First appeared in print in The Rhinoceros Times, Greensboro, NC
The Death of Shame
I have been puzzled for some time by the behavior of the Left, not just in this election but in the past decade.
I watched in fascination during the whole Monica Lewinsky brouhaha, as Clinton's defenders demanded an absurd degree of proof before they would accept that Bill was guilty (which, of course, he was), while at the same time believing instantly and without evidence the most outlandish charges against Bill's accusers. Didn't they recognize their own absurd double standard?
Then in the campaign of 2000, I became increasingly angry over the truly vicious lies that were being told to African-American groups about George W. Bush. The solemn warnings of a return to Jim Crow if Bush were elected made it sound as if Bush were Strom Thurmond of 1948, when they knew perfectly well that Bush was one of the few Republicans who actually deserved -- and, in Texas, got -- a higher than normal percentage of the black vote.
And the Leftist-dominated media, instead of exposing the racially charged language being used by Gore's supporters -- as they would certainly have done if a Republican had used identical, but racially reversed, language to all-white audiences -- let it go on and on virtually unmentioned.
Of course, after nearly four years of Bush's presidency, it should be obvious to black voters that the terrible warnings they were given in 2000 were completely false. But the race-baiting is already under way, albeit on a smaller scale, as the Democrats piously warn of "voter intimidation."
Then in Florida, during the so-called "recount," the Left shamelessly sprayed out accusations of how the Republicans had "disenfranchised" poor voters, though in fact all they ever showed was the normal error rate that had been accepted for many years in elections throughout America -- an error rate that was always assumed to apply equally to both sides.
In fact, that was the obvious basis of Richard Daley's selective recount effort on behalf of Gore in Florida. If you only recount the most Democrat-dominated voting precincts, then, by finding the normal number of errors, the resulting increase in correctly counted ballots will be tilted strongly for the Democratic candidate.
It was a scam -- which was exposed by Gore's attempt to block the counting of the absentee ballots of American servicemen from Florida, since it is well known that the people who volunteer for the military tend to vote two-to-one in favor of the Republican presidential candidate.
And yet the Democrats piously continue to this day to treat the whole vote-count affair, not as an obvious attempt to steal an election by manipulating selected groups of ballots, but as some noble attempt to block the evil Republicans from depriving poor helpless minorities from having their ballots fairly counted.
The Catalogue of Lies
The falsehoods are thick on the ground, and contrary to the impression some might try to give you, they are not conducted equally by both sides.
When they trumpet examples of Republican "lies," they usually turn out to be in the following categories:
1. Statements that turn out to be wrong, though they were believed to be right at the time they were spoken. (In the rational world, we call these "mistakes.")
2. Statements that interpret legitimate data in ways that support the Republican view. (In the rational world, we call these "differences of opinion.")
3. Statements that point out obvious contradictions between what the Democratic candidates say and what they have said and done in the past. These are called "negative campaigning" and "mudslinging" and "distortions" and, of course, "lies," but these countercharges are offered instead of coherent explanations.
Meanwhile, the Democrats engage in wholesale, flat-out lying, ranging from Kerry's false charges against America's soldiers in Vietnam, his phony claims about Christmas in Cambodia and what it was he threw over the fence when he said they were his medals, to present charges that Bush has blocked stem-cell research and that if Kerry were president, paralytics would rise up and walk.
If a Republican had said these things, the media would throw him into the flames, never letting us forget these ridiculous and contemptible lies for a second. Instead, we get the ABC News memo that makes it clear that Republican distortions are to be trumpeted, while Democratic ones are "not central" and therefore can be ignored.
All of this can be chalked up to "partisan wrangling," though the Left has clearly returned to the era of machine politics and demagoguery that for a while -- indeed, for most of my life -- American presidential candidates and parties were ashamed to engage in, though it bubbled just under the surface and, in a few key states, served to steal an election or two.
What most astonishes me, I'm afraid, is at the personal level. The individual level.
The Left fancies that it has a monopoly on intellectuals. When an online magazine invites published authors to tell whom they're voting for and why, out of dozens only four (including me) are voting for Bush. The most interesting thing is that the four pro-Bush authors offer clear reasons for their vote, but the pro-Kerry authors spew out invective against Bush or give cute or clever "reasons" that simply treat the question as being beneath serious discussion.
