Token Dissonance

Black & gay, young & conservative. A Southern gentleman writes about life and politics after Yale


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The Prisoner of War Games

“And when we act, we create our own reality. And while you’re studying that reality—judiciously, as you will—we’ll act again, creating other new realities, which you can study too, and that’s how things will sort out.”  –Somebody in the Media

"And that the truth is: Bergdahl was a deserter, and soldiers from his own unit died trying to track him down." –Nathan Bradley Bethea

“And that the truth is: Bergdahl was a deserter, and soldiers from his own unit died trying to track him down.” –Nathan Bradley Bethea

As I’ve noted before, I periodically watch MSNBC to keep up with the rote dissembling of our friends across the political aisle. Although I know I shouldn’t be surprised by the predictably biased inanity of cable news (by no means limited to the “Lean Forward” crowd), it still astounds me to be wandering in an alternate universe, where grounded perspective—let alone a reasonably honest presentation of the facts—is more like a demon to be exorcised than a standard to be pursued.

So it was in last night’s performances of Rachel Maddow and Ari Melber (filling in for Lawrence O’Donnell) on the supposed right-wing partisanship surrounding the criticism of Bowe Bergdahl.

Maddow kicked off, in her usual smugly protracted historicism, with a surreal attempt to compare Bergdahl to, of all people, Iraq War veteran (and former POW) Jessica Lynch. She concluded with the not-really-subtle suggestion that critics of Bergdahl had so poisoned the well that the military might be incapable of giving him a fair trial—a claim that Democratic Rep. Patrick Murphy, an Iraq War veteran, seemed compelled to awkwardly rebuff. Not an hour later, Melber doubled down on the notion that Republicans were seeking any means they could find to attack President Obama and politicize what should be a noble and celebrated occasion—the return of an American POW.

Contrary to this chicanery, one might expect most reasonable people to see an obvious difference between the capture of a dutiful soldier whose convoy was ambushed after a few wrong turns (Lynch) and the apprehension of a negligent soldier who, by the Army’s own reckoning, voluntarily and deliberately abandoned his post in the dead of night (Bergdahl). Did I mention that the Pentagon did not even classify Bergdahl as a POW for the bulk of his captivity?

Reasonable people might also distinguish easily between Lynch admirably correcting the media-fabricated account of her Rambo-style heroics and Bergdahl contributing to the deaths of at least half a dozen Americans in the vain attempt to retrieve him from a fate he indisputably brought upon himself. But Rachel Maddow and Ari Melber are evidently not aiming to engage with or fairly convey the motives of reasonable people.

There is no halfway decent argument that Jessica Lynch did not deserve to be honorably discharged after her service in Iraq. Thus her service was noted, even if it turned out not to be as flashy and Hollywood-ready as the media (against her will) had led us to believe. By contrast, the notion that Bergdahl should be so honored offends a great many of the warriors who wear the uniform and keep their sacred oaths to our country. Suffering does not confer righteousness, any more than falling victim to one’s own iniquity makes one a hero—especially when it gets heroes killed.

In truth, and this bears repeating, the loudly disgruntled voices criticizing the alleged deserter are not right-wing hacks but the very soldiers who served alongside Bergdahl and risked their lives searching for him in a place where older maps would warn, “Here be dragons.” The original critics are the soldiers who watched their brothers-in-arms die preventable deaths in ambushes made possible by the adjustments required to search for a man who voluntarily abandoned his post, his country, and the lives of his unit.

In fact, the notion that Bergdahl might be some sort of “Manchurian Candidate” if he ever returned home was raised in the furthest of the far Left Think Progress back before liberals predictably closed ranks, once again, around something associated with Obama:

“I’m also curious about how audiences will respond to a Manchurian Candidate-style story about a prisoner in our current wars… I’d be curious to see what the reception would be for Bowe Bergdahl, who has been a Taliban prisoner of war since 2009, if he ever makes it home.

[…]

Would the high regard in which the country holds the military mean that we aren’t willing to consider the possibility of a brainwashed prisoner of war? Or would our security concerns make us more likely to consider it?”

All that said, it is certainly reasonable to note and defend the unyielding American dedication to returning all those who wear the uniform to American soil. There were and are people on the Right—and in the military—who (understandably) questioned the discernment of releasing almost as many dangerous terrorists as were killed looking for the potentially treacherous Bergdahl in the first place. It is worthwhile to reaffirm the U.S. commitment to dutifully returning all soldiers home, as General Martin Dempsey, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, pointedly did on his Facebook account. But that is not what the chattering armchair patriots of MSNBC were doing last night.

