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August 28, 2006

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hypocrisy

otherwise fine post.

Here's a crucial part of the difference:

Ward Churchill and, to an even greater extent, Deb Frisch, are quite literally nobodies. OK, Churchill is an academic, but very few people knew who he was until his elevation by the right. But Frisch is just another internet kook.

John Hinderaker, on the other hand, gets invited to the White House. John Bolton -- this administration's UN Ambassador -- grants exclusive interview to insane people.

"The Left," such as it is, finds itself constantly blindsided by right-wingers picking out obscure freaks and trying to saddle mainstream Democratic opinion with them. The White House, on the other hand, cultivates the friendships and relationships of its own freaks in order to mainstream them.

dKos has featured quite a few politicians over the past year or so.

What Nell said.

Also: John Hindraker and Charles Johnson make intemperate remarks and that undermines the U.S.'s moral authority as a whole?

I do believe you're quoting out of context. Here's the full deal:

This post provides an excellent summary and time line of the unusually frequent confrontations between the U.S. military and Al-Jazeera, along with multiple comments from high-level U.S. officials suggesting that Al-Jazeera might be a legitimate war target. As the Guardian article (linked above) reminds us: "In 2001 the station's Kabul office was hit by two 'smart' bombs in an attack that almost wrecked the nearby BBC bureau."

All of this illustrates what very well might be the greatest and most tragic harm of the last five years -- namely, the way in which this administration's conduct and that of its most rabid supporters has drastically altered and demeaned the American national character. Like every other country on the planet, the U.S. has been imperfect, but celebrating attacks on unfriendly journalists were previously the province of uncivilized Gaza thugs and Al Qaeda psychopaths. The U.S. had credibility around the world to protest such behavior. No longer.

Not what Hindraker and Johnson said. But multiple comments from high-level U.S. officials suggesting that Al-Jazeera might be a legitimate war target combined with two attacks on Al-Jazeera combined with the real Eason Jordan scandal - yeah, Andrew, the US has lost the moral authority to speak out against any other nation for attacking journalists.

Off topic, but it seems to fit better here than the open thread:

71-Year-Old Gitmo Detainee Released:

The oldest detainee at Guantanamo Bay — an Afghan man who is at least 71 and hobbled around the U.S. prison in Cuba using a walker — has been sent home, his lawyer said Monday.

Haji Nasrat Khan was among five men from Afghanistan transferred over the weekend, said attorney Peter Ryan, who received the news in an e-mail from the U.S. Department of Justice.

Ryan was not told why Khan was transferred, and was trying to determine whether he would be held in custody in Afghanistan or allowed to return home...

U.S. forces captured the elderly detainee's son, Hiztullah Nasrat Yar, in a compound with some 700 weapons, including small arms and rockets, according to military records.

Khan and his son told the military panel that the younger man was guarding the weapons for the government of Afghan President Hamid Karzai. The father had said he was arrested while complaining about his son's capture several days later.

The military said both father and son had links to the Taliban — a notion Khan once ridiculed at a military hearing.

"How could I be an enemy combatant if I was not able to stand up?" he asked, according to transcripts released to the AP.

You realize that fouling one off is not necessarily a mistake, but can be taken as 'protecting the plate'.

And, along the lines of Phil's note, Hindraker was a member of Time's blog of the year. The entire year.

Honestly, if each side were judged by their most fervent supporters, the admin would be lose before leaving the locker room. Ward Churchill never had a good word to say about the Dems, and Deb Frisch lashed out at left sites enough times to demonstrate that she was one of a kind. But Hindraker is the one thinks Bush is an unrecognized genius and if Charles Johnson has demonstrated a nuanced view of supporting the admin, I'd be surprised.

Fair point. Small, in context, but fair.

"How could I be an enemy combatant if I was not able to stand up?" he asked, according to transcripts released to the AP.

Due diligence, Katherine. He could have been faking it all this time and he might have been able to run an 11 second 100 meters. Or perhaps the Taliban head said the same thing that Rummy said, you go war with the army you have, not the army you wish for.

If I were President, we'd never have gotten into this mess in the first place.

If I were President, we'd never have gotten into this mess in the first place.

I will, without hesitation, retroactively change my 2000 vote to you. Anyone else?

Katherine, that's great news. You may recall reading of this man in MK's May 1 Post article:

At 80, Haji Nusrat -- detainee No. 1009 -- is Guantanamo Bay's oldest prisoner. A stroke 15 years ago left him partly paralyzed. He cannot stand up without assistance and hobbles to the bathroom behind a walker. Despite his paralysis, his swollen legs and feet are tightly cuffed and shackled to the floor. He says that his shoes are too tight and that he needs new ones. He has asked for medical attention for the inflammation in his legs, but has not been taken to a hospital.

"They wait until you are almost dead," he says.

He has a long white beard and grayish-brown eyes that drift from Peter's face to mine as we explain his legal issues to him. In the middle of our meeting, he says to me: " Bachay ." My child. "Look at my white beard. They have brought me here with a white beard. I have done nothing at all. I have not said a single word against the Americans."

He comes from a small mountain village in Afghanistan and cannot read or write. He has 10 children and does not know if his wife is still alive -- he hasn't received any letters.

U.S. troops arrested Nusrat in 2003, a few days after he went to complain about the arrest of his son Izat, who is also detained at Guantanamo Bay. Nusrat is charged with being a commander of a terrorist organization in Afghanistan with ties to Osama bin Laden, and with possession of a cache of weapons. Izat, who appeared as a witness at his father's military hearing, maintained that the weapons in question were in a storehouse set up by the Afghan defense ministry, which he was paid to guard and maintain.

