Fellowship of Punditry

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  • George Orwell

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    Political language -- and with variations this is true of all political parties, from Conservatives to Anarchists -- is designed to make lies sound truthful and murder respectable, and to give an appearance of solidity to pure wind.

    In a time of universal deceit - telling the truth is a revolutionary act.

    If you want a vision of the future, imagine a boot stamping on a human face - forever.

    But if thought corrupts language, language can also corrupt thought.

    Sometimes the first duty of intelligent men is the restatement of the obvious.

    Whatever is funny is subversive, every joke is ultimately a custard pie... a dirty joke is a sort of mental rebellion.

    In our age there is no such thing as 'keeping out of politics.' All issues are political issues, and politics itself is a mass of lies, evasions, folly, hatred and schizophrenia.

    All political thinking for years past has been vitiated in the same way. People can foresee the future only when it coincides with their own wishes, and the most grossly obvious facts can be ignored when they are unwelcome.

    At fifty everyone has the face he deserves.

    Most people get a fair amount of fun out of their lives, but on balance life is suffering, and only the very young or the very foolish imagine otherwise.

    John Stuart Mill

    Conservatives are not necessarily stupid, but most stupid people are conservatives.

    The amount of eccentricity in a society has generally been proportional to the amount of genius, mental vigor, and moral courage it contained. That so few now dare to be eccentric marks the chief danger of the time.

    The general tendency of things throughout the world is to render mediocrity the ascendant power among mankind.

    Whatever crushes individuality is despotism, by whatever name it may be called and whether it professes to be enforcing the will of God or the injunctions of men.

    A man who has nothing for which he is willing to fight, nothing which is more important than his own personal safety, is a miserable creature and has no chance of being free unless made and kept so by the exertions of better men than himself.

    Mark Twain

    Don't let schooling interfere with your education.

    All generalizations are false, including this one.

    A classic is something that everybody wants to have read and nobody wants to read.

    Get your facts first, then you can distort them as you please.

    Clothes make the man. Naked people have little or no influence on society.

    The Public is merely a multiplied "me."

    Only kings, presidents, editors, and people with tapeworms have the right to use the editorial "we."

    Whenever you find yourself on the side of the majority, it is time to pause and reflect.

    Only one thing is impossible for God: To find any sense in any copyright law on the planet.

    Don't go around saying the world owes you a living. The world owes you nothing. It was here first.

    Winston Churchill

    The best argument against democracy is a five-minute conversation with the average voter.

    I like pigs. Dogs look up to us. Cats look down on us. Pigs treat us as equals.

    Don't talk to me about naval tradition. It's nothing but rum, sodomy and the lash.

    Never hold discussions with the monkey when the organ grinder is in the room.

    Criticism may not be agreeable, but it is necessary. It fulfils the same function as pain in the human body. It calls attention to an unhealthy state of things.

    However beautiful the strategy, you should occasionally look at the results.

    In war as in life, it is often necessary when some cherished scheme has failed, to take up the best alternative open, and if so, it is folly not to work for it with all your might.

    Otto Von Bismarck

    When you want to fool the world, tell the truth.

    I have seen three emperors in their nakedness, and the sight was not inspiring.

    Never believe anything in politics until it has been officially denied.

    Be polite; write diplomatically ;even in a declaration of war one observes the rules of politeness.


    A witty saying proves nothing.

    If God created us in his own image, we have more than reciprocated.

    When he to whom one speaks does not understand, and he who speaks himself does not understand, that is metaphysics.

    I have never made but one prayer to God, a very short one: "O Lord make my enemies ridiculous." And God granted it.

    To succeed in the world it is not enough to be stupid, you must also be well-mannered.

    Doubt is not a pleasant condition, but certainty is absurd.

    It is forbidden to kill; therefore all murderers are punished unless they kill in large numbers and to the sound of trumpets.

    The best way to be boring is to leave nothing out.

    Karl Marx

    Philosophy stands in the same relation to the study of the actual world as masturbation to sexual love.

    All I know is I'm not a Marxist.

    The writer may very well serve a movement of history as its mouthpiece, but he cannot of course create it.

    Wednesday, June 23, 2004

    The Ronald Reagan Legacy: Mediocrity and Divisiveness

    By Nick

    By Lewis Black
    Editor of the Austin Chronicle
    Source: Page two

    The revolution not only reinvents the country but also reinvents itself and its procedures. The ongoing reality is the system works. The Constitution is more than Ronald Reagan, more than William Clinton, more than Bush. For this, I thank God and the framers.

    A number of people asked about my take on the commentary and editorializing over President Ronald Reagan's death. Mostly it was business as usual, the media indulging in the full menu of response from absurd beatification to vicious and inappropriate vilification with every stop in between. Personal prejudice obviously was the determiner, with the event very much a Rorschach test. Reagan always had a terrific sense of timing, evidenced again at this leaving of the mortal coil. Right wingers and Republicans having to deal with the realities of Bush's presidency have been just a bit too obvious in their relief at the opportunity to celebrate conservative vision without messy reality getting in the way. Liberals and Democrats clearly savor getting to reassert their beliefs without the moral complexities of supporting troops while decrying a war.
    Delirious, the right reminded us that Reagan turned the nation around, saved our culture, and re-established our international military presence, ending the cold war in the process. The great communicator just damn saved the day. Let's put his head on Mount Rushmore so he can look down on the liberals in a great celebration of democracy. If there isn't enough granite left for another head, let's find it. After all, Americans can do anything. Reagan's administration has been granted perfection by his death – the right wing's challenges, criticisms, and accusations of betrayal of the time are now erased.

