Progressives and Moral Superiority

by Martin Harris

If Queen Elizabeth’s Buckingham Palace can suffer its own annus horribilis, surely Prez 44’s White House can endure its own trinitas terribilis, as unfair and undeserved as its friends now try to describe the three major events so far. They are composed in unequal-in-importance parts of a (video-blamed) leave-your-troops-to-die consular abandonment in North Africa, a massive (but long kept secret) attempt to criminalize unpleasant-news reporters in Washington, and a nationwide effort to use the Federal tax-collection bureaucracy to keep conservative groups (liberal ones swiftly got their political-free-speech permits processed and approved) out of the last two election cycles. Administration attempts to explain, justify, and minimize these three have resulted in very bright and highly verbal people pleading ignorance and mis-statement, pointing to opportunistic-enemy scandal-mongers disrupting in-house investigations, and claiming that whatever and whenever all the key Administration figures knew or didn’t know, whomever the IRS did or didn’t target, which laws were and are applicable, is all “irrelevant”, to recite an adjective used by the President’s own senior advisor and spokesman more than a dozen times on recent Sunday talk-shows. It’s gotten to the point where, with Presidential popular approval again below 50%, both cronies and critics are now writing and talking about a decline in “moral authority” for the Presidency. For the Progressive political movement, an ideology heavily invested in asserting legitimacy derived from its members’ innate intellectual (“we are the best and brightest”) and ethical (“do-the-right-thing: vote for us and our spending plans”) superiority, such newly-arisen doubts and challenges must be un-nerving. If you vote no, you’re both wrong and morally inferior; recant in the re-vote.

In the primitive-communications past, such scandals became widely known, if at all, long after they has been created, profited from, and “investigated”, if ever. No one today knows what verbal defenses were offered by the perps in the 1797-8 XYZ affair; the letters hid their names. No one today knows what verbal defenses were offered by the perps in the 1922-3 Teapot Dome affair, and it was nearly a decade later that Secretary of the Interior Albert Fall finally went to jail, briefly, perhaps “taking the fall” for Prez 29, whose Administration was eventually discredited for two other misbehaviors, “…many having been later investigated or publicized after his [Harding’s] Presidency…” as Wikipedia dryly reports of that terrible triad. In contrast, we watched and listened synchronously as Admin 44’s talking heads solemnly assured us about an “awful Internet video” (Benghazi) or about their “I recused myself, but don’t know where my recusal papers are” (DoJ v. AP)” or about their “I have broken no laws” bureaucratic purity (IRS vs. Tea Parties) a trio of assertions each of which has been refuted by specific evidence to the contrary: previous Federal-agency reports of Islamic-terrorist involvement, the Attorney-General’s own signature on phone-records-seizure legal papers, the Tax-Exempt Organization Review Sector Chief’s own signature on IRS year-later demands for ever-more information.

When Lois Lerner declares “I did nothing wrong” it may well be that, she truly sees nothing wrong in saying whatever needs to be said for a higher purpose: political sidelining of non-Progressive people and groups who are, by Progressive definition, less smart, less competent, and less governmentally/technocratically proficient than she and her fellow Progressives who serve a higher purpose by so acting. History gives us lots of examples of ordinary people, similarly so convinced of their moral superiority, that they do much-more-unthinkable things.

Think the Joshua-led sieges of Jericho, where the Old Testament isn’t quite clear about the Lord’s order to kill all the inhabitants, or the sieges of Libnah, Lachish, Debnir, and others, where Joshua 10:28-36 clearly describes Divine orders to “kill them all”. “They left no survivors,” the Bible reads. Or think the 1209 siege of Beziers in the French Provence by forces of the Church and the local nobility, determined to wipe out the Cathar Heresy (and take the lands, of course) and the Simon de Montfort order to “kill them all, God will recognize his own”. Or think the 1480 capture of Italian cities by the Saracens (the first Islamic militarists); just this year Pope Francis canonized the 800 men of medieval Otranto who were then beheaded because they refused to convert to Islam. The Western (actually, Middle Eastern) religions have mostly outgrown such lethal certainty, but Islam still approves the practice of taqiyya, whereby “believers may legitimately lie against non-believers” (a quote from Islamic historian Reuel Gerecht), and it’s an open question whether Progressive ideologues are so convinced of the superior virtue of their cause that they can unashamedly practice their own version of “honorable deception” and deeply believe that, as Ms. Lerner declares, they’ve “done nothing wrong”.

Recent history tells us that concepts of moral superiority change more quickly than they once did: the 1929 assertion of Secretary of State Henry Stimson that “gentlemen don’t read each others’ mail” was trumped in 1942 by the creation of the code-breaking Office of Strategic Services (although Japanese codes were being read before Pearl Harbor) and the sneak attack itself, still deemed dishonorable here, is now somewhat more understandable as the US debates whether to use identically pre-emptive attack to eliminate future damage from a probable opponent: think Iran and North Korea for US theory, Iraq and Syria for Israeli action. US voter reaction to the recent sorts of “honorable deception” statements made by key figures in the 44 Administration, political history will soon tell us. Military history has already told us that battlefield tactics deemed dishonorable in the 18th and early 19th centuries –targeting enemy officers, using snipers, employing collateral (civilian) damage– are now pretty much OK, moral-authority-wise. Sherman’s 1864 March to the Sea was deemed far worse than Bomber Harris’ 1943-45 destruction of German cities in 1945. US sensitivities to collateral damage were low in Korea, high in Viet-Nam, and now high in the Iraq-Afghanistan theater when our forces are involved, but not when the enemy is. For a similar split-response, consider public reaction to the terrible triad: conservatives see it as political (in government action) and moral (in verbal defense) deficiency, while liberals see all three as either beneficial, excuseable or, at worst, clumsily-executed, and, to them, their own governance skill and moral superiority remain quite unstained.