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Sunday, August 05, 2012

Unicorns and hypothetical close relatives of Harry Reid who may have been unsure whether he is or isn't a pederast until they consulted the interwebs

On Friday, Prof. Glenn Reynolds was kind enough to link my recent post about the Harry Reid pederasty rumors, opining that "firmness is justified when responding to slurs from a man widely rumored to be guilty of pederasty." Today he directs us to a thoughtful essay by ethicist and lawyer Jack Marshall in which Mr. Marshall opines that the recent blogospheric attention to the precise nature of the Senate Majority Leader's interest in young boys is "not fair but deserved."

Mr. Marshall urges us to re-take the high road, and that "when dealing with an individual as loathsome as Harry Reid," we should content ourselves with "denigrat[ing] him with the truth":

Reid himself deserves little sympathy, for the collective smear on his name was prompted by his own scurrilous rumor-mongering on the floor of the U.S. Senate, where he asserted that Mitt Romney hadn’t paid his taxes for a decade based on no evidence whatsoever. Nonetheless, while giving someone a “taste of his own medicine” is no doubt satisfying and perhaps even instructive, wrong is wrong, and spreading intentional lies, even about a public figure as devoid of decency and scruples as the Senate Majority Leader, is unethical. No conduct, no matter how nauseating, by its target can justify this. Stooping to Reid’s level can only further degrade civility and dignity in American public discourse, which is the objective of political sewer-dwellers like Reid, not anyone with the best interests of the nation in mind.

This is well put and high-minded. Less persuasive is this bit, though:

The meme is doing its work: Sen. Reid is on the way to being “santorumed.”* Google his name, and Google’s suggested searches put “Harry Reid pederast” third. By next week, it could be first. Will some unsuspecting, innocent and trusting citizens come across this completely fanciful libel of Reid and believe it? Perhaps even a young nephew or niece of the Senate Majority Leader? Oh, we can be sure of that.

I'm not at all sure of that. In fact, I think that's extremely unlikely. Here is the comment I left (which at this moment still awaits moderation; emphasis added):

Mr. Marshall, you argue well and eloquently. But I do not think YOUR fantasy — that some innocent, virginal young relative of Harry Reid will see his name associated with pederasty on the internet AND WILL BELIEVE IT — is a realistic one. Were Harry Reid not a public figure, your fantasy might be plausible. But there are equally bad, and worse, accusations leveled at controversial public figures on the internet every minute of every hour of every day, and this is not a new phenomenon. You’re more likely to persuade me that Harry Reid has sex with real unicorns than that he has anyone close to him whose opinion will be affected by this. Indeed, because they are close to him, they can judge him for themselves. [The people, I meant — not the unicorns, who are famously nonjudgmental.] That’s how real life works.

So: Plaudits for the moral stand. Brickbats for silly and counterfactual arguments to justify it. This is parody, and it has a point other than meanness.

Of course, so do Reid’s lies: HIS point is to actually deceive people.

That, by the way, is a common feature of pederasts.

Mitt Romney has hypothetical nieces and nephews too, you know. From their penthouses in the Grand Caymans, they probably have Google alerts set up to help them keep track of what they ought to think of Uncle Mitt, and I know that they value Harry Reid's opinion above all others.

I respectfully disagree with Mr. Marshall as to whether the fanciful risk of someone becoming persuaded by this meme that Harry Reid really is a pederast — and I'm not the one saying he is, nor am I the one whose political spokesman allegedly charactered the suggestion of Reid's potential pederasty, on the record, as "cute" — is sufficiently real to make it anything other than a theoretical problem. And I disagree with Mr. Marshall's characterization of these posts as being "the intentional spreading of lies." It's actually somewhat insulting to suggest that anyone in the extended Reid family, or for that matter, anyone anywhere, is as spectacularly gullible as Mr. Marshall's characterization would require. But I'll grant Mr. Marshall that Reid's own assertions about Gov. Romney are similarly insulting to the intelligence of the American public, and yet Reid clearly expects political gain from making them anyway.

In my own view, any arguable ethical breach is implicit in, and necessary to, the parody, which I believe to be fully justified; and any ethical shortfall is also mitigated at least to the point of adequate excuse by Reid's own deliberate and malicious lies about Mitt Romney. Were I to extend Mr. Marshall's rationale to its natural conclusion, I'd have to watch what I said about such non-pederastic monsters as Adolf Hitler or Ghengis Khan. Still, come to think of it, has anyone ever seen either of them and Harry Reid in the same room at the same time? Ever? The coincidences just keep adding up. And one thing is indisputable: No one with subpoena power has yet looked into any of these allegations. Sen. Reid's stonewall, in other words, seems to be working — for now.

