The 5th Column & Reason to Hope

Can you believe what some British papers have said about our president?
  • The Sun called him "that contemptible wretch."
  • The Times said his "dirty, swindling manoeuvres in respect to Louisiana and Florida remain to be punished" and that "he has lived an impostor, and he deserves to meet the fate of a traitor."
  • The Times went on to accuse him of "exaggeration and falsehood, of coarseness without strength, of assertions without proof, and of the meanest prejudices, and of the most malignant passions."
  • And The Courier let loose with this: "A despot in disguise; a senseless betrayer of his country." "We know of no man for whom we feel greater contempt."
  • Not content to besmirch the President, The Morning Post dismisses the entire American people as "the most unprincipled and the most contemptible on the face of the earth, they were already known to be impervious to any noble sentiment."
Now, now, calm down. They don't mean Bush. These things were all said in 1814 of President James Madison, as Henry Adams reports in History of the US During the Administration of James Madison.

Hubby pointed out to me a long passage on Madison's treatment in the press at the time the peace treaty concluding the War of 1812 was being negotiated, and I found several aspects intriguing before I get to my main point.

  1. Just as today, the British Press was taking its cues from what the anti-war party in the US was itself saying. Adams writes:
    The Times was always ably written and well edited, but its language toward the United States showed too strong a connection with that of the Federalists[predecessors to the Democrats and vehemently anti-War of 1812], from whose public and private expressions the press of England formed its estimate of American character.
  2. This is what the British press said about us when we were at war with Britain. And a faction of the American political scene was actively encouraging the enemy. So when the press takes the same positions against the U.S. Prez. now --why should we not conclude that the press is at war with the United States?
  3. The most fascinating aspect of Adams' account I think is what it reveals about the sensibilities of our founding generation and its immediate progeny. Notice which of two categories of insult he considers to be less vicious in the following excerpt.
    For so mild a man Madison possessed a remarkable faculty of exciting invective. The English press surpassed the American Federalists in their allusions to him, and the "Times" was second to no English newspaper in the energy of its vituperation. "The lunatic ravings of the philosophic statesman of Washington" were in its political category of a piece with "his spaniel-like fawning on the Emperor of Russia. . . .The most abject of the tools of the deposed tyrant;. . . .doubtless he expected to be named Prince of the Potowmack or Grand Duke of Virginia. The "Sun," somewhat less abusively spoke of "that contemptible wretch Madison, and his gang. . . ."

    In other words, for Adams, the worst thing you could say about a person was that he was tyrannical. I've commented before that I find the old argument ad Hitleram or at least ad Fascere deeply offensive --I can understand tossing an expletive someone's way, but there are certain things which in decency ought not to be said unless they are literally true. Adams understood the point.

3. Fast-forward to the Civil War. WaTi today did a book review on U.S. Grant's memoirs, and here's what Grant said about the press when he was commanding the Union army.

A portion of it always magnified rebel success and belittled ours, while another portion, most sincerely earnest in their desire for the preservation of the Union and the overwhelming success of the Federal armies, would nevertheless generally express dissatisfaction with whatever victories were gained because they were not more complete.

Which is all by way of saying, when you read things like Mark Steyn's latest and agree with him. . . .

As part of their ongoing post-9/11 convergence, the left now talks about Bush the way the wackier Islamists talk about Jews. I thought the Australian imam who warned Muslims the other week to lay off the bananas because the Zionists are putting poison in them was pretty loopy. But is he really any more bananas than folks who think Bush is behind the hurricane? Bush is apparently no longer the citizen-president of a functioning republic, but a 21st century King Canute expected to go sit by the shore and repel the waters as they attempt to make landfall. Instead, he and Cheney hatched up the whole hurricane thing in the Halliburton research labs to distract attention from their right-wing Supreme Court nominee . . .
On this fourth anniversary we are in a bizarre situation: The war is being won -- in Afghanistan, Iraq, the broader Middle East and many other places where America has changed the conditions on the ground in its favor. But at home the war about the war is being lost.

Take heart. It was ever thus, and the fifth column need not have the last word.