The GOP’s Misplaced Glee Over Biden’s Document Debacle

by Theodore Dalrymple

The glee with which the Republicans learned of President Biden’s unauthorized possession of classified documents is all too understandable. Mr. Biden seems now to be in a position not very dissimilar from that of his predecessor, President Trump.

Tu quoque — you also — has always been a favorite rhetorical device of those who are not quite certain of their own innocence or moral probity. It boils down to this: I may have done something wrong, but you have done the same thing, so my wrongdoing was not quite so bad after all. This is an inglorious argument, but often rhetorically effective.

Increasingly, politics seems to be not so much a beauty contest as a contest of ugliness. Which candidate or acting politician has behaved worse? Who has lied or stolen more? In the kingdom of the villain, the least bad is king.

Digging dirt on opponents is, of course, fun — much more fun than serious analysis of policy. However much we may claim to dislike or disapprove of gossip, we indulge in it all the same: man, after all, is the gossiping animal.

Few of us have absolutely nothing to hide in our lives, things about ourselves or our history that we would not like other people to know. This means that brazenness and a rhinoceros hide are almost requisites of a successful political career in an age of information, when nothing can be hidden forever.

Nevertheless, I think many politicians and would-be politicians start out with some kind of idealism. I knew a successful American businessman who, naively no doubt, decided that he wanted to do some good for his country and tried to run for high office. First, though, he had to be chosen as the candidate for the party he favored.

He was running against the incumbent, known to be ignorant, ruthless, none too bright, and thoroughly corrupt. To the delight of the opposing party, his own party, whose machine was in the grip of the incumbent, began to libel and slander him mercilessly.

He discovered that to answer the libels and slanders was to give them credence, as did not answering them. Moreover, by the time he answered them, the libels and slanders had moved on to new inventions. His wife likened the process to waking every morning and being doused with a bucket of excrement. And this was by the party of which he was a member and supporter.

Naturally, the opposing party was delighted. The last thing it wanted was an opposing candidate of obvious intelligence, decency, and probity who might attract undecided voters. Its only chance of winning the forthcoming election was to confront the incumbent with his incompetence and manifold failings as a person.

The upshot was that the incumbent was re-elected, and the whole process seemed to have been like Darwin’s natural selection, except that survival of the fittest was replaced by survival of the worst.

Bismarck said that one should not ask how sausages or politics are made; it has always been a dirty business. In the past, though, it was easier to conceal the crimes and misdemeanors of the rulers: sources of information were fewer and those that existed exercised discretion — or were obsequious towards the powerful.

We were therefore able to have some trust in the authorities, but now that we know more, universal suspicion reigns.

The discontent with the political class as a whole is all but universal in the Western world, in which the main political question has become “Who are the worse scoundrels?”

Sensitive people are obliged to vote for candidates while holding their nose: since there is always a better and worse (though the difference may be marginal), not voting is irresponsible.

Yet the person elected, often a narcissist, takes his victory, however narrow, as a ringing endorsement and believes himself mandated to do whatever he pleases.

Yet he soon finds that he is but grist to a mill much larger than himself. That is why politicians who are against budget deficits always increase them when in office. Idealism proposes but realism disposes.

The remedy of the political malady afflicting Western democracies is not obvious. A moratorium on dirt-digging and name-calling might be helpful, insofar as it would encourage thinner-skinned and better people to put themselves forward.

Yet how is such a moratorium to be called? Censorship is a priori ruled out, while self-control is hardly the ruling virtue of our age. We are stuck with what we have, which, all things considered, could be worse.

Switzerland is the only country known to me that has escaped the malady: it is in the happy position of being a country in which politicians are of supreme unimportance and no one can even name the head of state. But Switzerland is small, and if it is true what the residents whom I know have told me, it is boring.

First published in the New York Sun.


10 Responses

  1. I’m not sure if this story is apocryphal or not, but it’s a favorite of mine.
    A newly elected congressman, full of idealism and bright ideas, kept proposing legislation that actually benefited his constituents.
    After a few weeks of this, a senior member took him aside and said: “The trouble with you is you think this is on the level.”

  2. One problem with rectitude on this point is that it allows the Democrats [or their counterparts] to get away with whatever they want and still tar the Republicans with the brush they have evaded themselves.
    They have, of course, armed themselves with the skill and cunning to always present identical or near identical situations as different, even though the only difference is whose ox is getting gored.
    And they have further armed themselves with the rhetorical tool of accusing the other side of “whataboutism”, and no one on the right seems mentally equipped to come right back and publicly, mock sincerely ask, “Is that that word you use when someone raises an obviously relevant comparison you want to ignore?”
    I think we are past the politics of public rectitude being taken wholly seriously and uncynically, and the stakes are higher than that.
    Of course, that doesn’t mean there are scandals I don’t think foolish, even when it’s the other side. I do not care if a politician who does what I want is cheating on his wife. I do not assume that implies he is of such low character he is also betraying the state. That is not a straight line and never was. If he IS betraying the state in minor ways like taking some cash, I might be willing to look the other way under some circumstances. Stakes. I’m willing to accept the other side does this and mostly ignore comparable scandals. And remember that they were always around. Probably worse a century ago.
    I am more exercised by abuses of power or policy, but even these have their nuances. A few years ago there was huge scandal in Canada over PM Trudeau, of whom I am the least plausible to be called a fan, contacting his Justice Minister to more or less suggest policy-based leniency on a Canadian company for violating foreign anti-corruption laws to the extent these violate our law on not corrupting foreign nations. There may have also been some violations IN Canada. I would have taken the view that any attempt to corrupt Canadian officials be prosecuted, I would never have written a law making it a crime in Canada to be corrupt on foreign soil, and would be willing to look the other way to see Canadian commercial advantage [or even equality, since everyone else is likely bribing] in foreign markets. We should not have a political system in which the interests of the Canadian state, public, citizens or businesses cannot even be considered as against a purely judicial mindset. Especially when the scandal seems to amount to the PM asking a Minister to consider prosecutorial discretion, which prosecutors exercise all the time.
    Alas, such scandals need to be seized upon precisely because the other side always, always will do so.

