I was previously a constitutional law and civil rights litigator and am now a journalist. I am the author of three New York Times bestselling books -- "How Would a Patriot Act" (a critique of Bush executive power theories), "Tragic Legacy" (documenting the Bush legacy), and With Liberty and Justice for Some (critiquing America's two-tiered justice system and the collapse of the rule of law for its political and financial elites). My fifth book - No Place to Hide: Edward Snowden, the NSA and the US Surveillance State - will be released on April 29, 2014 by Holt/Metropolitan.

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

Thomas Sowell and the Virtue of Seriousness

The brilliant, serious, somber conservative scholar, Dr. Thomas Sowell, has written a Very Important and Serious Piece which was published yesterday. Dr. Sowell solemnly implores us to recognize the Need to be Serious. The article is pointedly entitled "Frivolous Politics" -- which, as Dr. Sowell teaches, is something we simply cannot afford to indulge in these Serious Times:

With a war going on in Iraq and with Iran next door moving steadily toward a nuclear bomb that could change the course of world history in the hands of international terrorists, the question for this year's elections is not whether you or your candidate is a Democrat or a Republican but whether you are serious or frivolous.

That question also needs to be asked about the media. In these grim and foreboding times, our media have this year spent incredible amounts of time on a hunting accident involving Vice President Cheney, a bogus claim that the administration revealed Valerie Plame's identity as a C.I.A. "agent" -- actually a desk job in Virginia -- and is now going ballistic over a Congressman who sent raunchy e-mails to Congressional pages.

This is the frivolous media -- and the biased media.

In the late 1990s -- when Osama bin Laden was busy building his Worldwide Jihadi Army to wage war against Western Civilization in order to enslave us all under his Caliphate Empire -- Sowell, the Serious Scholar, devoted the vast bulk -- really, virtually all -- of his scholarly attention to Susan McDougal, Linda Tripp, Monica Lewinsky, the secret connections between the Clintons and Arkansas drug dealers, and the mysteries surrounding Vince Foster's so-called "suicide":

Thomas Sowell, August 11, 1998, on the Clinton-Lewinsky relationship

Monica Lewinsky reportedly broke down in tears in her attorney's office while being rehearsed in the kinds of questions to expect in the grand jury room. For six months she has been under heavy pressure, as she tried to protect the president who called her "that woman."

It would have been so much easier for Clinton than for her to have admitted what happened and spared everyone six disgusting months. His admission could have been in general terms, without having to go into gory details in a roomful of strangers, as Monica Lewinsky has had to do. Instead, Clinton put her in legal jeopardy to save his own hide.

What could be more selfish or more gutless than a man hiding behind a woman, especially a woman young enough to be his daughter?

Thomas Sowell, December 17, 1998, urging Bill Clinton's impeachment

ONE OF THE MOST DISTURBING aspects of the whole presidential impeachment crisis is the number of people who seem to think that this is about Bill Clinton and Monica Lewinsky. What they did in the past and how they will deal with it in the future are things that can be left to them ---- and to the tabloids.

What matters is not their past but this country's future. . . .

Today are our representatives too squeamish even to vote to send the case to the Senate? If so, what will our descendants say? And will they even have the freedom to say it?

Thomas Sowell, October 1, 1998, on the Seriousness of the Starr Report

When Clinton lied, was Starr supposed to let it go at that or was he supposed to start collecting evidence to the contrary? And when Clinton tried to stop him from getting evidence and testimony that contradicted the lies, was Starr supposed to roll over and play dead or go into court and start issuing subpoenas?

What was the special prosecutor supposed to do when the president committed perjury and then tried to weasel out of it by redefining the word "sex"? Let Clinton make a mockery of the law or start talking specifics? . . . .

Desperate efforts to blame Starr for something, somehow, somewhere, suggest that the hostility to him has been looking for a way to vent itself, without spending a lot of time looking at facts. What then is Kenneth Starr's real crime?

He has told us the truth when we were satisfied with lies.

Thomas Sowell, June 11, 1998, on What Really Matters

It is not what Monica Lewinsky did or didn't do with Clinton that is the issue. The issue is whether she tried to get Linda Tripp to commit a felony -- thereby committing a felony herself. Monica Lewinsky's father has protested that his daughter is being used as a pawn by special prosecutor Kenneth Starr. She was used as a pawn, all right, but by whoever sent her out on a mission to tamper with a witness.

Thomas Sowell, 9/15/98, angry that the silly Sudan strike against Al Qaeda distracted us from Serious Matters

Already we are seeing growing evidence that the recent air strike against a pharmaceutical company in the Sudan was by no means what it was claimed to be -- but the people who were killed will not be brought back to life by any revelations that this was a way of getting the Monica Lewinsky scandal off the front page.

