Victor Davis Hanson

Without notions of objective truth, there can never be lies, just competing narratives and discourses. Stories that supposedly serve the noble majority are true; those that supposedly don't become lies -- the facts are irrelevant. When Sen. Hillary Clinton in 2007 heard the factual details of the successful Iraq surge as related by Gen. David Petraeus, she said it required a "suspension of disbelief." In her postmodern sensibility, fighting an unpopular war was a lie, but opposing it was the truth -- and the actual metrics for whether the surge was working or not were simply an irrelevant narrative.

Later, as secretary of state, Clinton dismissed the circumstances surrounding the murders in Benghazi with the callous exclamation, "What difference does it make?" She had a postmodern point. If President Obama, then-United Nations Ambassador Susan Rice and Clinton herself all wrongly and deliberately assured the nation that a politically incorrect video had triggered the attacks in Benghazi, were they not on the right side of opposing religious bias and helping a progressive president to be re-elected? How could that good intention be a lie?

If Director of National Intelligence James Clapper lied under oath to the Congress that the National Security Agency does not snoop on American citizens, how can that be perjury if Clapper's goal was to silence Obama's right-wing critics? For that matter, if Clapper wanted to show tolerance for Islamists, how could it be a lie when he testified earlier that the radical Muslim Brotherhood was "largely secular"?

By what arbitrary rules can one claim that "Piss Christ" or other provocative anti-Christian art is blasphemous or inferior, if its apparent purpose is to lessen the influence of a purportedly pernicious religion? Was Obama's autobiography truth or fiction, or something in between -- as hinted by the president himself when he was caught in untruths and then backed away from some of his stories, claiming they were now just "composites"?

Part of old America still abides by absolute truth and falsity. A door is either hung plumb or not. The calibrations of the Atlas rocket either are accurate and it takes off, or inaccurate and it blows up. Noble intentions cannot make prime numbers like 5 or 7 divisible.

But outside of math and science, whose natural truth man so far cannot impugn, almost everything else in America has become "it depends." Admissions, hiring, evaluations, autobiographies, and the statements of politicians and government officials, all become truthful if they serve the correct cause -- and damn any reactionary discrepancies.

To paraphrase George Orwell, everything is relative, but some things are more relative than others.


Victor Davis Hanson

Victor Davis Hanson is a classicist and historian at the Hoover Institution, Stanford University, and a recipient of the 2007 National Humanities Medal.


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