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Ill Of The Dead. [updated]

Don't speak ill of the dead. And poof! There goes history.

Stalin was a guy with a neat mustache and . . . and that's pretty much it. Hitler? Liked dogs. Castro? The man loved a good cigar. Oh wait, Fidel's not dead yet, is he? Damn, that's a shame.

Okay, okay, yeah, I know, I'm going with extreme examples. Stalin? Hitler? Come on, Reynolds.

Fine. Then how about Nixon? The opening to China and . . . and that's all. Nothing else to see here, move along.

All this apropos of a little dust-up with Pat at stubbornfacts.us. He has come to praise Henry Hyde, and to bury him. And he objects to me bringing up former Rep. Hyde's five year affair with a married woman. He not only objects so strongly he deleted the original comment, he went on to delete an oblique reference to the fact that he deleted the comment, in which I made the point that I'd be willing to bet Pat's obit for Bill Clinton would include the word "Lewinsky."

Here's Pat's addenda in response to my comments. First this:
UPDATE: I will be deleting comments which gratuitously speak ill of the dead.

Later, this:
. . . and, as per our standard policy, comments which complain about our comment policy.

Well, "speaking ill of the dead," that's just bullshit. See also: every history book ever written. Hyde wasn't grandpa, he was a very public figure. A historical figure, as of early this morning.

Now, let's go on a little hypocrisy hunt, shall we? First victim is . . . wait a minute. It's, um, me. Here's me getting bitchy and dismissive at Ambivablog on the subject of a politician's sex life:

In any event, I'm not supporting Hillary because she's an advocate for women, or Saint Hillary. I'm supporting her because I think she'd be a good president. I don't give a rat's ass about anyone's marriages, personal habits, peccadillos -- hers, Bill's, Rudi's, anyone's. I want someone who can do the job and fix this mess. I don't care if Beelzebub is running, so long as he can do the job.
Gosh, Michael, that seems pretty clear. You don't care about anyone's sex life. And yet you felt the need to remind Pat's readers that Clinton impeachment prosecutor and all-around moral scold, Henry Hyde, was in fact an adulterer.

But, hark! I spy another hypocrite:
But we aren't buying a product. We're buying, ultimately, a human being's judgment. That's the real job of the President, to make decisions which can't or won't be made by people lower down the food chain. The state of that human being's marriage plays a huge role in the effectiveness of their judgment. It is part of the product, frankly.
Guess who? Our good friend, Pat. Pat thinks personal morality is very important in judging the value of a man or woman. It's "part of the product."

So, for those of you following along at home, we have a Democrat (me) arguing that the Clinton's sex life is irrelevant, while a Republican (Pat) takes the opposite tack. And when it comes to Henry Hyde the Democrat argues that his sex life is relevant, while the Republican takes the opposite position.

Now, I could sit here and parse and weasel and twist until I had constructed a case that in some way drew "important" distinctions that, by tortured logic rationalized my hypocrisy. But I think, no. I think instead I'll admit it was hypocrisy.


Will Stubborn Facts refrain from making comments that "gratuitously speak ill of the dead,"
when the dead is Bill Clinton? Will SidewaysMencken suddenly discover the importance of personal morality when the cooling corpse belongs to Newt Gingrich? I'm going to guess "No," and "Yes," respectively.

[update] Pat responds in greater detail, and in his usual gentlemanly tone, at his own blog.

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“Ill Of The Dead. [updated]”

  1. Blogger PatHMV Says:

    Were Henry Hyde running for office today, rather than dying, I wouldn't have had any problem with your comment. My objection to your comment is simply due to the fact that, you know, a man died today, a man who devoted a substantial portion of his career to public service.

    And yes, absolutely, I would do the same thing if it were Hillary Clinton or Bill Clinton who died. You haven't been reading closely enough if you think that I would piss on the grave of the recently dead just because they were Democrats. In the aftermath of Katrina, I told EVERYBODY to shut up about "blame" while bodies were still being recovered... I told it to the Democrats bitching about Bush and the idiot "Brownie," and I told it to the Republicans bitching about Blanco and Nagin and the infamous school buses. For me, politics takes a holiday when someone dies.

    So, by my count, that's one hypocrite (you, who doesn't care about a politician's sex life until it's a Republican involved) to zero (me, who would be happy to discuss Hyde's marital misconduct in the context of an election but not on the day of his death).

  2. Blogger Michael Reynolds Says:

    Bullshit, Pat.