Thomas Sowell, raising Serious Questions about Whitewater and Vince Foster's suicide, May 25, 1998

President Clinton began abusing his power from the moment he took office. His unprecedented firing of all U.S. attorneys in 1993, including those investigating his Whitewater dealings, set back that investigation, just as his later ignoring of subpoenas and other stalling tactics have frustrated and mocked the law for years. Yet the media want the special prosecutor to hurry up and close the investigation.

The White House's flouting of the law continued when Clinton aides spent hours ransacking Vincent Foster's office on the night of his death, despite notices from law enforcement officials to leave things as is until they arrived. The later mass amnesia among these aides when they were called before Congress was in sharp contrast to the vivid memories of F.B.I. agents, not to mention a secret service agent in the White House who testified under oath that he saw records being removed from Foster's office.

Thomas Sowell, on the Serious Questions involving the Death of Vince Foster, March 22, 1998

What innocent explanation can there be for the ransacking of Vincent Foster's office for hours on the night of his death, after law enforcement officials had asked that the office be left undisturbed until they arrived to investigate?

The same people who are now demanding that corruption and sex scandals are frivolous distractions from the Very Serious Wars we must fight were the same ones who spent the 1990s protesting that missile attacks on Al Qaeda distracted attention away from the all-important Starr Report, Vince Foster "suicide," and investigations into Arkansas air strips. Thomas Sowell had a weekly column that was widely read and, like so many of his ideological comrades, he spent the bulk of the last two years of the 1990s (at least) -- not one or two columns, but most of his columns -- writing about investigations into presidential semen stains and Susan McDougal's real estate deals.

To go back and read what people were actually talking about in the 1990s -- not just talking about, but obsessing over to the exclusion of all else, on the front pages of our newspapers and dominating our news broadcasts on a daily basis -- is to be reminded (if one needs reminding) of how Clinton opponents forced this country to do little else in our political lives for many years other than drown in the trashiest gossip. It really is amazing that our country continued to function at all. What kind of a country spends that amount of time talking about things like that?

And for the hardest-core Clinton opponents, they actually did that, nonstop, for the eight full years of the Clinton presidency -- for eight years, Rush Limbaugh and his copycats and followers talked about almost nothing other than the Rose Law Firm, Whitewater, Monica Lewinsky, penile spots, sexual uses of cigars, Hillary's lesbianism, Hillary's affair with Vince Foster, Henry Cisneros' payments to his mistress, Paula Jones and Bill Clinton's private appetites.

But now, people like Sowell are here to tell us that a tawdry sex scandal involving teenage Congressional pages being freely used as sexual playthings with the knowledge and acquiescence of virtually the entire House leadership (who thereafter repeatedly lied, and continue to lie, about their knowledge and involvement) is an irrelevant and frivolous distraction from what Really Matters, and only the most Non-Serious person would talk about something like that.

The archives of Thomas Sowell's columns are like a museum -- really, more like a shrine -- highlighting the frivolous, lowlife obsessions that passed for political debate in this country for a good long time. And now people like Sowell are lecturing us on the need to be Serious and warning us of the perils of being distracted by corruption and sex scandals from the Important, Serious Matters of the Day. And they oh-so-knowingly scold the Clinton administration for not paying more attention to the Growing Islamic Menace. And they parade around as Serious Adults concerned with the Gravely Important things. And they do all of that with no irony.

I watched the very serious Dick Morris last night gravely discussing with the very serious Sean Hannity -- while scary film footage of North Korean marching troops and rolling tanks played over and over and over -- about how Americans are now going to realize just how irrelevant the Foley scandal is because nothing matters except The North Korea Nuclear Threat. They compared it to the Cuban Missile Crisis, and Morris said that ignoring this threat would be like allowing Hitler to invade Czechoslovakia without consequences. They proclaimed that nobody can talk about any other issues now because the "North Korean crisis" now so predominates, and Americans will realize that they don't have the luxury of talking about something as petty and frivolous and irrelevant as some sex scandal. Our Very Survival is at Stake and We Need Protection and Must be Serious.

Bush followers consider Thomas Sowell to be a very important, profound and serious scholar. Sowell clearly agrees. And yet they all spent years dragging our political dialogue into the lowliest and most frivolous gutters, ignoring every serious issue in order to play in a never-ending sandbox of drooling gossip and tawdry, C-movie fantasies. As immune as one becomes to the shamelessness of Bush followers, there is still something a bit jarring about watching them deliver Seriousness Lectures -- without any shame at all -- whereby they angrily protest that a frivolous sex and corruption scandal is distracting from the Important Issues of the Day. The audacity of it is almost impressive.

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