Modern Geopolitical Reality

The able Bernard Kerik is out but underperformin’ Norman Mineta stays. It doesn’t take much insight to realize that it should have been the other way around. What’s going on?

These outcomes seem to be a function of appearances — Kerik’s household employee may have been an illegal immigrant; Mineta is a prominent Asian-American Democrat — rather than substance. Yet here, as in other areas of public life (cf., our abortive initial assault on Falluja), decisions based on appearances can have real consequences.

What drives the destructive public emphasis on politically-correct appearances is, largely, the mainstream press, which, as Robert Kaplan argues, derives much power from its ability to frame questions and hence issues. It also has an elitist, legalistic, statist and appeasement-oriented international power agenda that’s at odds with much of America’s public policy, if not some of its fundamental values.

The medieval age was tyrannized by a demand for spiritual perfectionism, making it hard to accomplish anything practical. Truth, Erasmus cautioned, had to be concealed under a cloak of piety; Machiavelli wondered whether any government could remain useful if it actually practiced the morality it preached. . . Today the global media make demands on generals and civilian policymakers that require a category of perfectionism with which medieval authorities would have been familiar. Investigative journalists may often perform laudatory service, but they have also become the grand inquisitors of the age, shattering reputations built up over a lifetime with the exposure of just a few sordid details. . .

One corollary of all this is that people like Bernard Kerik, who was probably an excellent choice to head Homeland Security (for some background on his success in another security bureaucracy, see this article about his reform of the NYC prison system), get derailed for reasons having nothing to with whether they can do the job. Another corollary is that cautious mediocrities like Norman Mineta (Supreme Court Justice David Souter is another good example) become politically valuable far beyond their deserts, simply because they habitually avoided saying, writing or doing anything for which the press might later take them to task if things didn’t work out.

I think Kaplan is too pessimistic, because he ignores the beneficial role played by the new media (including himself, in his highly successful role as an independent journalist and analyst whose work is widely read on the Internet) in serving as a check on old media. His diagnosis of the problem is thus part of the cure. Increasing numbers of citizens get their information from nontraditional sources and are becoming alert to MSM tendentiousness.

However, his discussion of the behavior of the old (“mainstream”) media is spot on. The MSM are powerful players in modern geopolitics, and pursue an agenda that is often hostile to that of open societies with totalitarian enemies. Western public officials, particularly American ones, have been slow to figure this out. It is extremely important that they learn better to use the MSM to advance their own agenda, and to counter the agendas advanced by the MSM themselves, and by media-savvy totalitarians for whom press manipulation is now a basic military tactic.

13 thoughts on “Modern Geopolitical Reality”

  1. Good analogy, thanks for pointing it out Jonathan. Goes back to the theme of Leftists replacing religion with PC liberalism. It’s not the first time… (see Soviets replacing God with the State) They have a tendency to do that don’t they?

    Mineta is the perfect argument against affirmative action. I wouldn’t doubt it if Clinton put him in because he was Asian-American. But now the press is conducting their own affirmative action by giving him a free pass. Com’on Norm, you’re ruining it for the rest of us…

  2. Worry not, Incog! Monica Lewinsky and Denise Rich were Clinton affirmative-action hires too, sort of, and it didn’t set back the Jews much.


  3. Kaplan’s article is indeed excellent. In tracing a longer period for a thesis that information is power, it does a lot in balancing the pius belief that a free press must always be a force for the better. The BBC is probably a better example of media opposition to government than the US mainstream. After all, they are opposing a labor government not so far from Clinton’s democrats.

    And as Jonathan points out, sometimes worthy individuals will simply give up rather than subject themselves to the baying of the hounds that a confirmation hearing has become. The arrogance of morality, and the ability to decide who to hold to that standard is tyrranical.

    However, i don’t really accept Kaplan’s notion that the central role of the left, and the press today, is to question and expose authority. Weaken the government, sure. Endorse victimhood, self evident.

    But like the decision on when a standard of morality is relevant, and who should be held to the standard, the media is not so much questioning authority as deciding what authority to promote.

    There are specific authorities – the IRC, alliance for the homeless and Greenpeace being obvious examples – who provide the soundbites and legitimacy for the news stories. And these folk, be they NGOs or foundations or just lobbyists, seem to me to be the real authority without responsibility.

    The newspapers and TV programs, because of their pretense of impartiality, cannot set themselves up as the source of the ideas and programs. But the NGOs… They get government funding to set up the programs. If the program fails, the government gives them a larger funding base to fix the program.

    Now there’s the real scam.

    Matya no baka…

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  6. So the person nominated to be in charge of homeland security has broken immigration laws, and this is a matter of “political correctness”? What’s next, Rush Limbaugh will be revealed to be a junkie? Bill Bennett will be revealed to be a degenerate gambler?

    So much for conservatism. I always thought being a conservative meant you respected morality and the letter of the law.

    After your hysterical discussion of the Lancet study, I couldn’t have imagined you folks would ever hit a new low, but you have.

    Thanks for a good laugh.

  7. MNB,

    Good point about the MSM and authority. They question some authorities more than others.

    Bill Trippe,

    Perhaps when you become serious you will tell us who would do a better job than Kerik at managing our internal security. My impression is that you would rather that Bush nominated an incompetent, as opposed to someone who was highly competent but didn’t follow every letter of the law in paying his maid.

  8. I have no doubt there are qualified candidates for the job who also obey they law. Former NYPD and Boston police chief Bill Bratton comes to mind, but there are probably dozens of qualified candidates from the major police forces, from the intelligence agencies, and from the military.

    Of course I want Bush to appoint someone who is qualified. Also, as President, he has wide latitude, so I am not going to quibble. But, yes, I want someone who oversees immigration to actually obey immigration laws. That doesn’t seem like too much to ask.

    Nice try at a rebuttal, but your original post is sorry and silly. Move on, or stop pretending to be a conservative.

  9. I eagerly await the perfect candidate. However, I will settle for imperfect candidates who can get the job done. Not demanding proof of citizenship from someone who was otherwise qualified to watch one’s kids does not strike me as a major sin, especially since Kerik was not “overseeing immigration” at the time. Perhaps we should also look into whether Kerik, as a police official, exceeded speed limits when he drove to work. No doubt Bush will now nominate someone who has never even gotten a speeding ticket and we will all be better off.

    If you want to insult us, do it on your own blog. You are no longer welcome here.

  10. It does not seem to me to be irrelevant that a man up for a job one of the spheres of which encompasses border security and immigration enforcement might be less than diligently concerned with the legal status of immigrants.

  11. Mr. Trippe has a tin ear for a good phrase, an awkward style and only a rudementary understanding of conservatism, but his insults, in this case, are not ad hominem. He insults your post, not you. Seems to me that you are a bit thin skinned here. However, it is your blog and if you wish to bar critics who hit your ego bone that is your right.

  12. notherbob2, maybe you are right. My impression is that he was trolling for hits for his own blog, which doesn’t bother me except when it’s done at our expense.

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