    There's no magic about death. Death doesn't wash anyone clean. Not speaking ill of the dead isn't a moral value, it's at best a superstition. A rather ridiculous one since at the moment of death the dead guy stops giving a damn what you say about him. And the survivors don't suddenly acquire a new sensitivity: they'd care more, surely, if Henry were alive to hear bad things said about him.

    It's mere superstition on a par with a rabbit's foot or knocking wood.

    As for your contention that you'd avoid Lewinsky upon the occasion of Clinton's death, maybe, I doubt it. But maybe. But I'd lay a c-note down right now that stubborn facts as a blog would manage to work in a reference. Or six.

    Henry Hyde wasn't your relative, or friend (I assume) he was a pol. He was a public figure. His life is as open a book as you want Bill Clinton's to be. He's dead. He doesn't care what we say about him.

    The hypocrite count is still at two. One honest about it.

  3. Blogger PatHMV Says:

    Just because YOU have no particular reverence or politeness for death, Michael, just because YOU insist on carrying forward political feuds even after the parties involved die, doesn't mean we all do.

    And would I work in a reference to Lewinsky? Perhaps, just as I worked in a reference to Hyde's role as chief prosecutor of Clinton... lamenting that the sensational would likely drown out the substantive in popular coverage of the event.

    I do, in fact, believe in letting bygones be bygones when somebody passes away, at least until a day or two after the funeral. Politics is so divisive, it's helpful, I think, (beyond just being polite) to use the occasion of someone's death to remember that ultimately we're all on the same team.

    So by my count, we're still at one hypocrite.

  4. Blogger Michael Reynolds Says:

    By my count you're just digging it deeper and piling it higher.

    Consider the other example I cited: Castro. When he (finally) dies shall we speak only of his good attributes? (Whatever they may be.) Obviously not. I cannot believe you would argue that we should.

    So there's a difference in your mind between the way you would treat Castro's death, and the way you treat Hyde's. Obviously Hyde is not a communist thug, so there's that, but explain to me the principle at work here. Explain to me the logic of trashing one dead guy (Castro or Osama or Kim) and deleting unflattering though true remarks about another dead guy, Hyde.

    Clearly the difference is in your opinion that Hyde does not deserve it somehow. That he is sufficiently good that upon the occasion of his death we should look away from any unpleasantness associated with him. But you're not willing to trust readers to make that decision on their own. You insist that the information be limited so as to minimize the possibility of the reader reaching a conclusion different from your own.

    So, it's not a matter of never speaking ill of the dead, it's a question of not speaking ill of some dead, and happily trashing others. And then there is, it seems, the element of time. Implying that at some point (two days? two months? Ten years?) It will become okay to speak ill if Mr. Hyde.

    But not, it seems, in his obit. Which is the time when we first consider the value of a man's entire life.

    Taking the case of Mr. Clinton's eventual death. You would, it seems, hold that it is perfectly okay to speak ill of him up to the moment of his death, and then start up again at some point after his death, unless you reach the moral judgment that it's actually okay to include the details in the actual obit as you would surely do with Mr. Castro.

    So, remind me. What is the principle here?

  5. Blogger kreiz1 Says:

    No doubt, it's a matter of perspective- I get that. Let's face it- one's perspective on this issue is horribly subjective. I believe in a modicum of decorum for private folk- but if they're in the public sphere, the gloves come off.

    So, that being said, from my little perch, Henry Hyde = Youthful Indiscretion. Can't help it, it was part of Henry's charming persona. So in this instance, spot on, Michael. (Reserving all rights to be arbitrary in the future).

  6. Blogger kreiz1 Says:

    Simon at SF just posted a comment on Joe Biden. Pat (appropriately and cleverly) made a Neal Kinnock reference in the comments- fair enough- Joe's not deceased. If Joe passed, I don't really believe that SF would make a Neal Kinnock comment. If another blogger did, however, would it be appropriate? Nah, not really- but it wouldn't upset me- it's part of his public persona.

  7. Anonymous Tully Says:

    Speaking strictly for myself, my total published reaction to the execution of Saddam Hussein was "Buh-bye."

    I genuinely avoid kicking fresh corpses, and deplore fresh-corpse-kicking. The dead cannot defend themselves.

    Grave-spitting is another matter, but by its nature it indicates that you're already going to get the last laugh over them, simply by having outlived them.

