“Feeling morally, intellectually confused?”

The following is posted at Keith’s blog.  If you don’t want to read it, check out the video posted at Crooks and Liars.

This was a great surprise when I saw it last evening.  It is an argument against my recent conclusion that we have grown a generation of illiterates in this country.

Good work, Keith Olberman.

Pat Lang


Feeling morally, intellectually confused?

"The man who sees absolutes, where all other men see nuances and shades of meaning, is either a prophet, or a quack.

Donald H. Rumsfeld is not a prophet.

Mr. Rumsfeld’s remarkable speech to the American Legion yesterday demands the deep analysis—and the sober contemplation—of every American.

For it did not merely serve to impugn the morality or intelligence — indeed, the loyalty — of the majority of Americans who oppose the transient occupants of the highest offices in the land. Worse, still, it credits those same transient occupants — our employees — with a total omniscience; a total omniscience which neither common sense, nor this administration’s track record at home or abroad, suggests they deserve.

Dissent and disagreement with government is the life’s blood of human freedom; and not merely because it is the first roadblock against the kind of tyranny the men Mr. Rumsfeld likes to think of as “his” troops still fight, this very evening, in Iraq.

It is also essential.  Because just every once in awhile it is right and the power to which it speaks, is wrong.

In a small irony, however, Mr. Rumsfeld’s speechwriter was adroit in invoking the memory of the appeasement of the Nazis. For in their time, there was another government faced with true peril—with a growing evil—powerful and remorseless.

That government, like Mr. Rumsfeld’s, had a monopoly on all the facts. It, too, had the “secret information.” It alone had the true picture of the threat. It too dismissed and insulted its critics in terms like Mr. Rumsfeld’s — questioning their intellect and their morality.

That government was England’s, in the 1930’s.

It knew Hitler posed no true threat to Europe, let alone England.

It knew Germany was not re-arming, in violation of all treaties and accords. 

It knew that the hard evidence it received, which contradicted its own policies, its own conclusions — its own omniscience — needed to be dismissed.

The English government of Neville Chamberlain already knew the truth.

Most relevant of all — it “knew” that its staunchest critics needed to be marginalized and isolated. In fact, it portrayed the foremost of them as a blood-thirsty war-monger who was, if not truly senile, at best morally or intellectually confused.

That critic’s name was Winston Churchill.

Sadly, we have no Winston Churchills evident among us this evening.  We have only Donald Rumsfelds, demonizing disagreement, the way Neville Chamberlain demonized Winston Churchill.

History — and 163 million pounds of Luftwaffe bombs over England — have taught us that all Mr. Chamberlain had was his certainty — and his own confusion. A confusion that suggested that the office can not only make the man, but that the office can also make the facts.

Thus, did Mr. Rumsfeld make an apt historical analogy.

Excepting the fact, that he has the battery plugged in backwards.

His government, absolute — and exclusive — in its knowledge, is not the modern version of the one which stood up to the Nazis.

It is the modern version of the government of Neville Chamberlain.

But back to today’s Omniscient ones.

That, about which Mr. Rumsfeld is confused is simply this: This is a Democracy. Still. Sometimes just barely.

And, as such, all voices count — not just his.

Had he or his president perhaps proven any of their prior claims of omniscience — about Osama Bin Laden’s plans five years ago, about Saddam Hussein’s weapons four years ago, about Hurricane Katrina’s impact one year ago — we all might be able to swallow hard, and accept their “omniscience” as a bearable, even useful recipe, of fact, plus ego.

But, to date, this government has proved little besides its own arrogance, and its own hubris.

Mr. Rumsfeld is also personally confused, morally or intellectually, about his own standing in this matter. From Iraq to Katrina, to the entire “Fog of Fear” which continues to envelop this nation, he, Mr. Bush, Mr. Cheney, and their cronies have — inadvertently or intentionally — profited and benefited, both personally, and politically.

And yet he can stand up, in public, and question the morality and the intellect of those of us who dare ask just for the receipt for the Emporer’s New Clothes?

In what country was Mr. Rumsfeld raised? As a child, of whose heroism did he read? On what side of the battle for freedom did he dream one day to fight? With what country has he confused the United States of America?

The confusion we — as its citizens— must now address, is stark and forbidding.

But variations of it have faced our forefathers, when men like Nixon and McCarthy and Curtis LeMay have darkened our skies and obscured our flag. Note — with hope in your heart — that those earlier Americans always found their way to the light, and we can, too.

