Beyond the ledge

ext-objectEvery so often, one catches a glimpse of the distance we’ve fallen…a look up at the cliff edge now far above us which we took for granted that we would never stray over in times past.  Back then, to have done so would have been considered criminal, unconscionable, foolish – and yet here we are, far below, blissfully taking the ride down.  And of course it’s a truism that when one is on a ride, very, very few people actually look backward at where they’ve come from – which is one of the main reasons why the driver for this particular ride sought to take people that way in the first place.  The glimpses back don’t come as grand revelations; they don’t come with fanfare to call our attention to them.  In fact, they’re counter to what’s intended.  (What’s one of Barack Obama’s favorite mantras, practically repeated to the point of hypnotism?  “We must look forward, not back!”  It sounds very much as if President Obama has something he “just wants to get behind him”.)  These glimpses are almost accidental, slipped in as a matter of fact – a fact which was unthinkable back on the edge above.

Here’s an example from The Diane Rehm Show on NPR last Friday.  Katty Kay of the BBC was Diane’s guest host, and was conducting the “Friday News Roundup”, a typical MSM construct to highlight to the people what is of interest to politicians and other elites.  John Brennan, one of those elites, is currently in nomination to become the new Director of Central Intelligence, and the discussion of that prompted an email from a listener, which Kay turns over to Manu Raju of Politico and Ruth Marcus of the WaPo:

Okay, we have an email here, which I think is interesting, from Dawn, who writes to us, “Brennan couldn’t get confirmed in 2009. Why is he considered so much less toxic now?” What has shifted, Manu?

You know, I think there’s — the Democrats have 55 senators in their caucus. The Republicans are, you know — though it’s difficult to block a nominee for such an important national security post, particularly one who doesn’t really have a smoking gun in his portfolio, it’ll be hard to block him. I think you all can expect a fair amount of Republicans who’ll support him especially the hawkish Republicans who do support a lot of the tougher policies including the drone policy that the Obama administration is taking.


Well, Brennan, as I recall, was not formally nominated four years ago, and it was because, really, the feelings and the emotions about issues like torture were so much more raw back then, and it had to do with his service during Bush administration and the degree to which he was implicated in, questions like water boarding.

And so the issues that he had during — four years ago were issues of criticism from the left and the degree to which the president, having been elected on issues like closing Guantanamo, stopping torture, releasing torture memos, wanted to sort of muck things up with his base by promoting Brennan. And so he kept Brennan in-house, if you will, at the White House.  And so I think after four years of Obama, some of those — I mean, obviously with things like “Zero Dark Thirty,” the torture debate has been revived, and it’s still obviously a very emotional debate. But some of that has dissipated after four years of Obama versus Bush. And so that’s allowed the Brennan nomination to go forward.

Okay. And Kevin writes to us from New Mexico…

Now this is the point where I screamed at my car radio and nearly drove into something solid, which, yes, says something about me, I suppose.  I can only justify it by saying that as opposed to those operating the discussion, I’d just had a horrifying glimpse of that ledge, and an unmistakable realization of which side of it that I – we – were now on.

Allow me to illustrate this by translating this discussion from the bland discursive style of NPR to something a bit more direct:

“So, Obama’s gone with a guy for DCI who was known to be a lying, pro-torture swine and completely toxic because of it back four years ago.  So, what, someone else took the fall in between then and now?”

“Oh, heavens no, this is Washington, dear listener!  The Dems have the numbers to nominate whomever they want, and Republicans are all basically pro-torture anyway, so no biggie there.”

“Yes, you see, being against torture is soooooooo 2009, darling.  Our Dear Leader had to worry about that back then, but since his voters decided that the problem with the Bush administration torturing people was the ‘Bush’ part, it’s back to being fair game.  He just kept Brennan right by his side in the White House until it all blew over and everyone just looked the other way like good little Democrats and voted how they were told.  So what if Brennan lied in the meantime about silly little things like bin Laden using human shields, or drone strikes never claiming any collateral victims?  Only those terrible extremist leftists pay attention to such things!”

“Oh, too true, dear.  Now, here’s Tom with the weather!”

Did you see what I did there? The tone has been changed to what was behind the acceptable, socially safe banter for easier parsing – but the actual substance of what was said on the air, over a major news radio outlet in our nation’s capital, wasn’t changed at all.

For the few people paying attention, this actual substance is not a surprise; my Howard Beale-like rage at the receiver had more to do with Nominally Public Radio’s blase-to-the-point-of-semi-amused-boredom delivery, which I edited out of the restatement.  The surprise to me, once my blood pressure came back to normal, was that there was in fact a bland statement of this truth on an MSM outlet.  They honestly came out and admitted, to absolutely no fanfare whatsoever, that rather than do anything that smacked of actual accountability, Obama simply waited until torture was no longer an issue and then tossed the guy right back out there, counting that since he’d been recently re-elected without having to hide a thing, no one who voted for him would care.  And he was, and is, exactly right in that assessment.

I have said before that President Obama is generally very truthful – much more so than recent Presidents of either party since, perhaps, Jimmy Carter.  Unfortunately, the reason for this seems to be that it is no longer necessary to hide any ethically repugnant ideas or behaviors.  Such is the nature of Washington – and the nature of either of two halves of an immature and complicit electorate.  Such is the nature of life beyond that ledge.


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