  8. Blogger Michael Reynolds Says:


    For most of my life I'd have quibbled over Hyde's characterization of his actions as a youthful indiscretion. He was 41. But with age comes wisdom. And damned if 41 isn't seeming more youthful all the time.

  9. Blogger kreiz1 Says:

    Kinda what I was thinking. :)

  10. Blogger Michael Reynolds Says:

    Maybe you're just a nicer person than I am. For my part I've vowed that when we finally fly a missile up Osama's ass and splatter him all over the cave walls, I will locate the nicest bottle of Champagne available, pour for anyone within reach, and dance a happy little jig. There are a number of people upon whose graves I will happily spit.

    On a more serious note, I don't believe in bs'ing about politicians. I lack the icon-painting gene. If I were writing Bill Clinton's obit I'd include Monica -- and I like Bill. It's a part of the whole picture. To leave it out, or to insist that others leave it out, distorts truth. Truth before delicacy, particularly for those who place themselves on a pedestal or exercise power over us.

    In part it may be that I am, at base, not a political animal so much as I am a writer. Cardboard characters bore me. They're fake. The real thing, warts and all, is always more interesting.

    I also trust that most people understand that our leaders and idols are really just human beings after all. If we'd all drop our whitewash brushes, society as a whole might be induced to drop their mote-finding magnifying glasses, and we could have a politics based more on reality and less on deception and self-deception.

    We need to get used to the idea of voting for human beings, not demi-gods or paragons. We need to focus on the question of whether our employees are getting the job done. Had I been in Hyde's district, and had I thought that he was doing a good job, I'd have disapproved of his philandering, then dismissed it as irrelevant and voted for the guy.

    Hyde did some good things. He did some bad things. Good and bad are present in all of us, though not usually in quite the 1/99 ratio of your Saddam example.

  11. Blogger Michael Reynolds Says:

    You realize there will come a day when we both are thinking, "70? That's not old."

  12. Blogger kreiz1 Says:

    Already thought of it, dude. Read a great article (in the Weekly Standard, of all places) by Joseph Epstein, a professor up in Chicago, entitled "The Kid Turns 70". Essentially, he maintains that we all can successfully rationalize middle-age (40-69) until we hit three score and ten. After that, it's all up for grabs.

    He writes:

    "At 70 middle age is definitely--and definitively--done. A wonderful period, middle age, so nondescript and imprecise, extending perhaps from one's late 30s to one's late 60s, it allows a person to think him- or herself simultaneously still youthful, though no longer a kid. Forty-eight, 57, 61, those middle-aged numbers suggest miles to go before one sleeps, miles filled with potential accomplishments, happy turnabouts in one's destiny, midlife crises (if one's tastes run to such extravaganzas), surprises of all kinds."

    Great article-


  13. Anonymous Tully Says:

    I didn't say I wouldn't be inwardly happy about (or even privately celebrating) some deaths, just that I refrain from kicking fresh corpses. I wouldn't drag Castro's remains through the streets either, or put Osama's head on a spike. (Though I'm sure it would bring a smile to my face, and the wine would taste a little sweeter that evening.)

    Old buried corpses are a different matter, as is grave-spitting. But I'm perfectly willing to wait until they're in the grave, the dirt has been shoveled on top, and the family gone home. It's not out of respect for the dead, so much as respect for the living in mourning.

    (PS--do you write your own verification passwords? Some are quite amusing.)

  14. Blogger PatHMV Says:

    Michael, I'd also point out that there's a difference between making an isolated, drive-by pot-shot and mentioning facts in a relatively objective summation of an entire life.

    If you'd like to be a Speaker for the Dead (assuming you've read the relevant Orson Scott Card) for Bill Clinton or for Henry Hyde, I won't object to that. But such a thing must include, in one go, both the good and the bad all at the same time.

  15. Blogger Michael Reynolds Says:

    But such a thing must include, in one go, both the good and the bad all at the same time.

    So how is it that you defend your right to give only a partial account?

    PS: Dude. I'm in the science fiction/fantasy biz. I'd have to give up my nerd card if I hadn't read Ender.

  16. Blogger PatHMV Says:

    I said IF you're going to do a Speaker for the Dead kind of obituary, not that I was attempting to do one.

    And I did rather figure you had read Ender, and probably at least the first couple of sequels...

  17. Blogger Dyre42 Says:

    Out of consideration to the family of the deceased I usually refrain from speaking ill of the dead until the body is in the ground.

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