Youth Before Bottom

Over at Neo-Neocon there’s an interesting peek at some passages from a book by the (now recently deceased) Michael Hastings.

Gentle Reader will perhaps recognize Brer Hastings as the reporter who, having been permitted nearly unprecedented access to Genl Stanley McChrystal (and his senior staff), at that time commander of the U.S. Central Command, abused the privilege of candor to wreck a splendid officer’s career. McChrystal’s most prominent prior command was the Joint Special Operations Command, whose godfather he apparently was. A rather close friend of mine from childhood served under him as a major and later lieutenant colonel, and based on his impressions of McChrystal I think it’s fairly safe to say that the general will be remembered when Hastings’s own grandchildren barely recall his name. 


The post focuses on a vignette from Dear Leader’s 2012 re-election campaign. All the cheerleaders reporters are gathered in some watering hole, and The One graces them with His Presence. The gab-fest is strictly off-the-record, of course (a privilege McChrystal doesn’t seem to have been afforded, by way of comparison), but Hastings describes the aura, the mood of pre-pubescent giddiness that the Coolest Cat in the High School is actually there. Among them. Really talking to them, caressing the small of their slapping them on the back and telling them he really liked the way they danced what a terrific job they were doing for The Cause. After he leaves they’re all – all of them – breathless with what can only be described as partially-slaked lust, and they spend the rest of the evening re-living every last little moment of it.

“We were all, on some level, deeply obsessed with Obama, crushing hard, still a little love there. This was nerd heaven, a politico’s paradise, the subject himself moving among us — shaking our hands, slapping our shoulders!”  One can almost picture the sweat of excitement on their downy upper lips – he talked to me; he really talked to me!! He said he likes how I dance! Hastings declines to share what was said (again, a privilege denied McChrystal), but he pretty nauseatingly serves up the fact of the meeting and the atmosphere.

 His fellow reporters got all hot and bothered because Hastings actually kissed the quarterback and told about it violated the off-the-record nature of the meeting.  And Dear Leader’s campaign staff also got all stern-faced and told them that they might not let them give the quarterback a hand-job again get that sort of access in the future.  Kicked him off the campaign airplane for a month.  And so forth.

Neo-neocon wonders about just what is it about all these reporters that makes them so utterly, joyfully, wilfully vulnerable to this sort of pimply-faced-girl-at-the-prom excitement. Of course there’s the ideology thing going on, something that Hastings thought himself clever to glory in. But as Neo-Neocon points out, there’s something else in the mix, too: the uniform youthfulness of the reporters. For them, this is the Big Dance. There’s nothing bigger. They haven’t spent thirty years on the government beats, figuring out who’s lying, who’s on the take, who got the contract because his uncle golfs with the mayor’s brother, who’s bedding whom and who thinks he’s the only one in line. They’re profoundly ignorant of human nature, in fact. Not to say they’re uneducated, because amazingly some of them boast fairly impressive academic credentials. And that’s part of the problem as well, as Instapundit has noted on several occasions. This bunch – and even though it displays its full I’m-sure-he-didn’t-mean-to-do-that-to-me-at-least-not-on-the-first-date saccharine sweetness in support of the Big O, they’re very much a bipartisan species – is “credentialed, not educated,” to use the Blogfather’s expression. Every politician who makes it to the top of their particular dung hill is The Second Coming (no pun intended, that time at least) and the Answer to all the world’s problems. Not a face in the crowd blew a snot bubble out its nose when Dear Leader proclaimed the occasion of his having secured the nomination – before he was actually nominated, elected, or served a day – as the moment in time when the entire damned planet began to cool off and the oceans recede. I mean, didn’t he ever, in his high-priced-modest-achievement schooling ever, run across the story of King Cnut?

And then I ran across this over at the AP, on how the IRS now admits that its targeting of Americans for their political beliefs was much more extensive and longer-lasting than they’ve admitted. The story’s got the picture of the acting Commissioner of Internal Revenue right under the headline.  His name is Daniel Werfel, and he’s every bit of 42 years old (according to this story in The Kansas City Star). Goes by “Danny.”  And he’s in charge of the IR of S? Huh?? It’s as if they pulled some fifth-grader out of the Red Rover line and shoved him behind the principal’s desk. The job is one which even more at the present than normally demands the wisdom of King Solomon himself.  Werfel’s Job #1 right now is to repair this rent in the American polity that the administration has torn from the crown to the floor. It requires someone who can look at a room full of people and tell them that he quite understands that they’ve always done business this way, but their way is wrong. Not mistaken, not unpopular, not embarrassing, but morally reprehensible. It requires someone who’s had enough under his belt to look the president himself in the eye and tell him to go pound sand. Someone who cannot be frightened by threats to his future career. And this is who they come up with.

While Danny’s got a pretty slick c.v., he does not appear to have picked up on the notion that, when you’re caught lying, Step 1 is to stop lying, especially when it’s so easy to check up on what you say.  Sure enough, among “Danny’s” first actions was, true to the pattern of his bosses, to lie in public.  [Update: 27 June 2013:  The IRS inspector general shoves Danny’s face into the turnbuckles.  He states that his audit “did not find evidence” that the lefty groups were selected for political reason, while “multiple sources” of evidence corroborate the political targeting of the non-lefties.  Copy of the letter here.]  According to him, the IRS was doling out similar treatment to groups that had words like “progressive” and “occupy” in their names and in fact to groups across the political spectrum.  The AP reports, “‘There was a wide-ranging set of categories and cases that spanned a broad spectrum’ on the lists, Werfel said.”

