Jimmy Montague's blog

Chris Floyd vs. the Lost Planet Obamanauts

Chris Floyd is one of those few journalists whose work is usually too good for journalism. In a profession that boasts of comforting the afflicted and afflicting the comfortable, the things Floyd writes afflict everybody -- journalists included -- and journalism, therefore, doesn't seem to like Chris Floyd very much.

Your typical Chris Floyd essay doesn't merely inform by asking and answering questions about the subject: it demands that readers examine themselves. Floyd's ironies are prickly at both ends; his questions are double-edged. People get stabbed and cut reading Floyd, which is why -- I think -- Chris Floyd's essays draw an audience of only one-to-four thousand readers from an English-speaking Internet population that must number some two billion people. No matter who you are or what you believe, it takes guts to read Chris Floyd.

So it is with one of Mr. Floyd's latest efforts. Titled WIBDI: A Prism for the New Paradigm, this one is a 1400-word smart bomb aimed at the mob of self-styled 'dissidents' who came to themselves during the regime of George W. Bush and now, having given their all to Barack Obama, expect jobs and many other great things from him. Floyd writes:

As the United States enters a new and unprecedented political era -- or, as killjoy cynics would have it, as the American empire gets a new set of temporary managers -- the fate of the "dissident" movement that arose under the Bush Regime seems occluded. So many of those who set out their stalls as bold outsiders "speaking truth to power" now find themselves on the inside, enthralled by power, speaking for power, as it is personified by President-elect Barack Obama -- who, ironically, has consistently repudiated many of the tenets and principles that provoked the dissidents' outrage in the first place.

I have always disliked this phrase "speaking truth to power" (although I'm sure I've lazily employed it myself on several occasions). No one needs to speak truth to power: power knows the truth well enough, it knows what it is doing, and to whom, and why. What we need, most desperately, are people who will speak truth about power, and speak it to people who might not have heard that truth through the howling cacophony of media diversion, corporate spin and political manipulation.

So for those of dissident bent who would still like to speak truth about power -- and who are not sending their CVs to the Obama transition team or signing on as happy warriors to defend the new imperial managers from revenge attacks by bitter partisans of the ousted faction -- the question of how best to comport oneself in this brave new world takes on some urgency. In this regard, we would like to suggest the following conceptual framework for analyzing and understanding the moral, ethical, social, economic and legal implications of the policies and actions of the coming administration. (And it even comes with its own handy acronym!):

"WIBDI: What If Bush Did It?"

This user-friendly analytical tool provides a quick and easy way of determining the value of any given [Obama] policy while correcting one's perception for partisan bias. Simply take a particular action or proposal and submit it to the WIBDI test: If Bush did this, would you think it was OK? Or would you condemn it as the act of a warmonger, or a tyrant, or a corrupt corporate tool, etc.?

Of course Floyd knows most readers won't actually do as he asks. Tens of millions of people will not, suddenly, wax morally and politically sentient. 'Progressive' Americans are not going to turn on Obama and his Democrats and call their straw heroes to account for the things the 'heroes' have done and said (or not done and not said, as the case may be). There will be no mass demonstrations demanding an end to the wars in Central Asia. No angry horde will march on Washington to compel the repeal of the USA Patriot Act and the Military Commissions Act, an end to government prying into Americans' private lives, the depoliticization of our justice system, and the prosecution for treason of George W. Bush and his hatchet-men. No outraged, 'progressive' mob will humble corrupt leadership and force a return to constitutional government and the rule of law. None of those things will happen because, to cite the old saw, there are none so blind as those who will not see.

None of the odious things that George W. Bush has done could have been done without Democratic cowardice and complicity. Had Democrats insisted on a rigorous, public investigation into events surrounding 9/11 and the onset of the Iraq War, the bulk of the Bush presidency would never have happened because any rigorous, public investigation would have ended in the impeachment of George W. Bush and Richard B. Cheney. Democrats voted "YEA!" on the USA Patriot Act, the Military Commissions Act, and a long list of other perverse, Bush/Cheney initiatives. Democrats laid supine while Bush virtually shredded the U.S. Constitution and nullified, with signing statements, every piece of legislation for which he felt the vaguest distaste.

