Washington’s New Language
Watching the news from Washington lately is like going on a trip to other places at another time.
Top officials from the Internal Revenue Service, The Secretary of State, The Attorney General and even the President all sound strangely like people during the Soviet regime of Joseph Stalin or even under Nazi Germany.
During Stalin’s time, anyone who asked a Russian about an event found that Russians did not want to say anything. Russians were never sure what was the safe thing to say. So, the safest thing was to say “I DO NOT KNOW ANYTHING.”
Better to be thought an ignorant idiot than politically responsible or mischievous.
“Ya niznayoo, ee-ni-khatchu znatye” was the Russian response: “ I DON’T KNOW, AND I DON’T WANT TO KNOW.”
There was a similar tendency under Nazi Germany. The popular sit-com series “Hogan’s Heroes” made a farcical character out of Sergeant Shultz, a kind of bumbling character with a very serious sub-text message.
The bumbling sergeant was meant to be the German “every-man”—a man who tried hard NOT to see repressions, kidnappings and mass murder committed next door.
“I know n-o-t-h-i-n-g. I see n-o-t-h-i-n-g.”
Of course official misdeeds and cover-ups in Washington are not like Soviet or Nazi crimes against humanity, but it is a sad day when senior US officials from the IRS, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, Attorney General Eric Holder and especially President Barack Obama sound like bumbling Sergeant Shultz.
After all, these officials work for us. They get a salary and take an oath to serve us. They should answer to us. We have a right to know. That is what the social contract means. That is what the Constitution means. But how things have changed!
Being a top level US official today means you can offer a Soviet-style response that is seasoned with some good old fashioned chutzpah and indignation.
Just imagine if a US citizen tried to answer an official government inquiry—from a policeman or tax collector—with such an approach. Let’s go to an imagined Q and A.
Picture going out for a drive after taking a drink or two. You crash into your neighbor’s garage door. As the burglar alarm blares, your local police walks over, pulls you free from the air bag, asks you a few questions:
Q: “Miss, have you been drinking?”
A: “What difference at this point does it make?” [Author: Hillary Clinton]
Picture a slightly different scene: You’ve had quite a few drinks, get sloshed, drive your car into your neighbor’s yard. You stumble out of the car, but the police appear just as you offer life-giving liquid to your neighbor’s cherry tree.
Q: “Sir, what have you been drinking?”
A: “I cannot tell a lie. I did not chop down my neighbor’s cherry tree.”
Q: “Sir, that’s not what I asked you. My question was what have you been drinking?”
A: “I may have been drinking at some point over the last few months, but I don’t know what went into the formulation. I don’t know the facts.” [Author: A variation on the response Eric Holder gave about how he authorized grabbing the phone records of hundreds of AP reporters.]
Q: “By the way, what are you doing to your neighbor’s tree?”
A: “This was a very serious — a very serious leak, a very, very serious leak. …I have to say that this is among — if not the most serious, it is within the top two or three most serious leaks that I’ve ever seen.” [Author: Attorney General Eric Holder justifying the Associated Press Scandal.]
In normal times, there are serious consequences to talking like this to the police.
Now, let’s raise the stakes. Imagine filling out tax forms and then trying to offer weak excuses to an Internal Revenue Service auditor.
Q: “Mr. Smith, how did you come up with deductions for seven kids when you only have two children, and they are both married?”
A: “There are a variety of statutes within the IRS code that I’m not familiar with or have the ability to, you know, give you the numbers to…” (Author: Eric Holder at congressional hearings May 15)
Q: “Are you kidding me?”
A: “I did not do anything wrong, but my lawyer tells me I do not have to answer any more of your questions.” (Inspired by the testimony/non-testimony of Lois Lerner, director of exempt organizations for the Internal Revenue Service.)
Q: “Do you or do you not know how many children you have and how old they are?”
A: “I first learned about it from the same news reports that I think most people learned about this.” [President Obama, May 13, 2013, press conference ]
So, maybe we should all try talking back to the officials the way they have been talking to us. Maybe then, they will get the message that we are really annoyed.
When the executive branch of the US government collectively and individually pleads ignorance, ineptitude or the right not to incriminate itself, it may be time to consider impeaching some members of the executive branch.
Dr. Michael Widlanski served as Strategic Affairs Advisor in Israel’s Ministry of Public Security, and wrote Battle for Our Minds: Western Elites and the Terror Threat published by Threshold/Simon and Schuster. He teaches at Bar Ilan University and is Schusterman Visiting Professor at the University of California at Irvine, 2013-2014.