During our meeting, Nusrat's emotions range from anger to despair. In his desperation, he begins to promise Peter that he will make him famous if he helps him get home. "Everyone in Afghanistan will know your name," he says. "You will be a great, famous lawyer."

As I interpret, I feel a lump growing in my throat. Suddenly, I can't speak. Peter and Nusrat pause as the tears flood down my face and drip onto my shawl.

The old man looks at me. "You are a daughter to me," he says. "Think of me as a father." I nod, aligning and realigning pistachio shells on the table as I interpret.

As the meeting ends and we collect our things to go, the old man opens his arms to me and I embrace him. For several moments, he prays for me as Peter watches: "Insha'allah, God willing, you will find a home that makes you happy. Insha'allah, you will be a mother one day. . . . "

He lets me go and asks me to say dawa, prayers, for him. "Of course," I promise. "Every day."

Nope. Not much moral authority left.

It seems to me that you read Greenwald with a somewhat jaundiced and nit-picky eye.

What do you have to say about his overall conclusion, which puts in context his remark about the erosion of American moral authority with regard to journalists as targets?

Moral issues to the side, one reason (among many) why it is so destructive to have become a nation which uses torture, applies "coercive interrogation techniques," abducts people in order to render them to human rights abusing countries, and justifies the targeting of war journalists because we lose our authority to condemn those practices when used by others -- including when they are used against Americans, soldiers and civilians alike.

In other words, you have miscontrued the Greenwald remark highlighted in your post. Greenwald is not saying that our moral authority has seriously eroded because of a few cracks by Powerline, but because of an overall pattern of abusive conduct, of which Powerline is only one example.

And he is not making the simplistic comparison that our moral authority to complain about mistreatment of journalists has eroded because of parallel bad behavior by the US concerning journalists -- his point is that the erosion of moral authority flows from an overall pattern of bad behavior.

And yes, US moral authority has taken a gigantic hit, and its naive to pretend otherwise. Greenwald has it right.

Forgive me for a somewhat tangential comment, but after reading John Dean's "Conservatives Without a Conscience", the behavior of Hinderaker and Johnson and Reynolds seems utterly unexceptionable. We already knew they were lickspittle toadies; now we know that they can't help themselves, and further exhibitions of their cognitive dissonances are likely to prove diminishingly entertaining.

Is Michelle Malkin really claiming that because Robert Laurence gave $200 to Howard Dean three years ago, this proves he hates America?

I think the commenters kind of have it. Additionally, the post starts with kind of a backhand of "I don't really read this guy" type deal cuz there's not enough time in the day blah blah, but there's this point I want to make shtick. The guys posts multi-thousand word posts that are usually pretty well organized and argued, and they are after all blog posts, so they usually fit into a larger context and several points are made over and over and certainly fleshed out over the course of the blog's lifetime. Not saying you have to read the whole deal, but the fly by potshot seems kind of disingenuous, or can be seen that way.

because of an overall pattern of abusive conduct, of which Powerline is only one example

Seriously? A couple of guys writing stuff on the Internet, THAT'S the sort of things that concerns you?

Here I thought it was abuse of power and general stupidity at top levels of government. Well, this changes a few things; we'll get right on that Internet abusiveness thing posthaste. Of course, we'd have to shut down firedoglake and a few other left-leaning sites in the process, but it all will have been worth it I suppose.

Me, I've gotten sick of hearing myself complain about abuse and stupidity on the web, and started setting my own house in order. I've found that just shutting up from time to time helps in a way that constantly bitching about others doesn't, so much. Just a suggestion, mind you.

Firedoglake (which I don't read) is a cheerleader for abuses of government power? Shut it down!

Really Slart, I think there is a fair point that there's a Zeitgeist, in this case one of permissiveness towards unprincipled tribalism. One or two guys writing that it doesn't matter whether we adhere to our society's values, so long as our particular political faction comes out ahead doesn't make much difference, even if they were on the cover of Time magazine. God knows I've never gotten worked up about Powerline (because I don't read it). Still, assuming that money changes hands as a result of the ads, what we have here are a couple of people who are advancing a version of tribalist authoritarianism for pay. Just as I can deplore any one single pornographer for making money by exploiting the baser emotions of man, I can deplore these traitors to the Enlightenment republic that is our birthright. (Not that it's worth more than a minute or two of my time doing so -- there's plenty of other people to do that). Not that the Powerline people wouldn't do the same for free, of course.

Shorter version: I don't view the Powerline sin as lack of civility, and thus do not put them in the same category as firedoglake.

Slarti,
Cutting out the first part of dm's quote, which was

Greenwald is not saying that our moral authority has seriously eroded because of a few cracks by Powerline, but because of an overall pattern of abusive conduct, of which Powerline is only one example.

is a bit sleight of hand. If you simply delete the last phrase, the point stands, and that phrase is just to make things a little more clear. In fact, if dm had deleted that, I suspect we'd get a parsing of 'abusive conduct' and claims that it wasn't abusive because someone had it coming or some such nonsense.

that should be a bit of a sleight of hand, not a big sleight of hand. :^)

If you simply delete the last phrase, the point stands

Exactly. If you don't delete it, on the other hand, you're left with a headscratcher.