Nevertheless: To the hypothetical adolescent niece or nephew of Creepy Friendly Old Uncle Harry who happens upon this post and is pondering it:

First, you're probably in big trouble if your parents catch you reading a conservative website. Remember to scrub your browser history, temp files, and cache.

Second, I confess that I know of no evidence to suggest that Harry Reid has sex with real unicorns either. I draw no adverse inference from his failure to deny it, because most people who have sex with real unicorns are understandably shy and reluctant to discuss it. (The unicorns are very private too, and it's easy to understand why no unicorn has yet come forward to admit to a sexual relationship with the powerful Senate Majority Leader.) Certainly you shouldn't think about any of these troubling internet rumors the next time you sit in his lap, because that would be wrong and unfair.

Just remember that your Uncle Harry could put a stop to this in the proverbial New York minute. He could admit that he was lying about Romney and resign from the Senate. Short of that, he could deny the rumors of his pederasty and, like I said earlier, release his personal porn collection.

Posted by Beldar at 03:40 AM in 2012 Election, Congress, Humor, Politics (2012), Romney | Permalink


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(1) Beldar made the following comment | Aug 5, 2012 5:14:14 AM | Permalink

And on the subject of New York minutes, isn't it fascinating that New York's senior U.S. Senator, Chuck Schumer, hasn't yet taken even one to defend his Majority Leader from these allegations?

Of course, the canny and ambitious Sen. Schumer is rumored to want to be Harry Reid's successor. Perhaps he's merely biding his time. Or perhaps he knows something about these rumors. Has anyone ruled out the possibility that he started them? Cui bono?

(2) Beldar made the following comment | Aug 5, 2012 12:35:03 PM | Permalink

In the wee small hours when I was drafting this post last night, I mistakenly called Mr. Marshall "Mr. Jackson" several times, which I've now corrected. I apologize for the error. Mr. Marshall's first name (or preferred nickname, dunno which) is Jack; Jack is my own middle name; and my second son's middle name is Jackson; I like both the names Jack and Jackson; and I'm getting old — which, collectively, is the best I can offer by way of extenuating circumstances.

I should also mention that Mr. Marshall has released my comment on his blog from moderation, and that he's left a short response, for both of which I thank him. His responsive comment reads (italics his):

So if a web-wide campaign to call you a pederast was underway, you’d just laugh it off as obviously untrue? Right.

I left a further pair of comments which read:

Mr. Marshall, you ignore my substantive points and put words in my mouth to respond to instead. Tsk-tsk.

My situation and Harry Reid’s are quite different. I’m not a public figure. The campaign you hypothesize would indeed have a genuine chance of actually confusing someone, and that makes a vast difference in analyzing both its legal and its ethical implications.

No, sir, I’d still appreciate your identifying which of Harry Reid’s nieces and nephews — realistically, I think we’re probably talking grand- or great-grand-nieces and nephews, aren’t we? — are likely to be misled. Do that, please, so we can go ask them: Do you believe everything you read about [great-great] Uncle Harry on the internet? And does his beard tickle your neck and his breath smell funny when you sit on his lap?” Or I’d appreciate your honestly in admitting that what you hypothesized is ridiculously improbable in real life.

You’re also welcome to reply in comments over at my shop, where I’ve discussed your arguments in more detail than I did in my comment here.

Best regards.

— and:

My theory, by the way, is that he who first goes ad hominem automatically loses every argument. Many of those leaving comments here [i.e., on Mr. Marshall's blog] to argue with you, by that standard, lost before you ever responded, and I find no fault with your tweaking them in return. (What comes first does count when it comes to ethics; the “two wrongs don’t make a right” rule would ignore that.) You and I are unacquainted, and I’ve been careful to avoid attacking you, but rather, to only discuss your positions. I bother to do this because I think your positions are interesting, but ultimately wrong. If you do choose to respond, I’m confident you’ll leave aside the personal insults you obviously feel free to direct toward other commenters who’ve first been rude to you. Let’s keep this tightly focused where it should be — on Harry Reid.

