Michelle Obama recently invited rapper Common to the White House for a poetry reading. This was problematic for two reasons. First, nobody with one name deserves any respect whatsoever; this is especially true of rappers, who have generally contributed nothing to humanity except for the systematic dissing of women and an explorations of verbal porn and vulgarity. Second, Common happens to be an especially egregious in giving the non-art of rap a leftwing political dimension – he averred that Americans should “Burn a Bush for peace,” he opposes interracial relationships (“I disagree with them. It’s a lack of self-love. It’s a problem”), and he defends cop killers.
When faced with the public outrage over showcasing Common in the White House, Obama’s press secretary, Jay Carney, spat, “[Common is] known as a socially conscious hip-hop artist” who has been feted “by a lot of mainstream organizations and fair-and-balanced organizations like Fox News, which has described that music as very positive.” Jon Stewart, the ever-willing flunky for the Obama Administration (and his army of trained seals in the audience – what are they laughing at?) has made it his mission to personally rehabilitate Common, explaining that after all, Common is a “two-time Grammy-winning vegetarian.” By that standard, Hitler may have been a decent guest to the White House – after all, he was a Time “Man of the Year”-winning vegetarian. (And no, Jon, I didn’t just compare Common to Hitler – I’m mocking your standards of what makes someone a worthy White House invitee.) Stewart also explained that Common’s lyrics were being taken out of context: he actually opposes violence against cops. But Common’s defense of cop killers Assata Shakur and Mumia Abu-Jamal were very much in the context of his music. So, in essence, Stewart took Fox News’ out of context remarks out of context. Well done, sir.
The left’s defense of Common raises another, more pernicious question, however: who won’t they defend? When the left likes a person or organization, and that person or organization is linked with a nasty behavior, the left immediately implements a “totality of the circumstances” test. “Totality of the circumstances” is a legal standard often utilized in criminal law to determine whether or not there was probable cause for a search and seizure of a suspect. Historically, judges looked at the “totality of the circumstances,” for instance, to determine whether a suspect’s confession was coerced. “Totality of the circumstances” is even used in bankruptcy law from time to time. It’s essentially a catch-all legal principle allowing the judge to decide what he or she wants to do without reference to any bright-line rule whatsoever.
The left loves totality of the circumstances tests with regard to political actors. Generally, the left will excuse any action by any leftist under the guise of “totality of the circumstances.” Bill Ayers’ terrorism? Totality of the circumstances – he’s now a highly-respected educator, so let’s not bother with whatever he did when he was a young fellow. Van Jones’ communist rhetoric? Totality of the circumstances – he’s actually a moderate (like Common), plus he’s working for “green jobs,” so let’s leave him be. Obama’s kowtowing to foreign dictators? Totality of the circumstances – he’s simply respectful of their cultures and trying to integrate relations with them into a larger scheme of “soft power.”
It’s even more problematic than that. The left applies “totality of the circumstances” tests to foreign terrorist groups like Hezbollah and Hamas. Last May, Reuters reported that the Obama Administration was attempting to find and work with “moderate elements” within the Lebanese terrorist group. The excuse for such parlay with enemies of freedom? Totality of the circumstances, of course. “Hezbollah is a very interesting organization,” explained John Brennan, assistant to the president for homeland security and counterterrorism. It was not, Brennan said, “purely a terrorist organization”; rather, it was an organization that has members in the Lebanese parliament and provides social services.
Hamas gets the same treatment. As early as 2006, ABC World News Tonight described Hamas as a “political and social welfare organization.” Jimmy Carter urged that Hamas be removed from the US list of terrorist organizations. Now that they’ve formed a terrorist unity government with the Palestinian Authority (which was already a terrorist organization excused by the left under its malleable “totality of the circumstances” rule), liberals have accelerated their defense of Hamas. Carter, once again leading the way for the left, states that Hamas should be treated as a legitimate negotiating partner, despite the fact that they continue to support the annihilation of the state of Israel.
“Totality of the circumstances” tests crop up throughout leftist philosophy. Roman Polanski was feted by Hollywood after years of exile for raping a 13-year-old girl, with Whoopi Goldberg explaining that it wasn’t “rape-rape” (i.e. not real rape) and others maintaining that Polanski’s unquestioned artistry mitigates the sexual assault. Bill Clinton’s oral copulation with Monica Lewinsky went unquestioned by the feminist movement because he was pro-abortion – Nina Burleigh classily admitted in the New York Observer, “I would be happy to give [Clinton] a blow job just to thank him for keeping abortion legal … American women should be lining up with their presidential kneepads on to show their gratitude for keeping the theocracy off our backs.”
The “totality of the circumstances” test has even excused mass murder recently. Britain released Lockerbie bomber Abdelbaset Ali al-Megrahi supposedly because he was sick with cancer. This week, Germany sentenced Nazi death camp guard John Demjanjuk to five years in prison, but released him immediately due to his advanced age – even though he was partially responsible for the murders of 28,000 people. Why are these clearly evil people walking free? Because the “totality of the circumstances” demands that we consider their health even as we consider their genocidal activities.
Here’s the problem with the “totality of the circumstances” test – in many cases, a single action should mark you as unworthy of respect. O.J. Simpson was a terrific football player, but we wouldn’t look at the totality of the circumstances in deciding whether or not to invite him over for dinner – we’d look at the fact that he killed two people. A person’s character is defined not by a vague “totality of the circumstances” test, but by a person’s non-violation of certain bright line standards – no murder, no rape, no kidnapping, no stealing, etc. Bright lines are a good place to start in determining whether or not to reward or punish a person. Bright lines such as: don’t defend cop killers; don’t rip interracial relationships; don’t suggest the assassination of the president of the United States.
Bizarrely enough, the only bright line standard that seems to matter for the left with regard to Common is that he has won a Grammy. Well, so has Rick James, but that doesn’t mean he should be at the White House to perform songs (he might still have a woman locked up in a basement somewhere). The left’s lack of true moral bright lines simply demonstrates that their moral confusion is all too Common.
Ben Shapiro is an attorney and writer and a Shillman Journalism Fellow at the Freedom Center, and author of the upcoming book “Primetime Propaganda: The True Hollywood Story of How The Left Took Over Your TV” from Broadside Books, an imprint of HarperCollins.
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