"'Any day is a good day to fight for liberty'," by Ronald N. Neff, part four

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Another indispensable enemy

None of Congress's subterfuge would have been possible, however, without the participation of its junior partner, the press. LUS is obviously dependent on the theses of IE, but it is equally dependent on the thesis of Karp's essay "All the Congressmen's Men." (BA, pp. 253-69)

The doctrine of "objective journalism," Karp says, demands a high-level answer to questions. No one can say that such-and-such is the case unless he can quote a "source" to say it is so. No one can see 2 here and 2 there, and say that they add up to 4; he must find a high-level personage to declare it so.

This is craven journalism at its worst, and Karp pours out unmitigated scorn on those it holds in its thrall. It is not a new observation, but Karp weaves it into his class analysis and shows the press to be a principal tool for ending revolts against oligarchy. This abdication of real journalism is the reason the public normally do not trust the press.

On the other hand, "The public's trust in the press was highest in 1973, according to the Harris poll," he said in a Harper's forum. [10] "The American people trusted the press most, that is, during the Watergate revelations. When the press appeared to be vigorous, when people were hearing about the corruption and lies of men in power, that was when the press was admired most."

Karp often quoted John Adams's "thunderous words" that a free people have "an indisputable, unalienable, indefeasible, divine right to that most dreaded and envied kind of knowledge, I mean, of the characters and conduct of their rulers." But in our time, "Our rulers make the news, but they do not appear in the news, not as they really are — not as a political class, a governing establishment, a body of leaders with great and pervasive powers, with deep, often dark, ambitions." (BA, p. 269)

Karp's account both of Nixon's downfall (in the BA and IE+ discussions of Watergate) and of Reagan's presidency will not ring true to most libertarian (and certainly not to conservative) readers: they are not used to thinking of the press as a tool of party collusion; they are more accustomed to thinking of it as a tool of liberalism alone.

Nevertheless, Karp shows in instance after instance how O'Neill kept his Democratic House in line, and with it the press, and more than once rescued an ailing Reagan.

Karp was no student of free-market economics, and much of his discussion of the Reagan presidency takes as reactionary certain proposals that might actually have increased the freedom of citizens. He does not see that reductions in government spending might in any way be good for American liberties. He sees only that the GOP managed to enlarge the power of government by pretending to reduce its power. He does not seem to see that the deficits resulting from military spending, which he denounces, are no more evil than the deficits that result from "entitlement" spending. He sees that reducing the dole is a way to consolidate power, but not that expanding it is, too. [11]

What Karp did understand, and understand better than many libertarians, is that military spending and free-market economics are simply not compatible. If one is advocating both, then, he must be pulling the wool over someone's eyes, and it should have been obvious even to the most starry-eyed libertarian in the Reagan White House whose starry eyes they would be.

And because Walter Karp was never in the business of making excuses for lies and perfidy, he also recognized Reagan's hypocrisy in, say, proposing a "National Recipient Information System" after warning against Big Brother government. Indeed, he cites case after case — myriads of them — in which the Reagan rhetoric of freedom is simply ignored while the power of the state expands under the determined protection of a Democratic Congress and its tame press. Those cases evidence a deep-down enmity toward freedom, and Karp's account of the Reagan presidency is relentless in naming them and listing them. Conservatives — and even some libertarians — should steel themselves: Karp is stripping away a mask to reveal a tyrant, "a feckless, lawless President with an appalling appetite for private power" (BA, p. 268), and it's not a pretty picture.

The Carter and Reagan presidencies are joined by what they teach us about the power of a president, specifically how weak he is when his party opposes him and undermines him (Carter) and how strong he is when the opposition props him up and shields him (Reagan). I urge the reader to examine Karp's discussion of Iran-Contra with that in mind and to judge whether he makes his case or not. What I believe is clear is that Karp has uncovered yet another area in which the ruling classes are not monolithic, where rule and tyranny are in fact strengthened by the rivalrous action of assault and defense. Moreover, the agents of assault may readily become agents of defense when the focus of activity changes. Thus, on one issue, a certain journalist or congressman may posture as a critic, and on another accept uncritically, and repeat, transparent protective lies; or call for "bipartisanship," a code word for collusion.

To the conclusion: "The two Americas" and "Any day ..."

Posted June 17, 2002

© 2002 by WTM Enterprises. All rights reserved.

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