The Democratic Convention is yet another reminder of the disposability of political speeches. I suspect it’s always been this way because politics has always been about the same old thing. If you think about truly memorable things said in recent political speeches, all of them were pretty much off-the-cuff or said in the heat of battle. Think Bush in New York, September 2001, or Bill Clinton pointing his finger. Almost none of the things politicians mean to say have staying power. They’re just wispy sentiments and calculated efforts to attract people in the moment, like a bong attracts a pothead.
Granting that political speeches are basically worthless, I’ll still complain about the thing that I hate most about such demagogic piles of goo: the anecdotal personal story. Nothing induces a mental stupor quite like them. To use a fictional example that we might hear from the current convention, imagine a politician at the podium:
The current debate on health care reminds me… of a conversation I had with Shirley McPhee from Solon, OH. She’s a wife and a mother with four kids. Shirley said to me: “My husband is working three jobs and yet we can barely keep our heads above water. My son Eddie has (name your ailment) and it costs us $5000 a day, and we don’t know what to do. We pay our taxes but who benefits? We need to move toward the America of our dreams!” Then Shirley grabbed my arm, looked me in the eye intently, and said: “We need universal health care now! Please, (insert politician)– make it happen!” [Crowd cheers]
This focus on storytelling is even worse in the church. To pastors and “missional” folks enamored with such “dialogue” and warm anecdotes, I say, who cares about your stories? I don’t mean that we shouldn’t know people or sympathize with the plight of fellow sinners, but the church isn’t a therapy group or an avenue for sad-sack egotism. No, we’re bound together because of Christ’s story. THAT’S what I want to hear. Christ and the apostles didn’t go around asking people to tell their stories. They went around telling people what to do. They went around preaching the whole counsel of God, commanding people to repent and believe the Gospel. That’s the Good News, that’s the news that justifies and sanctifies, present and future, for those of us who are strangers and exiles on the earth. (Heb 11:13). Tell that story. Get rid of the goo.
Nikolai Yezhov and Lavrenti Beria remain notorious. Yezhov was a crazed, alcoholic, bisexual dwarf who enthusiastically oversaw Stalin’s Great Terror. Beria, his successor, was a sadistic killer and rapist. Neither, particularly Beria, was averse to getting blood on his shirt.
Preceding these depraved Stalinist hangmen was the lesser-known Vyacheslav Menzhinsky. Menzhinsky was an intellectual of sorts. Like Himmler, he let his thugs do their thing in the cellars and kept his own collar clean. Menzhinsky would recline upon a divan, legs wrapped in a blanket, and interrogate his victims in a kindly fashion. And yet, the historian Donald Rayfield noted that the “excruciatingly polite” and efficient Menzhinsky was responsible for more murders than Yezhov and Beria.
That’s an imperfect segue to this: the ongoing focus on partial birth abortions has always seemed to me a case of playing at the edges, a case of accusing Beria and excusing Menzhinsky. First, there are thousands of late-term partial birth abortions, hundreds of thousands of first-trimester abortions. Second, for the doctor who “performs” the dirty deed, maybe the other types of abortion seem more clinical and less bloodthirsty than partial birth abortion. If we focus on results, though, how are these other forms less brutal for the child? To put it another way, if an executioner gave me a choice between (a) a partial birth abortion where he’d jam scissors into the back of my neck and suck my brains out, (b) a saline abortion where he’d scald me to death, or (c) his most common method, where he’d use a suction tube with a sharp cutting edge to dismember me… Well, I think I’d ask if an option (d) was available.
Beyond people playing Frankenstein and murdering the innocent and helpless, isn’t it the case that all of these methods are barbaric and vicious? No one should get kudos because they oppose one limited and little-used variety.
Liberalism wants us to “set aside our differences,” as if our differences don’t really matter as much as the things on which we can all agree with liberalism itself. You can almost define a liberal as one who demands that others reach his conclusions from their premises. -1/4/96 column
[O]n issues as contentious as abortion, there is no “middle.” When you try to find one there, you only make both sides distrust you, because both sides agree on one thing: that there are principles at stake. Faced with clashing principles, [Bob] Dole chooses neither. …When Mr. Dole compromises, he gains nothing for his side, if he can be said to have a side. He merely gets the Democrats to settle for three-quarters of a loaf, in exchange for giving him part of the credit. -7/23/96 column
I don’t know if Obama’s schtick is cynical demagoguery (see Clinton, Bill) or simple inanity. “Common ground,” in his parlance, is just another word for pro-life surrender. Oh, you’re free to carp on the sidelines, but don’t even think about running out on the field with your helmet on. The game’s over. The Supreme Court told us that years ago when they ushered us out of the Dark Ages.
