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June 14, 2007

Give That Man An Order Of The Badge Of Honor

Bart Hinkle, commenting on this post about Bernie Aronson and Freedom House, writes:

Boy, that Freedom House sure sounds like a bunch of fascists, dunnit? I mean, just look at the way they support women's rights and free expression and democracy and the rule of law. Why, Freedom House even criticizes the U.S. for not living up to its own principles! What a buncha Nazi evildoers!

Please. You people cannot be serious.

It's awful, isn't it? First people start believing there's a difference between Freedom House's rhetoric and reality...and the next thing you know, they'll be wondering the same thing about General Secretary Brezhnev in 1968!

We have not occupied Czechoslovakia, we do not intend to keep it under “occupation,” but we hope for her to be free...

Thanks, Comrade Hinkle, for stamping out this deviationism before it begins!

UPDATE: In comments below, a certain Mike of Angle wonders whether my statement is accurate that Freedom House is mostly funded by the US government. It's no exaggeration to say troublemakers like him, constantly requesting "evidence" and "facts," are responsible for all evil throughout human history. Nevertheless, JUST THIS ONCE, I will indulge his hideous lust for empiricism:

Big non-government 2005 funders include the very conservative Bradley Foundation and John C. Whitehead.

Posted at June 14, 2007 05:23 PM | TrackBack

Congratulations, Jon, idiots have begun tracking you. That's one of the signs you've hit the big time.

Posted by: StO at June 14, 2007 08:28 PM

Well...I wouldn't call Bart Hinkle an idiot by any means. He just needs to learn more about the wider world.

Posted by: Jonathan Schwarz at June 14, 2007 08:45 PM

This is what I mean by "you cannot be serious."

There is space between what everybody professes to believe and what they do (with perhaps a few profound, and profoundly rare, exceptions such as the Dalai Lama and Mother Teresa).

But from the fact, moral equivalence does not follow. The comparison between Brezhnev and Freedom House, even though meant in a quasi-joshing, exaggerating-for-the-sake-of-making-a-point kind of way, is a perfect example. Freedom House has done great work around the world on behalf of human rights, and opposes totalitarianism in whatever manifestation. It's silly to draw even facile comparisons between that organization and the leader of a totalitarian state that snuffed out millions of innocent lives and put dissidents in Kolyma and mental wards, when it wasn't executing them in the basement of the Lubyanka.

Boy, got me worked up there, didn'tcha?

Still, extend the facile-analogy exercise a little: Last year the ACLU embarrassed itself with a proposed set of new standards that would have discouraged its board members from publicly criticizing the organization's policies and internal administration. For an outfit dedicated in principle to free expression, that looked mildly hypocritical (though to be fair to the ACLU, the hypocrisy charge was overwrought). But that slight bit of air between the ACLU's principles and its actions does not put it on the same moral plane as Brezhnev or, um, Hitler (might as well invoke Godwin's Law and bring him up before someone else does!).

I mean, c'mon. What's the beef against Freedom House, really? Enlighten me.

P.S. -- Thanks for the defense against the charge of idiocy. It's hard enough having to plead guilty to being short and ugly!

Posted by: Bart Hinkle at June 15, 2007 09:11 AM

What the heck, I'll keep running my mouth a little more:

Perhaps your objection to FH is that the group is spending too much effort detailing the sins of others, when it should be trying to correct the manifest sins of the U.S.

If so, then I can think of a couple of rejoinders that you probably have heard before, so I'm tempted to save time and assume you have made the routine ripostes to those rejoinders. But that's no fun! So here goes:

Without getting into the question of whether the sins of the U.S. are worse than the sins of other countries or non-state global actors -- simply because that's a debate with no end -- I'll hang my hat in defense of Freedom House on this peg:

Here in the U.S., we have umpteen organizations trying to correct American deficiencies. We have a democratic process and opposition parties (my vote's for Ron Paul!) and a vigorous press that makes cataloguing the shortcomings of America its chief business. (The Soviets lacked all of that, which made their tsk-tsking of American deficiencies rather different from our tsk-tsking of theirs.) For Freedom House to focus solely on American failings, therefore, offers at best a very small marginal improvement on the work of others. By contrast, Freedom House calls attention to the state of liberty in places Americans otherwise might pay little attention to, and tracks the progress and regress of human rights around the globe in a way few other organizations do. Seems to me that's a valuable exercise. Isn't it?

