Occupy RushMouth

Rush Limbaugh by Ian Marsden
Drawing by Ian Marsden, courtesy WikiCommons

Twenty years ago or so, I listened to Rush Limbaugh on the radio. I’d heard of him and wanted to know what was so special. Even though I didn’t agree with his politics, I thought it was appropriate to hear what he had to say and judge for myself.

I hung in there for a couple of months, listening to his newspaper-rattling and sighs of disgust while slurring and maligning any person or idea he didn’t like or agree with. 

He claimed he was just an “entertainer.” But his stated goal was to destroy liberalism. I listened as much as I could. And then one day I said to myself, “That’s enough.” I switched him off. 

Every once in a while I’d come across a story about him and wonder, “Do people still listen to him?” Yet I’ve read he has millions of listeners—5 million–20 million. Whatever the number, it’s a lot.  

In spite of his stated objectives—however misguided—no good can come from his hateful speech. Limbaugh’s inability to see it underscores his own delusion. And 20 million pats on the back each day is a lot of encouragement to stay in the dark. Yet because millions believe he’s right doesn’t mean he is. Twenty million people can be wrong.

We are fortunate in this country that physical assassination is a rare thing. But character assassination is acceptable, legal, and prevalent. Rush Limbaugh is not an entertainer. His recent attack on Sandra Fluke is character assassination. Not that she’s his first hit, but she is suddenly in the spotlight over an issue that’s important and personal to many people. 

The caricature above suggests Rush Limbaugh is the face of the Republican party. The face is where the mouth is. While the Republican candidates stumble all over each other trying to prove who is the more conservative, the mouth of the party is busy spewing hatred and contempt. If the mouthpiece is delusional and morally corrupt, what we say about the rest of the party?

Some of us believe it’s proper for a government of by and for the people to help those in need. It’s a point of view, not a disease. The real disease festers in the mouth of Rush Limbaugh.

The Occupy Movement has more territory to cover.

What is Skillful?

I began this series with some thoughts on the differences between liberals and conservatives—views that have everything to do with one’s beliefs about things like justice, patriotism, authority, and spiritual purity. Most recently, I concluded that one’s actions, what one does, are fundamental to one’s morality and live outside the above categories. On the surface it may sound as if I’m saying there is a difference between belief and action. Not at all. Belief and action are interrelated. 

I suggested that morality and virtue are skills one can develop, much like a musician or a woodworker can develop skills. A person can be skillful at being a person. 

Sabio, a commenter on my earlier post, responded:

…I would say the normal use of this word is:

Skillful: the quality of actions which allow acquiring the desired product with a specific qualifier such as better, faster, prettier, effeciently ….

[…]

All to say, I don’t think “Skillful” is going to get us anywhere in building a ethical nest that will be universally comfortable nor conforming to everyone’s common sense.

Well, I’m not attempting to find some common ground that is universally comfortable or conforming. That’s futility in action (possibly, what I’m talking about here is futility in action too). But I do maintain that one can be a morally skillful person according to the above definition. In that regard, I must define morally skillful actions as those that when carried out result in one’s longterm benefit and the longterm benefit of others. If my actions benefit me but harm someone else then they would not qualify as skillful. 

The difficulty—and here I use “difficulty” in its strongest sense—is discerning between what is skillful and what is unskillful, between what is harmful and what is beneficial. This takes a lot of work. It requires an ongoing examination of one’s actions and their results. To do so, one must first shed the armor of self-deception. That, too, is difficult.

What actions can we consider harmful? I think we can all agree that causing someone physical harm would not be to that person’s benefit. Certainly, killing someone would cause the maximum harm and would be unskillful. And here I can hear the rebuttals: What about executing dangerous criminals? What about killing terrorists who would kill us first? What about war to defend our country? Remember, I’m talking about developing qualities in oneself that would be morally skillful as opposed to morally unskillful. If you are the kind of person who never harms anyone or anything in any way, I have nothing to fear from you. Nothing at all. Regardless of who you are or where you’re from.

Further, if one professes non-harm in one circumstance but does harm in another, then there is a double-standard. Double standards are suspect.