The confusion is about whether this Secretary of Defense, and this administration, are in fact now accomplishing what they claim the terrorists seek: The destruction of our freedoms, the very ones for which the same veterans Mr. Rumsfeld addressed yesterday in Salt Lake City, so valiantly fought.

And about Mr. Rumsfeld’s other main assertion, that this country faces a “new type of fascism.”

As he was correct to remind us how a government that knew everything could get everything wrong, so too was he right when he said that — though probably not in the way he thought he meant it. 

This country faces a new type of fascism – indeed.

Although I presumptuously use his sign-off each night, in feeble tribute, I have utterly no claim to the words of the exemplary journalist Edward R. Murrow.

But never in the trial of a thousand years of writing could I come close to matching how he phrased a warning to an earlier generation of us, at a time when other politicians thought they (and they alone) knew everything, and branded those who disagreed: “confused” or “immoral.”

Thus, forgive me, for reading Murrow, in full:

“We must not confuse dissent with disloyalty,” he said, in 1954. “We must remember always that accusation is not proof, and that conviction depends upon evidence and due process of law.

“We will not walk in fear, one of another. We will not be driven by fear into an age of unreason, if we dig deep in our history and our doctrine, and remember that we are not descended from fearful men, not from men who feared to write, to speak, to associate, and to defend causes that were for the moment unpopular.”

And so good night, and good luck."

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29 Responses to “Feeling morally, intellectually confused?”

  1. taters says:

    I saw it last night, Col. Very powerful and inspiring. However, I missed you and LJ on c-span, the repeat was being broadcast at 1:42 AM Eastern and despite my beat efforts, I couldn’t make it past 15 minutes into it. I have to accept the fact that this mule doesn’t do like he used to. It promised to be extremely interesting, hopefully I can snag it soon. You looked great, though.

  2. BillD says:

    I also saw it and was very impressed. I am left, however, with one troubling thought: dictatorship and democracy are not necessarily mutually exclusive.

  3. wtofd says:

    Does anyone have experience with youtube? Would be great if we could get PL’s tv appearances on some form of user supported video site.

  4. Kevin says:

    Keith Oberman has Aspergers Syndrome; hyperlexia is a common idiosyncracy among us 😉

  5. Duncan Kinder says:

    Speaking as a former history major, I am glad that people use historical analogies to form decisions. That makes me feel like my degree was useful.
    But, for the life of me, I do not understand why World War II is constantly cited to the exclusion of all other precedent. One might think that it provided the ultimate answers to all human problems.
    There are 5,000 years of recorded human history out there. Some if it also might be useful. For example, we might, when discussing Iraq, consider Athens’ Sicilian Expedition or Napoleon’s invasion of Spain.
    Our recent discussions of Hezbollah’s attacks on Israeli tanks suggests that the collapse of Bronze Age civilization around 1200 B C might be considered.
    During the Bronze Age, chariots played a role analogous to that now played by tanks. A group of people known as the Sea Peoples developed infantry tactics that defeated chariot warfare. Using these tactics, the Sea Peoples overwhelmed the Mycenaean and Hittite Empires and permanently weakened Egypt.
    Perhaps Hezbollah’s tactics herald a second coming of the Sea Peoples?
    So there’s lots of history out there for us to chew upon. Except to the extent that we somehow have a vested interest to limiting our discussion to WWII only.

  6. Michael says:

    An excellent commentary, thank you for re-posting here Col, I appreciate it.

  7. W. Patrick Lang says:

    Bless him. pl

  8. taters says:

    There are quite a few here that excel in your area of expertise, particulary our host, Col. Lang – however it has been a common tactic of the revisionists such as Rumsfeld to use the false analogy to WW2 to Iraq. We had an open thread not that long ago, I got ask quite a few questions, and hopefully I’ll get an opportunity to bug you in regards to your expertise.

  9. Djuha says:

    When the only history you know is WWII, everyone looks like a nazi.

  10. Betsy Hutchins says:

    I would like to encourage the Blogging community to ask their readers to contact MSNBC and tell them that Keith’s sponsors will get first consideration when they decide to spend money. I feel that this is the most efficient way to both thank and encourage a program that is of such value to the American People.

  11. donna says:

    Duncan, you ought to be reading Stirling Newberry. He posts those kind of commentaries all the time.