You're 'taking prisoners' again lj. The second clause is perfectly understandable, if one gets off the idea that the foul here isn't just lack of civility, but lack of civility of a particular kind. The term 'abusive conduct' does not, in this context, mean any and all conduct that can be called abusive. It means conduct that is abusive in a particular way.

I think Greenwald is at his best when he's talking about his own specialty, constitutional issues. His book was really good. On stuff like the evils of Republicans in general, or the war in Iraq, he pretty much reiterates standard liberal talking points; nothing unique of his own.

Certainly your objections to Powerline are probably fodder for an entire thread, CC, but it's still not clear to me that the problem there is one of civility, nor is it clear that civility was dmbeaster's issue to begin with.

Abuse, certainly, is a term that begs deeper description in whatever context dmbeaster had in mind.

And that Powerline is any non-negligible fraction (or even representation) of our collective problem, here, certainly begs a little explanation. Hence my initial comment.

You're 'taking prisoners' again lj.

I'm new at this.

nor is it clear that civility was dmbeaster's issue to begin with.

A wise man used to make the point on this very blog that one could ask the person who wrote it.

On stuff like the evils of Republicans in general, or the war in Iraq, he pretty much reiterates standard liberal talking points; nothing unique of his own.

The truth is not a "standard liberal talking point", Gorchbro.

Oh, wait, actually, it is. Sorry.

I guess what I'm saying is that it's one thing when some random guy on the street says a thing, and entirely a different thing when a Congressman or a member of the Executive says it.

A wise man used to make the point on this very blog that one could ask the person who wrote it.

I could have sworn I was doing just that.

Slarti; Abuse, certainly, is a term that begs deeper description in whatever context dmbeaster had in mind.

Not being a mindreader, I'll assume that the context dmbeaster had in mind was the context he gave in the comment. Do you have some reason for ignoring the context dmbeaster provided in his comment?

Not being a mindreader, I'll assume

Unintentionally funny, or intentional?

Either way, not being an assumer, I ask. It's probably looks like a flaw from where you sit, but that's how I'm built.

Of course, asking the author to clarify might just be a much bigger waste of time than assuming, erecting a strawman, and then doing it violence.

But maybe not.

that's how I'm built

Of this there can be no doubt. No one could put on the Slart style, month in and month out, as a mere persona.

Well, Jes, I didn't say the talking points were all wrong. ;)

Well, as for abusive, since dm isn't around to tell us the context in mind, perhaps we should just argue whether the US has lost moral authority or not. I suspect that it is a clever strategy to separate those who really do respect moral authority, and would therefore understand that by definition, we could not do anything to undermine our own moral authority, and everyone else, who are obviously on the side of Islamofascists and simply hate our moral authority.

As always, I am amazed at how anything short of an endorsement is interpreted by some as an attack. As I stated (I thought rather clearly) in the final paragraph, I believe Greenwald's larger point is precisely correct. Which is precisely why I titled the piece as I did: Greenwald had a pitch to hit and could have done some damage, and I felt that his decision to emphasize the words of some bloggers rather than the larger problem of this administration took some weight off the point. Nit-picky? Probably, but it was late and I tend to be overly critical to begin with, and given Greenwald's prominence in the blogosphere, I'd prefer to see his essays be as well-targeted as possible, because to win the political battle we've got to convince, not just preach to the choir.

I'm not sure if I buy into the whole moral authority business to begin with. A moral argument appealing to one's own authority in the matter is inherently flawed.

Credibility, on the other hand, is worthy of some attention. Maybe that's what's meant by "moral authority"; I have no idea.

Has someone mentioned that mainstream conservatives’ support right-wing nihilism?

You know, power dictates morality.

Their right-wing wing Alpha males have power, so they’ll tell us what is moral.

Didn't the Best Blogger of the Year support the torture advocated by the executive?

And the whole lying us into war seems immoral to me, anyway.

Either way, not being an assumer, I ask.

What's the point of asking, when you're ignoring what dmbeaster said? If you aren't going to read or respond to what dmbeaster said, why ask him to say it again?

Oh, this ancient charge of "mindreading". I never understand it: I look at what people actually say, and respond to that. Funnily enough, the objections tend to come from people who want me to read their minds and assume they meant what they didn't say.

What's the point of asking, when you're ignoring what dmbeaster said?

I didn't ignore what he said. S/He said something about Powerline being an example of something-or-other, which is the only thing like that that s/he did say, and so I asked what the hell s/he meant by that.

Maybe this is rocket science.

I think Jesurgislac nails it w/r/t context.

That said, Greenwald IS much better when he's dealing with legal issues than when he's dealing with political or media issues.

"A moral argument appealing to one's own authority in the matter is inherently flawed."

That may be a fatal blow to the Internets. My wiki feels weaky.

"Moral issues to the side, one reason (among many) why it is so destructive to have become a nation which uses torture, applies "coercive interrogation techniques," abducts people in order to render them to human rights abusing countries, and justifies the targeting of war journalists because we lose our authority to condemn those practices when used by others -- including when they are used against Americans, soldiers and civilians alike."

I've always thought that the common use of the word 'authority' in this context was very odd. Does the policeman who slaps his wife automatically lose the authority to arrest another wife-beater? Does his existence call into question the authority of policemen in general to arrest other wife-beaters? Does his existence call into question the authority of policemen in general to arrest murderers and rapists?

In what may or may not be a side comment, I suspect that the idea that hypocrisy invalidates authority is a very American worldview--not a universal or near-universal human understanding.

"I suspect that the idea that hypocrisy invalidates authority is a very American worldview--not a universal or near-universal human understanding."

