Obama’s New Maiestas

by Victor Davis Hanson


There are a lot of disturbing — and ironic — things about the new Obama effort (AttackWatch.com) to monitor, hunt down, and attack his critics. It used to be a classically liberal idea that conservatives and liberals would debate policies, put their views out, and let the public decide the validity of their positions. Supposedly disinterested newspapers would occasionally weigh in on disingenuous or especially egregious transgressions of good manners and basic professionalism.

At certain times — so the liberal narrative went — this notion of an arena of ideas was perverted by the paranoid and vindictive right-wingers, like a Joe McCarthy shaking papers “with the names of known communists”, or Richard Nixon with his enemies lists.

Yet go onto the new (“Paid for by Obama for America”) AttackWatch.comwebsite. It reads and looks like some sort of Stasi file (“file” is their vocabulary, not mine). It asks readers to inform them of criticism of Obama. The format is, I guess by intent, supposed to resemble a government intelligence dossier (“Attack files”), with its blaring black and red headers: “Attack”/”Attackers” (followed by names and pictures of the supposed bad guys)/”Attack Type”/(“public statements”) followed by check off boxes like “Have you seen or heard this attack?” “Yes/No”. It reminds me of of living in 1973 dictatorial Greece, when we all kept silent about the Colonels upon entering the apartment building, lest the government-paid concierge write something down not nice in her black book.

Apparently no one in the administration learned from the spooky tone of the now defunct Journolist. That obtuseness begs the question, what is it with these extra-journalistic efforts to intimidate critics, as if the 2012 campaign will be based around deterrence: e.g., as if: “Beware: if you criticize Barack Obama, your name and picture will appear on our “Attack File.” We are watching you, so you watch out!”

So creepier still is the request to snoop around and collect evidence for what the Roman emperors and French monarchs used to call maiestas/Lèse-majesté — supposed crimes against the head of state, by circulating criticism of his authority that might lessen his proper sense of majesty. Indeed, onAttackWatch.com there is a special pop-up window that is reminiscent ofCrimestoppers.com that supposedly will help form some sort of a clearing house: “Your email”/”content of attack or link”/”Attack type”, “Attach” with a link “Report” that pops up yet another window.

This is yet another disturbing symptom of Obama’s current malady: Near 40% approval polls; widespread terror of 2012 Democratic candidates that Obama may bring them down in the fashion of the 2010 tsunami (cf. the wipeouts in the Nevada and New York special elections); leftwing columnists scapegoating Obama in hopes that they can blame the public rejection of their own statist agenda on a supposedly inept messenger.

I predict AttackWatch.com will fail and go the way of Journolist. It is contrary to the American tradition of unfettered free speech to post, in psychodramatic style, names and pictures as if they were criminals for speaking out against the head of state. The request for millions of spies to report such incorrect discourse will offend rather than inspire. As in the case of the 2008 Obama rejection of public campaign financing funds, it is hypocritical; and also antithetical to the supposed liberal tradition of tolerance and free expression without worry of intimidation.

I also predict in the following weeks we will see a lot of pushback from even the liberal media that will seek to disassociate itself from AttackWatch.com — lest the names and pictures of themselves start showing up on it.

©2011 Victor Davis Hanson

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