George Orwell isn’t amused…or is he?

It is rather the same thing that is happening to the English language. It becomes ugly and inaccurate because our thoughts are foolish, but the slovenliness of our language makes it easier for us to have foolish thoughts.
George Orwell
I should like to suggest something in this brief essay that might come as a shock to a few folks. But maybe not.
Language matters.
In his essay on Politics and the English Language, George Orwell suggested that the inability to use language precisely and meaningfully was at least partially responsible for the disintegration of civil and political society.
William F. Buckley Jr. put his own twist on the same notion in a debate with Howard Zinn. Back in the early 1970s when our nation was going through another period of intense political turbulence, Buckley reminded Mr. Zinn that demonology is a slovenly way to go about arguing political issues. It was, he said without apology to those in his presence, the tactic of the intellectually bankrupt.
Today, that describes every side of the political spectrum. Let me suggest a few examples that underscore the intellectual dishonesty that besets our current politics and makes it difficult for an establishment, elitist like myself to take seriously what passes for political commentary or observation.
1. When President Obama first arrived on the scene, his use of teleprompters was belittled by so-called conservative commentators who suggested that his dependency on such props underscored that he was incapable of formulating thoughts on the fly. He was vacuous and empty headed. Along comes Trump today – now using a teleprompter – and his minions suggest this is a sign of political maturity and smart strategy because he can now stay on message.
Now, I happen to share the conviction that a politician who cannot formulate a thought or stay on message without routine recourse to a teleprompter is at best inexperienced and at worst ignorant or insincere. That includes both the president and Mr. Trump, who use such devices not to communicate their true thoughts, but to hide them.
2. When George W. Bush was president he took quite a political shellacking for “flying over” the devastated Gulf Coast in the wake of Katrina. This, we were told by the left and its conspirators in the media, suggested that he was out of touch and unconcerned. In the past few weeks, flooding has devastated Baton Rouge and riots have rocked Milwaukee and our president is playing golf in Martha’s Vineyard. This, however, suggests nothing about his state of mind or his concern for the victims of these tragedies. At least, the media has barely noted it. How to take seriously, then, those who are so selective in their outrage, which is always partisan and never rooted in an honest evaluation of the issues?
3. Or consider that tremendous uproar that occurred due to the Iran Contra situation under President Reagan. An American Experience documentary on his presidency, produced a few years back and recently re-aired, made a great deal of this scandal. Reagan’s very presidency was at risk – for his administration sold arms to secure the release of hostages and then diverted some of those funds to support anti-communist forces in Nicaragua.
Impeachment, Watergate, deception – all the clichés were tossed about. Reagan survived the scandal and in my view remains one of our great presidents. But today, when news surfaces of the Obama administration paying $400 million to secure the release of hostages, you hear nary a peep from the Democrats or their media allies. Even worse, these folks actually support returning billions of dollars to an Iranian regime that has not to any significant degree rethought its anti-U.S. and anti-Jewish positions or, even worse, its pro-terrorist activities.
4. And another example, Benghazi. Now, I happen to agree that this situation was badly handled by Ms. Clinton and that she attempted to deceive. Dereliction of duty is not too strong a phrase to describe the handling of this attack on our U.S. diplomatic mission which led to the deaths of four brave men.
But to listen to the attacks on Ms. Clinton is surreal at times, because those leading the charge are precisely those who defended President George W. Bush’s war in Iraq, which by any fair-minded assessment was a much larger, far more destructive and badly handled endeavor, at least in the early months and years of the war. War is hell and is never managed perfectly – but how to explain the reaction of some on the right to a relatively minor affair in Libya, however tragic the outcome and dishonest the attempts to explain it, with the situation in post-invasion Iraq, which lead to tens of thousands of deaths of soldiers and Iraqi civilians murdered by anti-U.S. terrorists our forces and strategies could not contain?
Using such issues to score cheap political points is unseemly and unbecoming of those who claim to be serious about foreign policy and world affairs.
5. Finally, we have the issue of police violence and the absolute distortion of that issue by those who pretend their concern for black lives and/or the lives of our inner city citizens. Let me simply note that more Americans have been murdered in Chicago during the Obama administration than have been killed in Iraq and Afghanistan combined. I am not suggesting that President Obama is responsible for those crimes, but a little outrage and intellectual honesty about this situation given the harsh attacks on police would be refreshing, to put it mildly.

Our political discourse has grown increasingly coarse and intellectually dishonest across the political spectrum. Rigorous thought is gone. Honest discourse impossible. Language is manipulated and corrupted, if not totally mangled. The media has been coopted by politics, and ratings and money drive news to a degree that is disturbing. From MSNBC to CNN to FOX – and virtually every talking head among them – it is truly hard to take seriously these people that take themselves so seriously. These guys make Dan Rather seems objective and serious. They certainly make me pine for Walter Cronkite, David Brinkley, the old MacNeil-Lehrer hour and Firing Line.
Well, we are getting what we deserve. The inability to speak and think clearly has led our nation into polarized camps. We have two demagogues representing our two major parties. Constitutional conservatism is dying a quiet and unlamented death. The notion of limited government is an idea that has slipped silently into the fog of history.
And so we cling, instead, to these words uttered by a serious man of ideas, Mr. Buckley: He did not believe in permanent defeats because: “We deem it the central revelation of Western experience that man cannot ineradicably stain himself, for the wells of regeneration are infinitely deep….”
Or perhaps he would have turned to his legendary wit by saying to all concerned: “I won’t insult your intelligence by suggesting that you really believe what you just said.”

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