On Delusion

In examining progressivism today, it is impossible not to marvel at a fascinating phenomenon: the pronounced delusion of the collective leftwing media. This is not a phenomenon isolated to the left. Neoconservatives and mainstream Republicans were similarly delusional about the reality of their political fortunes amid the drawn-out Iraq war quasi-quagmire. Resorting to cheap nationalism and cynical “with us or against us” rhetoric by the time the “Mission Accomplished” banner had faded from memory, the Bush administration demonstrated an unseemly instinct to wield “patriotism” as a cudgel against anyone not displaying the requisite enthusiasm for foreign nation-building.Substitute “Iraq” with “Obamacare” and you see the same delusions infecting the progressives as happened to the neocons almost a decade ago. While substantively different (obvi), Iraq and Obamacare are similar political issues because they are both immense crosses to bear for the party who brought them forth. Each stands today as a symbol of political overreach and as a bleating warning to its respective partisans of which road not to hoe. And today’s Democrats are following gloriously in the deluded footsteps of yesterday’s Republicans by studiously emulating the latter’s stubborn denial about what the Iraq war was doing to its credibility and pretending that Obamacare is not likewise shepherding their party into a single-issue ditch.

The left is essentially undergoing a psychological pep rally and its most committed media denizens are trying to convince themselves that Obamacare is fine. This is no small feat, as progressives from the New Republic to the Daily Kos are wringing their hands over the potential political cataclysm that awaits them in November. Debacle, thy name is Obamacare. Still, there are already signs that some of the loudest progressive cheerleaders are turning the page and moving on. Breathless reporting of “nothing to see here” has predictably flowed from Ezra Klein, Alec MacGillis, Kevin Drum, Michael Tomasky and, of course, the cadre of statist enthusiasts at MSNBC. I share Jonah Goldberg’s delight in discovering the word fremdschämenwhich describes the feeling one gets from watching people embarrass themselves while oblivious to the fact that they are embarrassing.

Delusional people acting delusionally are usually going to be embarrassing, and by the very act of deluding themselves into believing an alternate reality, they lose all capacity for self-awareness or psychoanalysis. I defy any sane person to eschew fremdschämen when listening to someone like Debbie Wasserman Schultz say something like this. It is easy to assume that much of the inanities spewing from the mouths of the delusional do not in fact reflect a confused mind but rather an intentionally malicious and deceptive one. But that underestimates the powerful effect of collective delusion. With so much at stake in a country divided into separate factions over a fundamental disagreement about the nature of the liberal society, it does not require a genius to understand the urgency of partisan politics (particularly in a de facto two-party system such as ours). However, it should be equally obvious that institutional parties might succumb to self-deception on occasions when their political mission loses its mandate with the voters. Nothing sparks a bout of collective delusion like a threat to power. Like Republicans in 2006 seeing the writing on the wall but refusing to read it, the Democrats today know that Obamacare is crippling their hold on power, they just refuse to admit it.

Political inertia is a powerful thing; stagnation lingers longer than it should because things at rest tend to stay at rest. Once motion of the sort that Obamacare is creating gets started, there is little to slow it down, let alone stop it. Things in motion tend to stay in motion. The pandora’s box that Democrats were too cocky and hubristic to care that they were opening has unleashed a powerful torrent of voter animosity and hostility directed at President Obama and the Democrats. Lying tends to arouse passions in people, who knew? Mass delusion is the inevitable byproduct of a party’s massive screw-up. Whether it’s the launching of a silly hegemonic foreign adventure or the arrogant attempt to remake 17% of the national economy by placing government at the center of healthcare, colossal errors that point to guaranteed defeat cause people in both parties to behave like children and to deny the obvious consequences looming in a cold November not too far on the horizon.

Here’s to the next apocalyptic mistake resulting in mass confession and apology, rather than denial and delusion.

Is Anyone Embarrassed?

