Beware of the Mob

by Victor Davis Hanson

PJ Media

Our Modern Lynch Mob

Democracies are in general prone to fits of the mob. Just read the Thucydidean account of the debate of Mytilene. Or watch a 1950s Western as the lynch party heads for the town jail. Fear of democratically sanctioned madness is why the Founders came up not just with classical tripartite government to check and limit power between the judicial, legislative, and executive branches, but also now generally disdained notions of allowing states to impose property qualifications for voting, the Electoral College, two senators guaranteed per state regardless of population, and senators originally selected without direct votes.

They were not concerned that under Athenian-style democracy the proverbial “people” and their populist Rottweilers in government and the press could not check the power of capital and birth, but were worried, as Juvenal later quipped, over who would police the police. So there had to be checks on the mob as well — a fickle and unpredictable force as we saw in the last eight years.

2006 Evil Guantanamo/ 2009 Good Guantanamo

Sometime around 2005, the anger of the mob over the Bush-Cheney anti-terrorism protocols peaked. Preventative detention, renditions, military tribunals, Guantanamo, Predators, wiretaps, and intercepts were all considered unlawful, unnecessary, and immoral. The Bush-Cheney “terror state” seemed capable of almost anything, as it shredded the Constitution while claiming to “protect” us from non-existent terrorists. Dick Cheney went from a respected and perennial Washington insider, given his due by both liberals and conservatives as a sober and judicious administrator over the past thirty years, to a pernicious Darth Vader.

The Left never really adduced any evidence to support its charges, but such serial attacks went largely unanswered. Candidate Barack Obama both benefited from and whipped up the venom, only as president to embrace or expand all of what he had once so vehemently denounced. He soon became predator-in-chief, increasing targeted assassinations eightfold, as he joked about them being unleashed at any potential suitors of Malia and Sasha.

The Bush-Cheney anti-terrorism policies were quietly reinvented as necessary (given that no post-9/11 plot [and there were many] had succeeded) and continue on today as if no one ever had questioned their utility or legality. The fist-shaking mob apparently decided that what was truly bad before 2009 [1] was mostly good afterwards, or at least not bad enough to question an Obama presidency. So it threw down the torches and drifted on home, wanting the proverbial prisoner in the jail freed and canonized rather than hanged.

Today we are left with either one of two liberal assumptions: the Bush-Cheney protocols are still bad, but to continue to criticize them would now be to weaken the liberal agenda of their present adherent Barack Obama; or, why get riled over politics? — every out-party attacks the in-party any way it can, so get over it.

Planet Warming on Hold

One of the most venomous lines of attack against George W. Bush was his supposed failure to address climate change. These were the mob days of the anguished Al Gore, still smarting over having won the popular, but not the electoral, vote in 2000, damning Bush as a liar, as he created Gore, Inc. — a near organic-growing merchandising empire of several hundred millions of dollars.

Gorism both hyped a global carbon threat and then offered the consulting and expertise to address it. His carbon footprints and “offsets” followed the medieval model of selling exemptions. In such holy work, there were no such things as conflict of interest, influence peddling, or simple bad manners. Gore rode his Earth in the Balance [2] / Inconvenient Truth [3] express train to a Nobel Prize, a sizable fortune — and a general impression that he had become unhinged, whether in his incarnation as a “crazed sex poodle” or a vein-bursting screaming “he lied!” mental patient.

No matter, Barack Obama came into office on the shoulders of this screaming mob. His team lectured us on the wisdom of withholding oil leases, on the desirability of European-level gas prices, and on why we must soon pay skyrocketing energy prices. Obama-sanctioned cap-and-trade passed the Democratic-held House.

And then?

Snow fell [4]. Ice still formed outside the kitchen window. Chicago, as is its habit, got both really hot and really cold. Volvos still needed gas. People in Malibu still liked central heating. Philology adjusted accordingly. Global warming begat climate change and the latter begat climate chaos: if the planet were not hotter, then snow and ice were symptoms of such heating; and if even that were insufficient proof for us dunces, then tornados, earthquakes, and hurricanes would have to do.

Yet the mob mentality began to fade, as revelations about everything from doctored research, politicized grant-giving, and false conclusions about glaciers, Greenland, and polar bears began appearing in the liberal news — suggesting that if such scandal made even the mainstream media, then the phrenology-like fad was nearing an end.

Obama had done his part in postponing the Keystone pipeline, putting oil on federal lands off-limits, and talking up boondoggles like the Chevy Volt and Solyndra. But the idea of $5-a-gallon gas [5] makes even the most liberal Santa Monica Volvo driver edgy, and now the global-warming movement has collapsed [6]. Bush is in Texas, not the White House. Obama now blames Solyndra on Republicans, brags about entrepreneurial wildcatters in the Dakotas, does photo-ops in front of derricks, and promises to allow bits and pieces of the Keystone pipeline.

And the mob? Why hurt the liberal cause by going after Obama? Suddenly, the would-be-lynchers have left the sheriff’s office porch and are in twos and threes heading back home.

Postmodern Ethics

The mob, of course, had once tried to storm the jail to get at Bush over presidential ethics and decorum. It was a valiant effort. “Rovian politics” had polluted the national scene. PACs, the revolving door, lobbying, earmarks, and mega fundraising had ruined American politics. An Enron-insider mentality had warped the White House. “Swift-boating” was Rove-inspired character assassination.