If I had it to say over (or could edit my comments on Mr. Marshall's blog, as I have this one on my own over the course of an hour or so), I'd not say that Mr. Marshall put words in my mouth. Rather, I'd have said this: Mr. Marshall's comeback ignored, and was inconsistent with, what I'd already said (which was that if Reid were not a public figure, Mr. Marshall's hypothesis about actual damage to Harry Reid's reputation might be entirely plausible). I'm not a public figure comparable to the Senate Majority Leader; I'm a private citizen exercising First Amendment rights, without a multi-decade history in public office, and not routinely subjected to any more public calumny than my own conservative blogging inspires. That which has no realistic chance of blackening Harry Reid's reputation, in other words, might indeed blacken mine.

Those commenters who accuse Mr. Marshall of being humorless are clearly wrong; some of his insults, delivered in response to insults from commenters, are quite funny.

My point isn't that Mr. Marshall is being humorless; this isn't about Mr. Marshall. My point is that his arguments, which draw some sort of moral equivalence between Reid's contemptible lies about Romney and conservative bloggers' parody of those lies when they're discussing Reid and pederasty, are not ethically or logically persuasive for the reasons I've discussed both in my original comment on his blog and, in more detail, here on my own.

(3) Gregory Koster made the following comment | Aug 5, 2012 2:05:44 PM | Permalink

Dear Mr. Dyer: First, it is tremendous to have you back. I've missed your posts greatly.

Second: I followed your links to Marshall's blog and tried to post, but was defeated by WordPress. Bah. One of the things I mentioned was this quote, from HAMLET:

Thus conscience does make cowards of us all;
And thus the native hue of resolution
Is sicklied o'er with the pale cast of thought,
And enterprises of great pith and moment
With this regard their currents turn awry,
And lose the name of action.

Mr. Marshall doesn't seem to see that his "chess playing" as he calls it, comes with a price, losing "the name of action." You wonder what he would have thought about the behavior of the passengers on Flight 93.

He's right, though, that the pederasty campaign has a price to it. But he doesn't have any course of action contra Reid. I don't think this is because he's a liberal bigot, but rather he has lost the name of action.

Sincerely yours,
Gregory Koster

(4) Beldar made the following comment | Aug 5, 2012 2:12:21 PM | Permalink

An apt quote, Mr. Koster, thank you for reminding us of it! And thanks for your kind words and encouragement about my own blogging.

I wasn't previously acquainted with Mr. Marshall or his writing, but from his description of Harry Reid as "loathsome," I doubt he's a political liberal; I suspect he and I might agree not just on that, but on a great deal more. And I credit him with good faith in posing his original observation; I can't speak for Prof. Reynolds, obviously, but his linking Mr. Marshall's post perhaps implies agreement with that. Mr. Marshall has gotten pretty snarky in responding to some uncivil comments, but that merely demonstrates that yes, context matters, sequence matters, and some things that would be unjustifiable on their own may be justifiable as a responsive measure.

(5) Beldar made the following comment | Aug 5, 2012 2:50:10 PM | Permalink

We can trace parody, as a distinct and powerful form of political rhetoric, back at least as far as the ancient Greek theater.

It seems to me that Mr. Marshall's ethical argument, if consistently followed, would put an end to parody. His "two wrongs don't make a right" argument would ban every known inaccuracy or exaggeration, even the most obvious ones that are obviously being used to make a political point more effectively through the humor of an apt parody.

(6) Beldar made the following comment | Aug 5, 2012 3:12:42 PM | Permalink

Do I need commas in this post's title?

Perhaps "Unicorns, and hypothetical close relatives of Harry Reid, who may have been unsure whether he is or isn't a pederast until they consulted the interwebs"?

Because inquiring unicorns want to know.

(7) Beldar made the following comment | Aug 5, 2012 10:49:25 PM | Permalink

Before he ate, shot, or left, a panda told me that the clarity of my title would be enhanced by a single comma, thus: "Unicorns, and hypothetical close relatives of Harry Reid who may have been unsure whether he is or isn't a pederast until they consulted the interwebs." A very careful, very anal lawyer might write it thusly:

(a) Unicorns; and

(b) hypothetical close relatives of Harry Reid who may have been unsure whether he —

(i) is; or

(ii) isn't —

a pederast until they consulted the interwebs.

The panda also said I should look into Reid's dealings with Chinese "green energy" companies.

As for my title, it is ambiguous as written, but since I have given it further thought, it now can be described as a "studied ambiguity." I'll leave it alone.

(8) Beldar made the following comment | Aug 5, 2012 11:21:52 PM | Permalink

Mr. Marshall has again responded, this time even more dismissively, but with only the same attempted comeback as before — basically, "would you like a pederasty campaign waged against you?" — to which I again objected that I wouldn't, but that I'm not a public figure; private figures are vastly more vulnerable to such a campaign, as I've repeatedly acknowledged.

