As I read the words of politicians, especially those of the some 20 or 25 plus Republican presidential hopefuls, I look to determine if anyone of them is speaking the truth. For a truth teller in public life will always have my sympathy. Think Diogenes, Mark Twain, William Proxmire, and Frank Serpico. There are not many of them, and even those we come up with will (how many can you think of?) have their detractors and deniers.
Truth telling is always rare, but perhaps particularly so now when the competition for public office seems never to be over with the result that the words of the candidates will always be primarily influenced, not by the way things are, that is, the truth, but by what they see as the wishes and beliefs of their constituencies, of those who may possibly and eventually give them their vote.
I have two candidates for my own list of truth tellers, one not at all surprising, Ayaan Hirsi Ali, who in an essay from Foreign Affairs asks why the United States shouldn’t back Islam’s reformation. The truth that Hirsi Ali is telling, and not often said, is that there are two Islams, one that should be actively condemned, not only by us but by the Muslims themselves, and the other that should receive our full support.
My other candidate for truth teller is very surprising, and I’ll be the first to admit that I may be mistaken about this. This is Dinesh D’Souza whom I’ve always classified with the fake “truth tellers,” with the ones who knew that unconventional, extravagant statements and views would, if delivered with wit, intelligence, and assurance, attract attention and eventually tens of thousands of readers and in D’Souza’s case monetary success.
And although D’Souza told lies, many not too different from the lying words of a Donald Trump or a Chris Christie, (both now Republican candidates for President!) he would always show while doing so genuine wit and intelligence. For he would always know more than his interviewers or listeners, again unlike the crowd of Republicans running for President. He was just smart, and sometimes I think he has not yet outlived his smartness.
And through it all, through his books of untruths such as:
D’Souza seemingly forgetting his public persona, would yet remember another himself, another well hidden and long buried self within, still attached to seeing things as they were and even telling them as they were. The result being that, through it all, through all that he has written and spoken on probably hundreds of occasions, something I cannot say about lying politicians, many of them “friends” of D’Souza, such as Ronald Reagan and Richard Nixon, even the truth might escape him, and for this reason he’s probably worth listening to and reading, as his 1991 book, Illiberal Education, which quickly became a best-seller, getting rave reviews and prominent cover placement in The Atlantic, The New York Review of Books, and The New Republic. “Illiberal Education” was terrific said Andrew Sullivan, then the editor of The New Republic, “D’Souza has a sharp intellect and a gift for provocation, and in a good way.”
OK, it may be because the guy simply talks so much, and so fast, that his utterances are going to contain some truths, truths that he has, as it were, fallen upon, and probably doesn’t even recognize himself.
Anyway, I’ve just read (in the Times, of course!) a brief interview with D’Souza who has just been released from prison. [In January 2014, D’Souza was indicted on charges of making illegal political contributions to the 2012 United States Senate campaign of Wendy Long, a friend from his college years at Dartmouth, and on May 20, 2014, he pleaded guilty in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York to a charge of using “straw donors” to make illegal political campaign donations. On September 23, he was sentenced to eight months in a halfway house near his home in San Diego, five years probation, and a $30,000 fine. —Wikipedia]
D’Souza’s particular kind of truth telling, sometimes in spite of himself, does turn up in his responses to his questioner. Remember that he did spend his eight months reporting as required by the judge every evening to his place of confinement and bunking down among some 70 others, mostly latino, mostly Mexican prisoners.
Question: What did you learn about the natives [prisoners], that is from the full gamut of individuals with whom you pass the nights — including armed robbers, rapists, murderers, all confined like yourself to the Center?
D’Souza: I couldn’t find one guy who said that he was framed. They all acknowledged their guilt but argued that they were the small fry. They believe that the real criminals are not only part of the system, they are running the system, and, in fact, that they are the system and that, at its highest level, America is a crime syndicate…. And if you put my rap sheet alongside the Clintons’ rap sheet, I think that would be almost a prima facie case that they have gotten away with far more than I have. My crime consisted of giving away too much money. I didn’t benefit from it in any way.
Question: Assuming your assumptions about America’s criminal-justice system were shaken, which were shaken the most?
D’Souza: That you are innocent until proven guilty. I have no doubt that the majority of people who are in prison are guilty of the crimes that they were accused of. Still, there are also a whole bunch of people who are in prison as a result of plea bargains….I’ve read that 97 percent of federal cases and 94 percent of state cases end in plea bargains. Before this experience, I would probably have been fairly glib about that.
Question: In California, where you live, ex-convicts are allowed to vote. In many states, they are not. Can we trust you and your bunkmates with the franchise?
D’Souza: By and large, the concerns of the inmates are food, sleep, money and sex. I was initially contemptuous of that. I felt that they ignored all kinds of other issues that are important to human life. But it was clarifying, a refreshing contrast with the world I came from. Its relevance to letting these guys vote, I don’t even know.
Question: Do you think your experience would be a clarifying experience for most wonks?
D’Souza: Absolutely. I think we need to bridge the divide between the intellectual talking class and the people who actually respond to politics through raw experience.
Question: Have your own extramarital relationship and divorce changed your opinions in any way?
D’Souza: My own marital woes and divorce and ill-fated engagement, all of that, have certainly made me more aware of how difficult it is to make marriages work. But I have not in the slightest departed from my belief in those traditional institutions. Now, my argument was that radical Muslims are able to point to the moral and cultural decay of America as displayed in Hollywood and use it as a recruiting tool. That was true when I wrote it; it’s true now.
Question: In a recent interview, you said that a close reading of Milton’s ‘‘Paradise Lost’’ helped you understand Lucifer’s influence on Saul Alinsky’s organizing methods. Should we expect any analysis of epic poetry to explain Hillary Clinton? Perhaps Coleridge’s ‘‘Kubla Khan’’ or Shelley’s ‘‘Prometheus Unbound’’?
Either that or Dante’s ‘‘Inferno.’’ When I think of a Hillary administration, I’m reminded of the sign on the outer gates of hell: ‘‘Abandon all hope, ye who enter here.’’
Is this last truth telling or just another irresponsible and extravagant statement? That which one may legitimately ask about much that D’Souza has written, in particular his writings about President Obama. When he writes about the President he seems to be totally disconnected from any connection to the truth. Why is that? That remains, in my own case, my major question about this guy. Perhaps he’ll grow out of it, whatever it is that makes him that way.