    As this is so beyond ridiculous, some just had to remind us that this presidency without flaws was flawed. Some did it gently – Paul Krugman in the Times acknowledging Reagan's massive tax cut also pointed out all the tax increases during his administration. Other critics went rabid, which is more troubling. Out of respect, almost anyone's death should be treated with restraint. I'm not talking about refraining from criticisms and corrections, nor am I suggesting rewriting history or offering phony compliments but simply demonstrating moderation. The more hysterical anti-Reagan tirades may have been cathartic for their authors, but all they did was preach to the choir, changing no minds, offering no new insights, and reinforcing the right's completely unearned and self-righteous, self-satisfied sanctimony.

    What's my take? Not all that much really; in fact it's almost timid. Ronald Reagan was a mediocre president who did more harm than good but was hardly outstanding even there. Don't get me wrong – I disagreed with most of the policies and legislation he championed. He did genuine damage to the judiciary, pandered to the religious right, was profoundly anti-labor, and further undercut the structure of the social welfare system. Rather than a unifying leadership as some claim, his presidency marks the beginning of a long period of ever more hysterical divisiveness. Tributes paid to him for changing the course of the country and salvaging our society are basically fantasy.

    Humans love melodrama; we thrive on exaggerating the nature of our world. The genius of this democratic republic is that it goes on. The country was structured to change course; the very principles it is based upon demand it. Regardless of how little I personally liked Reagan, if he was nowhere near a superior president neither was he an outrageously evil one from whom this country will never recover. History, the Constitution, participatory democracy, and American tradition all conspire to limit the impact of most presidents. Bill Clinton wasn't an unusually great president, for example, nor do I understand the basis of those who claim he was. I certainly liked his administration more and agreed with more of its policies than Reagan's. Even more confounding to me are those boasting a fanatical distaste for Clinton, so outsized to his performance. Their seemingly bottomless hate, almost daily harping years after he left office, and truly apocalyptic predictions find precious little support in his administration's record.

    Mostly the system works, the country moves one way then another, most presidents are neither as great as their supporters swear nor as destructive as their detractors insist. There was a difference between Ronald Reagan and Bill Clinton – a significant difference – but not one so great as to violate the imagination of the Constitution.

    Those of all political stripes – conservative, reactionary, liberal, progressive, libertarian, Naderite – who insist that we are (or were) at a moment of such explosive crisis that the country is/was to be lost and the true meaning of American freedom forever distorted don't really believe in this country.

    If this democracy can be so easily overwhelmed, if American ideals so nonchalantly tainted, then how can you believe in them? The argument that there is an enemy within is its own vindication – if you believe the dialogue is dangerous, the shifts in priority inappropriate, the lack of a consistent national vision dangerous, then you don't believe in this country's core democratic ideals, so why bother? If you believe democracy needs to be saved, then there is nothing to save.

    Which is not to argue that everything is groovy, but that little is as close to the brink as rhetoric suggests.

    This is not to be oblivious to the inherent human instinct to paint in black and white; certainly this column often does so. It is easier not only to mobilize, but also to think in terms of extremes rather than in much subtler shades of differences. Listen to the Republican right: They control the Congress and presidency, they believe God is on their side and that they hold the true vision of this great country in their hearts, but almost every argument they make is from the viewpoint of the besieged. Alienated righteousness is a potent, protected place to be – you know your beliefs are pure, you know you hold the truth, but the easily manipulated masses have voted the fools into power who are determined to destroy this nation.

    Witness the happily paranoid right wondering why mainstream media has been so nice to Reagan since his death. Their hallucination is that it was hostile and negative toward him during his presidency and since. This completely ignores his Teflon run, when despite often egregious actions he was mostly adored by the mainstream media. Reagan knew how to sell himself and his message. The media bought and then spread it.

    We are in conflict, times are troubled, some divisions are deep. But Armageddon is nowhere closer or farther than it's ever been. We like to think in extremes, they energize us – but that doesn't make them real. This country wasn't overwhelmingly liberal before Reagan, and it's not prohibitively reactionary now.

    Thomas Jefferson famously wrote: "What signify a few lives lost in a century or two? The tree of liberty must be refreshed from time to time with the blood of patriots and tyrants. It is its natural manure" (letter to William Stephens Smith, 1787). He also wrote to Smith, "God forbid we should ever be twenty years without such a rebellion. ... We have had thirteen States independent for eleven years. There has been one rebellion. That comes to one rebellion in a century and a half, for each State. What country before ever existed a century and a half without a rebellion?"

    Without hesitation, let us suggest that rather than the blood spilled by violent revolutions, this revitalizing has and is occurring bloodlessly. The exaggerated hysteria of those truly politically involved offers baptism not by blood but by ballot. The embattled despair at the elected entrenched. Tones of gray are ignored as any political debate is reduced to Good vs. Evil. Finally, mobilized by outrage (and aided by the passage of time), those in power are turned out. Now those who've lost feel not simply temporarily disenfranchised, but instead are sensitized to the impending demise of the Republic. They fume and plot, waiting for their turn to come around again.

    The revolution not only reinvents the country but also reinvents itself and its procedures. The ongoing reality is the system works. The Constitution is more than Ronald Reagan, more than William Clinton, more than Bush. For this, I thank God and the framers.

    posted by Nick at 6/23/2004 06:03:00 PM |

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