Speaking of Barack Hussein Obama, who was initially against the war in Iraq: by the end of Campaign '08, Obama had so changed his position on Iraq that he could have served as John McCain's running mate. Along with McCain, Obama went to Washington and stumped for Hank Paulson's widely despised and obviously corrupt $700 billion, Wall-Street bailout package. Obama stood with McCain -- and with Pelosi, Reid, and the whole herd of hypocrite swine who lead the purportedly 'progressive' Democratic congressional caucus -- stood on the stump and told the American people that they had done us all a huge favor; that the bailout was a thing the nation couldn't live without; that they shoved the swindle six feet up our collective ass because they knew the experience would be good for us -- a thing, they evidently suppose, that we ourselves are too stupid to realize.

The facts about Obama and his 'progressive' Democrats are rationally indisputable. They are in the public record of the last eight years. Most Americans over the age of 20 probably learned of them as they happened. Thoughtful people are taken aback, therefore, when they see the 'progressive blogosphere' awash in rhetorical swill: Obama is great; Obama is good; Obama is God's gift to Western Civilization; Obama will save us from the evil Bushmen; Obama will do this or fix that or make (plug in your pet peeve here) right again.

That crap wouldn't be so disgusting if we only heard it from rabid, rank-and-file Democrat partisans. It's the kind of stuff one expects from such as them. But when supposedly intelligent people like Naomi Klein start spouting the same sort of deluded gibberish, it's time to call for a reality check.

In an essay posted on Alternet, Klein asks: Can Obama Stop the Bush Administration's Final Economic Heist? She answers the question this way: Maybe Obama can stop it, but only:

". . . .if the remarkable grassroots movement that carried him to victory can somehow stay energized, networked, mobilized -- and most of all, critical. Now that the election has been won, this movement's new missions should be clear: loudly holding Obama to his campaign promises, and letting the Democrats know that there will be consequences for betrayal."

"There will be consequences for betrayal?" Since when? Democrats betrayed their constituency even before Election '06 handed them a majority in the House of Representatives. Of the people who coordinated that betrayal, Speaker Nancy Pelosi won reelection in '08 by a huge margin. Here in Iowa, Pelosi's lapdog congressmen all won reelection handily. Sen. Tom Harkin, who voted for the bailout, easily won reelection. One of Pelosi's personal political goons, IL. Rep. Rahm Emanuel, was named White House chief of staff by Obama on Nov. 5 -- the day after Obama won the presidency. And Obama himself -- even though he touted the bailout at a time when public opinion was running about a hundred-to-one against the legislation -- beat all third-party candidates by a stupendous margin. So I think Naomi Klein will have to find a way to pardon Obama (I'm sure it won't be difficult) when she finds he is not terrified by her threats of reprisal.

About the idea of forcing Obama to keep his campaign promises, I have two questions:

1) Promises to who? I'm sure Obama promised his Wall Street supporters that he would work for a bailout, and I'm sure he delivered. Does Klein suppose the president-elect will now reverse himself and fight tooth-and-nail to have the bailout legislation repealed? Any such move would make our new president a lot of friends -- both in Wall Street and in Congress -- as Klein should know perfectly well. So just for my own self, I suppose Klein had better quit smokin' dat nasty shit.

2) What promise did Obama ever make to us, the people? I recall he promised "hope" and "change". Speaking just for myself again, I've been hoping for political change every year since Ronald Reagan first got elected, and I've never been disappointed. Every year for the last 28 years, things have changed for the worse. Every year, the changes were helped along by 'progressive' Democrats, and I expect Obama and his 'progressives' will continue in that grand tradition.

Still, "hope" and "change" are good ideas, I think. So maybe Naomi Klein and her grassroots 'progressives' can persuade President Obama to have 'progressives' in Congress emend the Declaration of Independence. The new version should read: "We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness, and the Hope for Change."

I'll drink to that.

Whatever President Obama does or doesn't do, the Obama presidency is a wormy apple: its bane already gnaws at its vitals. The fatuous mob who sent him to the White House and now sing his praises will almost certainly howl for his head within two years because Obama is not what they think he is and -- even if he were -- the things Obama is bound to do if he honestly tries to save the nation will cause us, the people, as much pain as would the things his rich sponsors want him to do for them at our expense.

I don't now believe Obama is what he puts on to be and I don't now believe he has the best interests of our country at heart. I do believe he will spend his huge mandate taking care of his rich friends. Still, I am open to persuasion, for I'm conscious that I was wrong when I argued that Obama could never win the presidency. I was wrong about America when I once wrote that there will never be a president of the United States named 'Barack Hussein Obama'.

