Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Selective Outrage

When I was in the Air Force, it was a routine complaint that the venerable Airman Proficiency Report (APR) system was inflated -- not unlike the "grade inflation" at many colleges. Intended to be an objective evaluation of each individual airman, the typical APR was anything but objective. Generally, they were "firewalled" -- that is, on a scale of 1 through 9, straight 9's were usually awarded in the various categories. Now, Garrison Keillor likes to remark that Lake Woebegone is a place where everyone is "just a little bit above average," but the truism of the matter is that half of the population is below average. Regression toward the mean: it's the law. There were an awful lot of officially "excellent" airmen walking around who were merely good, or average, or even below average. I ought to know.

And, as nobody was fooled, expectations adjusted themselves accordingly: anyone earning less than straight 9's was considered a poor performer even if the APR contained only one 8, or 7 (which technically was still "excellent"). It didn't matter that, every year, the junior officers and NCOs were admonished to give "objective" ratings to their men and women. Very few bit on it. The stigma of earning a less-than-stellar APR would have to give way before anyone would inflict that on their good people.

It didn't stop some of them from trying, however. In our band squadron, Sergeant Ken ran the APR system. Ken was a career NCO, an extremely feisty one, not a particularly good musician but a capable NCO nonetheless. He was an interesting choice for that position, however, as he had been "busted" (i.e., stripped of one or more stripes) several times. The fatal flaw in Ken's approach to his own military career is that liked to get into bar fights. His trophies from these, er, athletic events took the form of missing teeth; when he grinned, he looked like Liberace's piano keyboard. Ken didn't like me very much (which hardly distinguished him -- I had that effect on a lot of people), and during an interview, he let me know that our squadron was going to do things differently henceforth. Looking me right in the eye, Ken announced, "We're going to start giving realistic APRs from now on, so you'd better prepare yourself."

But I was pretty feisty myself in those days, and though Sergeant Ken had many more years in service than I did, he did not outrank me -- or if he did, not by much. So, I stared straight back at him and said, "You can go ahead and start your 'reform movement' if you want, but I'm telling you here and now: you're not going to start it with me." Fortunately, Sergeant Ken blinked, maybe the only time I ever saw him back down. And so my evaluation was once again spangled with straight 9's which, along with almost everyone else who got them, I didn't deserve.

And therefore, with great interest, I have been watching the brand new reform movement currently being championed by the press and liberal circles (but I repeat myself) -- something about 'decorum', and 'not calling the President a liar.' I can see their point, same as I could see Sergeant Ken's point almost thirty years ago. I too want to live in a country where the President of the United States can deliver a speech without an opponent rudely calling names and coarsening the public debate. I too want to live in a country where the news media holds people accountable for such rude outbursts.

But why start now?

As Victor Davis Hanson points out:

...sadly, I put no credence in liberal outrage. Dozens of Democrats booed Bush during his State of the Union address in 2005; an unhinged Rep. Pete Stark (D-CA) called him a liar from the House floor. The currently outraged, like Maureen Down and E.J. Dionne, said little about the 2005 interruption of the President of the United States with catcalls. Congressional efforts at censure failed. Stark, for all I know, remains not an albatross, but an icon of the Left.

President Obama called for more civility on 60 Minutes the other night. A noble effort, all would agree. But he has himself been serially accusing his opponents of disinformation and lying about his health care plan—even as his own accounts of how many are currently uninsured, the status of illegal aliens under his plan, or the nature of his end of life counseling programs seem to change weekly.

The President in his calls for moderation, of course, said nothing about Van Jones’s profanity and racism—or his czar’s charging Bush with planning the deaths of 3,000, charging whites with being mass killers in the schools, and polluters, and on and on....

The Left is now furious that, as the new establishment, the rules of discourse are not more polite. But from 2002-8, they (Who are “they”? Try everyone from Al Gore to John Glen to Robert Byrd to Sen. Durbin), employed every Nazi/brown shirt slur they could conjure up.

So is the Right supposed to be "bigger" than the Left, and do the right thing -- be civil, be civilized, be respectful -- knowing that, not only will their efforts go unnoticed by the media, but also that the Left will interpret any sign of humility and civility as weakness?

I don't know. Maybe there are worse things than calling someone who lies a liar. Certainly the Left agreed with me enough to leave eight years of "Bush Lied, People Died!" still ringing in my ears.

Let's start the reform movement later. Sometime after the mainstream media can bring themselves to give conservatives an even break. Or sometime after they all go out of business. Whichever comes sooner. Either way works for me.

No comments: