How Jonathan Swift well understood right-wing bloggers.
The vermin only teaze and pinch
Their foes superior by an inch.
So, naturalists observe, a flea
Has smaller fleas that on him prey;
And these have smaller still to bite ‘em,
And so proceed ad infinitum.
Somehow, some when, that was contracted down to:
Great fleas have little fleas upon their backs to bite ‘em,
And little fleas have lesser fleas, and so ad infinitum.
In truth, the slim-line version was courtesy of Augustus de Morgan, the twice-coined professor of mathematics at the newly-minted London University: a great man who was ineligible for Oxbridge tenure because of his atheism — though he went the same way as Willie Yeats, seduced into spiritualism by the love for a good woman. Correction there: since the Yeatsian seduction was via that Surrey minx, Edith Maud Gonne, and de Morgan married Sophia Frend, that should read “the love for a better woman”.
Malcolm could wax lyrical and long on any aspect of that; but on to the main point.
In the fall-out from the Supreme Court’s decision on the Affordable Care Act for, former-Governor Ed Rendell was one of numerous talking heads for MSNBC’s Now show. Rendell said:
Now I think the president can and will continue to point out the good things that are in this act because we’re not going to run away from it. They [Republicans] are going to make it a campaign issue. I have always said we make a mistake, we Democrats, when we don’t stand and defend. It’s going to be an albatross around our neck. Let’s stand and defend it.
No way around it: that is clearly saying the act is a good thing, and the Democrats should be loud in defending it. The “albatross” would be hung were the Republicans’ diatribes to prevail.
With less than two full days, a Google search on “Rendell + albatross” throws up over ten thousand “hits”. The point of contact, though, isn’t MSNBC but Fox Nation vamping on it. In short order the right-wing parasites had leapt on what they wanted to have heard. Within minutes, Erika Johnsen at hot air.com had a completely different interpretation:
I most indubitably agree that ObamaCare is going to be an albatross around Team Obama’s neck…
It’s the way they tell ‘em!
Soon after, a further inversion and invention occurred.
This time it was a distortion of a New York Times opinion piece. Professor Neal Katyal began:
The obvious victor in the Supreme Court’s health care decision was President Obama, who risked vast amounts of political capital to pass the Affordable Care Act. A somewhat more subtle victor, but equally important, was the rule of law more generally: in an era when so many people on the left and right view the justices, and constitutional questions, through the prism of politics, the court today made clear that law matters and that it isn’t just politics by other means.
The title of the piece was A Pyrrhic Victory.
Sadly, that bit of Hellenic history is now only a cliché: to most a “Pyrrhic” = defeat. So, for the record, thanks to the OED:
Of, or resembling that of, Pyrrhus; esp. (of a victory, etc.) resembling the victory of Pyrrhus over the Romans at the battle of Asculum (279 B.C.), in which he defeated the Romans but suffered a great number of casualties; (hence) gained at too great a cost to be worthwhile. Freq. in Pyrrhic victory.
The frothing Right picked especially on the first sentence of Katyal’s second paragraph:
But there was a subtle loser too, and that is the federal government. By opening new avenues for the courts to rewrite the law, the federal government may have won the battle but lost the war.
The “federal government” has executive, judicial and legislative branches. When Professor Katyal identifies two of those three as victors — so who or what is the implicit loser?
That doesn’t need to be a rhetorical question, for Katyal spells it out. The losers are the law-makers of Congress and the legislative process:
… longstanding laws, like the Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965 and the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act of 1974, contain clauses that condition money on state performance of certain activities. The decision leaves open the question of whether those acts, and many others (like the Clean Air Act), are now unconstitutional as well.
Can of worms there, then! Cui bono?
It vindicates, yet again, the axiom in Chapter XVI of de Tocqueville: Scarcely any political question arises in the United States that is not resolved, sooner or later, into a judicial question.
That was de Tocqueville back in 1835.
The difference is we now have an interventionist — even a supremacist — Roberts Supreme Court.
The lesser blogging bloodsuckers take any vestige of truth, and regurgitate it as deceit.
If, though, the Supreme Court, having elected the previous President, now becomes not just the the arbiter of last resort, but an active agent in the formulation of all law, we have a greater evil.
And for saying that, and more, Malcolm is now — it seems — denied access to Slugger O’Toole. Yet again.