Knowing I've been twice wrong about him, I wish Obama the best because the United States of America are in dire straits. We need a leader in the White House who is wise and just and strong. So if, by and by, President Obama convinces me that what he's about is all for the good of the country, I will support him in whatever he does no matter how much it hurts.

If the mess we're in hurts you, too, then get on over to Chris Floyd's place and treat yourself to a little rhetorical iodine. It stings like hell but you feel better afterwords, and you won't get bullshit all over your clothes.

Stardust on the Corn

In his essay, The Work of Local Culture, poet and rustic sage Wendell Berry famously wrote of a steel bucket that used to hang from a fencepost on his Kentucky farm:

"I never go by it without stopping to look inside," Berry wrote. "For what is going on in that bucket is the most momentous thing I know, the greatest miracle that I have ever heard of: it is making earth. The old bucket has hung there through many autumns, and the leaves have fallen around it and some have fallen into it. Rain and snow have fallen into it, and the fallen leaves have held the moisture and so have rotted. Nuts have fallen into it, or been carried into it by squirrels; mice and squirrels have eaten the meat of the nuts and left the shells; they and other animals have left their droppings; insects have flown into the bucket and died and decayed; birds have scratched in it and left their droppings or perhaps a feather or two. This slow work of growth and death, gravity and decay, which is the chief work of the world, has by now produced in the bottom of the bucket several inches of black humus. I look into that bucket with fascination because I am a farmer of sorts and an artist of sorts, and I recognize there an artistry and a farming far superior to mine, or to that of any human. I have seen the same process at work on the tops of boulders in a forest, and it has been at work immemorially over most of the land-surface of the world. All creatures die into it, and they live by it."

Berry's recognition of "an artistry and a farming far superior . . . to that of any human" at work inside his bucket is, of course, homely recognition of the fact that the universe doesn't need people. The universe got along fine before humans appeared. The universe will get along fine when humans disappear.

Prehistoric Meteorites

Scientists today know that Earth and her ecosystem were shaped in part by a series of meteor strikes. Geological evidence shows, for example, that 65 million years ago a meteor some 10 kilometers in diameter roared down from the heavens and struck Earth near what is now the town of Puerto Chicxulub, on the Yucatan Peninsula. The giant rock exploded upon impact, leaving a crater roughly 180 kilometers in diameter. The explosion filled the atmosphere with clouds of gas and debris that blocked the sun’s light for years. The long darkness caused immediate and catastrophic global climate changes, of which one result was the extinction of the dinosaurs.

About 74 million years ago, some 10 million years before the Yucatan apocalypse, a similar disaster occurred near what is now the town of Manson, in northwest Iowa. The impact and explosion of the Manson Meteorite, as it is called, left a crater 35 kilometers wide. The Manson Crater is 23rd largest of the 172 meteoric craters known to exist on Earth. Basing their calculations on evidence such as the size and depth of the crater and damage to the surrounding terrain, scientists believe that the Manson Meteorite was about 2.5 kilometers in diameter and was traveling at about 56,000 mph when it hit the ground.

Though human history is filled with wars and floods and plagues and famines and volcanos and earthquakes, neither our written records nor our folklore recall cosmic calamities like those at Manson and Chicxulub. The heavens thus far have refused to rain annihilation upon man. Of ancient craters like those at Chicxulub and Manson, no part is now visible. Scientists know those craters exist and can map their extent thanks to evidence from drill cores, from seismic instruments, and from other scientific and technological resources.

Meteorites in Iowa History

Though hundreds of small meteors enter our atmosphere daily, most all of them burn up before they reach the ground. Evidence of their burning, particles of ash sometimes called cosmic dust, perpetually drifts down from the sky.

Some of that dust surely falls into places such as Wendell Berry’s bucket and contributes in some way to the process at work there, though neither Berry nor anyone else could actually see it. The 'stardust' that rains upon us is invisible to the naked eye and can only be detected using special tools and techniques.

The nightly display of 'shooting stars' is all most folks ever see of rocks from outer space. For a meteor to actually strike the ground (only meteors that hit the ground are called meteorites) is an extremely rare occurrence. Some of those lucky enough to witness such an event may be superstitious and attach ominous import to what they have seen. Others may not know what they’re seeing and mistake it for something else entirely.

So it was when, at about 2:50 p.m. on February 25, 1847, a meteor streaked fire and smoke across the sky and exploded over Linn County, Iowa. Pieces of the thing showered down on a strip of wooded land near the Cedar River, from Hooshier Grove (now the town of Ely) to a spot two or three miles south of the village of Bertram.