  12. Michael Murry says:

    I join in the chorus of applause for Keith Olberman’s deconstruction of yet another Donald Rumsfeld screed. Bravo. Anything of this sort can only help the nation to think its way out of our present predicament.
    Still, though, on the subject of literacy I cannot help but cringe at the multiple redundancies, erroneous punctuation, and inelegant waste of words contained in “… a total omniscience; a total omniscience which …”. Personally, since the combining prefix “omni-” adequately conveys the essential meaning of “everything,” I would have written of “… omniscience: a preposterous presumption that …”.
    So other than (1) the self-defeating indefinite article “a” (which implies multiple examples of the same “everything”), and (2) the redundant adjective “total” (since “omniscient” already means “total-knowing”), and (3) the erroneous semicolon punctuation (since immediately restating the same thing requires a colon), and (4) restating a redundancy with the same redundancy (instead of using an explanatory synonym) — other than these minor quibbles, the piece does no great violence to the English language.
    On a more substantive note, I would add along with others that offering only one more (mis)interpretation of irrelevant pre-WWII history does us no real service at the moment. The American War on Vietnam — as Senator Chuck Hagel has so recently noted — provides the best lessons and most useful analogies for us now. Yet aside from a few forums like this one, we assiduously avoid discussing painful truths about our own recent history: lessons we most need to analyze in the present crisis atmosphere.
    People — even decent ones like Keith Olberman — can bad-mouth Chamberlain and Roosevelt all they want for excessive reluctance to go to war against Nazi Germany; but mired in the Great Depression and with bitter memories of horrendous losses in WWI (to no good purpose) the people of America and Britain in the mid-to-late 1930s would never have tolerated anything like today’s notion of “pre-emptive” war. Churchill out of power could engage in all the jingoistic rhetoric he wanted — as those out of power today can safely egg-on the administration to “get tough” on Iran — but once in power himself, Churchill fought tooth and nail to avoid a frontal assault on the Germans in France, since he, too, remembered the awful slaughter of an entire British generation in Flanders Fields.
    Anyway, I think Keith Olberman could do even better if he refrained from historical exegesis and concentrated on exposing the duplicitous dialectics, the sophomoric sophistry, and mendacious meaninglessness so remorselssly promulgated by the crypto-fascist Cheney/Bush administration. In this regard, George Orwell has the most important things to tell us about managed mystification: “staying on (misleading) message” until the induced national migrane headache makes critical thinking physically impossible.

  13. irene says:

    duncan, why WW2? for those who want to use WW2 to inspire, persuade or manipulate… it’s tailor made.
    it was literally world changing.
    it’s dramatic. good guys and bad guys. heroes and villains.
    it’s familiar. and contemporary enough.
    it’s been extensively romanticized by film, novels, music.
    it stirs memories and emotions.
    and so… it sells.
    if the above sounds flip, please know i do not mean to be. i’m saying that any contemporary propagandist knows that WW2 is an important part of our American mythology. being so meaningful makes it a powerful reference. and like anything powerful, can be used for good or not so good.

  14. astonmartin says:

    I join the others in thanking Colonel for posting Keith Olberman’s speach and I want to add that today’s interview of John Dean (by Olberman) was quite nice and powerful (both of them). Maybe we could get it also courtesy of Col. Lang?

  15. zanzibar says:

    KO is staking a spot in the corporate media to contrast the Fox News crowd. Originally a sportscaster he has used a shtick of comedic sarcasm while piercing the WH spin of the day. Of course he has also tried to create controversy by “playing” with Bill O’Reilly and Fox in general. I guess he has a past with them.
    Needless to say his shows’ ratings are growing yet remain far behind Fox in terms of viewership. And as the tide turns he will be well positioned to capitalize. What’s most interesting about Keith is that he represents today one of the few examples of corporate media newscasters that’s challenging the current administration. From the WH press corps the only one that comes to mind is Helen Thomas. And she definitely has faced some abuse. What a change from the era of Murrow that we can find so few examples of media personalities who are working to inform the public as opposed to being part of the cocktail circuit with the “movers & shakers” creating a kind of “tyranny” of the powerful elites.