The life issue is pretty much binary: dead baby or live baby. How are you going to find common ground or compromise on abortion? Saw kids in half, maybe? That’s no worse than what’s being done now. Or maybe allow half of those intended for the slaughter to live and half to die? As morally odious as that sounds — it’s like an old Star Trek morality play! — it would represent the kind of “three-quarters of a loaf” success the pro-life movement hasn’t achieved in my lifetime. I’m not pushing it as feasible or moral, but just noting that even such a repugnant idea as this would actually represent an improvement on the current situation.
It’s not the type of compromise the Left would ever entertain anyway. No, the machinery of death will continue to run. On that there will be no compromise. Amid the soaring rhetoric about healing, the abortion mills will faithfully grind, day after day. NARAL and Planned Parenthood will continue to cut their checks to politicians like Obama to keep their blood money safe. Parents will continue to murder their offspring with the indispensable help of this support infrastructure.
Good-faith compromisers on the pro-life side will just have to settle for getting the credit for seeking “common ground.”
Alexander Solzhenitsyn has died. More than anyone else, he demolished the belief that a pure Leninism had been debased by Stalinism, and furnished plentiful examples of the future’s discreditable past. Mr. Solzhenitsyn was a great man. Some select quotes from his masterpiece, Gulag Archipelago:
You are arrested by a religious pilgrim whom you have put up for the night “for the sake of Christ.” You are arrested by a meterman who has come to read your electric meter. You are arrested by a bicyclist who has run into you on the street, by a railway conductor, a taxi driver, a savings bank teller, the manager of a movie theater. Any one of them can arrest you, and you noticed the concealed maroon-colored identification card only when it is too late. p10
…that prisoners would have their skulls squeezed within iron rings; that a human being would be lowered into an acid bath; …that a ramrod heated over a primus stove would be thrust up their anal canal (the “secret brand”); that a man’s genitals would be slowly crushed beneath the toe of a jackboot; and that, in the luckiest possible circumstances, prisoners would be tortured by being kept from sleeping for a week, by thirst, and by being beaten to a bloody pulp… [W]hat normal Russian at the beginning of the century… could have believed, would have tolerated, such a slander against the bright future? …[W]hat had already been regarded as barbarism under Peter the Great… [and] totally impossible under Catherine the Great, was all being practiced during the flowering of the glorious twentieth century– in a society based on socialist principles, and at a time when airplanes were flying and the radio and talking films had already appeared– not by one scoundrel alone in one secret place only, but by tens of thousands of specially trained human beasts standing over millions of defenseless victims. -p93-94
Here is one vignette from those days as it actually occurred. A district party conference was underway in Moscow Province. It was presided over by a new secretary of the District Party Committee, replacing one recently arrested. At the conclusion of the conference, a tribute to Comrade Stalin was called for. Of course, everyone stood up (just as everyone had leaped to his feet during the conference at every mention of his name). The small hall echoed with “stormy applause, rising to an ovation.”
For three minutes, four minutes, five minutes, the “stormy applause rising to an ovation” continued. But palms were getting sore and raised arms were already aching. And the older people were panting from exhaustion. It was becoming insufferably silly even to those who really adored Stalin.
However, who would dare be the first to stop? The secretary of the District Party Committee could have done it. He was standing on the platform and it was he who had called for the ovation. But he was a newcomer. He had taken the place of a man who’d been arrested. He was afraid! After all, NKVD men were standing in the hall applauding and watching to see who quit first.
And in that obscure, small hall, unknown to the leader, the applause went on—six, seven, eight minutes! They were done for! Their goose was cooked! They couldn’t stop now till they collapsed with heart attacks. At the rear of the hall, which was crowded, they could of course cheat a bit, clap less frequently, less vigorously, not so eagerly—but up there with the presidium, where everyone could see them?
The director of the local paper factory, an independent and strong-minded man, stood with the presidium. Aware of all the falsity and all the impossibility of the situation, he still kept on applauding! Nine minutes! Ten! In anguish he watched the secretary of the District Party Committee, but the latter dared not stop. Insanity! To the last man! With make-believe enthusiasm on their faces, looking at each other with faint hope, the district leaders were just going to go on and on applauding till they fell where they stood, till they were carried out of the hall on stretchers! And even then those who were left would not falter …
Then, after eleven minutes, the director of the paper factory assumed a business-like expression and sat down in his seat. And, oh, a miracle took place! Where had the universal, uninhibited, indescribable enthusiasm gone? To a man, everyone else stopped dead and sat down. They had been saved! The squirrel had been smart enough to jump off his revolving wheel.
That, however, was how they discovered who the independent people were. And that was how they went about eliminating them. That same night the factory director was arrested. They easily pasted ten years on him on the pretext of something quite different. But after he had signed the Form 206, the final document of the interrogation, his interrogator reminded him:
“Don’t ever be the first to stop applauding!” p69-70