»  National Review Online

December 5th, 2000

   They'll Swallow It


Now as I was young and easy under the apple boughs, there was a movie I wanted to see. This was in London, in my student days. The movie was new, and it was a super-duper hit immediately upon release. It was not going to be an easy movie to get into. It happened that my girlfriend's cousin, an American student of the same age as ourselves — from Austin, Texas! — was visiting with her family. He wanted to see the movie, too, so the three of us went along to the movie theater in Leicester Square, in London's West End. Sure enough, the line to buy tickets wound most of the way round the block.

Our American visitor was nothing daunted. "Let's just walk right to the front and in," he said. Thinking this was some sort of odd stateside custom, I explained that you couldn't do that in England. You had to wait on line. "Nah," he replied, "You can do anything, so long as you do it with conviction." So saying he walked right to the front of the line, past it, into the theater and up to the ticket window, myself and girlfriend trailing in his wake, purple with proper English embarrassment. Five minutes later we were seated inside, watching the opening credits. I have tried this a few times since, with very mixed success, but the lesson was an important one: among the many ways to get what you want in life, sheer brazen audacity is not to be under-estimated.

This little object lesson came to mind several times this past four weeks, watching the Gore operation in Florida. "It's important that all votes be counted" (except absentee ballots from the military, which would favor George W. Bush). "Butterfly ballots are illegal!" (in spite of having been dutifully put through every legal test required of a ballot form in the state of Florida). "We can complete this process in seven days" (though last month they were saying seven days was not enough). "Thousands of ballots have not been counted" (all have been counted at least twice — unless you mean "manually counted," in which case millions of ballot have not been counted). "In one county election officials brought the count to a premature end in the face of organized intimidation" (even though those officials have unanimously denied having been intimidated at all). I watch and think: the audacity of it all.

It is easy to name the things Republicans have that Democrats don't have. Decency, integrity, truthfulness, reticence, patriotism, manners, guns, good-looking women, … But what is it that Democrats have that we don't have? Audacity, that's what. Face, brass, nerve, cheek, chutzpah. The model for it all is, of course, Bill Clinton. There is a man who never waited on line for a movie. I need not enumerate here the president's many adventures in the art of bare-faced gall (though if you want a refresher, I strongly recommend both David Schippers's book Sellout, which gives the inner story of the impeachment, and James Bovard's Feeling Your Pain, a wide-ranging survey of the past eight years of lies and filth). I only want to draw attention to Clinton's, and now Gore's, use of this one technique for getting what they want. And to express my hope that Republicans will not try to emulate them in this.

While audacity has long been recognized as one of the military virtues — all the great military commanders of history have known how to stun and dismay the enemy by doing something nobody would have imagined they'd dare to do — the use of gross audacity as a political technique did not really take off until the rise of the great totalitarian despotisms of the twentieth century. In Nikolai Tolstoy's book Stalin's Secret War there is a story about the vozhd sitting around with his cronies one day plotting some new and sensationally outrageous piece of mischief when one of them — it was Litvinov, I think — piped up with: "But boss, think of the effect this will have on our followers in the West!" Stalin laughed. "Don't worry, they'll swallow it."

Similarly with Hitler. Here is part of the character sketch given in Gordon Craig's Germany 1866-1945.

The masses indulge in petty falsehoods every day, he once said cynically, but it would never come into their heads to fabricate colossal untruths and they "are not able to believe in the possibility of such monstrous effrontery and infamous misrepresentation in others." The bigger the lie, therefore, the more likely it was to be believed.

It is, it seems to me, a very sad and shameful thing that these totalitarian principles have now been taken up by the politicians of this free republic. At the root of them, as can be seen from the words of Stalin and Hitler, is a contempt for the common mass of people and a belief that if the lie is big enough, and presented with enough conviction, then "they'll swallow it." It is a trading on the fundamental decency of "the masses," a cynical calculation that people who do not conduct their personal lives by lying, betraying and intimidating their fellow men will find it difficult to grasp that the affairs of their nation are being carried on by just those means.

No doubt it has always been easy for politicians snug in their Washington berths to forget about the folk back home who voted them there, but I think we are now the recipients of an unprecedented level of open, naked, sneering contempt on the part of our New Class leftist elites. With the enthusiastic co-operation of the media, they now operate at a level of brazen mendacity that would have been unthinkable just eight years ago. Politicians have always fudged and hedged, but Clinton is the first president — and Gore, if he had pulled off his recent stunt, would have been the second — to repeatedly, deliberately, with malice aforethought, look us calmly in the eye and tell us a whopper.

And of course, the most shocking, most dismaying thing is that it works. Very large numbers of Americans have convinced themselves, or been convinced, that it does not matter if the president and his colleagues are liars and thieves. They will swallow it, just so long as the lie comes with a promise of some new dole, some new restraint on the liberty of people they dislike, some new tranche of government jobs for those too dim, lazy or talentless to make their way in the private sector, some further affirmation of New Class dogmas — a woman's right to choose, environmental protection, gay is just as good as straight, wall of separation, strength in diversity.

Our consolation is that those "very large numbers" amount, on the November 7th showing, to only a little more than half the people who bother to vote. Of the rest, a large proportion are undeceived, and deeply disgusted by the depths we have sunk to. Perhaps a half of Republican voters feel this way. That is a quarter of all voters, an eighth of the adult population, twenty or thirty million indignant citizens. It doesn't sound like much in a nation of 270 million, but these things are all relative. We are still in better shape, at any rate, than the Cities of the Plain (Genesis 18:23 ff.)