Yes, I tell my kid this all the time.

Of course, if we're going to now get rid of criticism directed at the hypocrisy of political bloggers, for example, comment threads are going to look pretty threadbare.

Is authority the same as credibility?

When someone tells me that the hypocrisy of the world is a manifestation of the Lord working in mysterious ways, I see that hypocrisy itself has moral authority.

But I contradict myself.

As always, I am amazed at how anything short of an endorsement is interpreted by some as an attack.

Andrew -- I don't mean to make a substantive criticism of your post, just to explain the reaction you got. I have a perception, which (although it may be false) I think a fair number of liberals share, that moderates who identify with the Republican party or conservative positions generally are strongly psychologically resistant to accepting a liberal argument even when they think it's correct -- that one keeps on having conversations of the form "Yes, everything your candidate says is sensible and correct, but he is so personally distasteful in some way that I can't possibly vote for him: I'll vote for the guy who I accept is wrong, but I find more congenial." This is unfair in many circumstances, and may generally be a warped perception, but I think a lot of liberals have this sense that that's how moderate conservatives argue.

So your post, I think, set that off for some of the liberals here; that you were saying "Man, Greenwald has a point. Pity I won't listen unless he says it again, in Pig Latin, wearing a tutu, and balanced on his left foot." I think this happens to Slart too, a fair amount -- that he'll post something that he intends to convey measured agreement with some liberal idea, and he gets jumped on (occasionally by me) for the fact that the reservations he expresses seem unreasonable.

Again, I'm not saying that this is a fair or reasonable criticism of your post specifically -- just that I think it explains the reaction you got.

Liz,

Thank you for the explanation. Amusingly enough, that is part of why I tried to make the point: I am of the opinion that for us to make progress in raising the profile of this administration's missteps, we need to convince others of our case. People like me, who have historically aligned ourselves with the other side, are going to instinctively shy away from such arguments. Success requires prose that at least attempts to avoid such defensiveness. Greenwald, from what I have seen of him (which is admittedly not a great deal), seems to be of the 'bloody-minded attack' school of rhetoric which may win him points among the converted, but it unlikely to garner success in changing minds.

I am of the opinion that rhetoric that speaks only to those who already agree with you is a waste of breath. Perhaps I'm just a cockeyed optimist, but I believe that we ought to at least try to convince others of our point of view rather than just hectoring those who disagree with us. So I try to call attention to those whose points I agree with, but whose rhetoric is (intentionally or not) tailored to turn off many who could otherwise be expected to listen and even change their mind.

I have never lived elsewhere. But one of my formative political experiences was in college, listening to a talk by Dith Pran, the Vietnamese journalist that the movie The Killing Fields is about. Pran put it like this:

Every government has corruption and injustice, as naturally as there's air and water. What has distinguished the US like very few others in history is an institutional determination to do better. He described what an impact the court-martial of Lt. Calley had on skeptical middle-class Vietnamese - here was an officer of the military being charged and tried for one of those terrible things that always happens in war. He cited several other instances of the same kind of response, and said that what most impressed him about the American system wasn't that it was perfect (because it couldn't be) but that there were people whose job it was to find and fix the problems, and that they could be rewarded and promoted for doing it well.

That was, he said, the American gift to the world at this time, wanting better than the standard and showing that we could work to achieve it.

I tear up even now, almost twenty years later, because I can remember his delivery so clearly. This frail man who's suffered so much, talking to a largely jaded college audience about the power of the hope for justice.

This, I think, is the measure of what we've lost in the Bush/Cheney administration. Katherine has, for instance, rightly documented the Clinton administration's guilt in extraordinary rendition. We can tally a lot of other sins and crimes, as well. But none of Bush's successors have so gleefully made the abuses themselves badges of pride. It's not that it does the torture victim any good if his inquisitor is serious and regretful rather than antic. But it does matter, or at least it can matter, to everyone else watching how the rest of the system responds to it. And the demonstrated inclination of this administration is that they can be as nasty as they wanna be, and that (they say) this is the American dream.

At which point we do in fact become one more generic nation, of no particular intellectual or moral interest. Only physical factors distinguish us from Uzbekistan, Singapore, or Honduras. I miss the city on a hill, but the damage is done now, at least if the samplings of world opinion I can get from friends hither and yon is any indication. Maybe someday it'll shine again.

From time to time I do get angry at the squandering of legacy. This is not what my father fought for in World War II, nor what he did his part to make as an engineer and citizen in the decades after. This is not what my mother dreamed of as a better world to come after the Great Depression, nor what she ever wanted to leave her children. And as with the Baughs, so with so many others. It's such a damnable waste...but there go the tears again, and I'd best wrap up.

Andrew - I think Greenwald, in a comment over at QandO, stated that his purpose in using such rhetoric is to fire up his side of the aisle and get them motivated. Obviously that can turn off those who might like to agree but have historically been on the other side of the aisle, like me, for example. Like Lex, I find him much more compelling when he's talking about legal issues than when he's doing pure politics and the like. Though I'm far enough removed from being on the other side of the aisle that his rhetoric doesn't turn me off (though I don't read him as much anymore as he's strays off what he's good at).

Oh, and there's no such thing as hypocrisy in politics.

Sebastian, the difference is that a policeman has a legal right to arrest someone committing a crime within his jurisdiction. He can compel compliance with his instructions, to a degree defined in the law. One country that want to attack another, or wants the help of another to effectuate some policy goal, doesn't have the legal right to compel compliance. It has to ask nicely. And to understand that the justice of its cause -- in both the overarching sense and at a detailed level -- matters to those who's assistance and/or forebearance is sought.

