Friday, January 8, 2010

Malkin On Transparency And Show Trials

For those not in the know, Michelle Malkin is a fairly important right-wing political blogger and a contributor to the FOX News channel. She's also an extremely shrill and unpleasant woman whom I find just as annoying as I find her physically attractive (yeah, I said it; I dig Asian chicks, sue me). And I think she has a (somewhat) valid point about the Democrats' decision not to allow C-SPAN to televise the final deliberations to reconcile the two houses of congress' versions of the health care reform legislation:

In addition to pointing out how Barack Obama used C-SPAN as a political football during the presidential campaign and how the White House has only allowed one hour of dog-and-pony coverage of health care debate on the public affairs channel, [C-SPAN CEO Brian] Lamb sums up the simple, non-partisan principle behind the push for open, televised coverage of the backroom wheeling and dealing:

“If we pay for something and it’s the public’s business, we ought to be able to see how it’s done.”

No wonder the Vampire Congress and the Prince of Darkness in the White House have responded to a simple request for transparency with near-violent apoplexy...
Her hyperbolic insults aside, I'll have more to say on that point in a minute but first I wanted to compare her principled, unwavering and totally non-partisan commitment to governmental transparency (which I actually don't seem to recall hearing much about during the Bush administration but maybe I just wasn't paying close enough attention to her back then) in the above case to her reaction to a federal judge's ruling that next week’s trial in San Francisco of a lawsuit challenging the initiative that banned same-sex marriage in California won’t be televised live but will be videotaped for delayed Internet release on YouTube:
Judicial activism + far Left radical activism = Courtroom intimidation.

Yesterday, liberal California Chief U.S. District Judge Vaughn Walker issued an unprecedented ruling that will put the trial involving a challenge to the Prop. 8 same-sex marriage ban on YouTube...

I generally support more sunshine in all government proceedings. But the judge’s unusual method of securing video coverage is extremely troubling. This isn’t a sincere educational effort to provide transparency to the public. It’s a flagrant attempt at making Prop. 8 a show trial — and intimidating Prop. 8 backers who will be called to testify.
The article she cites goes on to state that most of the witnesses will be campaign officials or academic experts accustomed to speaking in public and that the judge will have the power to order that individual witnesses’ faces be concealed or their voices muted on the YouTube uploads if he deems it necessary, thus all but negating her argument that this will be an intimidation tactic employed by the gay mafia or whatever. Regardless, we can glean two things from this little tirade of hers: 1) Malkin is an unprincipled, partisan hack who hypocritically calls for transparency in government only when it suits her and her agenda, and 2) Malkin has no idea what the term "show trial" actually means.

Of course, the former point should not come as a shock to anyone who has heard this woman speak before and it is hardly revelatory but the latter point is rather important. Wikipedia defines the term "show trial" as follows:
The term show trial is a pejorative description of a type of highly public trial. The term was first recorded in the 1930s.[1] There is a strong connotation that the judicial authorities have already determined the guilt of the defendant and that the actual trial has as its only goal to present the accusation and the verdict to the public as an impressive example and as a warning. Show trials tend to be retributive rather than correctional justice.

Such trials can exhibit scant regard for the niceties of jurisprudence and even for the letter of the law. Defendants have little real opportunity to justify themselves: they have often signed statements under duress and/or suffered torture prior to appearing in the court-room.
Now, Malkin can hardly be blamed for her apparent ignorance on this count. In fact, if you've been paying attention to the right-wing noise machine lately the term "show trial" has been bandied about as much as the term "death panels" was last fall and if you know anything about said noise machine, you'll know that they beat memes and talking points into the ground with a coordinated effort that would impress Joseph Goebbels (of course I'm not comparing them to Nazis or anything, I'm just saying that Goebbels was a hell of a propagandist and he was really good at staying on message with the whole "Jews are evil" bit; it's actually a compliment, of sorts).

Malkin even said the same thing when President Obama announced that Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and his co-conspirators were going to be tried in a New York City civil court. And that's what I don't quite get: Malkin and other right-wingers believe that KSM and many of the other terror suspects the United States has in custody are pieces of garbage who deserve to be put on trial and punished with a death sentence for their crimes against innocent Americans (something we agree on) and that they are less than human and should be tortured to within an inch of their lives as part of that punishment (something we do not agree on). In fact, I would think she'd be cheering the use of coerced confessions and retributive trials against these people, per the definition of what a show trial actually is.

