Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Unreasonable Voices (aka Liberal Liars)

I titled my contribution to the blogosphere "A Reasoned Voice" both as a reminder to myself and a suggestion to others--that while discussion and debate should be passionate, even heated, it accomplishes little if it is not firmly grounded in facts, in reality, and in (above all) reason. How reasoned my voice is I leave for others to judge, but I do believe I have largely held to that standard in my occasional offerings herein.

I am therefore reasonably frustrated when I come across commentaries such as that from blogger Matt Yglesias from Think Progress, who takes issue with a Rick Perry comment about Federal Reserve Chairman Benjamin Bernanke.

Governor Perry, speaking in Iowa yesterda (Monday, 15 August 2011), offered up the following opinion of Ben Bernanke and his policies of "quantitative easing"--printing money to stimulate the economy:
If this guy prints more money between now and the election, I dunno what y’all would do to him in Iowa but we would treat him pretty ugly down in Texas. Printing more money to play politics at this particular time in American history is almost treasonous in my opinion.
Yglesias' opprobrium towards Perry comes from the rather banal observation that treason is a capital offense (and--not mentioned by Yglesias--is the only crime specifically defined in the constitution). Yglesias is correct on that point, and he is well within his rights to be irritated or even outraged at Governor Perry's comment. Where Yglesias departs from fact and his rights is how he promoted that particular blog entry on Twitter:
Rick Perry proposes lynching Ben Bernanke
Merriam-Webster defines the verb "lynch" thusly:
to put to death (as by hanging) by mob action without legal sanction
The Constitution of the United States defines "treason" thusly (Article 3 Section 3):

Treason against the United States, shall consist only in levying War against them, or in adhering to their Enemies, giving them Aid and Comfort. No Person shall be convicted of Treason unless on the Testimony of two Witnesses to the same overt Act, or on Confession in open Court.

The Congress shall have power to declare the Punishment of Treason, but no Attainder of Treason shall work Corruption of Blood, or Forfeiture except during the Life of the Person attainted.

Federal statute--18 USC §2381--declares treason punishable by death:
Whoever, owing allegiance to the United States, levies war against them or adheres to their enemies, giving them aid and comfort within the United States or elsewhere, is guilty of treason and shall suffer death, or shall be imprisoned not less than five years and fined under this title but not less than $10,000; and shall be incapable of holding any office under the United States.
Such, then, are the facts surrounding Governor Perry's comment.

Could quantitative easing be considered "treason" per the Constitution? One could argue--albeit facetiously--that printing money, thus debasing the US Dollar, strengthens adversarial nations such as China and Russia, and would therefore fall under the heading of giving them "aid and comfort." It is a flimsy argument at best, laughable at worst, but it is an argument that can be made.

It is also an argument Governor Perry conspicuously did not make; his condemnation was clear--more quantitative easing was "almost treasonous". Governor Perry's meaning is quite obvious: printing money is not helpful to the United States or the US economy. There is no second plausible interpretation of his words. Those words are a rhetorically forceful but cogent and valid statement of his view of proper fiscal and monetary policy. Those words are not an accusation of any crime, not even treason.

Further, an accusation of a crime, even if that were the import of Governor Perry's words, is not in and of itself a call to vigilante justice. Saying that "...we would treat him pretty ugly down in Texas" is colorful, even perhaps provincial, but it does not suggest vigilantism.

Matt Yglesias is quite within his rights to disagree with Governor Perry's opinions. That disagreement deserves to be heard, for it is necessary if there is to be vigorous debate on the issues pressing this country hard. To broadcast via twitter that Governor Perry suggested lynching Ben Bernanke is quite simply libelous, and arguably libel per se--which is defined as follows:
broadcast or written publication of a false statement about another which accuses him/her of a crime, immoral acts, inability to perform his/her profession, having a loathsome disease (like syphilis) or dishonesty in business. Such claims are considered so obviously harmful that malice need not be proved to obtain a judgment for "general damages," and not just specific losses.
I can understand that liberals do not like Governor Perry--I can quite easily fathom why liberal commentators such as Matt Yglesias are intimidated by Governor Perry's uncompromising rhetoric. Governor Perry uses language that is clear and unmistakable to stake out political and even moral/ethical stands that are equally clear and unmistakable; to respond effectively to such language would require an equally clear stance of opposition--something many would prefer to avoid. Yet when one's rhetorical arsenal is nothing but outright lies, surely that only strengthens one's opponent. It surely does not advance or improve the debate at hand.

Matt Yglesias lied about Governor Perry. He lied, and he libeled by lying. Thus does he cede credibility and correctness to Governor Perry.

Matt Yglesias lied about Governor Perry, and the blogosphere is diminished for his lie. The political process is diminished for his lie. Think Progress is diminished for his lie.

Matt Yglesias should stop lying or stop blogging. There is no ethically sound third alternative.