Published accounts agree that “The attention of people in that region was arrested by a rumbling noise as of distant thunder; then three reports were heard one after another in quick succession, like the blasting of rocks or the firing of a heavy cannon. . . . These were succeeded by several fainter reports, like the firing of small arms in platoons. Then there was a whizzing sound heard in different directions, as of bullets passing through the air.” (a)

The explosions were so loud that they caused alarm in Iowa City, 22 miles away. (b) Judge James Cavanagh and two of his sons were cutting wood along the Cedar River some way south of the impact area. When they heard the heavy explosions and saw puffs of dark smoke in the northwestern sky, the Cavanaghs and other witnesses thought the town of Marion had been blown off the map. (c)

Perhaps because Marion was then the Linn County seat and the largest town in the area, or perhaps because early reports told of a single strike in Linn County about nine miles south of Marion, meteoric stones recovered by Linn County residents in the days and weeks after the 1847 strike are known to science and to history as fragments of the Marion Meteorite. It is estimated that between 46 and 75 pounds of the Marion Meteorite were recovered in all, and it is likely that more of it remains to be found. Of that which was recovered, Amherst College got two pieces weighing roughly 20 pounds each. A museum in Tubingen, Germany, got a fragment weighing about a pound, and Chicago’s Field Museum houses two smaller pieces. In 1977 Amherst College lent one of its two fragments back to the State University of Iowa, where it remains on display. (d)

The Marion Meteorite was the first meteor strike in the recorded history of Iowa. It was also the first of several that awed and sometimes terrified Iowans in the latter half of the 19th Century: At 10:20 p.m. on Feb. 12, 1875, residents of Iowa County saw an enormous fireball come screeching out of the southeast and blast itself to bits in the sky just west of Homestead. People saw the flash and heard the detonation at a distance of 150 miles. It scattered pieces of rock over some 20 square miles. Another big rock smashed to earth near Estherville (Emmet County) at 5:15 p.m. on May 10, 1879, and still another struck near Forest City (Winnebago County) on May 2, 1890. (e)

The Estherville strike was the biggest of the four. (f) One recovered boulder reportedly weighed 431 pounds. Several others near that size were found, along with hundreds of smaller fragments. The rock’s spectacular explosion caused a dust cloud several cubic miles in volume, according to watchers’ estimates. (g)

In the 20th Century, too, Iowans experienced several meteorites: On a bitter cold night in November 1916, watchers saw a meteor explode in the sky near the town of Mapleton (Monona County). (Grade Another 'detonating meteor' (sic) was seen in the sky west of Alta (Buena Vista County), at 9:55 p.m., on May 31, 1917. A 108-pound meteorite believed to have come from one of those two explosions was recovered in 1939 from a cornfield east of Mapleton. (i)

The continuous rain of meteorites globally should remind us all that Wendel Berry is right: planet Earth is a sort of bucket hanging on a fence post in the cosmos. The soil, the land, the plants and animals, the people that shelter in the bucket, the moon, the stars, the universe itself are parts of a living process that goes on apace, within and all about us. When any person claims to 'own' a piece of that process, he or she is deluded. To believe we can control it is the utmost folly.

Control issues aside, some Iowans believe they can taste stardust in cornbread. Details at eleven.

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

a) Rev. Reuben Gaylord in a letter to Prof. Charles Upham Shepard of Amherst College, qtd. in Ben Hur Wilson, “The Marion Meteor,” The Palimpsest 39, n. 4, April 1958, 186.

b) C.W. Irish, qtd. in Wilson, The Palimpsest 39, 188.

c) Judge James Cavanagh to C.W. Irish, qtd. in Wilson, The Palimpsest 39, 187.

d) Wilson, The Palimpsest 39, 185.

e) “Looked Like the Face of Moon Had Fallen Off,” The Cedar Rapids Gazette, 16 July 1967, 5-B.

f) Ibid.

g) Otto Knauth, “Recall Days When Sky Rained Stones on Iowa,” The Des Moines Register, 24 April 1967, 3.

Grade Ben Hur Wilson, “The Mapleton Meteor,” The Palimpsest 39, n. 4, April 1958, 197-206. For whatever reason, the incident caused so little stir at the time that witnesses were later unsure of the exact date of its occurrence.

i) Ibid. 197.

