An Exhibition of Conservative Paranoia
Exhibit 56: Ellis Washington's Imaginary Socrates
The WorldNetDaily columnist loves to present skewed so-called "dialectics" in which he plays the great Greek philosopher as a judgmental, ad hominem-throwing right-wing nutjob -- not unlike Washington himself.
By Terry Krepel
WorldNetDaily columnist Ellis Washington is best known for his verbose hatred of President Obama, his sycophantic love of right-wing radio host Michael Savage (for whom he once claimed to be the "authorized biographer"), and getting his facts flamboyantly wrong.
He also likes to pretend he's Socrates.
Washington has penned a series of columns in which he purports to conduct a "dialectic," in which he claims to be "starting from a thesis or question, then discussing ideas and moving back and forth between points of view to determine how well ideas stand up to critical review with the ultimate principle of the dialogue being Veritas Truth." What happens in reality, however, is that the "Socrates" who conducts these "dialectics" is a right-wing hack who sets up his opponents as straw men for maximum knock-down potential. You know, just like Washington himself. And nothing at all like the Socrates of legend.
"Socrates" goes ad hominem
Washington's philosophical stylings date back to at least 2008, in which his "Socrates" hurls ad hominem attacks at then-Detroit mayor Kwame Kilpatrick, going so far as to insert "KKK" in the middle of Kilpatrick's name:
Are black people better off under the openly racist regime of Gov. George Wallace, police Chief Bull Connor and the Grand Dragon of the KKK, or are black people better off under the incompetent, arrogant and pathological black leadership of a Kwame "Klan" Kilpatrick? KKK or KKK? It is a paradox that may not be able to be answered in this generation; however, posing this question offers the seeds of hope for a new generation of leadership that refuses to be defined by skin color, but will only be judged by the content of their character.
Would the real Socrates play the race card in this manner? Probably not.
In a July 2009 column, Washington pitted himself -- er, Socrates -- against President Obama, Teddy Kennedy, "Sen. RINO" and "We the People (mute part)." This provides the spectacle, convincing only to someone who knows nothing at all about Socratic dialogue, of "Socrates" berating "Obama" as "incapable of answering a simple historical question about socialism in light of your proposed health care system," attacking Kennedy for his "long, shameful legacy in America, the capstone of which is universal health care," making Nazi smears, and quoting Winston Churchill and "the words for the ages of that great conservative British parliamentarian Sir Edmund Burke."
As time passed, Washington's "dialectics" grew in absurdity. In a April 2011 column, Washington Plato, Jesus, "realist" St. Thomas Aquinas and "anti-realist" Immanuel Kant join the party. At one point Washington -- er, "Socrates" -- declares:
Plato hearkens back to the forced suicide I suffered under the Athenian state because I refused to moderate my philosophical teachings. Four centuries later, this ridicule and rejection would happen to another philosopher, Jesus Christ the greatest philosopher of us all!
Washington's "Jesus" also said: "All earthly knowledge is but mere shadows. My servant St. Paul wrote, '... we see through a glass darkly; but now face to face.' I am the light of the world. Light removes darkness and shadows. I transcend reality and the Shadowlands. I told the unbelieving Jewish leaders of my day, 'Search the scriptures [Torah]; for in them ye think ye have eternal life: and they are they which testify of me.'"
So Jesus spoke to the "unbelieving Jewish leaders of my day" using 17th-century Old English pronouns?
In a January 2011 column on divine command theory -- "Is what is good, good because God commands it, or does God command it because it is good?" -- "Socrates" rants rather un-Socratically about liberal politics:
Applying the Euthyphro dilemma to modern America politics, for more than 100 years the progressive revolution has essentially removed God from the marketplace of ideas and replaced "God" with the "god" of humanism or the idea that man is the center and arbiter of all things. Therefore, all public policies are not judged constitutional, moral or true, but whether they are for the common good. Theodore Roosevelt's "Square Deal," FDR's New Deal and welfare state, Truman's "Fair Deal, LBJ's Great Society and Obama's New Deal, Part 2, all confiscated and spent trillions of taxpayers' money to improve the human condition, yet in all respects society is more ignorant, decadent, alienated and poverty-stricken than preceding generations of the past 100 years.
Bashing Anthony Kennedy and John Marshall
In a May 28, 2011, column, Washington goes off on a Supreme Court decision upholding a California ruling to release thousands of prison inmates to relieve overcrowding. Washington makes it clear he will stack the deck early on by presenting a gross caricature of Justice Anthony Kennedy, who he claims is saying in an "arrogant tone":
As the moderate, or "swing vote," on this court of last appeal, I am in essence a one-man dictatorship. If I choose to vote with the conservatives, then the Framers' original intent will be the law. If I choose to vote with the socialist wing of the court, then socialism, communism, anarchy and genocide will be the law of the land.