  16. Francis Egan says:

    Col Lang: Enjoyed your appearance on C-SPAN the other day…all the panelists were on point and as for Keith Olberman’s oration…It was textbook rhetoric–Ethos, Logos, Lexis, Texis, Pathos not one word wasted. A powerful and moving delivery.
    Best, Francis

  17. anna missed says:

    Bill D said:
    I also saw it and was very impressed. I am left, however, with one troubling thought: dictatorship and democracy are not necessarily mutually exclusive.
    Especially when the tenats of dictatoship are actively embraced and promoted within a democracy.

  18. H.G. says:

    I did love Olbermann’s commentary (great writing!) but unfortunately he fell right into the Rove/Cheney administration “Look, there’s something shiny!” trap. Except with the battery plugged in the wrong way….
    Rumsfeld’s, Cheney’s and Bush’s speeches only beg one question: “What week is this”? The answer is “Why, this would be the one year anniversary of Katrina”. Raise your hand if you believe they picked this time to crank up the tired jingo organ with over-the-top bombastic bullshit by wild coincidence. Not even The Worst Poker Player In The World could keep from smirking while describing this not so new attack line to Brian Williams.
    The fact is that Katrina is to Bush as holy water is to a vampire: one sprinkle and he recoils in shreaking horror, meanwhile exposing his hidden ugly. Iraq may not be going well but at least some of his moron plebes see an upside to the topic. Katrina has no upside (not even for the morons), which means quick change of subject needed!
    Hey presto! Democrats have now graduated from limp-wrist panty-waists to full-fledged nazi-appeasers! And just like goldfish to fish food; the pundit class is now kissing in and digesting their new helping. In Rove-land it doesn’t even matter if this new attack sticks; all that matters is that nobody is talking about the destruction of a major US city. That topic don’t poll good, not so much….
    So here we are, destroyed American city? Dude, that’s like so 12 hours ago!
    Apologies for the long comment.

  19. JD says:

    Fun Fact for Duncan: Merkava means Chariot in Hebrew.

  20. TR Stone says:

    To continue with the history analogies, the current political culture could be compared to the era of the Renaissance Popes. A limited group of elite families.
    A group of leaders whose first mission was to enrich themselves, familes, and friends. This led to bankrupting their institution and those they depended on. This constant and ever increasing debt, caused them to act in the moment allowing no vision of the future.
    They were constantly at war, making and breaking alliances at their convienence, turning on their own when necessary. But their primary failure was not believing in the the underlying tenets of the organization that they where chosen to lead.
    They were confident of their actions, they had no need to listen to the contarian voices swirling around. After all, each was God’s chosen leader.
    These actions led to a lose of power and prestige that continues to this day.
    History can repeat itself if men do not pay attention.

  21. Brent Wiggans says:

    Rumsfeld’s latest screed may be noteworthy for its level of squalid mendacity, but it is consistent with the fortification of the executive branch as a citadel for those in possession of the Truth. This administration’s arrogation of power to the executive has been relentless and pervasive and lately their work has taken on a new intensity as if preparing for an assault. They may feel that whatever happens in the upcoming elections they will just pull up the drawbridges and carry on with whatever it is that they believe they are doing.
    Congress was neutered when Republicans gained full control of both houses and became preoccupied with their merger with K Street. Very little use has been made of Congress beyond passing tax cuts and distributing pork. The main function of Congress has been to endorse administration policy and to buffer the executive from accountability. Legislation has been made redundant by the issuing of executive orders. True, trashing Social Security and reconfiguring immigration didn’t fly, but those may have been no more than the Dauphin’s boyish projects anyway. It is conceivable that Cheney and Co. actually found it amusing and instructive for the young prince to find out what happens when he tries to assert himself. The Republican Party is desperate to hold on to its majorities and the White House is keeping Bush very busy with fund raising. However, Rove trundling out the fear factor one more time and lobbing the usual mud balls at opponents aside, what is the administration substantively doing that will help Republican congressional candidates?
    The federal courts are now stuffed with Republican appointees and Bush’s two Supreme Court guys are both ex-executive branch employees who have shown a distinct deference to executive supremacy. Time and the law are now on their side.
    Armed with their belief in their own moral and intellectual clarity, this administration is ready to march forward into its destiny with or without a Republican Congress or any popular support at all. They have two years left, they are accountable to no one and Bush has his eye on history. I fear that they are determined to pursue their own course regardless of whether the people of this country want it or not. It would be something less than a coup, after all, they were democratically elected (er, maybe not so much), but it might behoove us to think about how to constrain these people from doing something like starting a war with Iran and then defying Congress to “cut and run” from it. I don’t really know what that might mean, but saying “Enough!” at that point would be too late.