To Vizzini’s list of well-known classic blunders that one should avoid at all costs, I would add a third: in addition to avoiding involvement in Asian land wars and shunning confrontation with Sicilians when death is on the line, a third classic blunder is the modern citizen’s expectation of a balanced, rational and sane media in a culture infected to its core by cushy elite liberalism.

L’affaire voie fermature and the obsessive coverage of Chris Christie is the latest instance media hypocrisy and lack of self-awareness. It is a full on orgy of projection, speculation and righteous condemnation, which would be fine if all scandals were given similar shrift. What makes the Christie spectacle in the media so obscene is the denial that anything unseemly is going on. In fact, progressive media henchmen have noticed the critique and are ridiculously calling out conservatives for having the audacity to call them out for participating in such despicably slanted reporting. Here’s Joan Walsh and Brian Beutler at Salon attempting to shape reality to their own stunted worldview. Debbie Wasserman Schultz insisted that the Christie scandal is far worse than something like the IRS, NSA or AP phone-tapping scandals that discredited Obama’s credibility with the public and would have threatened his Presidency had the media adopted an iota of curiosity or skepticism of the administration’s accounts. John Podhoretz helpfully explains the disparity in media scrutiny of Obama’s abuses of power and those committed by a prestigious Republican with eyes on the White House. And here’s an LA Times hack scoffing that conservatives doth protest too much. The facts are that Bridgeghazi received seventeen times more coverage in 24 hours than the IRS targeting of the Tea Party got in six months. GOP members in the House have played the role of investigative journalists while actual journalists have ignored the obvious leads and inquiries lest they discover a trail leading to the administration. And there are scant few honest progressives uncomfortable with such a tilted media landscape because, after all, progressives want just such a tilted landscape.

The question that keeps nagging at me though is this: Is anyone embarrassed? Particularly among liberals and progressives, is there no one with a conscience or sense of propriety that is just a little bit embarrassed by the cavalcade of elite media obsession with this story?  It clearly is a story; one deserving of investigation and thorough coverage, but to this degree? When Meet the Press devotes its first 33 minutes of airtime to a single story, it is usually either a war or a major scandal involving someone in the federal government. This is a local scandal involving a prominent rising figure in national GOP politics, but still a local scandal. The IRS targeting scandal affected millions of Americans across the country. That is a national scandal, but mainstream media analysis neglected to treat IRS conduct as devious and instead concentrated on absolving the White House of any culpability. That same “nothing to see here” and “no smoking gun, time to move on” attitude was never an option in the Christie case. This was a chance to “clear the deck,” to wipe a formidable potential opponent from the game board three years out from the next election. Jonah Goldberg nailed it with his observation that our culturally and politically homogeneous media are defined less by progressive principles and values and more by trite partisanship. The disparity in coverage of Obama’s scandals and the Christie story is simple: Obama is their guy, and Christie could easily become an obstacle to their girl, thus if/when an opportunity arises, it’s ready, fire, aim. It’s entirely political and entirely partisan. Few liberals in America worry about the unethical use of government power; they just care that a Republican come under fire for it and that his reputation be eviscerated. There was never going to be the same hunger to get to the bottom of any abuses of power coming from Saint Obama.

Just once, it would be wonderful to hear a progressive journalist or blogger express exasperation at his colleagues’ double standards and call them out as the hypocrites they are. The only one who comes to mind is Glenn Greenwald, a noble progressive who respects libertarian philosophy and the conservative critique of government because he himself is suspicious of concentrated government power. The most important development this country can experience in the near-future is a widespread reckoning by progressives that activist government is an enemy to liberty and that those wishing to expand government’s reach should be met with skepticism (if not outright cynicism). Until then, do not expect a media comprised of east coast liberals and power-worshiping sycophants from elite Ivy League schools to behave anything like a neutral watchdog press, and don’t get bent out of shape when its adversarial relationship with the powerful only applies to the evil bastards on the other team.

Some double-standards are perennial, and they’re not going away. It would just be nice if those guilty of hypocrisy would feel a little embarrassed by it.