Sunday, June 19, 2011

No More Newspeak at the Reservation's Gates

For a free country where we permit all sorts of vile things in the name of Free Speech, we’re peculiarly welded to an Orwellian tradition. The shortest description of it is “staying on message,” meaning to mouth (indeed to think) the Administration’s current policy—if the Administration pays our salary. Another is the phrase I first heard during the Nixon era from the lips of John Ehrlichman—who had been told to tell John Dean, Nixon’s lawyer, to “stay on the reservation.” If you don’t talk the talk, the Thought Police will come and make you issue corrective statements to the effect that you misspoke, and when you said that War opposes Peace, you really meant that War was Peace.

When prominent, disciplined, loyal servants of the people—or is it of Administrations?—at last retire, Newspeak drops away and startling phrases in plain English issue from their mouths. Thus we hear Robert Gates, approaching the gates of the reservation now, making the statement:

If we were about to be attacked or had been attacked or something happened that threatened a vital U.S. national interest, I would be the first in line to say, ‘Let’s go.’ I will always be an advocate in terms of wars of necessity. I am just much more cautious on wars of choice. [Quoted in the New York Times today, emphasis added.]
That distinction—wars of necessity, wars of choice—should have been made loudly and clearly by audible, credible, visible leaders of a certain gravitas years and years ago. But we hear it, always, only ever in the twilight of retrospect.

It’s a dilemma. Cabinet secretaries are chosen by the President but are confirmed by the Senate. That confirmation gives them a certain independent stature. But no. They are required to adopt the message and to stay on the reservation lest strange tensions arise in the public’s mind. Who’s really in charge around here? The same dilemma arises, to be sure, when Mom and Dad disagree but keep their mouths shut in the children’s presence. And when they don’t...

1 comment:

  1. The memory of one particular and loyal servant of the people came to me as I read your post: Paul O'Neill who served in varying roles and in different administrations. He spoke in plain English and audibly about his disagreement with certain policy proposals. Despite his leadership and gravitas as a permanent member of the National Security Council, he was promptly shown the "gates of the reservation" as a result of such frankness.


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