Instead, the talking heads impugned the motives of those with the gall to give voice to indignant troops and dissimulated even on the blatantly false notion that nobody had questioned the wisdom of exchanging high-level Taliban for Bergdahl or the policy of expending resources to chase deserters—which supposed hypocrisy and political opportunism was particularly hyped by Melber and the similarly tendentious Think Progress—the liberals get it wrong. The New York Times noted that the idea of a prisoner swap drew bipartisan criticism back in 2012:

“Until now, the administration has said publicly only that the negotiations included talks about releasing the five prisoners from Guantánamo to the custody of the government in Qatar — which some Democrats and Republicans in Congress have opposed — and not that the five might be exchanged for Sergeant Bergdahl.”

The Republican officials, like John McCain, that Melber and Think Progress (along with Media Matters) specifically single out never questioned the principle of retrieving a captured U.S. solider, they merely continued this years-old bipartisan skepticism of trading high-level Taliban prisoners to achieve that goal. McCain, for example, made clear back in February—in that very Anderson Cooper interview the hacks find inexplicably damning—that the details of any potential prisoner exchange would be critical to determining his support (my emphasis):

“COOPER: Would you oppose the idea of some form of negotiations or prisoner exchange? I know back in 2012 you called the idea of even negotiating with the Taliban bizarre, highly questionable.

MCCAIN: Well, at that time the proposal was that they would release — Taliban, some of them really hard-core, particularly five really hard-core Taliban leaders, as a confidence- building measure. Now this idea is for an exchange of prisoners for our American fighting man. I would be inclined to support such a thing depending on a lot of the details.”

Note the Senator’s (and former POW) consistent opposition to the release of five “hardest of the hardcore” high-level Taliban leaders. It takes a certain kind of meretricious reasoning to twist a position so straightforward, whether one agrees with it or not, into something else entirely—all for political gain. But on the subject of inconsistency on this prisoner swap, it is curious that these righteous liberals neglected to mention the sudden backpedaling of support from Senate Democrats like Claire McCaskill. Even progressive stalwarts like Sens. Elizabeth Warren, Amy Klobuchar, and Chris Coons refused to call the swap a good deal. Not that the pundits of the Left feel you need to know such things.

Of course, the duplicity did not stop there; Melber’s segment further included The Atlantic’s Washington editor Steve Clemons making the priceless claim that Congress was adequately consulted on the prisoner swaps before they occurred. Those of us in the real world know that such consultation—or even a polite briefing—never happened. This fact is verified by such arch-conservative knaves as Senate Intelligence Committee Chairwoman Diane Feinstein, House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi, and former Intelligence Committee Chairman Jay Rockefeller. Instead, when the matter was discussed between lawmakers and the administration years ago, Politico notes that “Republicans objected to any such deal for Bergdahl, fearing it could lead to more kidnappings of U.S. soldiers and Marines in Afghanistan.”

But what of all that? There are Republicans to bash! (For an idea of what a profoundly less warped telling of the Bergdahl saga might look like, the U.K.’s Telegraph offers a helpful example.)

I will not sink to the level of these Acela pundits by impugning the motives or wondering aloud about the aggressive ideological agenda of Maddow, Melber, or likeminded hacks. But I will note that they do their countrymen and the military they claim to honor a disservice by the deranged partisanship with which they contrive to weave a tale of malice and slander with the threads of legitimate objections.

To the extent that there are liberals (and some conservatives) behaving so deplorably, we should be thankful, perhaps, that not so many Americans trust the media all that much anyway.

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Wars of the Magnolias

Update: This post was adapted by The Daily Caller. You can find that article here.

“The bias of the mainstream media is toward sensationalism, conflict, and laziness.” –Jon Stewart

Courtesy of a softer world

The media will pretend to be fair and reasonable if we pretend to believe them.

Back in early May, the infamous ink-butcher George R. R. Martin submitted to an interview with Davie Itzkoff at The New York Times. There had been a public uproar over a rape scene in a recent episode of HBO’s Game of Thrones. Many in the fandom wanted desperately to know why such a compelling story as that of the characters of Westeros needed to be written in the free-flowing blood of continual atrocities. This (abridged) exchange followed:

Q. Some critics of the books have said that even if such scenes are meant to illustrate that the world of Westeros is often a dark and depraved place, there is an overreliance on these moments over the course of the novels, and at a certain point they are no longer shocking and become titillating. How do you respond to this criticism?

