FROM THE ARCHIVES: Quod Erat Obfuscatum (Jake Savage)

September 12, 2005

One of my first real posts on jakesavage.typepad.com. At the time, there was a great deal of anger on the left side of the blogosphere about some comments made by the Republican Speaker of the House. The issue ended up fading away, but at the time I thought it demonstrated a good rule for civilized debate. Not a particularly earth-shattering post, but notable to me for having been among my first.

Originally posted on Jake Savage on 9/06/2004.

Since I’m a beginner at this weblog thing, I figure one way to start
is to weigh in on current discussion topics in the blogosphere.

First up: Dennis Hastert’s comments regarding George Soros.

This is a story that some left-wing bloggers have been covering extensively. I noticed it originally at Kevin Drum’s site here. You can also find several posts on it at Talking Points Memo, starting with this one.

The criticism offered by these bloggers is that Hastert, speaking
with Chris Wallace on Fox News Sunday (8.29.2004), essentially accused
George Soros of receiving money from drug groups, while framing his
words by saying "we don’t know" whether the accusation is true. The
basis of this story is the following exchange between Hastert and
Wallace (full transcript):

WALLACE: Now that everyone seems upset with these so-called
independent 527 groups, whether it’s MoveOn.org on the liberal side of
the spectrum or Swift Boat Veterans for Truth on the conservative side,
do you feel like saying, "I told you so"?

HASTERT: Well, you know, that doesn’t do any good. You know, but
look behind us at this convention. I remember when I was a kid watching
my first convention in 1992, when both the Democratic Party and the
Republican Party laid out their platform, laid out their philosophy,
and that’s what they followed.

Here in this campaign, quote, unquote, "reform," you take party
power away from the party, you take the philosophical ideas away from
the party, and give them to these independent groups.

You know, I don’t know where George Soros gets his money. I don’t
know where — if it comes overseas or from drug groups or where it comes
from.
And I…

WALLACE: Excuse me?

HASTERT: Well, that’s what he’s been for a number years — George
Soros has been for legalizing drugs in this country. So, I mean, he’s
got a lot of ancillary interests out there.

WALLACE: You think he may be getting money from the drug cartel?

HASTERT: I’m saying I don’t know where groups — could be people who
support this type of thing. I’m saying we don’t know. The fact is we
don’t know where this money comes from.

Before, transparency — and what we’re talking about in transparency
in election reform is you know where the money comes from. You get a
$25 check or a $2,500 check or $25,000 check, put it up on the
Internet. You know where it comes from, and there it is. [emphasis
added]

Reading this transcript, I was immediately reminded of the comments
by Howard Dean regarding the "interesting theory" that Bush was told
about 9/11 ahead of time by the Saudis. A quick Google search brought
up Spinsanity’s column on the topic. The comments were made on the Diane Rehm show on December 1, 2003 (link via Slate). Here is Spinsanity’s excerpt of the discussion:

DEAN: There is a report, which the president is suppressing evidence for, which is a thorough investigation of 9/11.

REHM: Why do you think he’s suppressing that report?

DEAN: I don’t know. There are many theories about it. The
most interesting theory that I’ve heard so far, which is nothing more
than a theory, I can’t — think it can’t be proved, is that he was
warned ahead of time by the Saudis.
Now, who knows what the
real situation is, but the trouble is by suppressing that kind of
information, you lead to those kinds of theories, whether they have any
truth to them or not, and then eventually they get repeated as fact. So
I think the president is taking a great risk by suppressing the clear
— the key information that needs to go to the Kean commission.
[emphasis added]

In each of these cases, it seems to me that the intended argument is
that a lack of transparency can lead people to speculate about the
truth. Hastert was suggesting that having less transparency in the
funding of 527 groups than in other political funding means we don’t
know who might be trying to influence our elections. Dean was
suggesting that the Bush administration’s opposition to a "thorough
investigation" of the 9/11 attacks gives ammunition to those who would
peddle conspiracy theories about Bush’s knowledge of the attacks.

However, despite the fact that the primary point may be about the
ill effects of secrecy, I think that there is a subtext to both
comments that is considerably less reasonable. Both Hastert and Dean
use what are essentially hypotheticals to imply negative things about
their opponents. It is not an acceptable strategy to introduce an
unfounded accusation into a conversation and then cover youself by
stating your ignorance of the merits of the charge. If it were, one
could say, "Well, there are rumors that my opponent slakes his thirst
on the blood of endangered owls, but we don’t know whether that’s true
because he won’t release his medical records."

My two cents on Hastert’s comments about George Soros: I think it
was wrong of Hastert to make accusations (however obliquely) for which
he hasn’t provided evidence, and I think he should apologize (in a more
forthright way than this non-apology letter) and make it clear that he has no reason to believe that Soros has received tainted drug money.

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