Words also can cause harm. All of us are familiar with this one. But which is more skillful, honesty or dishonesty? How about words spoken with kindness or words spoken in anger or hatred? Or word used to bring people together and not divide? If you are the kind of person who never lies to anyone and always speaks kindly, then I am sure what you tell me is true and you will never malign me. 

Further, if one professes honesty in one circumstance but is dishonest in another, then there is a double standard. Double standards are suspect.

I can apply the same argument to stealing. If you never take anything that isn’t given to you, then I can trust that you will never steal anything from me. 

What I’m getting at here—aside from bringing this series to an end—is that morality and virtue have nothing to do with blind allegiance to doctrines or ideologies, or with professions of faith for that matter. Morality has everything to do with action. Actions spring forth from a core belief that acknowledges, Everything I do, for good or bad, has a consequence for me and for others. And what a person doesn’t do could be of greater moral significance than what a person does. 

Forty Years After the Pentagon Papers

 

 

Watch the full episode. See more POV.

Last night I watched the documentary The Most Dangerous Man in America: Daniel Ellsberg and the Pentagon Papers. I was 20 years old on June 13, 1971 when The New York Times printed its first installment of the  7,000-page document leaked to the press by Daniel Ellsberg. I lived in Springfield, Virginia, a suburb of Washington, DC. Although I was against the Vietnam War, I was no more politically engaged then as I am now. I avoided most of the antiwar protests, preferring to stay away from the agitation.

Not at all like Ellsberg, who many considered a traitor. But Daniel Ellsberg can be a traitor, then as now, only to those who insisted on looking the other way in face of the truth. What the Pentagon Papers revealed was that during Harry Truman’s administration through Lyndon Johnson’s, every president (including Eisenhower and Kennedy) lied about our intentions and scope of involvement in Vietnam.

For years, Ellsberg had been complicit in the lie. He was the brilliant Pentagon analyst and strategist who, as an employee of Defense Secretary Robert McNamara, dug deep to find the evidence Lyndon Johnson demanded in order to escalate the war. Johnson, meanwhile, insisted our involvement would be minimal. Later, as we got more deeply immersed, Ellsberg accompanied McNamara and others on a fact-finding mission the Vietnam. On the way back, during an inflight meeting with other dignitaries, McNamara argued that things were no better now than they were the year before. He asked Ellsberg’s opinion. Ellsberg, who had spent much time in the combat zone, agreed that nothing had changed. For McNamara, no change meant things were getting worse. However, as the documentary so vividly points out, immediately upon disembarking from the plane McNamara, standing in front of a cluster of microphones, announced to the country that conditions in Vietnam had vastly improved over the past year.

McNamara himself commissioned the study that would eventually become the Pentagon Papers. Ellsberg was was one of the few people who had access to the entire document. Ellsberg’s regret was that he didn’t make the document public years before. In the end, though, he was willing to go to prison for his conviction that the United States was responsible for the murder of millions of Vietnamese and the war needed to end. On top of that, 58,000 Americans died so America could “save face” in the face of one blunder after another carried out by egoistic and jingoistic leaders.

Shortly after the release of the Papers, Ellsberg gave himself up to the authorities. In a public statement Ellsberg said, “I felt that as an American citizen, as a responsible citizen, I could no longer cooperate in concealing this information from the American public. I did this clearly at my own jeopardy and I am prepared to answer to all the consequences of this decision.” If convicted, Ellsberg would have gone to prison for conspiracy and other crimes against the state (maximum sentence of 115 years) had his trial in 1973 not been thrown out due to government misconduct.

During the documentary, one of the interviewees involved with the trial said that the defense attorney cautioned against selecting middle-aged men for the jury. The reasoning was that most men who reached middle age did so at the expense of their convictions, and they would hold disdain for Ellsberg.

Regardless of whether you think Ellsberg a traitor or a patriot, the Pentagon Papers revealed one thing about our government that went far beyond the Vietnam War: the leaders of the United States will lie to their constituents. In the wake of that revelation, particularly in regards to the invasion of Iraq, a large number of American citizens don’t mind being lied to.

Has anything changed?