A. […]The atrocities in “A Song of Ice and Fire,” sexual and otherwise, pale in comparison to what can be found in any good history book.As for the criticism that some of the scenes of sexual violence are titillating, to me that says more about these critics than about my books. Maybe they found certain scenes titillating. Most of my readers, I suspect, read them as intended.

Alas, this post is not about the fictional intrigues of Westeros, but rather the real pathologies of the American politico-media complex. The setting is Mississippi, where a close and combative U.S. Senate primary had once been a test of rival philosophies of the Republican vision of government. Is the occupant of that contested seat supposed to bring home the bacon, see: incumbent Thad Cochran, or abide by Mississippi voters’ desire to limit government and promote economic freedom, see: challenger Chris McDaniel?

But that was before the media discovered its latest dark and depraved place for political titillation: the contemptible violation of Rose Cochran’s privacy by a plot of deranged hacks who happen to support McDaniel.

McDaniel and his campaign have denied any involvement in the crime. Given the predictability of the subsequent firestorm, it hardly strains credulity that any statewide candidate with sufficient intellectual acuity to be executed in Florida would have never sanctioned such hapless grotesquerie. More the point, no charges have been filed or suggested against McDaniel. Of course, police are investigating all conceivable possibilities, whatever their actual merits, but reasonable people don’t usually jump to conclusions because a cop won’t “clear” anybody publicly before an investigation is concluded.

If we opt not to be vapid, the lack of any compelling evidence against McDaniel in the Cochran scandal is much less incriminating, newsworthy, or even interesting than former Senate Leader Trent Lott (R-Miss.) trying to name a courthouse he had built with $100 million of his constituents’ money after Thad Cochran (whom Lott endorsed for a seventh six-year term) instead of one of Mississippi’s first black lawyers. If Morning Joe Scarborough (R-Latte) and other Very Serious People in the media were less vapid, they might even note that Cochran, who was first elected when my parents were toddlers, has had more government structures named after him than any other sitting member of Congress.  (By the way, I’m no expert in congressional naming etiquette, but isn’t getting your name put on multiple courthouses a tad greedy?) What a thoughtful use of our generously earmarked tax dollars!

At this point, even moderately responsible reporters might call into question Thad Cochran’s purported devotion to fiscal conservatism. The more inquisitive might additionally question Cochran’s interest in the people he was elected to serve. After all, the senior Senator spent half as much time in Mississippi as fellow Sen. Roger Wicker, yet used $35 million more taxpayer dollars doing it. How’s that for getting less for more?

If, despite all these more relevant or insightful topics, we feel compelled to dwell on the Cochran scandal, the media might at least wonder aloud—between all the inane musing about McDaniel’s invisible knavery—about Sen. Cochran. It is curious, after all, that the Senator has benefited immensely from exploiting a crime against his wife and is now avoiding the media.

Many of the insinuations against McDaniel, like from Morning Joe Scarborough (R-Latte), follow along the lines of this phrasing from Christian Science Monitor:

“Though no one publicly suggested McDaniel was behind the video, Mr. Kelly is a strong McDaniel supporter and there are pictures on social media of him and McDaniel together. In the early hours after the story broke, the McDaniel campaign also gave conflicting signals about how much it knew about the video and when.”

Or this one from MSNBC:

“Then things got worse: three more people were arrested on Thursday in connection with the break-in, including a state tea party leader with longstanding ties to McDaniel and an activist who had, according to The Clarion-Ledger, regularly co-hosted a radio show with McDaniel.

A lone blogger was bad enough, but suddenly law enforcement authorities were alleging a conspiracy that included prominent conservatives who knew McDaniel personally.”

It is certainly noteworthy that associates or supporters of McDaniel’s have been arrested for a serious crime. That fact is hardly any excuse, however, for implying without evidence that McDaniel must have been involved in something simply because his supporters were.

For perspective, Cochran’s close aide Kay Webber hosted at least two Democratic fundraisers  in her house in 2006 and 2008, when Republicans were skewered at the polls. Given that Cochran has long employed and traveled with Ms. Webber (on taxpayer dime) while also living in her house, where Democrats schemed to retake Congress and the presidency from the Party that Webber works for, there is an arguably stronger link between Cochran and Barack Obama’s Democratic Party than anyone has shown between McDaniel and the crime against Mrs. Cochran. If we’re casting aspersions on candidates because of their supporters, surely this story will break into a major scandal any day now.