Now? We live in an age of Peter Orszag, the OMB to Citibank monorail, and $1 million sent to the Obama PAC from the misogynist Bill Maher whose “t—t” and “c—t” are the sorts of popular smears against women [7] that Obama does not wish his daughters to experience.

The idea of a Democrat running for president according to the rules of public campaign financing was destroyed four years ago by none other than Barack Obama. His genius lies in demonizing his donors [8] as “fat cats,” “one-percenters,” and “corporate jet owners,” while they fork over cash, again on a medieval principle that the more you lecture the usurer or money-changer, the more he purchases penance for his soul by giving the church a marble block or two for the dome of the cathedral. Or is the shakedown not a shakedown, but rather a simple connivance for the big money guys — Obama is dead even in the polls, so why not keep a stiff upper lip and hedge your bets?

I think it was around January 2009 when ethics in government ceased to be an issue. Insider influence peddling suddenly became the necessary price of getting green energy. Bundling and corporate giving were vital to getting universal healthcare passed. And $35,000-a-head private dinners were a sort of castor oil, a bad-tasting medicine that led to better air and water for all of us. In those happy days, John Edwards was a populist idol. Jon Corzine put his financial expertise to work for hoi polloi. Steven Chu’s Nobel Prize-winning physics mind would be let loose on the pernicious carbon lobby.

Then it was all over. The Obama team of Goolsbee, Orszag, Romer, and Summers headed back to tenured berths or big money or both. “Millionaires and billionaires” meant skipping the insignificant former and concentrating on shaking down the important latter. Today, we just shrug when Obama lectures us at 9 a.m. on paying our fair share, and then does a $40,000-a-plate fundraiser in the Upper West Side or Palm Beach at noon.

The Old Race Card

The same hang-the-suspect hysteria breaks out over race only to dissipate as if it never happened. Before 9/11 it was the reparations movement. Then it was the Bush neglect of the underclass. Then it was the preppie white non-rapists at Duke [9]. Then it was Eric Holder’s lectures about “cowards,” “my people,” and the racists who wanted answers about Fast and Furious.

We went from the beer summit to Trayvon Martin’s resemblance to the boy the president never had. In each case, facts did not matter: Bush increased Great Society spending, and sent $15 billion to save black Africans from the ravages of AIDS. If there were any voting fraud, it came as a result of Acorn, Chicago wards, and the SEIU get-out-the vote machine, not Karl Rove with levers and gears.

The Cambridge police did not act stupidly. And if police do stereotype, it may be because 12% of the population commits almost half the violent crime in the nation. In the case of rare black/white and white/black murdering (94% of murdered African-Americans were killed by other African-Americans), a minority is more likely to commit murder (and rape) against a majority than the majority is against the minority.

As I write, the hysteria (is there any other word for it when Spike Lee twitters the address of George Zimmerman or the New Black Panther Party publishes a wanted poster [10] or the mayor of Philadelphia calls the death an “assassination”?) is beginning to die down, somewhat.

The initial moblike news (in this regard, Fox News’s Shepard Smith was especially culpable in whipping up frenzy when he did not have the evidence to support his allegations) that a white, Germanic-named vigilante ran down and executed a small African-American child (at least Mr. Martin seemed so from his adolescent photos in the press) eating candy while strolling in an exclusive gated community is not quite the entire story. At least it has morphed into an account of an excitable, gun-carrying Hispanic neighborhood-watch volunteer, in a mixed community, prompting (?) a fist fight with an unarmed 17-year-old, 6’2” youth in a hoodie. Mr. Zimmerman apparently lost the struggle, and then pulled out a gun and fired — even as the narrative seemed to change with new information every day. The case is not helped by presidential editorializing that now, after the beer summit and Sandra Fluke, seems a gambit to divert attention from $4-a-gallon gas and 8% plus unemployment (17% in Fresno County).

The Trayvon Martin tragedy is not over. We do not know all the facts; bad judgment, racism, and ill-intent may well have led to manslaughter or even second-degree murder or, then again, in theory, self-defense, but to speculate about any such charges without evidence is to become mob-like. My own view is that carrying a weapon requires greater forbearance, but I was not there and still have no idea what transpired. As I write this, the account will be out-of-date by tomorrow’s disclosures. What we are left with are no rules of national anguish: When ten African-Americans are murdered by other African-Americans in a single weekend, is it news or not news? When the occasional African-American murders a white person, as in a recent car-jacking, is it a sign of something the nation must note? When an Hispanic shoots an African-American, is it news to the degree he has a European name, but had he been Jorge Martinez with an Anglo mother, it would not have been news?

The role of a president is to rein in the mob, not to unleash it. The latter is what community organizers do; the former is what makes statesmen. Yet on issue after issue — anti-terrorism, global warming, government ethics, and racial relations — a frenzied mob, egged on by the media and demagogues like Barack Obama, have almost stormed the jail, only to dissipate when met by either evidence, or the knowledge that the incarcerated was one of their own — as if they had never screamed and threatened in the first place.

URLs in this post:

[1] what was truly bad before 2009:
[2] Earth in the Balance:
[3] Inconvenient Truth:
[4] Snow fell:
[5] the idea of $5 a gallon gas:
[6] has collapsed:
[7] the sorts of popular smears against women:
[8] demonizing his donors:
[9] non-rapists at Duke:
[10] publishes a wanted poster:

©2012 Victor Davis Hanson

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