A country that wants to selectively enforce UN resolutions, using means not specifically authorized in those resolutions, needs to bring people along with persuasion, because compulsion is unavailable. That's where moral authority is really useful. Sure, you can act without it: Germany had a pretty good run in 1940, after all. One just has to make sure there's never going to be a 1944-45.

Shorter: there's a reason that France made a big deal about George Washington's conduct at the outset of the French and Indian War.

Seabastian:

You seem to be conflating moral authority and legal authority. Hypocrisy definitely takes away moral authoirty, but obviously not legal authority.

What Bruce Baugh said.

I think Greenwald, in a comment over at QandO, stated that his purpose in using such rhetoric is to fire up his side of the aisle and get them motivated.

I see some parallel to this OW thread. Come to think of it, I see a Powerline parallel. What extra leeway can rhetoric be afforded if it's simply "firing up the base"?

Slarti:

Others have already pointed out that you are just digging yourself into a deeper hole with your parsing of my post. But let me clarify anyway.

In the material I quoted, Greenwald referred to a host of abuses that are undercutting our moral authority, of which Powerline was only one example (and not that significant a one, in my opinion -- it assumes that the Powerline voice is broadly representative. I suspect it represents the thinking of a lot of administration supporters, but who knows.). Several of the abuses that he references have nothing to do with bloggers -- its the direct actions of the US government (torture, rendition, etc.) When I used the term "abuse," I was pretty clearly referring to the context in which Greenwald used it.

Ah. Well, not having read Greenwald's post, and given that you didn't quote any part of his post that mentioned Powerline, I was at a loss for an explanation.

I'm not parsing you; I'm reading exactly what you wrote. I'm just not reading what you didn't write.

And, again, what Powerline has to do with US moral authority is still not clear.

What extra leeway can rhetoric be afforded if it's simply "firing up the base"?

Zero. And it's never 'simple' -- if the rhetoric has the effect of demoralizing those whose agreement is required to effectuate the desired outcome, less-than-zero leeway.

As is Andrew's point here.

What extra leeway can rhetoric be afforded if it's simply "firing up the base"?

Absolutely none if the criticism being made of it is that it's immoral, or hateful, or in some way a wrong thing to say. Lots and lots if the criticism being made is, as it is here, that the rhetoric is unconvincing.

I'm not parsing you; I'm reading exactly what you wrote. I'm just not reading what you didn't write.

Amazing that everyone else understood the point.

Funnily enough, the objections tend to come from people who want me to read their minds and assume they meant what they didn't say.

Posted by: Jesurgislac | August 29, 2006 at 10:37 AM

Perfect! :)

Slarti, I don't know if you do this or not, but many people interested in how an organization is running look not just at the official proclamations, but at what the people with authority do as individuals, who they hang around with, so on. We do this to get social context - what are these folks like, anyway? The behavior of Powerline posters matters for this purpose in two ways.

First, Powerline in particular has received a great deal of attention, is known as a group of enthusiastic boosters of the administration, and has at least some actual face-to-face connections with people high up in the administration. When they write about things that there isn't much official decree about, it's a reasonable guess that the unpublished thoughts of the administration are somewhere close.

Second, the administration has a history of tapping its supporters for influential roles. The use of Heritage Foundation applicants in the Provisional Coalition Authority is the first one that comes to mind; there are plenty of others. As a group, vocal ideologues are a major pool of the folks who will be carrying out policy in the future. So by seeing what they're up to now, we have some foundation for speculating how future ventures will be seen by the people responsible for them.

I judge an individual mostly on what they have done and are doing, but I also try to form some sense of what they will do. Likewise with a group. A group whose leaders consistently keep bad company and show a willingness to pull people out of that company into power are discrediting themselves, for many of us, even if that's not how you personally do it.

"You seem to be conflating moral authority and legal authority. Hypocrisy definitely takes away moral authoirty, but obviously not legal authority."

I'm not though. Moral authority comes much more from the correctness of the "moral" than the perfection of the "authority". To take it take a step back from the US for a moment, one of the reasons why the USSR was able to inspire so many people even after its hypocrisy was rather apparent (1930s, and certainly by the 1950s) is that lots of people bought into the "moral" aim it allegedly represented. Even as late as the 1970s, the stated aims of the USSR gave it "authority" in (to me) a disturbing number of people's eyes--especially in the international community beyond the NATO countries.

So it seems to me that very much of the strength of moral authority comes from the intensity and acceptance level of the "moral" side of the equation.

Amazing that everyone else understood the point.

So, I'm slow on the uptake sometimes. Somebody's got to be in last place.

"First, Powerline in particular has received a great deal of attention, is known as a group of enthusiastic boosters of the administration, and has at least some actual face-to-face connections with people high up in the administration. When they write about things that there isn't much official decree about, it's a reasonable guess that the unpublished thoughts of the administration are somewhere close."

Powerline received a great deal of attention because it seized the moment provided by the fraudulent 60 Minutes documents and acted as a clearinghouse for information regarding the inconsistencies found in those documents. Before that, they were pretty much nobodies.

"Enthusiastic boosters of the administration" I'll give you.

"at least some actual face-to-face connections with people high up in the administration" is not as high a bar as you seem to think. I will admit that I have not met face-to-face with people high up in the administration, but well tens of thousands of people have. Politicians are especially well known for meeting people. It is likely that thousands of people have had face-to-face connections with Rumsfeld alone.