Not only does Washington baselessly portray Kennedy as a raging egomaniac -- he presents no evidence that this caricature has any basis in reality -- he similarly, and falsely, frames the argument as "the Framers' original intent" versus "socialism, communism, anarchy and genocide."
Washington goes on to misinterpret President Obama's 2001 statements about the Warren Court's failure to "break free from the essential constraints that were placed by the Founding Fathers in the Constitution" as a "socialist judicial philosophy" rather than what it actually is: an explanation that the Warren Court wasn't as radical as right-wingers like Washington like to believe it is. Washington then throws in Cloward and Piven for no apparent reason other than claim (again, baselessly) that they support the prison release because, somehow, "Total annihilation of all wealth is the final phase of the Cloward Piven strategy."
Washington also largely ignored the root cause of the court-order prisoner release -- overcrowding. USA Today reported that at one point the California prison population was nearly double double capacity; the ruling upheld by the Supreme Court ordered the population to be reduced to 137.5 percent of capacity. Washington's only reference to it is more non-realistic words he puts into Kennedy's mouth: "History won't blame me for the mayhem and murder my opinion will surely unleash upon my own country, for I insisted that for the state to make 54 prisoners use one toilet amounts to an Eighth Amendment prohibition against 'cruel and unusual punishment.'"
Further, Washington needlessly inflamed the argument by claiming the prisoners to be released are "hardcore" (in the purported words of Justice Antonin Scalia) and "thousands of murderous criminals" (in the purported words of Socrates). But as he himself noted, the Supreme Court granted more time to California officials to implement the release, so since non prisoners had actually been released yet, Washington had no way of knowing if they are "murderous criminals" or not. Besides, does Washington really think that the state will release convicted killers over, say, someone in jail on a low-level drug offense? That defies the logic that Washington presents himself as an advocate of.
Washington didn't explain how Marshall's rulings in those cases -- which upheld, respectively, that Indian tribes had the right to the land they occupied until they voluntarily ceded it to the federal government, and that Indian tribes are not subject to state governance of the use of their land -- were a usurpation of powers. Nor does he mention why it was (or is) a bad thing to let Native Americans control their own destiny and not be forcibly removed from their lands by the federal government without a treaty.
This all culminated in a decidedly non-Socratic rant coming from the mouth of Washington -- er, Socrates: "During this decadent age of effeminate, cowardly and ignorant men whose principles shift with the winds, what man, what heroic figure will stand tall, strong and true and say without equivocation like Achilles, like Hercules, like Prometheus ... like President Andrew Jackson, who said in 1832 what needs to be said this day regarding the naked judicial activism of Chief Justice John Marshall? '[Justice Anthony Kennedy] has made his decision; now let him enforce it!'"
Historians believe Jackson never actually said that about Marshall. Presumably, the real Socrates would be more careful about his facts -- since they form the foundation of logic -- than Washington is.
In his Jan. 13 column, Washington -- er, Socrates is in smackdown mode, trotting out authors he doesn't like, distorting their work in order to create a straw man for Washington to knock down.
For instance, here's the "dialectic" between "Socrates" and "Nietzsche":
Nietzsche: It was I who began an atheistic revolution in my 1882 book “The Gay Science,” by boldly professing that “God is dead.” I refused to repent but elevated my narcissistic blasphemy as the fundamental theme of my greatest work, “Beyond Good and Evil” (1886). In that opus I argued that men are driven by an amoral “Will to Power” and that inevitably superior men will triumph over Christianity, over religiously inspired moral rules, which I judged as “slave morality” and as artificial as every other moral rule. Therefore, it is the primary concern of the Ubermenchen (Supermen) to force, to dictate all laws necessary to secure their domination of the world over the inferior nations and races in their midst.
Gee, we didn't know that "Socrates" knew so much about Nietsche or the Nazis -- we thought it would be a little difficult given that he died a couple thousand years earlier.
And here's "Socrates" and "Karl Marx," in which the ancient Greek philosopher somehow knows about Newt Gingrich:
Karl Marx: I wrote “Das Kapital” in 1867. Engels, my benefactor, posthumously published volumes II (1885) and III (1894) from notes I left behind. “Das Kapital” forces the round peg of capitalism into the square hole of my atheistic, materialistic theory of history. To me capitalism was the most contemptible word in the human language because I believed that all capitalists inevitably and amorally exploit labor by paying the cheapest possible wages to the working class to reap the highest possible profits for themselves.
Washington's "Socrates" is even so up-to-date on current events that he mindlessly spews right-wing talking points, just like Washington himself:
Socrates: In February 2008, nine months before Election Day, when Barack Obama arrogantly declared, “We are the ones we’ve been waiting for,” in reality, he was proclaiming the triumph of Sartre’s existential philosophy over America’s Christian founding; a diabolical idea rooted in narcissism, Marxism and failed delusions.