  22. Propagandist says:

    I thought Olberman’s critique was right on, but I wish he hadn’t waited to make such a statement until the same month he had a new book coming out.
    Seems sort of self-serving.

  23. ali says:

    It’s unfair to compare Rumsfeld with Chamberlin. Chamberlin was a very popular leader entirely in tune with his still war weary nation.
    The British ruthlessly dismissed him on the cusp of war when it became apparent he’d been mistaken. Churchill and FDR would go on firing failed functionaries throughout the war.
    Rummie by contrast clings to his desk like an over-sexed Jack Russell despite a bewildering record of failure.

  24. Maggie says:

    Mr Olberman states “It demands the deep analysis—and the sober contemplation—of every American”. I agree, perhaps it would be interesting to contrast the commentary with the actual speech. The SecDef’s actual text can be read here
    and you can log onto the Pentagon Channel to watch/listen to it.
    The SecDef said we can’t appease terrorists or extremists. I agree. Do you think we should appease Hamas? Hizbollah? How does that statement “impugn the morality or intelligence — indeed, the loyalty — of the majority of Americans who oppose the transient occupants of the highest offices in the land.” I also don’t happen to believe that the majority of Americans disagree with that statement. I don’t personally know anyone who wants to negociate with terrorists, or islamic extremists. I don’t get where Mr. Olberman is drawing these supposed insults from. Wouldn’t appeasing Hamas be like appeasing Hitler? I think it’s an apt comparison.
    How did the speech block dissent or didagreement with the government? Rumsfeld thinks he’s right about terrorists. I think he’s right about terrorists. He made his statements in a room full of vets who think he’s right about terrorists. How is that sinister?
    “it credits those same transient occupants — our employees — with a total omniscience” LOL, it did no such thing!
    The SecDef did attack MSM coverage of the military and rightly so. Do you disagree with the examples he cited of MSM prejudice? I don’t. For Heavens sake, he was addressing the American Legion!

  25. ked says:

    there is a simple purpose for manipulating the memory and meaning of our Nation’s WWII experience. we won it.
    this gang of plutocrats (with neoconism & christianism as mechanisms of mass-appeal) yearns to redirect attention from abject failure by identifying with our biggest and best war.
    at the rate they’re going, we may yet have another – unfortunately, this crew will prosecute the kind no one wins.

  26. Angie says:

    @Michael Murry:
    Agree with you on the pre-WWII analysis. Somewhat simplistic and and only a little wrong.
    But It works for me.

  27. ali says:

    The Belgravia Dispatch on Rumsfeld and unity links over to the FT: http://www.belgraviadispatch.com/2006/08/unity_then_and_now.html
    Contrast Rumsfelds evasive platitudes not just with Churchill’s familiar roaring call blood, sweat and tears but Goebbels after Stalingrad:
    http://www.calvin.edu/academic/cas/gpa/goeb36.htm .

  28. super390 says:

    Appeasement is a myth.
    The right-wing definition of appeasement implies that well-meaning persons of ideology “A” make concessions to ill-meaning persons of ideology “B” in order to maintain peace.
    But Neville Chamberlain was a right-wing anti-Communist freak. He was the head of the Conservative Party in charge of a racist right-wing empire. He and his ilk did not want peace in Europe, they wanted Germany to go to war against the Soviet Union. They were trying to make Hitler their buddy in conservatism to groom him for their nasty little project. They saw Hitler as a protector of religion and Private Property and they were willing to accept anything as being better than Communism.
    So let’s try this on for a comparison:
    in the early 1980s, Ronald Reagan, the head of the conservative party of a right-wing empire, felt that anything was better than Communism. He went to the tyrants of Saudi Arabia and Pakistan in order to groom Islamic extremists to wage war against none other than the Soviet Union.
    Would this not be an example of appeasing (Islamo) Fascism? No, because Reagan saw Islamic extremism as an ally against his true enemy, just as Chamberlain saw Nazism.
    Both empires have managed to prove that the Soviet Union was far less harmful to their citizens than its replacement by a mass right-wing movement with a vast list of grievances and no fear of death.

  29. zanzibar says:

    Olbermann’s follow-up commentary on Bush’s recent speech.

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