On the program “The View,” the battle of the consequential blondes took place between Pamela Anderson — the former ultra-sexy star of the TV program “Baywatch” and a close friend of Julian Assange — and Meghan McCain. McCain owes her celebrity to her greatest accomplishment, humbly accepting to be her father’s daughter. Her father, John McCain, distinguished himself as a Vietnam War hero before going on to serve as a Republican senator.
In 2008, partnered with Sarah Palin, John McCain ran an unsuccessful presidential campaign against Barack Obama. McCain died earlier this year, honored by the entire political establishment, with the single exception of Republican President Donald Trump, a discerning patriot who prefers war heroes capable of avoiding being imprisoned by the enemy — something that he demonstrated can easily be arranged by finding a doctor who, for the right price, will detect bone spurs in a young man’s feet.
Over his career, McCain earned the reputation of being a political “maverick,” a largely meaningless label that many Americans find endearing (possibly because of a classic Warner Bros TV series from the 1950s with that title, starring James Garner as an unconventional, occasionally cowardly, gambler cowboy).
Meghan McCain apparently believes she too is a maverick, as do the producers of “The View,” who hired her to be the shrill voice of conservatism in a largely “liberal” group of ladies. On September 6, McCain demonstrated her talents by laying into Anderson, a Canadian, for defending Julian Assange, an Australian and founder of WikiLeaks. McCain deems Assange to be “cyber-terrorist,” an enemy of the state, responsible for a litany of un-American crimes.
She claimed that Assange treasonously published classified information. Anderson countered that he did so in the public interest because the documents WikiLeaks released revealed a series of war crimes by the US government that had been carefully concealed from the public under the stamp of “classified.”
McCain vehemently expressed her hatred of anyone who dares to violate the sacred rule of classification: “Classified information I believe is classified for a reason. I do have some faith in the US government, although as a conservative I have less faith normally than liberals do.”
Here is today’s 3D definition:
1. Secret and confidential, usually claimed in the name of the security of the state
2. An officially declared status applied to certain sensitive documents that defines as a crime the attempt to reveal the crimes attested to in those documents
McCain takes a literalist and legalist position when she states the truism that “classified information … is classified for a reason.” She’s right, since everything — including the acts of a madman — has a reason. But the next step in her reasoning should be to examine that reason. In our complex moral universe, not all reasons are good. Undoubtedly, the officially cited reason to classify sensitive documents will always include the protection of persons and institutions and, more broadly, “national security.” But that very reason may include the protection of people who, in the course of their duties, have committed criminal acts that, under the rule of law, should be prosecuted.
McCain thinks and acts according to simple rules. When she admits to having “some faith in the US government,” she raises a revealing question that paradoxically could be taken to support Anderson’s position about not putting all one’s faith in governments. McCain’s remark goes even further in clarifying one of the mysteries of US politics and its special brand of patriotism.
She affirms, as if it were a truism, that conservatives have very little faith in their government. What she means, of course, is that conservatives dislike the fact that governments have the arrogance to make decisions about how people live their lives in an organized society. More particularly, conservatives distrust governments that seek to provide the services a community requires. Their faith in government stops at their own personal doorstep. On the other hand, when the government wishes to hide things from view by classifying what the common citizen might misinterpret, she is ready to trust government with a kind of blind faith.
The conservative view, at its most simplistic level, is that communities — groups of people — simply do not have requirements worth mentioning other than collective defense. Only individuals have requirements. In a free society, each individual must assume the task of providing for their particular requirements. Since defense is what provides the space for individuals to make all their own choices (irrespective of the needs of others), anything related to defense deserves each individual’s unqualified faith.
This stands as the basic ideological rule that defines a conservative’s obligations of faith and faithlessness. Having faith in what government does or proposes to do is a vice because it always involves taxes and taking away one’s rightful possessions. Having faith in what government says, including accepting what it doesn’t say or classifies, is a virtue. The US needs to be powerful and imposing with regard to the rest of the world, but utterly non-interventionist with regard to the actions of its citizens.
For other Americans — essentially independents, liberals and progressives — the position is less ideological or Manichaean. Rather than framing issues in terms of an act of faith, they are likely to manifest variable levels of trust concerning specific government policies. This leaves room for selective mistrust of both words and deeds when they appear suspect. Such an attitude should be an integral part of any political culture that relies on checks and balances.
Since the beginning of Donald Trump’s presidency, many commentators on the recent trends of history have noticed with regret the diminishing respect for the “rule of law.” In so doing, they often fail to make an important distinction.
The rule of law implies the principle that laws apply equally to all parties. But in its historical reality, the interpretation of the rule of law has also included the less explicit pragmatic principles that govern bilateral and multilateral relations. Instead of the blind, neutrality of the law, what we are tempted to call “rules of behavior” relating to the acknowledgment of privilege and territorial prerogatives emerge, determined by power relationships. The “law of rules” often takes precedence over the “rule of law.”
In our idealism concerning the role of the law, we often fail to recognize the linguistic ambiguity conveyed by the notion of “rule.” As an abstract notion, “a rule” refers to a principle or required behavior that everyone is supposed to respect and comply with, such as the golden rule: “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.”
In the abstract, the notion of rule is egalitarian. But as a concrete noun, “rule” signifies the force of authority, irrespective of any notion of equality or justice. The British have long been proud of their “rule” over the world’s oceans: “Rule Britannia, Britannia rule the waves.” The lyrics of that 18th-century song, originally written for a masque, clearly convey the notion of “rule” as connoting domination of the weak by the powerful. The penultimate stanza goes further, translating domination as possession: “All thine shall be the subject main / And every shore it circles thine.”
This idea of possession brings us back to the notion of classified information or documents. Something that is classified belongs to a restricted realm that defines not only ownership, or the unrestricted right to use something, but also the right to hide the existence or, at least, the contents of that thing from the view of others.
In recent times, civilization has been undergoing a shift from the “rule of law” to the “law of rule,” the acceptance of the fact that, in this increasingly Kafkaesque world, we can no longer know not only what or who governs us, but more significantly how it governs. Artificial intelligence accompanied by big data is the next logical step. And all because, as Meghan McCain tells us, what we might need to know but have no access to “is classified for a reason.”
As a final ironic reflection, we notice that McCain has used her voice on “The View” to justify the hiding of things from “our view” by a government in which she claims to have no faith.
*[In the age of Oscar Wilde and Mark Twain, another American wit, the journalist Ambrose Bierce, produced a series of satirical definitions of commonly used terms, throwing light on their hidden meanings in real discourse. Bierce eventually collected and published them as a book, The Devil’s Dictionary, in 1911. We have shamelessly appropriated his title in the interest of continuing his wholesome pedagogical effort to enlighten generations of readers of the news.]
The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Fair Observer’s editorial policy.