Two More Good Reasons Not to Vote for Obama

1) Obama has now been endorsed by nearly every major newspaper in the country. In the teeth of that fact, Bloggers like the gang at Juan Cole's place and at the Daily Kos -- who all profess disdain for mainstream media -- need to explain to themselves (and to me) why Obama is still their choice.

2) Colin Powell recently endorsed Obama. I remember when Powell thought Iraq was a good idea. Maybe Powell will now address the U.N. General Assembly, show them gallon jugs full of "Obama brains," and exhibit other proofs that Obama has "weapons of mass construction."

It's too soon, and it's too late.

In "A Bill That Can Never Be Paid," WP asks how come the American people don't rise up in anger. It's because they can't imagine what's coming down on them. They think this isn't going to be any worse than, say, the S&L screwing they took during the '80s.

Then there's the fact that the Reagan Revolution is now thirty years old. Those of us over 30 years of age are living with an entire generation that, collectively, have no memory of the world that was before Reagan. So far as they're concerned, we haven't lost a thing and they don't yet understand what we older folks are all upset about.

Reaganism, so far as I can tell, has succeeded beyond even Rappin' Ron's wildest hopes. Between GOP liars, talk-radio hate merchants, and free-market mythology, the political landscape is changed so that electing liberals is impossible. Democrats have been forced so far to the Right that the two parties are now effectively one and that one is Reaganite conservative. Politicians no longer squabble over ideology. They squabble over loot.

Beyond the fact that the population now has less money and less leisure than they formerly had, changes to date have had little to no impact on the overwhelming majority. They are hunkered down around their television sets, hoping things are already as bad as things can get and waiting for the "all clear" to sound. Having never heard of noblesse-oblige, having no memory of the Great Depression, having no recollection of responsible, accountable leadership or of constitutional government, and having had no PERSONAL experience of third-world poverty and police-state brutality, they lack any frame of reference.

Many older Americans know what is coming and fear it. They are preparing for it now. The rest of the country, totally unprepared, will be aroused when it finally gets here (in a few more weeks or months).

Younger Americans will be told by their masters that it's all the fault of the aged, the sick, the disabled. It is the aged and the sick and the disabled, after all, who draw the bulk of Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, Food Stamps, and other so-called entitlements. We will be the Jews of the New Reich that is howling down upon us. Our personal destruction, the theft of our property, the consumption of our goods will consume the energy of the mob for several years. By that time, the government will have work for them in the armed forces.

Those with eyes to see now know where this is going. Those who don't see are those who will help do the killing. I've said enough.


Let's lighten up a little

All the news is bad, so I thought we could all use a joke. What follows is a thing I found many years ago in Chapter 3 of R. Buckminster Fuller's book, "Critical Path."

Fuller called the poem "Butcher, Baker, Candlestick Maker. It dates from the depths of the Great Depression and reportedly was sung around campfires in Hoovervilles all over the country. In another venue, I can picture someone like Durante and his big schnoz (or Cagney or Cantor or Carmichael), dressed in a striped jacket, a straw boater, white slacks and shoes and a cane. He shuffles across the stage "makin' the hat" and chanting the lyrics. It's that kind of stuff. . . . Anyway, Fuller attributed the poem to Ogden Nash. Here it is:

Butcher, Baker, Candlestick Maker

I’m an autocratic figure in these democratic states,
A dandy demonstration of hereditary traits.
As the children of the baker bake the most delicious breads,
As the sons of Casanova fill the most exclusive beds,
As the Barrymores, the Roosevelts, and others I could name
Inherited the talents that perpetuate their fame,
My position in the structure of society I owe
To the qualities my parents bequeathed me long ago.
My pappy was a gentleman, and musical to boot,
He used to play piano in a house of ill repute.
The madam was a lady, and a credit to her cult.
She enjoyed my pappy’s playing, and I was the result!
So my mammy and my pappy are the ones I have to thank
That I’m Chairman of the Board of the National Silly Bank!

Oh, our parents forgot to get married,
Oh, our parents forgot to get wed,
Did a wedding bell chime, it was always a time
When our parents were somewhere in bed.
Then all thanks to our kind loving parents,
We are kings in the land of the free.
Your banker, your broker, your Washington joker,
Three prominent bastards are we, tra la,
Three prominent bastards are we!