"When they write about things that there isn't much official decree about, it's a reasonable guess that the unpublished thoughts of the administration are somewhere close."

This doesn't follow. I fully believe that the Powerline bloggers wish that the things they write about were something like the unpublished thoughts of the administration. I wish that some of the things I wrote were the unpublished thoughts of the administration. Nevertheless, I'd be very surprised if even they believe that their writings are in fact close to the unpublished opinions of the administration.

The jump from "booster" to "met with some guys" to "secret diary of the administration" is just too far.

Andrew:

Your 11:17 am comment made your point better than your post, and thanks for adding it.

Since your intent in part was to critique rhetoric that gets in the way of the substantive point, let me echo Pinko above. You could have deleted the opening paragraph, and spared yourself the ick reaction to that rhetoric, which did get in the way of your point.

And I did see that your observation that you agreed with Greenwald's overall point -- I did not mean my comment to suggest otherwise. I noted after I posted it that my comment had that implication in its final paragraph (which unlike the rest of the comment, was intended to reference the bigger issue rather than your post). Sorry about that.

I don't know if you have read much of the commenting here or elsewhere regarding the troubled history of the US in killing journalists during the Iraq war. Greenwald would have written a better post by referencing that instead of nonsense from Powerline in referring to the erosion of moral authority.

I'm not going to try to change your mind, Sebastian. You asked what others were thinking about it, and I offered you one reading (my own, that I think others probably share in varying degrees). Now you can make of it what you will.

Grrngh.

ATTENTION SEBASTIAN AND SLARTI: I do know you're two different people. Honest. Sorry about the mixup.

"Greenwald would have written a better post by referencing that instead of nonsense from Powerline in referring to the erosion of moral authority."

Greenwald would have written a better post by referencing almost any administration position that he disagreed with rather than worrying so much about Powerline. It isn't like there is a shortage of such positions.

Sebastian,

"I will admit that I have not met face-to-face with people high up in the administration, but well tens of thousands of people have."

Which in a country of approx. 300 million, puts them in the top .01% of citizens as far as access to high adminsitration officials.

Greenwald would have written a better post by referencing almost any administration position that he disagreed with rather than worrying so much about Powerline.

But of course, he doesn't focus solely on Powerline. He mentions them. As typical of an attitude toward attacks on journalists. Also demonstrated by statements and actions of the US government. This kind of criticism is what makes liberals like me throw our hands in the air and think "You're just looking for excuses not to listen."

Sebastian wrote--

"In what may or may not be a side comment, I suspect that the idea that hypocrisy invalidates authority is a very American worldview--not a universal or near-universal human understanding."

I'm not sure I understand you here, but the way I interpret this statement it's wrong. (Notice that I'm not reading your mind or even claiming to have correctly interpreted the words in front of me. ) The Bible is full of examples where authority figures are called to account for not practicing what they preach. The criticism isn't necessarily aimed at what the authority figure says, but instead is aimed at the hypocrisy of people who don't practice the moral values they preach.

That's pretty much what the majority of lefties mean when we say the US lacks the moral authority to condemn terrorism. It's not that we think that immoral US actions mean that if the US condemns terrorism, terrorism is justified.

That said, there are some lefties who do condone terrorism, but they're in the minority. For example, there's Michael Neumann, a Canadian philosopher who shows up at Counterpunch from time to time, and there's a British philosopher Ted Honderich who both defend terrorist tactics on the grounds that Western societies employ strategic bombing and other ruthless tactics and that this is what war is all about and therefore all the talk about the evils of terrorism is just so much cant. But these guys are not very typical.

Honderich is, ironically enough, a defender of both Zionism and suicide bombing tactics by the Palestinians. You don't find too many people like this in any political circle I know.

I wasn't really thinking of the Bible, I was more thinking about Confucianism--which leads to very complicated, and to Western eyes contradictory, views about the relationships between right behavior and authority. (Gross simplification--Confucianism is very respectful of authority. Even though its mandate comes from ritualized morality, the lack of said morality does not significantly decrease the need for obedience).

Biblical concepts are difficult to apply to non-religious authority structures, because they often depend upon an appeal to a higher authority figure. Also, the Bible is deeply about man's inability to avoid hypocrisy.

Hinduism has a fascinatingly complex relationship with hypocrisy. So far as I can tell, governments influenced by Hinduism tend to be very tough on government corruption--especially bribery, but that isn't the kind of moral misdeed we are talking about. Many other misdeeds tend to get explained away by the cruelties of karma without necessarily calling into question anyone's authority.

It's possible my counterexample proves your point then--possibly Western societies put a lot of stress on the evils of hypocrisy, presumably in part because of the influence of the Bible.

I don't know enough about other religions to make any comment. Not that I would always let this stop me.

It's possible my counterexample proves your point then--possibly Western societies put a lot of stress on the evils of hypocrisy, presumably in part because of the influence of the Bible.

It's also, IMO, at the core of the difference between a shame-based culture and a guilt-based culture.

Sebastian seems to be suggesting that morality and ethics are relative to culture.

Since he views American’s (or Westerners) as moral superiors, their misdeeds are, some how better, or at least justifiable. However, non-Western societies are moral inferiors, so their misdeeds are obviously evil and wicked.

Moral authority comes much more from the correctness of the "moral" than the perfection of the "authority".