Posted by: Bart Hinkle at June 15, 2007 09:48 AM
a vigorous press that makes cataloguing the shortcomings of America its chief business

Right on. For instance, do you remember when the US government tried to lie America into a catastrophic mideast war with a truckload of obvious crap -- and our vigorous press ripped the lid off the whole thing and stopped them in their tracks? That was awesome!

Posted by: Jonathan Schwarz at June 15, 2007 11:27 AM

J -- Very well. I'm sure I've just about exhausted your patience by now, so I won't prolongue the exchange*, enjoyable as it is. Thanks for the chess match -- and keep up the good work.


Posted by: Bart Hinkle at June 15, 2007 12:07 PM

The brief exchange in the comment section was far more valuable than the initial blog post. I feel sorry for any readers who didn't make it this far, and only saw Jonathan tar & feather a commenter for challenging the offhand "guilt by association" reference to Freedom House.

Oh, is "tar and feather" too harsh? Maybe I should just compare you to a murderous Soviet dictator instead. That will prove to everyone how carefully we conduct debate on the internet, and how we're more interested in ideas than personal attacks.

Posted by: whistler blue at June 15, 2007 01:25 PM

1. I didn't compare Bart to Brezhnev. Instead, I compared him to people in the Soviet Union who got misty-eyed at the way the Soviet government was supporting freedom around the world. I also compared the discrepancy between the rhetoric and reality of Freedom House to the same discrepancy with Brezhnev.

2. I didn't engage in guilt by association. Bernie Aronson is ON THE BOARD of Freedom House.

Posted by: Jonathan Schwarz at June 15, 2007 01:39 PM

I know nothing about this issue but from what I've read from Jon's posts, and this exchange, but I think that might give me a useful POV. I don't agree with Whistler Blue that it's a model for better debate. In fact, I think it's an example of the ineffective debate we're drowning in. Here's why:
1) Jon countered Bart's assertion, saying that Freedom House is essentially an arm of the US government because it receives most of its funding from the USG. This is either a fact, or it's not, but at this point Bart, being very gentlemanly, excused himself. But the question remains: if Freedom House is a paid-for mouthpiece of the USG, it's not really accurate to defend it the way Bart did. But since the question was not answered, I am left confused and uncertain, forced to choose between the points of view based on my feelings about the people saying each, not the facts. Is that "better" discourse, or a kinder, gentler way of keeping everything oh-so-nebulous and hard-to-determine so as to give governments (ours, Brezhnev's, whoever) essentially complete freedom of action? Making politics solely an intellectual exercise a great way to keep otherwise active and vocal citizens confused and quiescent; you use their desire to act morally against them, and after enough years of this freeze, their desire for political activity falls away. Sound like any country you know?
2) Bart said this: "Without getting into the question of whether the sins of the U.S. are worse than the sins of other countries..." To which I would say: Once again, an important point of this discussion is being made a matter of bloodless philosophy when it's really not. I am an American citizen, as I know Jon is, and I assume Bart is. The USG acts in our name and with authority we have given them. Therefore, the "sins of the US" are our responsibility in ways that the sins of say, France, are not. THAT's what makes them "worse" in the context of this discussion. Furthermore, because we have a democratic system, we can (at least theoretically) fix those sins. We can't really fix the sins of France.

So Whistler, I don't really see this exchange as a model for greater understanding. I see it as more civil and certainly less rhetorically florid than Jon's post--but not any more enlightening. It is polite and (in Bart's case at least) blurry. "We're all reasonable people here, but things are just so darned difficult to understand..." In other words, exactly like the mainstream media. Perhaps I'm missing something?

Posted by: Mike of Angle at June 15, 2007 02:19 PM


Thank you, although I actually feel I was being a bit rough with Bart. Freedom House is notorious in the weird circles in which I travel, but they seem wholesome enough if you just visit their website. They probably produce the world's most sophisticated propaganda -- far better than the State Department's, for instance.

Monsieur Angle,

Curse you and your vile desire for accuracy!

See update, above.

Posted by: Jonathan Schwarz at June 15, 2007 02:46 PM

Well, I think it is an EXCELLANT DISCOURSE. (2 reasons)
1. I could NOT have told you ANYTHING about "Freedom House", or Aronson, before this discourse. (other than ANY organisation I see with the word FREEDOM in it's logo, I think C.I.A. first and NEED proof of something different)
2. The word ASSHOLE didn't show up even once.
All in all, I await more.

Posted by: Mike Meyer at June 15, 2007 09:14 PM

P.S. Sorry, Bart. I went to read your blog, and you aren't dumb after all.

Jonathan: Back to the small time!

Posted by: StO at June 16, 2007 01:41 AM