Tuesday, August 11, 2009

"You too, snitchy."

(Note: I know, I know; I'm late to the game on this one. I started working on this post last week, but life has gotten in the way.)

It looks like Obama's White House has set up a snitch@whitehouse.gov, er, flag@whitehouse.gov email address, just in case you felt like ratting out anyone who sent you an email about health care reform that contradicted the administration's talking points.

At The American Scene, Alan Jacobs has this post and this post addressing the situation. His posts and the associated comments are worth the read (well, most of the comments are). There's lots of people decrying this development, and there's lots of people saying there's no there there. Professor Jacobs identifies what is likely the most reasonable sort of response:
Well, Alan, I hardly think we’re in for another Night of the Long Knives or a re-run of the McCarthy era — that’s not what you’re suggesting, is it? — but that really wasn’t the smartest thing for the White House staff to say. They should have known that a request to report to the White House anything “fishy” was bound to get spun as the first steps towards totalitarianism.
Anyway, here's what the original White House blog post says:
There is a lot of disinformation about health insurance reform out there, spanning from control of personal finances to end of life care. These rumors often travel just below the surface via chain emails or through casual conversation. Since we can’t keep track of all of them here at the White House, we’re asking for your help. If you get an email or see something on the web about health insurance reform that seems fishy, send it to flag@whitehouse.gov.
The White House certainly made a mistake initiating this, but there can't really be much malice behind it. It's not as if Obama's people have made a habit of this sort of activity.

I mean, it's not like they've ever set up an online propaganda tool to try to avoid political debate... oh wait.

Okay, I know, everyone propagandizes a bit, but it's not like they've ever sent out talking points and marching orders to try to get people to bully and silence political opponents... oh wait.

Well, astroturfing isn't great, but it's not like they'd ever try to get the Department of Justice to silence political opponents... oh wait.

Granted, that one's bad, but it's not like they actually got law enforcement officers to form truth squads in order to 'dispel' misinformation... oh wait.

Let it be clear that I do not think that the United States is lurching towards 1984, or facing some new form of neo-McCarthy-ism, but it is unsettling that the "leader of the free world" seems to have insufficient regard for freedom of speech. Barack Obama's history does not afford him much benefit of the doubt (if any). A former constitutional law professor and Harvard Law Review editor should better understand why it is incredibly inappropriate for the President (or his agents) to set up this sort of snitching system. Of course, professors and "experts" often disappoint me.

Byron York at The Washington Examiner presents us with a new wrinkle to this story (H/T: Jonah Goldberg):
In addition, the lawyers say the collected emails likely will be covered by the Presidential Records Act, which requires the White House to preserve and maintain its records for permanent storage in a government database. Phillips' request suggests that whatever information the White House receives on health-care reform "disinformation" will be used to further the goal of passing a national health-care makeover, which is, of course, one of the president's main policy initiatives. Such material, and whatever the White House does with it, would qualify as presidential records. Only after more than a decade would such records be publicly available.
So, they will not only keep tabs on those spreading 'misinformation', but also those helpful souls who forward the information to flag@whitehouse.gov. I'm glad to see they've taken the Rev. Lovejoy approach to policing:
Lovejoy: I know one of you is responsible for this. So repeat after me: If I withhold the truth, may I go straight to Hell where I will eat naught but burning hot coals and drink naught but burning hot cola –
[all the kids recite in unison]
Ralph: [scared] …where fiery demons will punch me in the back,
Bart: [bored] …where my soul will be chopped into confetti and be strewn upon a parade of murderers and single mothers,
Milhouse: …where my tongue will be torn out by ravenous birds.
[a crow outside looks right at him an squawks]
Bart did it! That Bart right there!
Bart: [angry] Milhouse!
Lovejoy: Milhouse, you did the right thing. Bart, come with me for punishment. [goes back for Milhouse] You too, snitchy.
Thankfully, all this talk about keeping lists gives me a reason to post one of my favourite Saturday Night Live commercials:

In case the video doesn't work, here's the transcript:

- A Tradition of Excellence -

On Wall Street, Trendy investment fads have come and gone over the
years, but not at Grayson Moorhead, where we've always stuck to the
basic principles set forth by Arthur Grayson nearly 80 years ago.

Arthur Grayson:
Our clients must be our first priority.

- The Tradition Endures -

We will take our client's money and invest it. Part of the profit
we will keep for ourselves; the rest we will give to the client.

- A Tradition of Security -

We will make a list of our clients and how much money each of them
has given us to invest. We will keep this list in a safe place. If
we have time we will make a copy of the list in case something happens
to the first list.

- A Tradition of Listening -

Listen to your client. It's the only way to know what he's saying.

- A Tradition of Trust -

If a client is talking and you're not listening and he notices and
he accuses you of not listening, just say, "Sure I've been listening,
I've heard every word you've said." If he then says, "All right, tell
me what I've been talking about," just say, "You've been talking about
your investments. Which stocks to buy and so on." That way the client
will think you've been listening even though you haven't.

- A Tradition of Integrity -

We will invest only in white-owned businesses.

- Not all of Arthur Grayson's principles are followed today, but at
Grayson Moorhead we still believe in the basics. -

Don't leave the client's money lying around. Keep it in a safe place.
For example: where we keep the list.

- To Arthur Grayson, there was no substitute for knowing the market. -

Clients will rely on us for market expertise. If the day ever comes
when a client knows more about the market than we do, copy him. Do
what he does.

- Writing Brokers' Names on Slips of Paper -

Once a year, we will write each broker's name on a slip of paper and
then place the slips in a hat. Each broker will then draw a slip of
paper from the hat. He will buy a gift for the broker whose name he
his drawn. He will be that broker's Secret Santa.

- Drawing Again -

If a broker draws his own name from the hat, he will draw again.

- Taking Special Care -

We must take special care of the list with each client's name and the
amount of money he has invested. If we were to lose that list, we
would be ruined.

- If My Wife Calls -

If my wife calls white I'm in shagging my secretary, tell her I'm
at a board meeting. That way I'll be able to continue shagging my
secretary without my wife knowing about it.

- the tradition continues... -

If my wife were to find out about me and my secretary; that would be bad.
As bad as losing the list.

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