AMAC Exclusive – By David Lewis Schaefer
As Democratic Party leaders breathe a sigh of relief considering the failure of the widely-expected “red wave” to materialize in last week’s Congressional elections – Republicans won only a narrow margin in the House while Democrats will maintain control of the Senate – the thought that the election result signifies any popular mandate for a continuance of Joe Biden’s policies (and hence a likely Democratic victory in the 2024 Presidential election) is probably ill-advised. In the first place, it should be noted that Republicans won a majority of the popular vote in this year’s election (the standard by which Democratic leaders have challenged the legitimacy of the 2000 and 2016 Presidential election outcomes). But it might also be wise for them to reconsider an attitude toward voters which has characterized their party for at least the past quarter-century, and which is reminiscent of the ironic proposal of Socrates in Plato’s most famous dialogue, The Republic, composed some 2,500 years ago.
In the dialogue, Socrates asserts that in a perfectly just city, the obedience of the multitude to the commands of the “guardians” who rule them should be enforced through the inculcation of a “noble lie.” In order to persuade the people of their total belongingness to their political community, Socrates explains that they must somehow be made to think that their ancestors were literally born from its earth. To dissuade them from rebelling against its class structure, they must also be convinced that human beings are each born with one of three different metals in their souls (gold, silver, or bronze), so that the class to which they belong (guardians, warriors, or commoners) is similarly fixed by nature.
The noble lie is manifestly absurd, and Plato means for attentive readers to recognize the impossibility of a population embracing it. By extension, such readers will also come to recognize the impossibility, the injustice, and the radical unnaturalness of attempting to establish a perfectly unitary political community based on myths, and the folly of utopian idealists who would justify the sort of totalitarian rule exemplified by Sparta to achieve such a goal.
But instead of reflecting awareness of these facts, statements by prominent supporters, advisers, and agents of the Democratic Party in recent years would suggest that they agree with the notion that lying is perfectly acceptable, given voters’ gullibility or downright ignorance, so long as it serves the Democrats’ ostensibly wise and just political and policy goals.
Take, for example, President Obama’s dishonest promise during his campaign on behalf of the so-called Affordable Care Act that if it were adopted, patients would be able to keep their existing doctors and health plans if they wanted. More egregiously, MIT Professor Jonathan Gruber, the Act’s chief architect, subsequently explained at a conference why the Obamacare bill had intentionally been “written in a tortured way.” He explained that it was composed that way to ensure that the Congressional Budget Office would label the bill as a “mandate” rather than a “tax,” requiring healthy people to pay more so as to subsidize the treatment costs of sick people – a necessary subterfuge to bring about the bill’s passage. He elaborated that “Lack of transparency is a huge political advantage. And basically, call it the stupidity of the American voter, or whatever, but basically that was really, really critical for the thing to pass.” Note Gruber’s equation of an unwillingness by voters to pay higher taxes for the benefit of a minority – for whom all sorts of subsidies for health care were already available – with a lack of intelligence. Apparently, he didn’t think that members of the Congressional Budget Office were all that bright, either.
Now, dishonesty of one sort or another is a given in political life. Sometimes, perhaps, it is even morally justifiable – for instance, Franklin Roosevelt’s roundabout actions to offer assistance to Great Britain, which was under assault from Nazi Germany, in 1940, despite what would have been the opposition of an isolationist Congress. What is striking about Gruber’s statement, however, is his open espousal (admittedly, to a private group) of the desirability of concealing the truth from the public, given their “stupidity.” Is this government-by-enlightened-bureaucrats, enforced through deception over ignorant plebeians, consistent with the principles of constitutional government?
Recall as well in this connection House Majority Leader Nancy Pelosi’s explanation of why there wasn’t time for Congress to actually inspect the bill’s contents: “We have to pass it to find out what’s in it.” Perhaps most members of Congress were themselves too stupid, in the eyes of Democratic leaders, to deserve an understanding of what they were voting for. But why didn’t some Democrats object to having to vote for something that they didn’t have the opportunity to inspect, first? Might they have been too ignorant to understand it?
Next, let’s recall remember Democratic Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid’s repeated but entirely false contention on the Senate floor, during the 2012 Presidential campaign, that Republican nominee Mitt Romney – a Mormon of, by all reliable accounts, impeccable character – had avoided paying any taxes before 2010. The unsubstantiated claim received a rating of four “Pinocchios” by the Washington Post fact checker. False though the charge was, it must have left a negative impression in some voters’ minds, one that was enhanced by its frequent uncritical repetition in the media. Three years later when a CNN interviewer asked Reid whether he had any regrets about having made the false accusation, he mumbled the following response: “I don’t regret that at all. Romney didn’t win, did he?”
