The View From 1776

Congressman John Murtha and the Madness of Crowds

Abandoning pretense to principle, Congressman Murtha admits he was merely playing for votes when he called for surrender in the middle of the war on terror.

According to November 21, 2005, news broadcasts on NPR stations and WQXR, the New York Times radio station, Congressman John Murtha now admits that he was just following that latest swing in public opinion, hyped by negative, one-sided media propaganda, when he called for a near-term, unilateral withdrawal of US troops from Iraq.

This calls to mind Charles Mackay’s 1843 “Extraordinary Popular Delusions and the Madness of Crowds,” a history of popular folly.  Repeatedly, in the modern era of mass media, public sentiment has been subject to impetuous, usually wrong and dangerous, swings. 

The French Revolution of 1789 was the first such event, created by propaganda that aroused city mobs to enjoy the daily spectacles of guillotining that mounted to more than 70,000 decapitations of politicians, noblemen, bourgeois businessmen and their families, philosophers, Catholic nuns and priests, old men, women, and even small children as young as eight years old. 

The Dutch tulip bulb mania and John Law’s Mississippi Company bubble are two other examples of the many such delusions that beset public opinion.  Our most recent example was the boom in the late 1990s under President Clinton.  Small investors, speculating in the stock market, purchased shares of companies that had no record of performance, driving the share prices to extraordinary multiples of projected sales per share.  Small investors lost their life’s savings and the nation was plunged into recession, all because public opinion took flight to Never-Never Land.

More to the point, volatile public opinion in the Vietnam War period, as we all know, led to a premature pullout that cost several million Cambodian and Vietnamese civilians their lives when our liberal-socialists’ soul-brothers, the communists, took over.  Craven abandonment of our former allies also created the “paper tiger” image that emboldens our terrorist enemies still today.  We suffer yet from the unwillingness of a large part of the electorate to defend our nation militarily.

What initially was billed by the socialist press as Congressman Murtha’s principled, statesmanlike call for a reversal of our foreign policy now is revealed as just one more Democratic party tactic to win Congressional seats in next year’s elections.  Regardless of the additional cost in lives of American servicemen in the Middle East from heartening Al Queda, the Democrats are intent upon venting their hatred of President Bush.  Regardless of the propaganda victory that Congressman Murtha’s proposal would hand Al Queda and terrorists everywhere, Democratic party leaders Harry Reid and Nancy Pelosi are prepared to do anything and say anything that will discredit the United States.

If our representatives in Congress are merely to take opinion polls and vote strictly according to the results of pollsters’ interpretations and statistical adjustments, why bother to elect people to Congress?  Why not do as Ross Perot vowed to do if elected in 1988: give everybody access to computers and let each of us vote on every issue before the government?

I noted earlier in “Iraq: What Are We Fighting For?”:

“As Plato repeatedly wrote, public opinion is not wisdom.? The public can make intuitive judgments about personal character when electing the nation?s leaders.? But uninformed public opinion, clamoring for the easy way out, is not a sound basis for foreign policy, in which the full array of factors, for national security reasons, never can be made known to the public.”

Public opinion on complex matters like foreign policy is even less reliable than in earlier decades.  Our secular and materialistic public education system, concentrating on teaching the social justice catechism of socialism, has effectively abandoned teaching history.  What history is taught has been deliberately falsified to burnish the image of socialism and denigrate the image of our founding principles.

As George Santayana noted, those who don’t know history may be doomed to repeat it.  Results the second time around won’t necessarily be better.

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