Man Without Qualities

Tuesday, February 19, 2002

Bill and the Great Idea
(d'apres Jack and the Beanstalk)

Bill Clinton likes to talk about big ideas, great ideas. For example, in a recent talk on Long Island, Mr. Clinton said that advances in transportation and technology have made the world increasingly interdependent, and vulnerable. "That's really what September 11 is all about." Clinton said.

A visionary.

Yes, while the dust is still settling on his successor’s invasion of Afghanistan and Mr. Bush gathers momentum to militarily address Iraq, Mr. Clinton - apparently not aware of the unintended hilarity of his musings - explained that during his administration a "standing contract" between the CIA and groups in Afghanistan would have authorized and paid them if they had succeeded in arresting or killing Osama bin Laden.

"I always thought this guy was a big problem," Mr. Clinton said. "I do not believe based on what options were available to me I could have done much more than I did."

Isn’t that nice? Mr. Clinton took out a contract on bin Laden! Mr. Clinton says that was all that he could do. Of course, nobody in the audience seems to have been so ill bred as to ask what more, exactly, Mr. Clinton had tried to do. What would be the point of such a question?

As to the future, Mr. Clinton was not shy about second guessing Mr. Bush’s plans. "It would be a mistake in my judgment to spend all that we have to spend in the war against terror on defense and homeland defense, and spend nothing the way General Marshall spent it to build a world with more partners and fewer terrorists."

Yes, Mr. Clinton loves talking about big ideas, great ideas. They are props for him. They help him burlesque his intellectually vain listeners, which includes most academics and journalists - and those listeners carry his water to the rest of the populace. Yes, by all means, a Marshall Plan! Great idea! Of course, the Marshall Plan contemplated the reconstruction of a previously industrial region which clearly already contained all the human and intellectual capital necessary to sustain such a society. Afghanistan has none of that. What Mr. Clinton is proposing looks more like "foreign aid" from the 1960's - not the GREAT MARSHALL PLAN. But don't quibble during the speech. After the speech, while the stage lights are still warm, the great ideas are already back in the box.

How can this have happened? How can such a man have been so successful in advancing himself?

The book from which this blog’s name is borrowed includes the following observation: “There is no great idea that stupidity could not put to its own uses; it can move in all directions, and put on all the guises of truth. The truth, by comparison, has only one appearance and only one path, and is always at a disadvantage."

As was the case in his Long Island address, Mr. Clinton’s rhetoric often has a vast, amorphous sense to it. His language is often like a heated but insubstantial gas expanding outward without boundaries, or a crystal growing in all directions through assimilation of whatever it contacts. This is surely the rhetoric of stupidity.

Mr. Clinton is likely the first President to exploit systemically the full potential of stupidity. In light of the above quote from The Man Without Qualities, it is not surprising that Mr. Clinton is wary of truth as a concept. He observed in an earlier Georgetown address: “This [post-September 11] battle fundamentally is about what you think of the nature of truth, the value of life, and the content of community. You're at a university which basically believes that no one ever has the whole truth, ever, because you're human." Truth! The big idea, the great idea. And yet, it is just not correct that bin Laden asserts that he knows the “whole truth,” whatever Mr. Clinton means by that. Bin Laden doesn’t need to know the “whole truth” – he just needs to be convinced that he knows enough of the truth to disagree with the West violently. But, given bin Laden’s current standing, Mr. Clinton can be assured that his audience will be sufficiently stupid to let him get away with this excess. After all, who will stick up for bin Laden?

But why this unnecessary focus on the “whole truth”? Nobody else was or is talking about the danger from the “whole truth”. Bin Laden’s videotapes don’t show him saying that he will get us because he knows the “whole truth.” Terrorist groups are not notably prone to ramble on about their possession of the "whole truth."

Where does one hear the phrase the “whole truth”? Well, it’s in the oath one takes before testifying. “I promise to tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth, so help me God.” Let us remember that Mr. Clinton is the President who committed perjury by violating this oath. He didn’t tell the “whole truth” – or the truth at all. And it bothers him that his cherished “legacy” is seriously tarnished by his perjury. So he tells us “no one ever has the whole truth, ever, because you're human.” The big ideas, the great ideas are trotted out putatively to criticize bin Laden and put him in some grand perspective - which as usual with Mr. Clinton, goes nowhere. But his effort does take on the aspects of a shabby effort to justify his own perjury, cloaked in the amorphous rhetoric of stupidity. Where once we had a pseudo-philosophical wordgame about "what your definition of 'is' is," now we get a phony meditation on "WHOLE THRUTH."

And his audience is stupid enough to let him get away with it. As Schiller put it, “Against stupidity, the Gods themselves contend in vain.”

Mr. Clinton commands a formidable weapon. The man's not stupid.

A Sort of Update

"Dogbert, do you think love is the strongest force in the universe?"
"No, I'd have to go with stupidity."
"But love is in the top ten, right?"
"It's fourteenth, right after foolish optimism."

-- Dilbert

Comments: Post a Comment