the motivations of those attacking Mr. Felt quite well:

Loyalty must trump the most basic virtue, the desire to tell the truth. Loyalty to leader and party must trump loyalty to conscience. If the truth concerning the leader's actions is harmful to his interests, it must be suppressed.

And PowerLine has it's own take on the matter:

UPDATE: I think some readers have misunderstood what I tried to say in the last paragraph of this post (the fault probably is mine for not having been clear enough). I understand the argument that there is a causal connection between what the Democrats did to Nixon and the tragedies that occurred in Southeast Asia. Arguably, had the Democrats not acted as they did towards Nixon, some or all of these tragedies would have been averted. However, my argument is that the Democrats' actions towards Nixon are not to blame because they had the right to try to remove Nixon (assuming that he may have committed impeachable offenses). My point, I guess, is that the opposition has no obligation to tolerate a president who commits serious wrongdoing merely because his foreign policy may be correct and his successor's may turn out not to be. Recall that the Democrats tried at times to answer claims that Clinton should be impeached for having committed perjury by citing the alleged virtues of his substantive policies. I don't think that kind of argument flies.

[*] Such as my first land-lady. She was a teenager in Hà Nội when the USAF did their stuff in North Vietnam. Quite a nice woman as well, but was literally crimson when watching the CNN broadcasts of the strafing of Iraq. She was literally shouting at the screen. Who could blame her? She could relate.)