Again, what is most striking is not that Reid made false charges against a political opponent. After all, the use of deceptive political rhetoric is by no means limited to Democratic partisans. But it is Democrats, with the complicity of the media, who seem to have made the more or less open assertion of a right to deceive the public. What stands out with respect to Senator Reid’s attack on Romney is Reid’s shamelessness in implicitly acknowledging afterwards that the charges had no merit other than to enhance his favored candidate’s electoral chances. Like Gruber, Reid felt that the rightness of his cause was so great that he didn’t need to apologize for egregiously misleading the American people.
A more recent illustration of the same attitude is exemplified by a statement from David Priess, former CIA official (under both the Clinton and George W. Bush administrations) and currently a fellow in security policy at George Mason University. Priess was one of 51 former intelligence officials who signed a statement, issued just before the 2020 election, dismissing the damning revelations of corruption outlined in the infamous Hunter Biden laptop as having “all the classic earmarks of a Russian [dis]information operation.”
As New York Post columnist Miranda Devine observed in a recent column, “not one of the 51 had seen any material from the laptop or bothered asking for it,” but their letter, backed by their supposed expertise, immediately “killed the story,” and was used by Joe Biden on October 22, 2020, “to deflect [Donald] Trump’s attack in their last debate.” In support of the letter’s veracity, Biden cited his own “reputation… for honor and telling the truth.” That reputation would already have been rendered doubtful, among voters with some memory, by his having plagiarized a campaign speech from a Welsh politician in his 1988 campaign for the Democratic Presidential nomination. But Biden concluded his response by saying “the character of the country is on the ballot.” The implication was that if voters didn’t elect him, that would cast a poor light not only on their intelligence but, apparently, their character.
As Devine observes, at no time since the laptop’s discovery has any evidence been brought forward to call into question the truth of its contents. But in a recent interview, Priess defended the letter, as Devine puts it, “by saying people were too stupid to understand it.” He insisted that the letter was “’still true’ because it did not use the words ‘Russian disinformation’ but concocted the weasel phrase ‘earmarks of a Russian information operation’” (my emphasis). As he explained, “It’s not my fault if people don’t look up definitions.”
As the 2022 campaign entered its final week, even the New York Times editors felt compelled to run a story (admittedly, buried on page 18) titled “President Boasts of Economic Gains with Talking Points that Don’t Really Add Up.” Featured in the story were Biden’s false claims that America currently has the fastest-growing economy in the world (a July report from the International Monetary Fund listed several European and Asian countries whose 2022 growth rates exceeded this country’s), that his student debt forgiveness program passed Congress by two votes owing to his leadership (in fact, Biden imposed the program through an executive order, probably unconstitutional, without submitting it for a vote), that his “leadership” had also engendered a $1.4 trillion decline in the budget deficit (which occurred only because the $1.9 trillion “pandemic relief” package that the President pushed through Congress in 2021 hadn’t been renewed), and that Social Security benefits will become more generous in 2023 thanks to him (the cost-of-living formula, which raises benefits for the coming year owing to inflation that Biden’s own policies are widely recognized to have brought about, is built into law, and had nothing to do with any presidential initiative.)
But Harvard economist and former Obama adviser Jason Furman explained that Biden’s misstatements were merely “leaps of logic” of a sort that are common during election campaigns, and that they weren’t really “like making stuff up,” but “just making a rather stretched and peculiar causal argument around true facts” – as opposed, presumably, to “false” facts. (Furman’s indecipherable distinction might be comprehensible only to Jonathan Gruber. At this point perhaps a better strategy for Democratic obfuscators would be pollster Stan Greenberg’s recommendation for dealing with questions about their party’s unpopular record on crime and policing: “speak as little as possible or mumble,” or else “change the subject” as soon as possible.)
Running throughout the statements by Gruber, Reid, Biden, and Priess is an attitude of unabashed scorn for the intelligence of the American public. It’s not theirfault if ordinary people are too “stupid” to appreciate the benefits of Obamacare, to recognize what a superior President Barack Obama would be over Mitt Romney, to cherish the Biden administration’s real economic achievements, or to read a statement issued by 51 supposed intelligence authorities (many of whom occupy prime positions in the think-tank world, and who are longtime Trump opponents) with sufficient care to detect its subtleties. (Not that those subtleties were picked up by the media themselves at the time.)