In a cozy little farmhouse in a cozy little dell,
A dear old-fashioned farmer and his daughter used to dwell.
She was pretty, she was charming, she was tender, she was mild,
And her sympathy was such that she was frequently with child.
The year her hospitality attained a record high
She became the happy mother of an infant, which was I.
Whenever she was gloomy I could always make her grin
By childishly inquiring who my daddy could have been.
The hired man was favored by the girls in Mummy’s set
And a trav’ling man from Scranton was an even money bet.
But such were Mammy’s motives, and such was her allure,
That even Roger Babson wasn’t altogether sure.
Well I took my mother’s morals and I took my daddy’s crust,
And I grew to be the founder of the New York Blanker's Trust.

Oh, our parents forgot to get married, etc.

In a torrid penal chain gang on a dusty southern road,
My late lamented daddy had his permanent abode.
Now some were there for stealing, but my daddy’s only fault
Was an overwhelming tendency for criminal assault.
His philosophy was simple and quite free of moral taint:
Seduction is for sissies, but a he-man wants his rape.
Daddy’s total list of victims was embarrassingly rich,
And one of them was Mother, but he couldn’t tell me which.
Well I didn’t go to college, but I got me a degree.
I reckon I’m the model of a perfect S.O.B.
I’m a debit to my country but a credit to my Dad,
The most expensive senator the country ever had.
I remember Daddy’s warning -- that raping is a crime,
Unless you rape the voters a million at a time.

Oh, our parents forgot to get married, etc.

I’m an ordinary figure in these democratic states,
A pathetic demonstration of hereditary traits.
As the children of the cop possess the flattest kind of feet,
As the daughter of the floozie has a waggle to her seat,
My position at the bottom of society I owe
To the qualities my parents bequeathed me long ago.
My father was a married man and, what is even more,
He was married to my mother -- a fact which I deplore.
I was born in holy wedlock, consequently by and by,
I was rooked by every bastard who had plunder in his eye.
I invested, I deposited, I voted every fall,
And I saved up every penny and the bastards took it all.
At last I’ve learned my lesson and I’m on the proper track:
I’m a self-appointed bastard and I'M GOING TO GET IT BACK!

Oh, our parents forgot to get married,
Oh, our parents forgot to get wed,
Did a wedding bell chime, it was always a time
When our parents were somewhere in bed.
Then all thanks to our kind loving parents,
We are kings in the land of the free.
Your banker, your broker, your Washington joker,
Three prominent bastards are we, tra la,
Three prominent bastards are we!

Cheers, everyone!

Journalist heal thyself: Walter Lippmann's "Liberty and the News" revisited

Liberty and the News

Walter Lippmann (1889-1974), nearly 35 years dead, towers over American journalism just as the Washington Monument towers over the National Mall. His influence stretches, like a shadow, from near the beginning of the 20th century to its end and beyond. Lippmann surely never saw a personal computer and probably never dreamed of the Internet. Nevertheless, his thought shapes much of the content that professional journalists post on the World Wide Web. High-minded amateurs who set up blogs in revolt against “mainstream” journalism -- many of whom probably never heard of Walter Lippmann or are but vaguely aware that there was once such a person – labor under the influence of Lippmann. Their work, their ideals, their ideas in part are shaped by him if they know it or if they don't. In sum, it is impossible to overstate Lippmann's influence on American journalism and it is good when something happens that recalls journalism's attention to the life and to the thought of Walter Lippmann.

The latest such thing is a reprint of Lippmann's first book, Liberty and the News (Princeton, New Jersey: Princeton University Press; 2008; 118 pp; $16.95). The original work was published in 1920. This latest edition is updated inasmuch as it features a new Foreword by Ronald Steel and an Afterword by Sidney Blumenthal.

Neither Steel nor Blumenthal squeezes any fresh juice out of Lippmann's book. To treat the modern writers fairly, however, one allows that after three generations of academic journalists and hordes of gradgrinds have pored over Liberty and the News with microscopic intensity it would require genius of a rare order to find and extract even one drop of additional meaning from Lippmann's text.

Ronald Steel, for his part, gives us a Foreword that is learned, lucid, concise and useful. Steel needs less than eleven pages to background readers on the book. He puts Lippmann's thoughts in context and mentions a few of the author's most salient ideas. In so doing, Steel captures and hones the attention of readers who might otherwise be unaware of Lippmann's import and therefore reluctant to stroll for two or three hours through the author's supple-but-sonorous, vintage prose.