Mr. Marshall is very rigid in refusing to recognize the real purpose of the parody, and insists that its purpose and effect are to spread intentional lies about Reid. That seems nonsensical to me, a willful blindness on his part, as to both purpose and effect. So I'm disappointed that he won't address the merits of any of my arguments and that, frankly, he's grown a bit testy. His readers and mine, however few or many they are, can make up their own minds about all this, however, and I'm content to let our brief discussion end here for now.

(9) Milhouse made the following comment | Aug 6, 2012 4:50:43 PM | Permalink

Beldar, what you say about the distinction between public and private figures is true, but suppose Reid were a private figure and could be harmed by this, I still don't understand Marshall's objection. Would I like such a campaign waged against me? No, I wouldn't. Why does that make it wrong to wage one against Reid? I wouldn't like being imprisoned either, but I have no problem with imprisoning dangerous criminals. When Reid cynically defamed Romney's good name in such a blatant fashion, he forfeited the right to his own good name. Being slandered as you have done to him is the just deserts for his own slander. Were I a judge and he tried to sue you over this, I wouldn't even reach Sullivan or Falwell; I'd dismiss the case immediately on the grounds of unclean hands. "He who seeks equity must do equity."

(10) Milhouse made the following comment | Aug 6, 2012 4:57:18 PM | Permalink

Your link to Instapundit is wrong. Here's the correct link

(11) Milhouse made the following comment | Aug 6, 2012 5:45:55 PM | Permalink

One more comment: Having now read Marshall's article, and his Replies to common rebuttals, I see that the essence of my problem with him lies in #9:

Comment IX: “What gives a self-appointed ethicist the authority to say this is wrong?”

Everybody has an obligation and the authority to call wrongful conduct wrongful. It happens that I do it for a living; I practice it and work at it; and I’m pretty good at it, but that doesn’t mean I have a monopoly. I do know that anyone who can’t see that it is unethical to spread lies about a public figure as revenge for a scurrilous charge is unqualified to discuss ethics with anyone, not just a professional ethicist.

The credentialism positively reeks from this dismissal of all who dare to disagree with him. Well, Mr Marshall, I don't recognise your expertise in ethics. It seems to me that I have a good sense of ethics too, and the fact that someone pays you to give your opinions doesn't make them any better than mine. There's no objective yardstick with which we can measure my ethics against yours, and I think you have a chutzpah claiming that your professional status lets you decide who is "unqualified to discuss ethics with anyone". I positively deny "that it is unethical to spread lies about a public figure as revenge for a scurrilous charge", and if that doesn't sit well with you that's your tough luck. You do not get to dismiss me just because you disagree.

I went looking around his site for a sense of where his ethics lie, and pretty soon found another article I vigorously disagree with; the issue is basically the same as here, and once again he doesn't like tit-for-tat, while I think turnabout is fair play. He's not as bad as the NY Times' infamous "ethicist", but I think his ethics and mine seriously diverge.

(12) Joel made the following comment | Aug 6, 2012 10:37:32 PM | Permalink

Mr Beldar,

I was the one who used the argument, "All's fair in love and war." I have been following his blog since then and today it seems Mr Marshall has an agenda. To rehabilitate gays in the eyes of the public.
This is his effort.

Strangely enough, he is using information that started 42 years ago and ended 20 years ago. He does two things at once. First he claims that the Boy Scouts of America are a horrible place because over twenty years ago, there was a problem with Scout Masters sexually preying on their charges. Second: He also condemns the Boy Scouts for excluding gays.

For a man who prides himself on ethics, he shows a remarkable tendency to call me names. I am now considered a stupid f*** and a bigoted jerk at his blog. I just thought you would like to know.

(13) Beldar made the following comment | Aug 6, 2012 11:33:25 PM | Permalink

Milhouse, thanks for the comments and the link correction (which I've incorporated in the post).

(14) John Cunningham made the following comment | Aug 9, 2012 8:44:30 AM | Permalink

Beldar, great to see you active again! all too often, I have clicked on your site and seen older posts. Most regrettable that you have to accede to the demands of mundane life, petty issues such as earning a living, sleeping, dealing with kids, etc.
I think we have to realize that we are in a street fight with the MVP [Moochers and Victims Party] and that fighting fair is a recipe for failure. now is the time to start kicking them in the balls, poking eyes, etc.
I just did a Google search on "Harry Reid pederast" and only found 448K hits. we are goofing off we need to get that up to a couple of million.

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