Wednesday, February 22, 2006

Equivalency (or Lack Thereof)

So, if I drop some change into a Salvation Army donation bucket at the holidays, that pretty much makes me the moral equivalent of Mother Theresa, right? I mean, we’re both helping those less fortunate, aren’t we?

This is the kind of logic served up by Mark Hyman in
his editorial comparing the domestic spying program of President Bush to what right wing Clinton haters refer to as “Filegate.” In fact, Hyman goes a step further, suggesting that the two aren’t the same, but that the Clinton pseudo-scandal is a far greater threat to civil liberties than the administration’s warrantless wiretaps.

I love it when certain members of the right-wing prattle-sphere invoke these sorts of asinine moral equivalencies to defend the indefensible. More than almost anything else, it reveals the underlying hypocrisy that marks so much of neo-con thought. Conservatives gnash their teeth about the supposed “relativism” on the left, but by making demonstrably invalid moral comparisons, they demean the very idea that morals and ethics are real things with real meanings independent of their use as political bludgeons.

In this case, Hyman accuses the New York Times of being “cultural elitists” (shocker) who hypocritically have “their knickers all bunched up” about domestic spying, when they weren’t equally outraged about “Filegate,” a case in which a White House security staffer was found to have gotten possession of 900 FBI files that he shouldn’t have, including what Hyman refers to as “top Republicans.”

In fact, these Republicans were old news—people from the previous Bush administration (e.g., James Baker). Craig Livingstone, the staffer responsible, said the files were pulled because of an outdated Secret Service list of names used by the incoming Clinton administration. The Black Helicopter crowd, however, insisted that the files were pulled on orders from the Clintons themselves and were used as some sort of “enemies” list. How getting dirt on retired Republicans was supposed to help the Clintons is never made clear, but oh well.

So, let’s take a brief look at just a handful of the many, many ways these two cases are different. Feel free to play along at home and add your own!

For starters, attorney general
Janet Reno authorized none other than Kenneth Starr and his Whitewater team to look into the allegations about the FBI files. In the domestic spying case, attorney general Alberto Gonzales is the foremost defender of the administration, and doesn’t seem about to authorize any investigation.

Second, the investigation into “Filegate” concluded that
there was no evidence that the President or First Lady had anything to do with pulling the files or ever saw them. Hyman lashes out at the Times for saying that the Clinton administration’s explanation of the incident hadn’t been disproven, but the newspaper was just saying what the independent investigation said itself. On the other hand, the administration and congressional Republicans are fighting tooth and nail to prevent any investigation into the domestic spying program.

Given the above, we can also say that, despite Hyman’s assertion that “the Clintons” collected hundreds of files on Republicans, “Filegate” was an issue of administration bureaucracy, not of presidential policy. With Bush’s domestic spying program, the issue obviously goes to the very top of the administration. Unlike the use of torture, the administration can’t hide behind scapegoats.

In the case of “Filegate,” the person responsible for the mistake
was forced to resign. In the case of Bush’s domestic spying program, those who help the president circumvent the law are promoted.

Hyman accuses the Times of cultural elitism, but what are we to make of the fact that Hyman has his own knickers in a bunch over a few hundred files of Republican big-wigs, while he minimizes concern over the fact that
thousands of ordinary American citizens have been spied on? “Filegate” was very much an inside-Washington issue; domestic spying directly affects the rights of all Americans.

Which brings us to our next point. There was no evidence found that sensitive information was culled from the files of GOP members and used against them. The problem was simply the fact that the files were somewhere they shouldn’t be, and hypothetically could be used by “spies.” In the domestic spying situation, we know full well that actual spying has really been done on thousands of Americans, and that almost nothing has been accomplished in the process.

Then there’s the issue of presidential honesty. Given the “Filegate” investigation’s findings, there’s no reason to think Bill Clinton (or Hillary, for that matter) made untrue statements about how the files in question got to the White House. On the other hand,
George Bush is on record as lying about the use of domestic surveillance in his public statements.

How about a constitutional crisis concerning checks and balances? “Filegate” didn’t do a thing to the fundamental way government operates. Even if the Black Helicopter crowd was right, it would be a matter of executive misconduct that should be punished. The domestic spying program, and the rationale used to defend it, change the “deep structure” of our democratic form of government. They
call into question basic assumptions about the role of all three branches of government, the law in general, and suggest a sea-change in the system of checks and balances that gives the presidency nearly limitless power.

Then there’s the basic issue of safety and national security. “Filegate” didn’t come close to touching on these issues (again, even if we grant the most malevolent explanations of how it happened). On the other hand, the domestic spying program opens a floodgate that might end up undoing a huge number of terrorist investigations by
providing grounds for dismissal based on failure to follow due process. While the administration champions its spying efforts as necessary for the security of the country, the fact is that these efforts have netted almost zilch in terms of usable information, and the way in which this useless information is collected may allow any actual case brought against a suspected terrorist to be thrown out of court.

So, in Hyman’s universe:

Files of retired Republican’s mistakenly included in White House security sweep = crime against humanity.

Administration’s warrantless spying program aimed at thousands of ordinary Americans, giving the president uncheckable powers, and which doesn’t work = sound and just policy.

In our universe, a Hyman editorial = a complete waste of 60 seconds of our lives, if it wasn’t for the unintentional comic relief it provides.

And that’s The Counterpoint

Hyman Index: 4.74


At 12:45 AM, Anonymous hyman's turtle said...

do you get the impression hyman isn't even trying anymore? like the way rush insisted sherrod brown was black then when proven wrong blurted out that democrats hate our troops. but maybe its not so much a lack of effort as it is some bizarre form of tourette's. at any rate, great post and if you haven't heard, hyman's buddy is back in the news. from the ap:

DETROIT - Kid Rock has won an initial victory in his attempt to stop a California company from releasing an explicit sex video featuring the rap-rocker, former Creed singer Scott Stapp and four women...

in fairness, the tape was from 1999 and i personally have no problem with sextets between consenting adults. but it is funny how hyman keeps finding himself in the same room as pornographers. weird.
keep up the good work.
hyman's turtle

At 12:38 PM, Blogger Ted Remington said...

Yeah,I sometimes think that's it's a bit pointless to do critique of Hyman's arguments when it becomes more and more clear that is editorials are meant to simply be collections of terms he hopes to link in the viewer's mind (e.g., ACLU, communist, Clinton, New York Times, elitist, etc.). Whether there's a coherent argument is beside the point; what matters is the simple juxatposition of the terms. Is it laziness? Twisted genius? I'm not sure.

The site got a huge spike in hits thanks to Mr. Stapp with people frantically looking for pictures of Miss New York/Mrs. Stapp. I almost feel like I owe him one. Anyway, I agree with you about the tape thing--it's hardly scandelous. "Rock stars have sex with strippers" is not exactly a major news flash. But I love the fact that Hyman routinely pontificates about the lack of morals of "the Hollywood crowd" and suggests this means they shouldn't do or say anything about poltiical issues. Yet he spent three nights paying homage to the pet project of a guy who makes Sean Penn look like Fred Rogers.

But as we all know, consistency is not Hyman's forte.



At 6:09 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

"right-wing prattle-sphere"...I love it! May I borrow it?

At 3:48 PM, Blogger Ted Remington said...

Sure! Why do you even bother asking permission? You know I couldn't care less about issues of plagiarism as long as I get my mocha latees!



At 10:04 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...


You big fake! I thought you hung out at the Campus Coffee House! But you can't even spell Latte!

Shame, shame, shame. Are you a fuzzy-headed academic who shouldn't hold a job in the real world, or not?


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