I am trying to understand your point -- it seems you have a different meaning for "moral authority" than what I think is its common usage. I would define it as follows: in a situation calling for moral judgment when it is not already crystal clear what should be done, those with a past track record of standing for and acting on principles that others find admirable have "moral authority," and with regard to the new dilemma at hand, others are likely to follow the example of the one with such moral authority.

In other words, most people frequently do "what is right" by following the examples of those they trust to get it right. Nothing wrong with that -- it's just human nature, and not a bad thing so long as we trust those whose moral compasses point true. Hence, hypocritical behavior besmirches the reputation of those with moral authority under this definition.

I recognize that this is a relative definition of moral authority rather than one based on absolute principles -- but I think its the common usage.

As for your USSR example, I would ascribe that to the unwillingness of people to change their minds about something, and will reinterpet events to avoid the dissonance. It really doesn't have much to do with moral authority -- just proof that sometimes an extraordinary degree of hypocritical behavior must occur before some people will finally wake up.

Kind of like Powerline and its nonsensical praise of Bush.

"Sebastian seems to be suggesting that morality and ethics are relative to culture.

Since he views American’s (or Westerners) as moral superiors, their misdeeds are, some how better, or at least justifiable. However, non-Western societies are moral inferiors, so their misdeeds are obviously evil and wicked."

There are a bunch of things here, and I didn't think I was arguing for any of them.

Relative ethics and morality. I'm not arguing for relative morality. I'm not sure questions of hypocrisy belong in the field of ethics. If I were classifying it de novo I suspect I would put hypocrisy in meta-ethics (hypocrisy is about the difference between professing to believe a moral code and acting on the moral code). I wouldn't at all be surprised that different cultures treat hypocrisy differently. I haven't formed a firm opinion on the best way to deal with hypocrisy, so if I favor our culture's response to hypocrisy I do so only slightly.

I'm not really sure what "moral superiors" means in your context. If it helps, I strongly believe in the fallibility of human nature and culture. I believe that there is an ultimate moral code, but that no one culture has properly discovered it. So I fully expect each culture to be right in some areas and wrong in others. Are some cultures right in more areas than others? Probably.

What this has to do with how I justify misdeeds of some cultures vs. the misdeeds of other cultures is mysterious in the context of this discussion. But I will affirm that I do not personally see all misdeeds as equally deserving of condemnation (kidnapping and raping a young girl isn't equivalent to jaywalking for example).

"I would define it as follows: in a situation calling for moral judgment when it is not already crystal clear what should be done, those with a past track record of standing for and acting on principles that others find admirable have "moral authority," and with regard to the new dilemma at hand, others are likely to follow the example of the one with such moral authority."

So do you see moral authority as a function of persuasiveness--as in "appeal to authority"? If so, can this really be a function of cultures or countries rather than individuals?

I wonder what "moral authority" means in regard to nations. I can sort of understand people who're ready to follow the lead of their pastor or guru or whatever, but to what extent are people, nations, etc., looking to the leaders of the United States for guidance in how they behave?

I can see how the US has functioned as a symbol of freedom for the people of other nations, and I understand how that can be tarnished by its bad deeds, but that seems to be not the same thing as moral authority.

Seabstian:

So do you see moral authority as a function of persuasiveness--as in "appeal to authority"? If so, can this really be a function of cultures or countries rather than individuals?

No. Your question seems to assume that at the moment of moral dilemma, one starts with a clean slate and waits to be persuaded by competing articulations of moral reasoning by "authorities." That almost never happens.

I assume that "moral authority" perhaps can mean someone highly knowledgeable about moral issues and is therefore an "authority," but I doubt that the phrase is used much with that meaning being the intention. Certainly that is not how Greenwald is using it in the referenced post.

Cultures and nations have generalized creeds associated with them, and can definitely reflect some form of moral authority. For the US -- how about the Constitution and the rule of law, the Declaration of Independence and inalienable rights, etc.? It is this package of ideas, specific and general, that comprise the moral authority of the US to date.

I would also add a practical American value, referenced above by Bruce Baugh, which stands in contrast to "my country, right or wrong" -- that is, "my country, love it when its right, right it when its wrong."

Others who live in cultures still struggling to act on these principles have seen the US as a moral authority because of its past history in promoting these values.

I have to admit, I'm baffled by this argument about the existence of moral authority/power/mana/hummana/whateverthehell. I thought that it was a relatively widely accepted notion among people who supported the invasion of Iraq (and something that people who were against it always had to argue against) was that we were 'bringing democracy' and 'American Values' to the Middle East. How those values were going to be accepted if they weren't presented as being superior (and a logical outgrowth of the direction of history, if one remembers their Fukuyama), I don't know, but when we start talking about moral authority, we are now told, well, not sure if that really exists. Now, I realize that Sebastian has nuanced views about the war, but to argue that this doesn't exist is a bit like getting losing your queen in a game of chess and then invoking a little known rule that after the 35th move, the queen can only move one square at a time.

I'd say that's something you really ought to take up with Fukuyama, lj, although it's possible that Sebastian has cited him and I've missed it.

No, it is merely providing background. It's a bit hard to follow, I know, but the assertion is something about questioning if moral authority exists, which seems to be floating around between you and Sebastian. As far as I can see, neither of you has cited anyone, except Sebastian noting Confucius, so I thought that by giving Fukuyama, I might be providing the basis for some discussion. I realize that you didn't read the actual Greenwald article that was what was under discussion here (and that's your right), but if I have to wait until someone cites someone else before they can be brought into the discussion, that seems a bit arid.

I realize that you didn't read the actual Greenwald article that was what was under discussion here

As of now, I have.