I get letters that are endless variations on the same theme: Mr. Card, I like your books and you seem so wise, but yet you're supporting Bush. Why don't you look at the evidence and realize that Bush is the devil and Kerry will save us from the disaster that Bush is leading us toward?
Yet when I choose to answer these letters and ask them to get specific, it becomes obvious that none -- no, not one -- of these people has actually examined the evidence at all.
These "intellectuals" show not even the slightest sign of ever having questioned their own opinions.
Now, I have to regard this as the minimum standard for being regarded as a genuine intellectual -- that you have questioned your own beliefs and subjected them to rigorous tests of logic and evidence.
But throughout this entire war and the political talk surrounding it, I have found exactly one intellectual of the Left (a professor at Appalachian State) who was actually willing to test his own ideas in the cauldron of reason and real-world evidence; he and I still reach different conclusions because we have a different moral worldview, but at least we live in the same rational universe.
It's the same on the news and entertainment talk shows and in the intellectual and scholarly magazines. While the Right does not lack for shallow-thinking spouters of the party line -- one thinks of the ever-vacuous Sean Hannity -- the intellectual Right still holds itself to rigorous standards of evidence and reason.
I actually find better reasoning about and evidence in support of the Leftist point of view, and more skeptical but serious examination of Rightwing ideas, in magazines like Commentary and The Weekly Standard than I do in Leftist publications like Harper's and The New Yorker.
What I find from most self-styled "intellectuals" in American public life is a laziness so profound as to be frightening. These are our opinion leaders and university professors? Have they forgotten that "the never-doubted opinion is not worth speaking"?
The Left is above the discussion. They don't need to read contrary views. The conclusion has been received, the Pope has spoken, the Supreme Court has decided. Case closed.
The Entitlement to Power
How did American intellectual leadership pass to people who no longer even go through the motions of rigorous examination of ideas?
It's because they have no shame.
Shame is the innate human need to be thought well of by one's neighbors. It leads to the concealment of wrongdoing.
It is the motive behind hypocrisy -- the desire to continue to sin without paying the social penalties of being known to be a sinner.
So when the Left acts hypocritically, one can assume that they do feel shame, and for years I have made that mistake.
But I no longer believe it. Because the double standards of the Left today are not prompted by any sense that the lies and misbehavior they are concealing are wrong, but rather by the fact that the exposure of those lies and misbehavior would be politically inconvenient.
Indeed, the whole question of right or wrong is irrelevant to the thinking of the Left.
They speak the language of morality, declaring Bush to be evil (or variations on that theme), but in fact the Left lives in a moral universe in which there is only one moral virtue, and here it is:
It is good and right for power to be in the hands of the Left.
All "morality" on the Left and all "reasoning" on the Left flow from this unspoken axiom.
And it only came up, politically at least, after 1994.
That was the year when Newt Gingrich's brilliant "Contract with America" strategy wrested control of the U.S. Congress away from the Democrats for the first time in forty years.
A whole generation of Democrats had grown up with the belief that no matter what else happened, Democrats legislated and Democrats controlled the courts. There might be Republican presidents, but they couldn't do anything without the permission of Congress.
So when the Democrats lost Congress, they began to behave like big babies. When Republicans did to them what they had done to Republicans in Congress for forty years, suddenly it was unfair. The world had gone mad. The ruled-over were suddenly ruling. The Helots were in charge and the Spartans could not bear it.
Democrats had come to think of themselves as the ruling class.
That is the mindset that explains all the behavior of the Left since 1994. If they are not in power, then clearly something is deeply, disturbingly wrong with the world, and any means to restore the proper order of things is perfectly acceptable.
Why, if Democrats are not in power, then the whole "progressive" agenda will grind to a halt.
For so many years, Republicans were a nuisance to be swatted away, except when one of them became president, and even then, Congress, with the collusion of the media, had mastered the art of harassing a disobedient president.
But after 1994, when Republicans used congressional investigations to harass a Democratic President, that was a horrible misuse of power.
Don't Americans understand that the Left is entitled to power?
