Worst Appeals to Authority

Daily Best of the Web   —   Posted on October 21, 2016

Worst Appeals to Authority

Iran's supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei

The following is an excerpt from OpinionJournal’s “Best of the Web” at The Wall Street Journal written by the editor, James Taranto.

Worst Appeals to Authority
“Iran’s Supreme Leader Slams US Election”—headline, TheHill, Oct. 19

What Would We Do Without Experts?
“Hillary Clinton’s choice to wear white conveys struggle of suffragettes to gain right to vote, expert says”—tweet, @ABCPolitics, Oct. 20

Trump vs. Gore
Let’s try a thought experiment. Suppose that during one of the October 2000 presidential debates, Vice President Al Gore had been asked the following question: “Do you make the . . . commitment that you’ll absolutely accept the result of the election?” Moderator Chris Wallace put that query to Donald Trump last night.

Now for the experimental part: Imagine Gore giving a completely truthful answer—that is, an answer that not only reflected his honest intent but accurately anticipated how he would respond to various scenarios, including the one that actually obtained.

It seems to us that Gore’s hypothetical answer would be similar to Trump’s actual one—not the long back-and-forth in which Trump enumerated complaints including media bias, FBI corruption and poorly maintained voter rolls, but the prospective bottom line, to wit: “I will look at it at the time. I’m not looking at anything now, I’ll look at it at the time. . . . What I’m saying is that I will tell you at the time. I’ll keep you in suspense, OK?”

Gore probably wouldn’t have said “I’ll keep you in suspense, OK?”—that’s a distinctly Trumpian bit of showmanship—but if he were being completely truthful, he would say, as Trump did, that he would keep his options open and respond to circumstances as they arose. And did they ever arise. True, Gore delivered a gracious concession speech, but not until Dec. 13, more than a month after Election Day.

It isn’t hard to imagine a counterfactual scenario in which Gore would have conceded on the normal schedule. If George W. Bush’s initial margin in Florida had been, say, 60,000 votes (just over 1% of the total) instead of around 2,000, there would have been nothing to contest. But the narrow margin in a decisive state led to weeks of lawsuits and selective recounts—and, even after Gore’s concession, to years of bitter claims that he wuz robbed.

Among those bitterly clinging to the myth of the stolen election—or at least propagating it for political purposes—was Hillary Clinton. In November 2002, Howard Fineman, then of Newsweek, reported on a speech then-Sen. Clinton gave at a private fundraiser in Los Angeles for then-Sen. Jean Carnahan of Missouri:

Clinton spoke from a perch on the staircase of movie producer Alan Horn’s lush, art-filled home in Bel Air. Her voice dripping with a blend of scorn, indignation and alarm, she tartly informed the carefully vetted crowd below that Bush merely had been “selected” president, not elected.

HotAir’s Larry O’Connor notes that just last week Mrs. Clinton shared a stage with Gore at a Miami rally. “Take it from me, it was a very close election,” Gore said, referring to the one 16 years ago. In response, the crowd chanted “YOU WON! YOU WON! YOU WON!”

Gore went on: “Here’s my point. I don’t want you to be in a position years from now where you welcome Hillary Clinton and say ‘Actually you did win, it just wasn’t close enough to make sure that the votes were counted’ and whatever. Elections have consequences.”

O’Connor: “Through this entire sequence, Mrs. Clinton continued to smile and nod in agreement.”

When Trump said last night that he’d keep his options open, Mrs. Clinton called it “horrifying” and said:

That is not the way our democracy works. We’ve been around for 240 years. We’ve had free and fair elections. We’ve accepted the outcomes when we may not have liked them, and that is what must be expected of anyone standing on a debate stage during a general election. . . . He’s denigrating, he is talking down our democracy. And I, for one, am appalled that somebody who is the nominee of one of our two major parties would take that kind of position.

It reminds us of Otter’s famous oration in “Animal House”:

You can’t hold a whole fraternity responsible for the behavior of a few sick, twisted individuals. For if you do, then shouldn’t we blame the whole fraternity system? And if the whole fraternity system is guilty, then isn’t this an indictment of our educational institutions in general? I put it to you, Greg—isn’t this an indictment of our entire American society? Well, you can do whatever you want to us, but we’re not going to sit here and listen to you badmouth the United States of America. Gentlemen!

And the merits of the argument aside, it’s hard to see how all this does anything other than hurt Trump, for two reasons. First, it is a loud and glaring distraction from his substantive arguments, which, by the way, he made more effectively in the third debate than in either of the other two.

Second, nobody likes a sore loser. Trump’s pre-emptive soreness probably is off-putting to those who are undecided or ambivalent. Polls during the 2000 election dispute showed more voters siding with Bush than with Gore, notwithstanding that Gore’s gross vote total had been slightly greater than Bush’s.

Republicans, as usual, are divided, many as critical of Trump as the Democrats are, as the New York Post reports:

“Look, to say that elections are rigged and all these votes are stolen, that’s like saying we never landed on the moon, frankly,” Ohio Gov. John Kasich told “CBS This Morning” on Wednesday. “That’s how silly it is.” . . .

In New Jersey, Assembly Minority Leader Jon Bramnick (R-Union) said he completely disagreed with Trump’s conspiracy theory.

“It’s a very dangerous path to go down,” Bramnick said. “The most important thing is our belief in our institutions. We may disagree with each other on policy, but we don’t believe the institutions themselves are corrupt or rigged.”

Bramnick has a point, but if one party tends to adhere to democratic norms only when it’s convenient, the party that consistently holds itself to them is at a disadvantage.

The appeal of Trump to many GOP primary voters was that “he fights”—meaning, among other things, that he doesn’t engage in self-defeating moralism. But as La Rochefoucauld observed, hypocrisy is the tribute vice pays to virtue. When Trump goes low, voters may conclude Mrs. Clinton is more virtuous even though she is only pretending to go high.

For more “Best of the Web” from The Wall Street Journal’s James Taranto click here.