I'm not saying that there's no such thing as moral authority by its meaning-via-usage, just to be clear, just that its meaning-via-usage doesn't really fit the choice of words all that well.

And given that this is really my point of view, and not based on the writings of others, I don't feel compelled to search out supporting cites. Not saying it's original, just that it's not derived from anything specific.

The American willingness to kill tens-of-thousands of people to bring American values to another culture seems to be drenched in a moral superiority.

lj- I get what you were saying and I agree. Having lost us our moral authority the right naturally wants to pretend there is no such thing.

I had no idea I was the right. Amazing what you learn on blogs.

I'm not saying that there's no such thing as moral authority by its meaning-via-usage, just to be clear, just that its meaning-via-usage doesn't really fit the choice of words all that well.

Well, I believe something has been damaged, and I'm struggling to find a word that might be acknowledged as the thing in question. Frank puts my point rather sharply, and I don't want to be accused of inferring a position to anyone, so if you aren't pretending that we haven't lost [bung in term here], what is the discussion about?

:) I didn't say only the right would deny the existence of moral authority, but I'm not surprised to find Slarti identifying himself as (on) the right.

LJ (and Frank), I really think you guys are reading way too much into these comments. The question is not whether the US has lost anything or not, but whether "moral authority" is a good term for what that something is, as opposed to simply "credibility" or something like that. "Moral authority" is a phrase that's thrown around a lot, especially re the US, without anyone really explaining exactly what they mean by it. Interestingly, no one ever seems to gain it -- everyone's always losing it.

kenb- When exactly did the existance of moral authority become "the" issue?

Frank, what do you mean by "the issue"? The conversation started with the comment from Sebastian, August 29, 2006 at 10:47 AM: I've always thought that the common use of the word 'authority' in this context was very odd....

Where in his comment do you see anything attempting to absolve the US of anything? It's just a language question, along with a cultural observation. But because it was posted by a conservative, of course there must be a nefarious subtext to it.


kenb- In your 01:47 PM posting you seem to be trying to move the goalposts. If you aren't claiming the US hasn't lost anything, then why are you quibbling about the standard term? Even if I agreed that, say "reputation for integrity" was a better term all of us together couldn't change it.

And it would still be something you could lose in an instant, but need years to build.

kenb,
Sorry about being bloody-minded, but it seems that this "moral authority" was invoked when we were told that we had to go into Iraq because Saddam was a really really bad guy, and the UN was so bereft of, well, the aforementioned stuff, so it seems very curious that we are now told that this ineffable essence is now a will o wisp, or the artifact of a different cultural viewpoint. Things that can't be named are, the discussion seems to suggest (and I am having a hard time sorting out the difference between Sebastian and Slarti's thoughts on this) are things that can't be very important. Perhaps it is just as lb suggests in her 11:09, but over at HoCB, Slarti has expressed his distaste for Greenwald, so I'm wondering if there is any word that Greenwald could have used that would not have invoked such an observation.

"but it seems that this "moral authority" was invoked when we were told that we had to go into Iraq because Saddam was a really really bad guy, and the UN was so bereft of, well, the aforementioned stuff, so it seems very curious that we are now told that this ineffable essence is now a will o wisp, or the artifact of a different cultural viewpoint. "

How much of a moral authority to you have to be to notice that Saddam was a really really bad guy? It would be like noticing that genocide is taking place in the Sudan.

Ahem.

I think, Sebastian, the moral authority spoken of accumulates or declines from the action one takes on the Darfurs of the world.

In a perhaps related point, I've noticed very very few RW blogs seem to mention Darfur anymore.

How much of a moral authority to you have to be to notice that Saddam was a really really bad guy?

Not much.

How much of a moral authority do you have to be -- or should you have to be -- in order to oust such a "really really bad guy" by force?

I'm not trying to move any goalposts. I'm not even trying to play the game at all. I was part of an interesting discussion group a year ago regarding the question of "moral authority" and what people mean by it, and so I found Sebastian's comment intriguing and thought I'd contribute. But I'm not inclined to make that mistake again anytime soon.

kenb- Now I feel like a shmuck, sorry.

Well, you don't need to feel like a shmuck, I was being a little melodramatic there at the end. But I do think this would be a happier place if we didn't assume the worst about other people's comments.

Sebastian: How much of a moral authority to you have to be to notice that Saddam was a really really bad guy?

Not a lot, really. Just more of a moral authority than the US under President Reagan. Reagan, after all, never noticed that Saddam was a really really bad guy. Nor did Rumsfeld. Nor indeed did the first President Bush, not until Saddam made peace with Iran and invaded Kuwait.

Also, it helps - when trying to condemn a really really bad guy for (for example) committing torture - not to promptly reopen his prisons, arrest people without any process, and have your guards commit torture, rape, and murder.

The level of moral authority needed to be able to condemn Saddam Hussein as a really really bad guy never was that high. Interesting, isn't it, that of the last four US Presidents, one never noticed that Saddam was that bad of a guy, and one wasn't in a position to get on a moral high horse even about Saddam Hussein, well before he decided definitely to invade Iraq (taking the Downing Street memo that the decision was made sometime in mid-2002).

How much of a moral authority to you have to be to notice that Saddam was a really really bad guy? It would be like noticing that genocide is taking place in the Sudan.

Invoking the notion that you previously suggested is an artifact of looking at the world thru the lens of American culture suggests that this was just snark with no serious point. Apologies for taking it the wrong way

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