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The gumption of ‘Melanie Phillips’

Posting in the new Unspeak forum, wittgenstein tempts me, against my better judgment, into reading more recent comments by “Melanie Phillips”, whose reasoned analysis of the US midterm election results is that their “most likely outcome” is “another major terror attack on America”. It’s a good idea to have that post hoc ergo propter hoc fallacy field-stripped, oiled and loaded in advance: you never know when you might need it. The following passage also caught my eye:

To vote in a bunch of people who have no stomach at all for fighting for the country’s defence, simply through impatience that the country hasn’t fought for it effectively enough, betrays serious confusion and lack of resolve. And it is precisely that which will now give such heart to our enemies. Have they not said, over and over again, that the west no longer has the determination or staying power to fight for its beliefs?

Europe proves the truth of this analysis every day. America proved it during the Carter and Clinton years, when it suffered attack after attack from the Islamists but never even understood that a war was being waged against it, let alone had the gumption to do anything about it.

The euphonious alliteration of “Carter and Clinton years” is an admirably poetical attempt to lull the reader into sucking down a deranged historical fantasy. In this deranged fantasy, the “Carter and Clinton years” were a continuous dark age of week-kneed liberalism. I suppose it is easy to forget George H. W. Bush, but poor Ronald Reagan, whose administration supported the muhajidin in Afghanistan, is also mercilessly airbrushed from history. This is quite unfair, since at least Reagan’s administration also declared the first “war on international terrorism”, and had the “gumption”, as macho “Melanie” characterises the primary foreign-policy virtue, to, er, withdraw Marines from Lebanon after the 1983 barracks bombing.

It is hard to understand, meanwhile, why Clinton’s notorious cruise-missile attack on Sudan would not be computed by the testosterone-soaked synapses of “Melanie” as a proof of “gumption”; it is at any rate a matter of record that the outgoing Clinton administration banged on repeatedly to its successors about the threat posed by one Osama bin Laden, only to be met with blank stares. All these annoying facts, however, are happily unspoken by the rhythmic mantra of “the Carter and Clinton years”. Repeat it out loud a few times and you start being hypnotised into believing it yourself. Nice job.

Also deliciously economical in its batshit is the following from another post, in which the humorist operating the “Melanie Phillips” fictionsuit satirizes the poverty of certain continuing arguments:

Saddam posed a threat to the world. It was right to remove him. These arguments have been comprehensively rehearsed.

The first sentence bespeaks an impressive dissociation from all known facts. The second sentence, with its dainty use of the officially sanctioned verb “remove” (Blair: “I decided to remove him”), efficiently unspeaks the fact that “removing” Saddam was not, unfortunately, a simple matter of a giant surgically-gloved thumb and forefinger descending from the sky to pluck one vicious mass murderer out of his palace, but inevitably involved the killing of an awful lot of other people. Marvellously, nevertheless, we are invited to believe that the pure fact that such claims have been made a lot of times, “rehearsed” ad nauseam, renders further dispute pointless. Of course, what is rehearsed is often a fiction, a made-up drama. And you know what they say: good rehearsal, bad gig.

  1. 1  Chris Baldwin  November 11, 2006, 5:29 pm 

    Oh Melanie, with your Iron Resolve and Moral Clarity, won’t you give in to corruption and degeneracy once in a while? It’s fun!

  2. 2  Alex Higgins  November 11, 2006, 6:14 pm 

    ‘…wittgenstein tempts me, against my better judgment, into reading more recent comments by “Melanie Phillips”…’

    Please be so tempted. People like Melanie Phillips and Christopher Hitchens are often crticised by liberal-left types, or simply dismissed as bonkers.

    Rarely are their preposterous arguments systematically and effectively taken apart by someone with say, Hitchens’ wit and command of language, which was why reading ‘Unspeak’ was a delight.

    Taking on Melanie Phillips may seem like a thankless and futile task, but though she is discredited among ever-larger numbers of people, the stuff she writes still has real-world damaging consequences.

    Furthermore, though detatched from reality, her world-view has an internal consistency which requires effort to penetrate and break apart, and is happily adopted by those who want it to be true.

    What she writes on education is as pernicious and wrong as what she says on the Iraq War, the MMR vaccine or global warming, but here she is taken more seriously. (Stephen Law’s new book, ‘The War for Children’s Minds’ is a rare response in defence of liberal values in education).

    Someone’s got to do it – the task of reading these people and pulling their stuff apart for the well-being of others, and Steve Poole, I nominate you. Cheers.

  3. 3  Steven  November 11, 2006, 6:56 pm 

    Alex, thanks for your very kind comments. I must confess my reluctance is somewhat feigned, and will no doubt be overcome again in the future.

    As it happens, Alex Higgins was a hero to me when I was a child, for his refusal to wear a bow tie in snooker tournaments. The commentators used to refer solemnly to a doctor’s note he produced to prove that wearing a tie would be deleterious to his health. (More so, it would seem, than all the chain-smoking and boozing.) So thanks, too, for reminding me of the Hurricane.

  4. 4  wittgenstein  November 11, 2006, 6:59 pm 

    Nice one :-)

    Right now the amazon ads on this page are offering All Must Have Prizes by “Melanie Phillips”. Is this irony?

