Thursday, April 26, 2007

Keith Olbermann: Fear Peddling

MSNBC commentator Keith Olbermann had another “special comment” last night in which he condemned Rudi Giuliani for a speech that Olbermann translated into “vote Democrat and die.” Giuliani asserted in a speech before (group) that the Democrats plan to change our stance in the war on terror from offense to defense, and that this defensive strategy would lead to another terrorist attack on this country.

Olbermann’s criticisms were like a shotgun blast against Giuliani in that he made a number of points, but did not offer much in the way of a coherent criticism. One of his complaints is that, given the Republican track record for the past five years, there is reason to doubt that the Republicans actually do have the ability to protect us. There are strategies (such as continuing to pursue Al Queida in Afghanistan and Pakistan) that would have been more effective than an invasion of Iraq, would not have cost as many lives, and would not have supported America’s enemies by eroding the respect that people around the world once had for this country.

Yet, elsewhere Olbermann seemed to suggest that this is not his argument, and that it would be contemptible for anybody to run for office on a campaign of “vote for me or die.” Of course, Giuliani did not say this. What he said was that if a Republican were elected President, the chance of dying in a terrorist attack is greater than if a Democrat is elected President. This is what Olbermann translated into “vote for me or die”.

As a general campaign policy, I see nothing wrong with running on a ‘vote for me or die’ platform, if it is true. If I were running for office, and I were running against an arch-Conservative, I would probably run that type of campaign.

“My opponent wishes to ban all embryonic stem-cell research and prohibit all further developments along this path. Doing so will do irreparable harm to the progress of our medical knowledge, which will hinder our capacity to save lives. Vote for me, and I will support the research that may very well save your life or the life of somebody you know.”

Or, “My opponent is bought and paid for by some of the biggest carbon dioxide emitters in the world. The scientific consensus is that this will put over a hundred million lives at risk. Some of those casualties will be in the United States from new diseases, more violent storms, and heat. Vote for me, and I will support legislation to deal with global warming so that more people can live.”

Or, “President Bush’s foreign policy has turned huge segments of the world who used to respect for the United States, weakened our ability to draw upon the help of those who would have otherwise been our allies, and strengthened our enemies. Those who wish real progress to be made in the war on Terror needs to vote for somebody who rejects those failed missions.”

All of these arguments fit into the mold of running on a “vote for me or die” as Olbermann applies the phrase. Thus, if his claim that running on such a platform alone is worthy of condemnation, then I would be guilty. So will any real candidate worthy of the job. A President is supposed to be protecting us from those things that would otherwise kill us.

In fact, many of my posts would all into that category. A couple of days ago, in “Hate Peddling,” I accused hate peddler of making the situation worse by obscuring the true scientific explanations for events such as the Virginia Tech shootings. In other words, I said that their intellectual recklessness and attempts to shift the public focus from scientifically verifiable cause to their favorite hate group would interfere not only with the research but with the public understanding of their findings. This, in turn, will interfere with the possibility of predicting and preventing some future event. In other words, “Vote for me or die.”

I simply see nothing wrong with these types of claims.

What is a person supposed to do if he is confronted with somebody with a plan that puts the lives of innocent people at risk, what would Olbermann have us do? Ignore the fact? Refuse to talk about it?

I wonder what Olbermann would say about my own writing – about my own ‘side with me or die’ arguments?

Actually, my guess is that he would not criticize them. Yet, I fear that this is because he would consider me a political ally. A more important question is how he would respond to somebody who criticized my writing – some Republican candidate who had blasted me for my “support my side or die moral arguments. I suspect (and this is only a suspicion) that he would condemn that person, saying, “How dare you, sir, assert that anybody who says your policies may be wrong is an ally of Bin Laden.”

I suspect this for three reasons. First, because Olbermann has condemned Republicans before when those Republicans accused attackers of being comparable to the forces of evil. Second, because Olbermann seems to have a tendency of assuming that Republicans can do no good and Democrats can do no evil. Finally, because he does not seem to be able to explain exactly what was wrong in Giuliani’s statement.

So, what specifically was wrong with Giuliani statement?

As I argued above, the fault was not that he said, “Vote for me or die,” or – what is, in fact, more accurate – “my plans and the plans of other Republicans will make you safer than the plans that the Democrats are pursuing.”

The fault is not that Guiliani was wrong. A person can be wrong about a potential threat without being evil. If I think that a wire is still live and tell you not to touch it, I have committed no crime in warning you not to touch the wire, even if the wire happens to be dead.

The fault here is the same as the fault identified in my earlier post, “Dinesh D’Souza: Hate Peddling.” There, I argued that D’Souza’s fault was that he wanted to promote hatred of atheists so badly that he was willing to sacrifice a serious look into the factors responsible for the events at Virginia Tech that would allow us to prevent future attacks.

In order for Olbermann to make good on his condemnation of Giuliani, Olbermann needs to show that Giuliani said, “vote for me or die,” or even that he was wrong, but that his attitude showed a stronger desire to make the public fearful of Democrats than in saving lives.

Olbermann made this. He identified a number of pieces of evidence that suggested that the Republicans were doing a particularly poor job over the last five years of making the world safe for Americans.

Which party held the presidency on September 11th, 2001, Mr. Giuliani?

Which party held the mayoralty of New York on that date, Mr. Giuliani?

Which party assured New Yorkers that the air was safe, and the remains of the dead, recovered - and not being used to fill pot-holes, Mr. Giuliani?

Which party wanted what the terrorists wanted - the postponement elections - and to whose personal advantage would that have redounded, Mr. Giuliani?

Which mayor of New York was elected eight months after the first attack on the World Trade Center, yet did not emphasize counter-terror in the same city for the next eight years, Mr. Giuliani?

Which party had proposed to turn over the Department of Homeland Security to Bernard Kerik, Mr. Giuliani?

Who wanted to ignore and hide Kerik's Organized Crime allegations, Mr. Giuliani?

Who personally argued to the White House that Kerik need not be vetted, Mr. Giuliani?

Which party rode roughshod over Americans' rights while braying that it was actually protecting them, Mr. Giuliani?

Which party took this country into the most utterly backwards, utterly counter-productive, utterly ruinous war in our history, Mr. Giuliani?

Which party has been in office as more Americans were killed in the pointless fields of Iraq, than were killed in the consuming nightmare of 9/11, Mr. Giuliani?

However, for Olbermann this was an afterthought.

. . . even if we have become so profane in our thinking that it is part of our political vocabulary to view counter-terror as one party's property and the other's liability… on what imaginary track record does Mr. Giuliani base his boast?

“Even if . . . .”

What was actually the necessary core piece of evidence that Olbermann needed to make his moral case, was presented as, “Oh, yes, and by the way, one more thing.”

I argue in this blog that the judicious use of condemnation is an important tool for making the world a better place. However, the judicious use of condemnation requires an understanding of what needs to be condemned. Saying, "My policy will save more lives than your policy" is not necessarily wrong. A lot depends on whether or not the claim is true. Even more depends on whether the person making the claim has shown a proper level of concern for the possibility that it might be false. It is this latter measure that deserves condemnation. The bulk of Olbermann's condemnation simply misses the mark.

1 comment:

olvlzl said...

If one is allowed to go off topic, I remembered last night that I'd failed to specify that it was the specifically religious writings of Thomas Huxley which I'd enjoyed. I thoroughly loathe his damningly racist essay Emancipation Black and White [1864]. It proves that he was a rather vile racist, despite his obvious abilities and charm.
Just felt the need to clear that one up.