That statement makes it seem like everyone was getting the Gestapo treatment that the conservative groups got.  Except that wasn’t the case at all.  The National Review has obtained a 2010 version of the target list.  In point of fact it does show that lefty group names were on the “watch list.”  But here’s the kicker:  They were flagged as being inappropriate for § 501(c)(3) status.  This should surprise exactly no one, as § 501(c)(3) status prohibits any political activity.  The tea party, pro-Israel, anti-Obamacare, and similar groups were not applying for § 501(c)(3) status, but rather § 501(c)(4) status.  As to those applications, the IRS target list provided, for tea party groups, “Any cases should be sent to Group 7822”; or, for healthcare-act specific groups, “Group 7821”; or, for pro-Israel groups, the anti-terrorism group, 7830.  All of those are apparently Washington-based organizations.  As the National Review correctly points out, what this meant was that applications under § 501(c)(4) for “progressive” or “occupy” groups could be approved locally, in Cincinnati, while their tea party/anti-ACA/pro-Israel fellow-applicants got shipped off to Washington (there also goes by the boards the assertion of “just a few rogue agents in Ohio”).  In fact, from the document it doesn’t appear that the leftish § 501(c)(4) applicants were flagged at all for any reason.  By the by, the same 2010 list is referenced in the AP’s article, but it makes no mention of the easily-ascertainable points of distinction, and in fact reports the document as if it supports the notion that everyone was all in it together, when precisely the opposite is the case.  Objectivity in action, in other words.

So Danny, a career government hack, put in a position at the head of an agency whose credibility is in tatters, leads with bullshit.  How like a 42-year-old looking out for his future.  There’s nothing wrong with 42, by the way. The Founders thought 35 was plenty old enough to be president. Of course, back then by the time you were 35 you’d probably have outlived at least one wife and several children and more than a few of your siblings, you’d have weathered crop failures, a few Indian raids (if you lived on the frontier), bankrupt business associates nearly wrecking your life, at least one bout of a life-threatening disease, and so forth. You’d have accepted responsibility for the lives and fortunes of others at numerous points along your path. Since the 1960s what has been among the most prominent tendencies in American society? The progressive infantilization of the adult population. Now we’re supposed to glorify the 50-year-old who wants to act like he’s 30. The strutting, swaggering, loud-mouthed, in-your-face, I’m-not-takin’-that-offa-him world of the high school locker room is elevated to an ideal mode of existence.

That this is a fairly recent phenomenon can be pretty convincingly shown by contrasting the bearing of five under-or-near-fifty presidents. Theodore Roosevelt, John Kennedy, Wm Clinton, Geo. W. Bush, and The One. Seriously now, can anyone imagine for a moment either TR or JFK carrying on like Dear Leader? Or willingly associating with the folks he chooses to hang with (Jay-Z, anyone? can you really see JFK offering to shake his hand?). Would TR have sucked up to Geo. Soros and his ilk? Can anyone picture JFK whining like Clinton or The Won had he got caught having it off with the help?

Bush of course had the example of Poppy, but I’ll not attribute his behavior in office solely to the notion that it was beat into his head when a little scrubbed-face boy that Bushes don’t act like that (in no small measure because until he was 40 or so he in fact very much behaved like that). Bush got him a snootful of Jesus along the way somewhere. He acknowledged himself a sinner. This realization, if internalized fully, is not of small import. To confess oneself a sinner is to admit one’s inherent, irremediable imperfection, to step up to the plate and lay bare the blackness of one’s soul, and to accept that it is not of one’s own efforts that one is redeemed from the eternal damnation and suffering that is what one genuinely deserves, but rather by grace (I’ll leave the works debate to the theologians) which comes not of this world and which is freely given, wholly without meritorious claim upon it. I find God-botherers as annoying as the next guy, but if you truly have been blessed with a conversion experience, if you truly have made that commitment (and I’m not aware of anyone challenging W’s sincerity on the point) such that it becomes a part of who you are, then I’m going to submit that certain forms of behavior become off-limits to you, and that limitation proceeds from within you. Behavior, for example, like Dear Leader’s.

Age in short isn’t some talisman. But someone 60 years old today was born in 1953, and would have been sixteen the summer of Woodstock. What kind of young adulthood is that person likely to have had, relative to someone now 75, born in 1938? That 60-year-old’s earliest concrete memories are likely to involve who was the first on the block to get a television set. The 75-year-old’s are likely to involve seeing the newsreels from when they liberated the concentration camps. Or the troop trains carrying the wounded back home. Or the shriek as your best friend’s mother saw the black sedan stop in front of her house this day, followed by a quick glance at the small blue star in the flag in her front window, a star soon to change to gold, and a once-familiar face and voice forever to be frozen in the awkward pose in the photograph on the mantel. Or (as my mother still remembers) the troop trains full of Germans and Italians, captured in North Africa and absolutely thrilled to bits to be sitting on a railroad siding in Vincennes, Indiana, waiting to cross the bridge over the Wabash River (instead of trooping off into oblivion in the Soviet Union’s vastness).

How likely are we to find in the age cohort of the acting IRS commissioner the degree of what the British know as “bottom” necessary to remedy the damage that has been done in the past five years? How likely are we to find a press – free or otherwise – of Michael Hastings’s age peers and with the skepticism necessary to demand the truth and know when they’re not offered it? It’s out there, but how likely is it to arise to where it can do some good?

Somehow I question whether “Danny” Werfel is going to prove a Daniel come to judgment.

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