Political Ventriloquism

Robert Mueller’s testimony before the House Judiciary Committee on July 24, 2019 revealed something that has become common in modern politics.  He knew and remembered very little, leading some observers to wonder whether he had even read his own report. The significance of his appearance goes far beyond the immediate issue.  Mueller is a symbol of the ventriloquism that is poisoning meaningful political discussion in America.

Mueller enjoyed a solid reputation as a law enforcement official in several presidential administrations. He was not known for partisanship. Mueller’s respectability was the perfect hood ornament for the left’s crusade against President Trump. Mueller, with his decades of military and law enforcement experience, would be leading the charge and dispensing justice.  The only problem is that they failed to keep Mueller informed about the whole enterprise. They let him enjoy his retirement while staff members, shadowy Clinton allies, Obama holdovers at the FBI and DoJ, “journalists” and others dug for dirt, spread rumors, swatted people on CNN and generally did what the Deep State does.  Long after the issuance of a disappointing report, Mueller only reluctantly agreed to testify in Congress.  When such testimony became unavoidable, it revealed how little he knew.

This episode has disturbing parallels with the Brett Kavanaugh nomination in 2018, when Christine Blasey Ford signed a letter denouncing Trump’s nominee while her surrogates argued her case on television and fought mightily to prevent her from testifying about her letter or even appearing in public. When she finally did testify, she conspicuously forgot all details that would have lent credibility to her story.  She knew less about her own story than Mueller would know about his report. Aside from this negotiated, limited hearing in which her Democrat handlers protected her as much as possible, we never heard directly from the accuser in any on-camera forum.

Her name appeared on a letter.  A George Soros-affiliated lawyer spoke on her behalf.  Statements were issued for her.  All things Blasey Ford come to us via the lawyers.  Even her appearance at the hearing came only after negotiations between the Committee and the lawyers.

It is not new for politicians and other public figures to release statements through public relations specialists or to be represented by lawyers.  But the growing trend features the lawyer/professional taking a more active role -- almost to the complete exclusion of the party-in-interest. When the alleged real party can hide behind staff or lawyers, the need to speak responsibly disappears.  The staffers and public-relations professionals can thus act like anonymous chatters on the internet, issuing vile threats and accusations with their thumb on the “caps lock” button while hiding in their basement with their laptop.  But instead of hiding behind a laptop, the staffers hide behind a name.  They hide behind Mueller’s name and service record.  They hide behind Blasey Ford’s victim status. The ventriloquists cannot be touched because most of us have never heard of them. There is no accountability because we are confronted with the equivalent of anonymous postings and figurehead frontpeople who know very little. 

This strategy is common in political campaigns.  Modern candidates, when they are actually interviewed, limit themselves to the recitation of their consultants’ catchphrases about “pathways to citizenship” and “marriage equality.”  We are really voting for the most clever and concise consultant instead of the best candidate. 

Why does it matter whether an accuser hides behind lawyers or a prosecutor fails to provide meaningful testimony in Congress?  Is it wrong for lawyers to speak for their clients or for individuals to speak only in writing instead of in person?  The current political wars have been made worse because of this trend. A strategy has been developed that ensures more contrived scandals and false accusations. An accuser proceeds with much less risk than ever before.  A Potemkin army stands ready, with the help of a compliant media, to fight its own political enemies.  It needs only the name and face of a respectable or unknown person to be placed on the front lines.  It is an army in search of a banner, a ventriloquist in search of a dummy. 

Instead of hearing from independent sources, our information is being choked off and funneled through a relative handful of professional spokesmen -- all with a vested interest in the outcome.  These cases are just a few examples of our political process being reduced to the control of a very few individuals.  The public is presented with a well-processed story instead of coming face to face with a real witness.   Scandals and elections are thus reduced to the most compelling story instead of the truth.  

In court, lawyers often attempt to submit written statements instead of presenting live witness testimony. Live witnesses are inconvenient. They do not always say what they are supposed to say.  They forget things.  They sometimes even tell the truth.  They mess up the script. They are not always “on message.”  Lawyers do not like this unpredictability, but it is necessary. Courts severely limit the use of written statements.  Courts seek the truth instead of passively accepting scripted stories. Courts want to know what the witnesses actually observed instead of what the lawyer carefully crafts in his written affidavits. The public should demand no less.   

Too often, the public gets only the “message.”  We hear what the lawyers want us to hear.  The messy truth that the actual witnesses might reveal is lost.  Our heartstrings are tugged by the scripted emotional talking points. But the boring complications that get us to the truth come only from unpredictable witness testimony.   That is why such testimony is necessary. 

2017 and 2018 will forever be remembered for invented political attacks and a chaotic Supreme Court nomination.   It happened only because the handlers could find the unspeaking faces of respectable officials and sympathetic “victims” to paste onto clever slander.  It will happen again and again, unless we stop enabling ventriloquists who hide behind supposedly neutral dummies. It is up to each of us to ignore headlines and press releases.  The principals must speak for themselves, answer tough questions and explain their story in their own inarticulate words. If they occasionally contradict themselves or sound awkward, so be it. If we separate the dummies from the ventriloquists, only those with real grievances will come forward. Actual dummies will have nothing to say. When the dummies are no longer in the way, those with an actual story to tell can come forward.  Only then can we judge the truth of what we hear.

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