I won’t hold my breath.

Perhaps at some point, somebody might remember that this U.S. Senate contest involves meaningfully distinct candidates with agendas and priorities that will influence national politics. But of course, that would involve substantively engaging the two candidates on their merits, and the punditocracy has little interest in such encumbrances as balanced reporting. Especially not when the narrative of every the day is embarrassing conservatives.

We shouldn’t be surprised; the internecine wrangling of a restlessly acephalous Republican Party is primarily old news in the Acela Corridor by now. Depending on your view, the “civil war” is over, and the media-preferred Establishment won—or else the fiscal conservative assimilation of the Establishment is more or less accomplished—and, anyway, how many different ways can lazy media hype the same “GOP implosion” storyline while doggedly eliding the philosophical merits of any candidate?

If we must take anything from this saga as conservatives—beyond, “Don’t be stupid”—it is a simple truth we’ve known all along: the media disdains and undermines conservatives, and it’s useless to whine about it.  I don’t know how the Mississippi race will end, but going forward, conservatives had better build and maintain a more functional outreach strategy than pleading or waiting idly for fairness from biased elites who have no interest in truly engaging the project of economic liberty and limited government. Among other things, that’s how we lose.


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Winners & Losers

“The problem with socialism is that eventually you run out of other people’s money.” –Margaret Thatcher

But I'll settle for laws that ruin yours instead.  Somebody wins!

But I’ll settle for laws that ruin yours instead. Everybody wins (except you)!

If you’ve read This Town or one of its many reviews, or—heaven help you—you live inside the Capital Beltway, you’re comically and/or intimately familiar with the ethanol-rich flow of our capital’s lifeblood: the parties (here defined as social gatherings lubricated with intoxicating refreshments). We throw them for any and every possible occasion—holidays, birthdays, Thursdays, candidate debates, vote counts, the State of the Union, the Response to the State of the Union, federal government shutdowns, federal government re-openings, days that aren’t Thursday, etc. I’ve been to many an event that started because somebody found a bottle of wine in or around the fridge. (Protip: There is always a bottle of wine or spirits in the vicinity of a D.C. fridge.)

A recurring topic at recent parties has been the incredible rollout of Obamacare, which has been so remarkable as to warrant a mellifluous shout out from none other than Brad Paisley (a recurring feature in Obama’s White House) and Carrie Underwood at the Country Music Awards. Beyond the usual allegations of racism against anybody who criticizes anything Democrat-related, one of the recurring themes of reaction to the unaffordability of the Affordable healthcare has been to impugn the intelligence, morality, or priorities of those complaining about losing their plans.

One element of this approach is the classic Nanny-State offense: people are upset because they don’t know what’s good for them. President Obama pioneered this argument in early attempts to retcon “context” into his lie malleable promise that we could keep our health plans if we wanted them. The New York Times (D-Acela) caught the Hail Mary and ran with it, backed up by other liberal media. A number of my liberal friends have taken up this talking point by, among other things, somewhat-rhetorically asking what government-determined minimum provisions our pre-Obamacare plans lack. (They have generally avoided the awkward fact that many of these “better” plans actually offer worse coverage.)

The obvious rejoinder to this contemptible rebuke is that we dissatisfied taxpayers are grown men and women who are perfectly capable of deciding whether or not our current health plans suit our needs for prices we’re willing to pay. Nobody feels sorry for millionaires like Dylan Ratigan having to pay a few thousand dollars more for anything. Reasonable people do take umbrage at the idea of 60-year-old women paying out the nose for worse care they didn’t want. If I happen to be wrong about that, I eagerly await the Escalating Costs Affordable Household Act, in which the government will let us keep kick us out of our cars and houses because they don’t have 360-degree cameras or come with income-determined subsidized children cared for by live-in vegan housekeepers provided by the IRS.

A second element is one championed with didactic persistence by the likes of Greg Sargent, Ezra Klein, and other liberals: lots of not-remotely-rich people have to pay profoundly more for (worse) coverage because it helps the poor and elderly, and that’s worth the inconvenience suffered by those who were promised no inconvenience. When I bemoaned the fact that the cheapest ACA-compliant plan my insurer could offer me—a very not-rich twentysomething just a couple years out of college—would nearly double my premiums and hike up my deductibles (while offering me “benefits” I could never use), a number of my liberal friends echoed pro-ACA media in talking up the reasons why the higher costs for people like our friends (of all and no political persuasions) and me were necessary.

