“‘You are a slow learner, Winston,’ said O’Brien gently.
“‘How can I help it?’ he blubbered. ‘How can I help seeing what is in front of my eyes? Two and two are four.’
“‘Sometimes, Winston. Sometimes they are five. Sometimes they are three. Sometimes they are all of them at once. You must try harder. It is not easy to become sane.'”
– from “1984,” by George Orwell (Part 3, Chapter 2)
If you have paid any attention to the Chuck Hagel, SecDef nomination hype, you probably heard the former Republican Senator’s detractors calling him “out of the mainstream,” when it comes to Israel, Iran, and involving the US in talks with terrorist organizations.
Witness Thursday morning’s exchange between Hagel and Sen. John McCain, during the former’s confirmation hearing. Hagel, as a Senator, made statements against Bush’s 2007 troop surge in Iraq, equating it to a potential quagmire, a word used often to describe the war in Vietnam, where Hagel served and was wounded.
McCain, himself a prisoner of the Vietcong during that conflict, insisted that the surge was a success and wanted his former colleague to take it back, to admit his previous position was a mistake.
“I’m not going to give you a yes or no,” Hagel told McCain. “I’ll defer that judgement to history.”
“History has already made a judgement on the surge,” McCain insisted, “and you’re on the wrong side of it.”
This insistence on defining history as mainstream truth is a revisionism worthy of Orwell. Honest and frank answers are eschewed for blind allegiance and party fidelity. Engaging in “You’re either with us or against us” tactics, especially when it comes to what’s true or not, endangers our republic, because it attempts to supplant evidence with conviction.
You can’t just make something up, that some people believe is true, and call it mainstream. Whose mainstream? How is that defined in Washington? The mainstream of the respective parties? The nation’s mainstream? Or is it just the mainstream as defined by the deepest pockets and the shrillest voices?
Even the loud and wealthy National Rifle Association, with its indisputable hold on legislators of both parties, at every level of government, is out of the mainstream when it comes to the White House proposals for universal background checks, closing the gun show loophole, and banning high capacity ammunition magazines. A survey by Public Policy Polling, released in early January, found that most American gun owners think the NRA’s idea to post armed guards in schools is a terrible idea, by 15 points, although most Republicans agree with the gun industry lobbyist.
Wednesday’s contentious exchange between the NRA’s Wayne LaPierre and Illinois Sen. Dick Durbin showed the gun group’s willingness to go counter to the mainstream, by creating its own narrative that it wants members of Congress to get behind. LaPierre claimed that background checks will keep honest people from getting guns, but not criminals because they won’t go through the process. He was saying, essentially, “How can we get more guns into people’s hands, so they can protect themselves, if we have universal background checks?”
“That’s the point,” Durbin replied. “You’re missing that point, completely [that we want fewer guns out there]. We are awash in guns.”
Deep pocket influencers, like LaPierre’s NRA, are leading their staunch supporters in Washington, DC, away from true mainstream American thinking by their wallets, where they willingly go, finding a place where the flowing water of opinion won’t fight them too much. There, two plus two can equal five, or three, or four, or “all of them together,” and it’s okay, because they are floating in a happy eddy of politically safe, partisan denial, and believe they are sane. And we keep voting for them, so what does that make us?