Readers who take that brief hike are rewarded, for it's likely that many of those who today yell loudest about bias in journalism have no idea that, almost 90 years ago, thoughtful people were deeply concerned about the same problem. Moreover, it may be that those who shout loudest today are so busy shouting about bias in journalism that they're unaware of other rotten spots in the craft.

Lippmann called attention not only to bias but to those other rotten spots as well, all of which he contended are mere symptoms of problems much deeper and more profound – problems that, being rooted in human nature itself, threaten to belie Enlightenment ideals such as truth, justice, democracy, and scientific government. At the peroration of Chapter 1, for example, the author got up on his hind legs to ask what verdict history will lay upon a nation that, professing a belief in government by the will of the people, was content to make decisions about government on the basis of 'facts' reported by a class of people who were notorious, professional liars. (Liberty and the News, 8 )

Chapter 2 hits just as hard while asking more and deeper questions. Here Lippmann stumped for a new definition of the word 'liberty' that might serve us better than the definition we now employ. “A useful definition of liberty,” he wrote, “is obtainable only by seeking the principle of liberty in the main business of human life, that is to say, in the process by which men educate their response and learn to control their environment. In this view liberty is the name we give to measures by which we protect and increase the veracity of the information upon which we act.” (L&N, 40)

This writer sees Liberty and the News as the expression of a conflicted genius. On the one hand, Lippmann knew that democracy and scientific government depend absolutely on unrestricted access to accurate information. “There can be no higher law in journalism,” he wrote, “than to tell the truth and shame the devil.” (L&N, 7) On the other hand, Lippmann knew that the rivers of information from which Americans drink all flow from a poisoned fount. Human nature, he knew, drives some journalists to lie about the facts in exchange for money, position, prestige. Other journalists, afflicted with a more insidious form of the same disease, unknowingly turn fact into falsehood by filtering fact through a fabric of personal perception, be that perception enlightened or benighted.

The late Hunter S. Thompson once observed that “journalism is a low profession.” Reading Liberty and the News, one sees that Lippmann would have agreed with Thompson but yet held fast to a higher truth, namely: There is no other way forward.

Democracy depends upon access to good information. Not to put words in anyone else's mouth, this review observes that there's more to the story than just that. Civilization itself cannot long endure where truth is absent, where nothing is real, where everyone knows that no one can be trusted. Civilization is not some mere contract that can be broken with impunity and the mess cleaned up by lawyers. Civilization describes a trajectory: the more we know, the more we can trust, the farther away from superstition and barbarism we move. The reverse is also true: the less we know, the less we can trust, the farther we fall back toward superstition and barbarism. Lippmann understood that if the truth must be told, then someone must do the telling. We must have journalism, he concluded, and so journalism must be reformed.

Lippmann used Liberty and the News to call for objective truth in journalism but did not stop there. Though he preferred that journalism be self-regulating, he plainly believed that government regulation of journalism might prove necessary. “The regulation of the publishing business is a subtle and elusive matter,” he argued, “and only by an early and sympathetic effort to deal with great evils can the more sensible minds retain their control. If publishers and authors do not face the facts and attempt to deal with them, some day Congress, in a fit of temper, egged on by an outraged public opinion, will operate on the press with an ax. For somehow the community must find a way of making the men who publish news accept responsibility for an honest effort not to misrepresent the facts.” (L&N, 45)

Lippmann also suggested the creation of impartial national and international news bureaus staffed by the finest reporters in the profession. His assertion that “it would be a great gain if the accountability of publishers could be increased” (L&N, 44) implies a belief that a license to practice journalism would not be out of order. He advocated better education for journalists and marveled that those who cannot be led to tell the truth cannot be locked in jail: “If I lie in a lawsuit involving the fate of my neighbor's cow,” he wrote, “I can go to jail. But if I lie to a million readers in a matter involving war and peace, I can lie my head off and, if I choose the right series of lies, be entirely irresponsible. Nobody will punish me. . . .” (L&N, 24)

“At any rate,” Lippmann concluded, “our salvation lies in two things: ultimately, in the infusion of the news-structure by men with a new training and outlook; immediately, in the concentration of the independent forces against the complacency and bad service of the routineers. We shall advance when we have learned humility; when we have learned to see the truth, to reveal it and publish it; when we care more for that than for the privilege of arguing about ideas in a fog of uncertainty.” (L&N, 61)

There is much more worth having in Liberty and the News and, for those who think seriously about what Lippmann wrote, there is much to carry away. To read in this book the carefully arranged thoughts of the finest mind in 20th century journalism – a mind shaped in what was then one of the world's best schools (Harvard), where it was polished by the likes of George Santayana and William James – is by itself worth the price of admission.