But that's the thing: in their ignorance, Malkin and her ilk seem to define "show trials" as any trial they disagree with that will be shown to anyone outside of the courtroom. To the political right in this country, the American ideal of public trials has seemingly now morphed into the shadowy practice of show trials (there's that government transparency she likes/dislikes so much again) and letting anyone they don't like have their day in an open and unbiased court of law is tantamount to the deceitful tactics employed by the former Soviet Union (although they seem to be disturbingly comfortable with the idea of torturing these individuals first, also a favorite tactic of the former Soviet Republic). I myself have a relatively good deal of faith in the American judicial system and I'm fairly confident that it will render a fair verdict in each of these respective cases but I'm obviously a dirty liberal who hates this country and all that it stands for (just ask Michelle), so what do I know?

Now, as to the Obama administration's aforementioned promise during the last presidential election to broadcast all of the health care reform legislation negotiations on C-SPAN:

Yeah, he promised to do that and yeah, it looks like he's going to break that promise. I said many times during that election that the man's neither an angel nor a saint, he's a politician and we shouldn't be surprised when he acts like one but I'll be completely honest here and say that I was still disappointed when I heard about this. But then I heard another argument that gave me pause: broadcasting these negotiations will only delay the process even further and that's why the right is so adamant about holding his feet to the fire on this count (aside from it being just one more reason to trash the man and his administration, of course).

Let me explain: just as Obama is a politician, congress is full of politicians, politicians I trust to do the right thing a lot less than I do Obama (and I'm only talking about the Democrats right now). The sad truth is that to merge the legislation of the two bills congress has before them that body is going to have to engage in some of the ugliest bureaucratic sausage-making that you and I have (n)ever witnessed and they're sure to do it in one of two ways: 1) with the cameras off, they'll buckle down, twist some arms, grease some palms, make some deals and finally hammer out a health care reform bill that will admittedly be imperfect but will also be a sizable improvement over the current system, or 2) with the cameras trained on them, they'll spend a great deal of time making a series of carefully prepared grandiose speeches whilst preening and posturing for the cameras while they do all of that bureaucratic sausage-making I just described anyway, except that they'll do it all secretly behind closed doors.

I'm not saying that it's a great system and I'm not saying that I like it (or even that it's endemic to either party), just that it's the system we have and we must be realistic about that. And not to be too partisan on this point but can you really blame them? Think about this: despite what seemed to me to be a genuinely sincere effort by President Obama to reach across the aisle the Republican party has roundly rejected bipartisanship at every turn since the first day this legislation was introduced. In fact, they publicly announced from the outset that they were going to do everything within their power to delay and derail health care reform and they've held pretty much true to their word on that count. No compromises, no alternate plans, just delays and obstructionism.

I expected Obama to have given up trying to work with these people long ago but as always he's proven himself to be a far more patient and pragmatic man than I could ever hope to be, but he's also not a sucka. He and the Dems have realized that in order to achieve any real results on this front they're going to have to finally get their hands dirty and do some actual work whether the Republicans want to participate or not. Again, I'm far less than crazy about the process and I would love to see a lot more governmental transparency going forward but I'm also convinced that if this legislation doesn't get passed now the odds of it getting a second chance will be almost nil and after thirty years of failures I don't think that the American people can afford that any longer. The resultant bill will be ugly and it will be imperfect but it will also be a starting point that we can build upon later and that's better than what we have now. I'm tired of watching this sausage being made; I'm ready to see how it tastes. Here's hoping that the country gets that chance, and right soon.



Leslie Parsley said...

This is a hell of an article. I hope people take the time to read it but I'm afraid the extreme left is getting as bad as the extreme right. Nobody wants balance.

Holte Ender said...

I remember going to see sausage being one time, I couldn't eat sausage for several years. But once I got the images out of my head and told myself, the sausage I want to eat was not made that way, that this particular was a humane sausage, I enjoyed sausages again.

Obama doesn't run C-SPAN, nor can he tell Congress they have to open the doors to C-SPAN, so I don't see it as a broken promise, but as a promise he couldn't keep.

JBW said...

Thanks, Leslie. I don't think the far left is as bad as the far right just yet but they certainly do seem to be trying hard to catch up.

Holte, I have no doubt that Obama could get congress to open their doors to C-SPAN if he wanted to, I think he just realizes that it's not a viable option at this point.

So I do consider it a broken promise but politicians sometimes have to do that when the reality of life differs from the utopia of campaign promises. I don't blame him for doing what he has to do, just as I don't blame the right for crying foul. They have a valid point, they just can't see past their own hypocrisy when making it.

JoeBama "Truth 101" Kelly said...

Although I would have been satisfied just calling Malkin a deluded right wing fool, I appreciate the thought and work you put into this post JBW.

I don't have anything to add other than that.