"Whenever the people are well-informed, they can be trusted with their own government." Thomas Jefferson

History Doesn't Reward Bullies

Melanie Sturm | @ThinkAgainUSA Read Comments - 3
Publish Date: 
Thu, 01/31/2013


Considered a cancer surviving “badass on a bike,” it turns out Lance Armstrong is just a badass -- and a fraud. 

Armstrong’s admission that he doped his way to seven Tour de France titles even prompted CBS News CEO Jeffrey Fager to Think Again about his network’s role in the “Miracle Man’s” narrative.  “We helped create the myth,” he acknowledged, because “we wanted to believe this absolutely inspirational story. But we were duped.” 

Unearned moral superiority and blazing self-righteousness hastened Armstrong’s rise, as he slandered and sued whistleblowers into submission. “I was a bully in the sense that I tried to control the narrative,” the master-manipulator told Oprah, “and if I didn’t like what someone said, I turned on them.” Hence, the narrative (not the truth) is the message, to paraphrase media maven Marshall McLuhan.

Consider how Secretary of State Hillary Clinton struggled to control her narrative during last week’s congressional hearings on the Benghazi terrorist attacks that claimed four American lives, including the first US ambassador murdered since 1979. To deflect responsibility and shape public opinion, Clinton hollered self-righteously, “Was it because of a protest, or was it because of guys out for a walk one night who decided they’d go kill some Americans? What difference, at this point, does it make?”

But if the deaths were caused by a premeditated attack launched on the anniversary of 9/11 by anti-American Islamic terrorists – not a protest turned violent over a YouTube video, as originally asserted by US officials including President Obama – shouldn’t that inform how we prevent future American deaths from terrorist attacks? Isn’t it misleading to suggest anything other than the facts?

President Obama worked hard to promote the narrative that he’s determined to resolve America’s mounting fiscal threats and cut his predecesor's record $459 billion deficit. In February 2009 -- just days after signing his $833 billion economic stimulus bill -- he convened a fiscal responsibility summit at which he pledged, “to cut the deficit we inherited by half by the end of my first term.”  He acknowledged, “It will require us to make difficult decisions and face challenges we’ve long neglected.”

In 2010, to demonstrate that his commitment to “deal with these broad structural deficits” wasn’t “just an empty promise,” Obama appointed the bi-partisan Simpson-Bowles commission. It responded to his appeal for “tough choices” by recommending tax and entitlement reforms similar to those enacted by Canada before its remarkable economic and fiscal turnaround.

But instead of pursuing reforms, Obama campaigned for Clinton-era tax-rates on the wealthiest Americans -- though not Clinton-era spending levels, which averaged 19.8 percent of US GDP compared to Obama’s 24.4 percent average – securing in the “fiscal cliff” deal a tax-rate increase from 35 percent to 39.6 percent on incomes over $400,000.

Economic realities are overtaking Obama’s “Fiscally Responsible” narrative: the economy surprisingly contracted last quarter; US debt ($16.4 trillion and growing nearly $4 billion every day) exceeds the size of the US economy; Medicare and Social Security actuaries say underfunding of the programs exceeds $60 trillion, and the Congressional Budget Office projected a fifth consecutive trillion-dollar deficit this year.

Absent rapid economic growth to bring debt-to-GDP levels down to manageable norms, Americans aren’t confident in a future that holds only unacceptable alternatives – massive middle-class tax increases and/or rapid inflation. Yet when Republicans urge enactment of reforms Obama once promised and his fiscal commission recommended, he calls them heartless and “out of the mainstream” and questions their morality by suggesting they “have suspicions about whether government should make sure that kids in poverty are getting enough to eat.” Yesterday he blamed them for the US economic contraction.

As Obama discards his “fiscal prudence” narrative in favor of a “benign government” narrative, consider that our bloated government sector is not only crushing the private economy, it’s handicapping Americans’ opportunity to earn the success from which achievement and happiness derive. Obama may favor “collective action,” but it’s the freedom to determine one’s life “profit,” however defined, that our Founders meant by “the pursuit of happiness” -- America’s moral promise.

Americans are aspirational and self-reliant, so it’s heart-wrenching to note that after spending $15 trillion in the “War on Poverty,” America’s poverty rate hasn’t budged, the number of Americans dependent on government checks is at a record high, and the percentage of Americans in the work force is near a record low. 

Rather than denigrate policymakers who want to reverse these trends by reverting to our Founders’ limited government design, President Obama should summon the magnanimity to collaborate.  It’s how our best presidents have served the national interest – by promoting unifying narratives, not divisive ones.

At the Civil War’s end, President Lincoln (whose pro-slavery opponents indeed were morally inferior) proclaimed, “with malice toward none, with charity for all, with firmness in the right as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in.”

Think Again – history rewards “unifiers” like Lincoln, not self-righteous bullies like Lance Armstrong.

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I am in awe of your ability

I am in awe of your ability to express yourself publicly in this way. More than that, I am grateful. You are helping re-take the intellectual foundation that the center-right used to own. I love it. Thanks for everything you are doing.

Dear Melanie: What I think

Dear Melanie: What I think is that your level of frustration, like mine, is so overwhelming that you feel the need to redirect and actually mention ‘The One’ in your excellent and most appropriate piece. I encourage this from now on but, we are in Aspen, and it will be interesting to see whether the new approach changes anything.

All of this helps explain why

All of this helps explain why Americans’ distrust in the media hit a new high in 2012, with 60 percent saying they have little or no trust in the mass media to report the news fully, accurately, and fairly.

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