The nadir of Princeton's reprint of Liberty and the News is Sidney Blumenthal's Afterword.

This review does not object to Blumenthal's short list of Lippmann's sins. Among others Blumenthal mentions: “His immersion in politics while holding forth as a disinterested observer. . . .” (L&N, 63) Blumenthal's account of Lippmann's ultimate failure, of his ideals being “traduced, trampled and trashed” (L&N, 64) by journalists and journalism is wholly pertinent. But then Blumenthal throws in a lively and factual account of events leading up to the mess in which we presently find ourselves, starting with press coverage of 'Tailgunner Joe' McCarthy and ending with the outrageously un-American behavior of the press during the outrageously un-American administration of George W. Bush.

It is at that point that this writer objects to Blumenthal, who was himself a player in the public-relations effort of the Clinton administration. The Clintons, as the whole world knows, ran one of the most prolific lie factories on record. Sidney Blumenthal's experiences and observations from inside that rats' nest would have made a juicy addition to his otherwise fine Afterword. Sadly, his experience and his observations get no mention here. Blumenthal's account focuses entirely on Republicans, the Republican Party, and the Bush administration. Having an opportunity that cries out for a mea culpa, Blumenthal passed and gave us a theya culpa.

I suppose this is all too much: why make such a fuss over a measly afterword? I'm making a fuss anyway because I see that, with this Afterword, Blumenthal personifies the state of mainstream journalism. Having helped (during the Clinton administration) bring the profession to ruin and (at the end of Liberty and the News) having rhetorically interred the ideas and ideals of journalism's foremost saint, Blumenthal stands clueless amid the carnage and expresses an idiot's hope for the future: “. . . journalism may yet be revitalized,” he wrote, “as part of a general reawakening of American democracy that discovers new forms of expression and forces new debate to achieve its ends.” (L&N, 87-88)

What rot! After airing Lippmann's dirty linen, Blumenthal cannot bear to bare his own spotted shorts. Ever the good Democrat, he cannot set aside his political bias and tell us – or even mention – a tale of the Clinton spin machine. One wonders if Blumenthal is pathologically unconscious of the truth about the Clinton White House and one suspects that if we forget about Walter Lippmann and rely upon the likes of Sidney Blumenthal to lead us down the path to democracy, the Blumenthals of this world will lead us to something else.

There may yet be a "reawakening of American democracy," and new media may appear. “New forms of expression,” however, will never appear. The root form of expression must be and therefore always has been language: spoken, written, manual, transmitted to the brain by hot, throbbing hormones – any medium of human communication, any “new form of expression” will ultimately rely upon language or communication will not occur. Any medium of human communication, any “new form of expression” used by liars will lie to us just like the media, just like the “forms of expression” we've already got.

Jesus taught: “. . . know the truth, and the truth shall make you free.” (John 8:32) Lippmann knew that lesson: Liberty and the News is his testament. Blumenthal, it seems, is vaguely aware of the argument. At the conclusion of his Afterword, he quotes James Madison: “A popular Government without popular information, or the means of acquiring it, is but a prologue to a Farce or a Tragedy, or perhaps both. Knowledge will forever govern ignorance, and a people who mean to be their own Governors, must arm themselves with the power which knowledge gives.” (L&N, 88)

Were Blumenthal properly armed (Thank you, Mr. Madison.) he might see Lippmann's effort and its failure as a tragedy, exactly in the mode of Oedipus Rex or Antigone. He might also have pointed practitioners – especially youngsters – to an irony of a spiritual sort that Lippmann's thought and career impart: Those who come to journalism determined to change the profession will fail and will instead be changed by the profession in ways they will not like. Those who come to journalism determined to tell the truth, if they remain committed to truth-telling, will change the profession over time whether they meant to change it or not. That irony aside, a "reawakened American democracy" (if ever one appears) will enact regulation that "forces new debate" because it rewards truth-telling and punishes the lie.

The Princeton edition of Liberty and the News is great stuff. Journalists, those who aspire to journalism, useful citizens of any democracy have every reason to read Walter Lippmann. Speaking strictly to journalists: Liberty and the News gives old hands an excuse to reminisce their college days; rookies get something new to stretch their minds; everyone gets something important (for a change) to argue about when they're drunk.

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