Contrary to its reputation among inattentive readers as a recipe for totalitarianism, The Republic was intended by Plato not only as a critique of the utopian totalitarian spirit, but as an inspiration and guide for thoughtful readers to engage in the philosophic questfor truth. It is not an elitist work, but rather an invitation for all human beings who seek knowledge, rather than resting content with the dominant myths or prejudices of their time, to think matters through for themselves. By contrast, prominent Democratic partisans (along with some Republicans, but with less explicitness about their attitude) now seem content not only to accept but to take advantage of popular ignorance or inattentiveness for their own gain, confident that they know what’s best for us. In sum, they view themselves as members of the highest class in Socrates’ three-tier structure, the “Guardians.”
The United States was founded on the premise stated in the Declaration of Independence that no adult is by nature the ruler or guardian of his fellow citizens, but rather that legitimate government derives its authority from the (informed) consent of the governed. As Thomas Jefferson put it in a letter he wrote just before the Declaration’s 50th anniversary (and right before his death), it was meant to be a signal of enlightenment to the entire world, liberating mankind from the chains of “monkish superstition” that had prevented them from assuming for themselves “the blessings and security of self-government.”
But Jefferson’s hope will become an empty promise if it becomes a widely accepted principle that officeholders not onlylie, but have every right to do so, as long as they stand for (what they regard as) justice, fortified by expertise. No individual who regards the people as ignoramuses, and thinks it justifiable as a matter of practice to deceive us for our own good, should have the right to govern us.
In last week’s election, Republican candidates for gubernatorial and Congressional office faced an uphill battle, as they have for decades, thanks to the influence of a mostly hostile press and electronic and social media (for instance, the banning from social media of the Biden laptop story during the weeks preceding the vote based on the specious “disinformation” claim). But as public awareness spreads of such distortions, and their perpetrators’ open (after-the-fact) acknowledgment of them, spreads, voters may be less susceptible to them.
This is not the place for assessing the relative severity of dishonest claims made by leaders of both parties and their media supporters over the last several administrations. Both Democrats and Republicans have often engaged in extremely reprehensible behavior in this regard. (On the Democratic side, think of Hillary Clinton’s attribution during her vice presidency of the terrorist attack on the CIA’s Benghazi outpost to an obscure anti-Muslim video that some staffer had discovered online.) My point, however, is that it is Democrats rather than Republicans who have engaged in more or less open, but ex post facto, admissions of such behavior, while claiming a moral right to engage in it, simply because of the intellectual and even moral inferiority of their opponents. (Recall Barack Obama’s attribution of opposition to his 2008 Presidential candidacy to his election to racism, and Hillary Clinton’s dismissal of those who failed to support her as “deplorables.”)
Election analysts have noted an increasing shift within the electorate over at least the past three Presidential elections in which blue-collar workers having been switching their traditional loyalties from the Democrats to the Republicans, and Republicans are also making significant gains among Latino and even African-American voters, while members of the intellectual and financial “elite” guide Democratic policies, especially regarding “social” or moral issues like crime, immigration, abortion, transgender “education,” and gay marriage. (Glenn Youngkin may have owed his 2021 gubernatorial victory in Virginia to his rejection of his Democratic opponent Terry McAuliffe’s claim that parents had no right to interfere with the curriculum of the schools their kids attended.) As Howard Wolfson, a senior adviser to former New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg (a Democrat-turned-liberal Republican) observed in the Times, the Democrats’ loss of four House seats in New York State, which may have cost the party a shot at maintaining a Congressional majority, was attributable to the “arrogance” of members of the state house in disregarding the demand of voters for altering bail “reform” laws that set many criminals free without bail, contributing to an alarming 30% rise in the City’s crime rate: holding large majorities in each house of the state legislature, along with the governorship, legislators simply dismissed their constituents’ unenlightened views. Wisely, Republican candidates for Congress “hammered” their Democratic opponents on this issue.
As awareness spreads among middle-class and blue-collar voters of the outright contempt with which they are regarded by Democratic leaders and their advisers, the 2022 election may signify the high-water mark of their party’s (relative) popularity among the electorate. Regardless of which party emerges victorious in 2024, the spread of such awareness could ultimately serve as a victory not only against inflation, crime, and the weakening of our national defenses under Democratic rule, but more fundamentally, for the principle of genuine constitutional-democratic governance.
David Lewis Schaefer is a Professor of Political Science at College of the Holy Cross.
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