  5. 5  lamentreat  November 12, 2006, 6:51 am 

    ‘speaking’ of snooker players, didn’t Bill Werbeneuk (sp?) have a note from the doctor *requiring* him to drink, like, 20 pints a day? There must have been a few cheerfully corrupt quacks hanging around the snooker halls back in the day.

  6. 6  Rojo  November 12, 2006, 9:09 am 

    Steven, thanks for going where others fear to tread (and, Wittgenstein, thanks for the prompt).

    I fear I don’t have the fortitude to take on these type of arguments. I just wind up spluttering instead at the absurdity of anyone who would except this as a cogent argument, which of course, spluttering I mean, is not a particularly cogent counter-argument.

    It brings to mind a story from fifth grade, to wit:

    It was during the Reagan-Carter (and Anderson) elections, and in a great experiment intended to teach us about democracy, we held grand presidential debates in our elementary school classroom. After picking our sides (the vast majority of us following our parents, I’m pretty sure), the debate was on.

    Someone on the Carter side brought up Carter’s alternative energy policy and compared to Reagan’s proposed energy policy by saying, “…and these nuclear plants could blow up!” (Fifth grade, I remind you, so maybe nuance was lost, but the point that nuclear plants could be dangerous was still valid, especially having watched, just a few months before, Three Mile Island almost melt down less than 200 miles south of us).

    When it came time for the Reagan side rebuttal, my classmate Peggy stood up and said, “They say that nuclear plants can blow up and that we should use the Sun. But the Sun could blow up too!” At which point she sat down with a smile of self-satisfaction to a burst of applause from the Reagan team and (here I’m convinced is the heart of the problem with American politics) vast consternation on the Carter side over how devastating a point this was.

    I feel like I’ve been reliving that moment in political debates over and over again for the past 27 years, and no more so over the “threat” posed by Saddam Hussein to the United States back in 2003.

  7. 7  Alex Higgins  November 12, 2006, 12:03 pm 

    No problem, Steven. You are of course, the first person ever to note that my name is shared with the snooker champion.

    (Actually, booking a bed and breakfast in Belfast once prompted an incredulous response.)

    we are invited to believe that the pure fact that such claims have been made a lot of times, “rehearsed” ad nauseam

    The other trick is to announce that something is “old news” or simply “nothing new” as in:

    “Your claim that I came back late the other night smelling of perfume is not a new one. Your discovery of blonde hair on my jacket adds nothing new to arguments that have been rehearsed several times before.”


    “Channel 4 News have unearthed a memo written by the Prime Minister in March 2003, subtitled, ‘Invading Iraq’ and stating ‘I’ve told so many blatant lies I’m rather worn out! Still can hardly believe they fell for that garbage! :-)’ A spokesman for Downing Street said the memo contained nothing new and that the government had been cleared by four seperate inquiries.”

    It’s a beautiful way of ignoring all possible new evidence, simply by announcing that it doesn’t really exist and that all further inquiries should be directed to Lord Washwhite. Lord Washwhite has already looked into the matter and it is, frankly, rather small-minded to keep bringing it up.

    Perhaps eventually they’ll just come out and say, “Really, I find the anti-war movement rather a bore,” and that will be considered a perfectly sufficient response.

    Absolute worst of all are sentences about what the British people are really interested in. As in:

    “Well, John, I’ve spoken to lots of people on the door-step and most people I speak to aren’t really concerned about our lying to parliament or committing war crimes, what concerns them are public services and hurting immigrants, and that’s what we’re concentrating on”.

  8. 8  McGazz  November 12, 2006, 2:10 pm 

    “good rehearsal, bad gig.”

    Very true, although a jazzer friend of mine who’s fond of spouting muso logic would have it the other way round – bad rehearsal, good gig.
    I wonder if the pro-war types could learn from his other favourite expressions – “it’s not the mistake, but the recovery that counts” and “don’t practice until you can play it right, practice until you can’t play it wrong”.

  9. 9  Graham Giblin  November 13, 2006, 6:48 am 

    re 7. (Alex):
    Or, as Prime Minister Howard is fonding of saying, “I think the Australian public has moved on from that one.”

  10. 10  Steven  November 13, 2006, 9:31 am 

    wittgenstein: it’s like rain on your wedding day.

    lamentreat: ah yes, Bill Werbeniuk (?). The commentators used to explain that he had a medical condition requiring him to drink about 20 pints of bitter in order to “steady his hand”. These days I guess the condition might be labelled “alcoholism”, but autres temps, autre moeurs.

    rojo: Peggy sounds like she was a little rhetorical genius. Did she grow up and change her name to Ann Coulter?

    alex: surely it’s time to stop “picking over the rubble”?

    McGazz: Or, “What do you call someone who hangs around with musicians? A drummer.” I like to think of George W Bush as the drummer of the administration.

  11. 11  Graham Giblin  November 13, 2006, 2:44 pm 

    To vote in a bunch of people who have no stomach at all for fighting for the country’s defence…

    I love it when people can sit in the comfort of their own armchairs and tell other people to go and get killed for them (in this case, in Adelman’s “cakewalk”).

    I would invite Melanie to show her own stomach (but I think that would be sufficient, thank you) and toddle off over to Baghdad to spend some a few months being shot at in a humvee and getting her hands bloodied.

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