Washington concluded: "At our next Symposium we will discuss the remaining five books that have caused the downfall of society and contributed to the damnation of ideas." Of course, deliberate mischaracterization of ideas and bastardizing one of the world's greatest philosophers for the sake of political attacks is far from a "symposium" as one can get -- and it sure as heck has nothing to do with anything the real Socrates did.
"Socrates" insults intelligence of black liberals
Washington's Oct. 7 column begins by having "Socrates" insulting the intelligence of black liberals:
Socrates: We are gathered here today at this symposium to discuss the race question and this enduring paradox. How can tens of millions of otherwise rational, educated and morally conservative people ignore the historical blood and sacrifice the Abolitionist movement and the Republican Party has devoted to black Americans? How can this people for 80 years have increasingly voted for the Democratic Party since the election of FDR in 1932 the party that enslaved your ancestors, the party of the KKK, eugenics, abortion, exploding ghettoes, exploding prisons, welfare slavery and the death of the black family?
We suspect that Socrates' views on race were not as enlightened as the words Washington are putting into his mouth make him out to be, nor do we suspect that the real Socrates would willingly spout such mindless rhetorical claptrap. And then there's the space-time continuum problem in which someone who died more than 2,000 years ago is speaking about today's events...
Washington brings in "Allan West" and "Herman Cain" to bolster his side, and Rev. Jeremiah Wright and Maxine Waters to serve as prefab enemies. Also brought in as a straw man is President Obama:
President Obama: Uuuhhh, Socrates, when Rev. Wright made those hateful, anti-American, anti-Christian rants, I wasn't there in church those Sundays. It was like when I was in the Illinois Senate, I voted "Present." I wasn't there. I'm not a socialist. I love Ronald Reagan, and my policies are just like his. Change! Change! Change! ¡Sí, se puede! Yes we can! ... (ad infinitum).
Finally, Washington gets (mostly) honest and plays the role of "Publius," which he parenthetically explains is "pseudonym for author," as if this was the only pseudonym through which Washington was expressing his views. And he rants in a most un-dialectic manner:
What is wrong with you people [black America]?! How long will you allow your minds to be shackled by Big Government liberalism and the Democratic Party? In the early 1930s, Franklin Delano Roosevelt promised you a "New Deal" and with the help of W.E.B. Dubois, the NAACP and thousands of black preachers, got your forefathers hooked on the deadly narcotic of the welfare state and "free" government handouts.
Washington -- er, "Publius" -- also invokes his "intellectual mentor, Dr. Levon Yuille." This "intellectual mentor" opposes hate-crimes protections for gays because he finds it "demeaning [to] the black community."
Try to imagine the actual Socrates saying this, as Washington portrays him as doing in his May 4 column:
Socrates: We are gathered here today at this Symposium to discuss various tactics and strategies radicals have used to denigrate, deconstruct and destroy America the greatest nation in the history of the world. In a previous Symposium, “The damnation of ideas,” we discussed the differences between ideas that uplift society and those that damn society in the context of 10 infamous writers and their most controversial books, and discussed whether these books have either elevated society to ascend the steps of Parnassus or condemned society into the pit of Tartarus.
As usual, Washington set up anyone opposed to his -- er, "Socrates'" -- right-wing ideology as straw men easily knocked down by the power of alleged "truth." For instance:
Dr. NEA: Although my fascist organization was birthed in 1978 concomitant with the creation of President Jimmy Carter’s Department of Education, my real birth occurred over 150 years ago in 1857 by a small but zealous group of radical atheists, humanists, Marxist and progressives dedicated to forever separating education from morality, truth and the canon.
Would the real, truth-seeking Socrates engage in such ad hominem and factually misleading attacks? Probably not.
Washington also bizarrely put Saul Alinsky -- who was not a dictator and never ordered anyone's death -- on the same plane as Marx, Lenin and Hitler.
* * *
Washington has bastardized Socrates before, in a 2009 column portraying hate-filled right-wing radio host Michael Savage as nothing less than the intellectual descendent of the great philosopher -- or, more accurately, embarrassingly fawning over Savages as "a truly heroic figure in the tradition of an Elijah, Socrates, Richard the Lionhearted, Ronald Reagan or a Sen. Joseph McCarthy." He concluded that column by invoking Socrates yet again:
In conclusion, regarding Savage’s ad hominem attacks, the great Greek philosopher Socrates would perhaps ask this dialectical question: Do these people or media entities have the courage and intellectual honesty to enter the crucible of the Savage Nation? I answer with the ancient legal rule of law Res Ipsa Loquitur, the thing speaks for itself.
No wonder Washington thinks he can channel Socrates -- he thinks Michael Savage is just like him.