I kind of drifted away from Andrew Sullivan when he got so obsessed with Sarah Palin’s uterus that I started to think that what he really wanted to do was visit it.
But I do regularly read Ann Althouse, who I think is a kindred spirit in calling it like she sees it without regard to ‘tribes,’ and her recent back-and forth with Sullivan can’t be missed.
Here’s the back-and-forth:
Here’s Palin doing her usual make-it-up routine with Shimon Peres:
"I wanted to meet you for many years," Ms. Palin told Mr. Peres, according to an aide to the president. "The only flag at my office is an Israeli flag," she was quoted as saying, "and I want you to know and I want Israelis to know that I am a friend."
Er: there are several flags in recent photographs of her office, including the American and Alaskan flags, as one would expect. She meant the only foreign flag, presumably.
Now, that’s an entire post from Sullivan; he thinks this is important enough to do a post over.
Althouse responds (in my mind, pretty rationally):
I know Sullivan wants me to check out his list of “lies.” I picked one to check out, that she said the only flag in her office was the Israeli flag. As Sullivan himself notes, she must have meant to say the only foreign flag, since she did also have an Alaskan and an American flag in her office. That’s the sort of sloppy speaking that one would correct easily if it were pointed out at the time. Of course, I also have the state flag and the American flag. I mean, it would be pretty ridiculous for a state governor to only have a foreign flag! There isn’t even a motivation to lie.
That there’s no motivation here doesn’t mean it’s an “odd lie” – which is Sullivan’s term. It means it’s not a lie at all. What’s odd is his definition of a lie. If I said I was just wearing jeans to a party, you wouldn’t have exposed me as a liar if I turned up wearing a shirt and shoes as well. In fact, you’d sound like a dork – or, with good enough delivery, a comedian – if you said, “You liar. You said you were just wearing jeans!”
Calling something like this a lie marks you as someone who’s centered not on finding out what is true, but on destroying someone. It doesn’t motivate me to go through the rest of the long list systematically to see what each item is about, and it certainly doesn’t make me want to look at the list and accept the conclusion that wow, Sarah Palin really is a terrible liar.
To which Sullivan responds:
Althouse picks an odd lie that is motivated by a desire to please a political constituency as well as say something with utter indifference to reality. It is indeed one of the milder ones, as I noted myself. It’s an exaggeration that is literally untrue but not at the level of delusion of the rest. It is not what Althouse wants to say: a prediction of future events that doesn’t work out that way. It is a statement of current reality that is untrue. But keep going, Ann. Debunk them all. With facts, not spin.
And, of course, Althouse is right that any single one of these “odd lies” could be explained by the usual human fallibility. We all make minor things up from time to time, white lies, on the spur of the moment. But all of them? Empirically disproven by the public record? In a relatively short career? It’s the pattern here that I’m establishing. And the pattern is emphatically not one of mere bad memory or spin. It is one of clinical delusion.
It is my contention that all is not right here. In fact, something is very seriously wrong. This is not about destroying anyone. It is about saving a system that perpetrated an error as huge as this one. And we cannot save this system until we fully understand the depth of the scandal in front of us: that this clinically delusional person had a good chance of having her finger on the nuclear button. And still does if she is not fully vetted and understood. I intend to keep doing that until the whole truth is in front of us.
Now let me take a second and see what sense I can make of this…
“Althouse picks an odd lie…”
No, Andrew picked the lie and thought it important enough to do a post about it.
“…motivated by a desire to please a political constituency as well as say something with utter indifference to reality.”
I donno, Althouse pretty much explained it as a common feature of how we use language; we pick the significant fact and talk about it (“I wore jeans to the party” does not to anyone I know imply that I wore no shirt or shoes). So the “utter indifference to reality” is a part I’m struggling with here.
“It is not what Althouse wants to say: a prediction of future events that doesn’t work out that way.”
I don’t have any idea what he meant here. Anyone?
“We all make minor things up from time to time, white lies, on the spur of the moment. But all of them? Empirically disproven by the public record? In a relatively short career? It’s the pattern here that I’m establishing. And the pattern is emphatically not one of mere bad memory or spin. It is one of clinical delusion.”
OK, OK, that may be arguable from Palin’s record (which I don’t know well enough to take a position on – I guess after I read global warming papers this weekend, I’ll see what I can do) – but how Andrew gets to B from A makes sense to me only if you’ve declared that she’s a liar – therefore anything she says is inherently a lie, and so evidence that – she’s a liar. I feel a Cretan paradox coming on.
I’d feel a lot better about Andrew’s case if he said “Look, that was a misfire; you’re right that I read something into it that wasn’t there – but there are important misrepresentations of the truth, and here is a list with links to support them.
This whole thing makes me uncomfortable in the same way the climate issue below does; there’s this whiff of ‘we’ve decided on the truth, the only facts that matter are the ones that support it’ … which ought to make someone with Orwell on his masthead just a little bit squeamish.