  3. I enjoy the story. However, the positions of the Trump versus the Biden camp are anything but equal. In this case, the Tu quoque argument would seem to excuse Biden’s violation, whereas on Trump’s part there was no violation. Firstly, as President Trump had the ability to declassify any document, so his stealing of secret documents is impossible. This was not so for VP Biden. Secondly, President Trump freely offered to allow the government to visit and inspect and possibly possess any documents he had in his possession prior to the administration’s burglary of his private home. This the Administration didn’t do, decided they’d rather break into his home – possibly for a third reason (coming). Contrarily, Biden never responded to a request by the government because the documents were either lost and haphazardly stored, or hidden because they were never the prerogative of the VP to possess. A third difference is that the administrative burglary of President Trump’s home ignored the narrow boundaries warranted (by a redacted warrant) and went so far as to go through his wife’s closet. Illegal as hell, but… nobody is charged, and it had the benefit of the Democratic administration examining anything they wanted within the home. This is what burglary does. The search of Biden’s garage occurred after the illegally possessed documents surfaced and were the searchable cause. The only parallel here is between an officer of the law (President Trump) and a crook (Biden) – in that both involve a crime, one by a crook (Biden) and one by the Biden Administration.

    1. Typical Republican dishonesty and self-delusion. There’s a proper procedure to be followed to declassify documents – they don’t instantly become declassified just because the person who took them without telling anybody happens to be the President (actually, Donald Trump was ex-President when he packed up and left the White House, so your argument about his power to declassify is itself a big reach).

      Your claims regarding Trump’s offers and illegalities on the part of the FBI are, to put it simply and plainly, bullshit. Trump fought tooth and nail against his property being searched. He and his followers spent weeks claiming the raid was illegal before the Justice Department called their foolish bluff and proved 1. based on their investigation, they did have probable cause to conduct a search and 2. the search did uncover evidence of illegal activity.
      If there was a shred of truth to your claims about violations of the law then Trump could drag the FBI and Justice Dept through the courts. It would be the news story of the year. What country do you think you’re living in?

      Unlike you, I’m honest enough to recognize that both both Joe Biden and Donald Trump likely broke the law, and they should face whatever consequences the law says they should face. However, the Biden discoveries smack of sloppiness and inattentiveness. The things the FBI discovered with Trump, on the other hand, suggest a deeply arrogant man who thought he could waltz out of the White House with whatever souvenirs and keepsakes he wished because the rules don’t apply to him.

      1. Let me start by saying I’m not a Republican, I’d been a lifelong socialist until I saw firsthand the incompetence and pure intolerance of the socialist zealots.
        They have brought in some marvelous programs but they are usually ruined by implementation shortcomings and open ended entitlements.

        If you think for one moment that Trump actually knew what papers were in the boxes that were removed from the White House then you don’t understand how a President’s life is arranged. Every waking minute of their lives is scheduled and they aren’t bothered with the day to day minutiae of filing and storing papers, that’s why they have highly paid administrators.
        They are just given briefs and act on ( or ignore ) advice .
        Do you honestly think that he had any idea of what papers were in the boxes that he had shipped to Florida? That’s what flunkies are paid to look after.

        1. Bull, Trump was fully aware of what he had. He strongly resisted cooperating with the inquiry, one of his attorneys signed an affidavit stating her client had handed over all classified material, and many of the documents unearthed were found not in the storage room but in his office.

          Furthermore there have been several media reports that while Trump was still President he used to flout the law and destroy documents on a regular basis, including by flushing them down toilets.

          I think this piece does an excellent job of explaining why the two Presidents’ cases are not very comparable, and why Republican attempts to portray them as being so are nothing but silliness.

      2. The FBI is Biden’s Gestapo. End of story. The Biden raid on Melania Trump’s underwear drawer was a joke. We were told Trump had thousands of nuclear secrets. The FBI found NOTHING. Notice, that NOTHING has come up in this phony raid. If they had found something they would have brought charges and a prosecution.

        The documents in Biden’s garage and his son’s cocaine pile were when he was Vice President. You believe the MSM nonsense. The MSM has not told the truth in 75 Years. They are merely a mouthpiece for the Democrat Party.

        Democrats say no one is above the law. They mean no one but they are above the law. Americans who are intelligent have figured all this out. You haven’t. You are not smart enough.

  4. The best remedy I can think of resides in continuous civics education and the press. My high school civics textbook 50 years ago listed common political propaganda techniques. I wish I remember them now! If the traditional press is weak today, then our social media companies will have to take up some of the civics education function.

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