That's why it's OK to do selective recounts in Florida and try to disenfranchise American soldiers and sailors -- all the while claiming that it's the Republicans who are disenfranchising people.
That's why it's OK to filibuster in the Senate in order to block the president from appointing perfectly qualified judges -- and why it's OK to make ridiculously false attacks on those judicial appointees.
That's why it's fine for John Kerry to pretend that he'll be tough on defense even though everybody on the Left is counting on him doing just the opposite in office -- because any lie that restores the proper order of things is a good lie.
That's why Kerry and Edwards can lie about Bush's record on stem cell research and make hilarious and offensive claims that if they are elected, the crippled will rise up and walk. A Republican making such a claim would become a complete laughingstock in the media; but if it might sway a single voter to restore the proper order of things, then the Leftist media dare not to discredit the claim.
That's why CBS throws journalistic ethics to the wind and runs with a story about Bush's National Guard service that is based on obviously fabricated documents. That's why ABC News has no problem with exposing only "distortions" by Bush and ignoring outright lies by Kerry.
That's why the New York Times prints a story claiming that Bush said, in a closed meeting, that he plans to "privatize" Social Security -- even though the word privatize is actually the Left's term, which Bush would never utter, and Bush's openly stated plan has always been to allow young workers the option of investing a portion of their Social Security contribution.
There was no news story there at all -- but anything that might scare senior citizens into panicking and voting for Kerry is worth printing.
That's why lawyers and politicians are already gearing up to attempt to steal the election after the fact by making false claims about intimidation of minority voters by evil Republicans -- when they know perfectly well that it's the Left that is openly using tactics of intimidation.
Like when they sent mobs of union workers to "demonstrate" inside the small local offices of the Bush campaign in Florida, terrifying a handful of Bush campaign workers with a Brown-shirt tactic that, if it had been carried out by, say, NRA members against Kerry headquarters, would now be the biggest story of the campaign season.
That's why the intellectual Left feels perfectly justified in vilifying, slandering, scare-mongering, hating, intimidating, and cheating, all the while claiming a moral superiority.
The only morality that binds them is the result of the election, which determines whether they are in or out of power. Anything that gets them into power is "good" and anything that might block that happy result is "evil."
And if the voters see through the deception and the scare tactics and the race-baiting and the false promises and the smarmy self-righteousness and vote for the other guy, well, there are teams of lawyers standing by to try to use the courts to overturn the election results.
It Comes Back to Faith in a Higher Power
The worst thing is that this "morality" seeps down into society as a whole. We have professional sports where "anything to win" has long since displaced sportsmanship or following the rules of the game. We have schools where students and parents will do anything to get the grades that will get the kids into the right college and therefore a good job, without regard for whether the student has learned anything or is becoming a decent human being.
I've heard Leftists complain that the thing that scares them most about George W. Bush is that he thinks he's chosen by God.
But that is not true at all. What Bush believes is that he is accountable to God. This serves as a check on him; it blocks him from doing anything that he believes God would not approve of.
Contrary to Leftist myth, he doesn't change his beliefs about God to fit what he wants to do; he conforms his actions to fit well-established beliefs about God's will. They mock him for having a black-and-white view of the world. But look at the result of not having such a view: The lying and cheating that are now endemic on the Left.
Kerry claims to believe in God, and maybe he does -- but the God he believes in is one without any requirements. As a result, whatever Kerry's faith, he can do anything without feeling any shame at all.
Bush believes in a God who has strict rules that he expects his children to follow -- even presidents who are running for office, and even if following those rules might make you lose.
If you don't believe that you are ever going to have to account for your actions except in the highly manipulable court of public opinion, then what is there to constrain you from abusing power to your own benefit -- which is, by the way, a good working definition of "evil."
The Left is firmly convinced that good is only possible in the world when they are in power; therefore they can do any number of unfair, indecent, or dishonest things in pursuit of that goal.
Without shame. Without guilt.
Because they don't believe there is such a thing as "sin." Only power. And whoever gets the power, makes the rules. To the Left, the only shameful act in 2004 is voting Republican.
And if we vote for candidates who show themselves to have no shame, then we deserve the government that they will give us.
Copyright © 2004 by Orson Scott Card.
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