The rejoinder here became obvious through a question I publicly asked one of the defenders: “Are you paying for your own healthcare?” The answer, if it isn’t predictable, was: No.

And there’s the rub.

Many fine soliloquys and ostensibly thoughtful discussions of the many sacrificing for the few, the “better-off” investing in the “worse-off,” the “haves” doing their duty by the “have-nots” spring from the mouths and fingers of people who will not themselves have to sacrifice anything. It’s all well and good for New York Times editors, Washington Post columnists, MSNBC program hosts, or young liberals on plans provided by large employers (whose mandate was delayed) or their parents to wax poetic about the need to appreciate the “success stories” of Obamacare and accept the “tradeoffs” of the beleaguered middle as a regrettable price for progress because they—liberal professionals and professional liberals—are not (yet) paying that price.

It’s great that the president finally apologized for making losers out of millions of people through his not-so-Affordable Care Act and lying about it. But his contrition, even if sincere, is not terribly reassuring. It will not resolve the financial struggles to which he has consigned us “losers,” nor does it even suggest a commitment to concrete reforms that will alleviate the price the professional Left knows only in allegory. The liberal, pro-Obamacare people who are paying that price are largely shocked and appalled, as I noted in an earlier post.

Perhaps those liberal “losers” will now appreciate the tongue-in-cheek descriptor on my friend Ryan Fazio’s Twitter account: “One day I hope I’m rich enough to be a Democrat.”

Unfortunately for us, most of the government is run by people who are more than rich enough to be Democrats or more than well enough connected to avoid the consequences of Democratic “tradeoffs.” And unfortunately for us, those people still think they know better than us about what we need to know—or be lied to about—and what we need to have (or not have). Hence, we should read reports like the recent one in the New York Times with a heavy dose of cynicism:

“Senator Mary L. Landrieu, Democrat of Louisiana, introduced legislation this week to force insurance companies to reissue the health plans they have been canceling by the thousands. And officials in several states have sought assurances from insurance companies that people will not be dropped until the federal health insurance website is working.

The president did not endorse those specific efforts and did not elaborate on how he intended to help people who were faced with paying higher premiums for a new insurance plan. Mr. Obama said the White House was looking at a “range of options” to help people whose policies had been canceled.”

Not to put too fine a point on it, but the best way to help people keep the coverage they want is to let people keep the coverage they want.

But it is unlikely the administration has any intention of allowing a proposal like Landrieu’s to become law since it would undermine the entire structure of the law. For this reason, as Avik Roy observes, “President Obama didn’t express any regret for the policies that caused people to lose their existing coverage.” To the contrary, as Roy explains in detail, Obama continued to lie about the effects of his signature law even while apologizing for those effects. The administration knew back in 2010 that number of people losing plans would be closer to $93 million (quite probably more) than “5 percent of the population.” The very design of the law ensures that mandated options for most people will be more expensive. And, perhaps most damningly, the aforementioned Nanny-State offense to protect people from their own autonomy has been the public position of the administration for years.

It is to this very Nanny-State offense—and to those who defend the law by rightfully attacking the previous awful healthcare regime—that Roy offers a succinct summation of the core problem with Obamacare as intended, passed, and effected against the Middle America:

“Any serious health reform program—left, right, or center—would involve some disruption of our existing health-coverage arrangements. What makes Obamacare such a deeply flawed piece of work is not that it disrupts our existing arrangements, but that it disrupts those arrangements by forcing people to buy costlier coverage.

And not only does Obamacare force people to buy costlier coverage, it most significantly punishes a population that is already disadvantaged in our current system: people of average income who buy coverage on their own, and don’t benefit from the heavy subsidies enjoyed by people with government- or employer-sponsored insurance.”

If I may state the obvious: the Affordable Care Act would never have passed in the first place if Democrats and the media were honest about these cancellations in 2009. If they had presented the “tradeoffs” for Obamacare’s winners and losers clearly and intelligibly, Democrats might have been forced to pursue more conservative, market-oriented proposals of the sort Republicans had been advocating at the time. But Obamacare’s proponents opted for misdirection, the law passed over prescient objections, and so here we are.

When the chips are down, and it comes to choosing between us and the healthcare law, the progressives in our government and their enablers in the media have made their choice abundantly clear: the law won.