Plato, Lawrence O’Donnell and Hayes!


And the education of Lyons: We couldn’t help thinking of Plato last night as we watched O’Donnell and Hayes, and their pundit guests, on The One True Liberal Channel.

As a young man, Plato watched as the downfall of Athens produced an oligarchic revolution (404 BC). A group called “The Thirty” ascended to power and began settling scores.

Many years later, Plato described the disgust he felt in the face of these events. The text in question is called The Seventh Letter.

We think Professor Lee has it just about right in this translation which follows. We couldn’t help thinking of Plato’s text as we watched Hayes and O’Donnell last night:
PLATO: The existing constitution, which was subject to widespread criticism, was overthrown...and a committee of thirty given supreme power. As it happened, some of them were friends and relations of mine and they at once invited me to join them, as if it were the natural thing for me to do.

My feelings were what were to be expected in a young man: I thought they were going to reform society and rule justly, and so I watched their proceedings with deep interest. I found that they soon made the earlier regime look like a golden age.

Among other things they tried to incriminate my old friend Socrates, whom I should not hesitate to call the most upright man then living, by sending him, with others, to arrest a fellow-citizen, and bring him forcibly to execution; Socrates refused, and risked everything rather than make himself a party to their wickedness.

When I saw all this, and other things as bad, I was disgusted and withdrew from the wickedness of the times.
The democracy was soon restored, but Socrates was brought to trial on “a monstrous charge.” He submitted himself to death after a famous witch trial.

Plato didn’t like that. “The more closely I studied the politicians and the laws and customs of the day, and the older I grew, the more difficult it seemed to me to govern rightly,” the famous fellow would later recall. “Nothing could be done without trustworthy friends and supporters; and these were difficult to come by in an age which had abandoned its traditional moral code but found it impossibly hard to create a new one.”

As in Plato’s time, so again now! It’s hard to avoid being amazed by the conduct unfolding on cable this week. In this circumstance, Fox is behaving like model citizens as compared to the mob which has saddled up on our pseudo-liberal channel.

Last night, Lawrence prepared for his evening’s guests by assembling a reliable three-member panel. All three of his pundits were devoted to longing for Zimmerman’s conviction. Thanks to Lawrence’s planning, not a contrary thought or idea would be found.

In this way, Lawrence was making a pledge to his viewers: If you tune to this program each night, you will hear nothing with which you don’t reflexively agree. You will hear nothing which tends to disrupt your most primal lizard-brain functions.

In our mind, Lisa Bloom was the most disgraceful, sliming around for a way to get Zimmerman thrown into prison. Here’s how the deal went down:

Yesterday, the prosecution seemed to accept the notion that Zimmerman had been on the bottom when the fatal shot was fired.

Bloom railed against them for doing that. This was her rationale:
BLOOM (7/10/13): This is all very rational and logical, but I think if the jury thinks that George Zimmerman is down and got his head pounded on to concrete, even a couple of times, and got punched in the face—and it is hard, if you’re down and you’re grappling and somebody is on top of you, to get up—I think if the jury has that image in their mind as the final image before he takes up the gun and shoots, there’s going to be an acquittal.

I think the prosecution cannot accept that as the final moments of Trayvon Martin.
Truly, we’re flirting with sociopathy whenever Bloom opens her mouth.

Can we talk? The prosecution seems to have “accepted that as the final moments of Trayvon Martin” because that was where the evidence led in the course of the trial.

In that passage, Bloom was saying this: The prosecution should deny where the evidence led on this point, because if they accept the truth, Zimmerman won’t go to prison.

Lisa Bloom is flirting with evil with every word that comes from her mouth. Watching her, we recalled Plato’s reactions to that old, famous trial.

The most important political book on the Clinton/Gore years was written by Gene Lyons. Fools for Scandal (1995) started as an article in Harpers, one of the most respected publications in the nation. The article was then expanded into a book, which was published and promoted by Harpers.

In this new column at The National Memo, Lyons describes a “life-changing experience” he had a few years before that. It involved his realization that the press coverage of a local murder trial (1) was completely bogus and (2) was massively influencing public opinion.

“I’ve never read a newspaper or watched a TV news program the same way since,” Lyons writes, “particularly not about a homicide trial.”

Several millennia earlier, Plato “withdrew from the wickedness of the times.” Lyons reacted to his own experience by writing an important book about the pseudo-scandals the mainstream press corps was creating around Bill Clinton—a book the entire liberal world agreed to disappear.

We thought of the youthful Plato last night as we watched O’Donnell and Bloom. Bloom, a sociopathy-leaner, might have felt right at home during those “wicked” times.

You can feel like Plato too: To watch the garbage can Lawrence broke open last night, just click here.

For his second segment, click this. Warning! Look out for Bloom's snark!


  1. Nice post, Bob.

    Bob implied that today's regime is like the one Plato described. Plato said that regime was so unjust that it "made the earlier (unjust) regime look like a golden age."

    Bob focused on injustice by the media, but I think the analogy goes to the government as well. That's one reason why I'm a conservative. I think we should try not to give an unjust government even more power.

  2. David, at the heart of Plato's circumstances was that good people were having trouble replacing democratic government with their own values. It was not that government is inherently bad or wrong and must be curtailed.

    I am not a conservative because the conservative party is engaged in destructive actions that harm people trying to succeed in their daily lives. I am not a conservative because the conservatives support deregulation of financial markets that permit greedy individuals to prey on everyone else. I am not a conservative because conservatives value money more than people and because they are socially backward, intolerant and hypocritical in their social concerns. I am not a conservative because conservatives do not value truth but rather value winning and doing anything and everything they can to win, regardless of justice or truth. Anything our current government is doing that is wrong or unjust was done by conservatives when they were in office. These things happen not because of government but because of lack of restraint and oversight, by various bodies, including some within the government (like courts, congress, whistleblowers and regulatory bodies) and some outside the government (a fully functioning press, public interest organizations, transparency and public hearings and active citizen participation in governing).

    Bob's point is not that the media are unjust but rather that they are self-serving, corrupted by money and access to social status, bought and paid for by moneyed interests and promoting only approved narratives instead of discovering and presenting facts, as objectively as possible, to an interested and educated public. Bob participated in public education because it is a cornerstone of a functional democracy. Many of us who teach do so for similar reasons. We do not believe that joining the party most closely aligned with the interests subverting our system will result in an improvement, as you suggest.

    1. Well said, Anon@3:05. As clear and concise description of a social and political liberal as I have ever heard.

    2. Good to know, Anon, that Bob does not define tribalism as an intransigent belief in one's own virtue, but as a selling out to conservative principles. Those principles being irredeemably corrupt to their core.

      Thanks for clearing that up. Otherwise, we might have thought his approach to be more nuanced in its understanding of human nature, and more transcendent as to it's scope.

  3. Outstanding post.

  4. Shorter TDH: If you're young and liberal and on TV, especially if you're a female, Get Off My Lawn, Kid!

    1. Well, you left out the part about being incompetent and the part about being a bullshitter.

      Better UL Shorter TDH: If you're young and liberal and a bullshitter and incompetent and on TV, especially if you're a female, Get Off My Lawn, Kid!

      But nah, even that's just more crap, leg end. Because we've all seen that Somerby's not sparing on the older and the male.

      You are a whiny little child yourself. Why not go to the kids table now and leave the adults alone to talk?

  5. Bob - just from this short snippet of Lee's translation of Seventh it's clear it's the best (one gets the sense from it that it's written by a man at the height of his powers being persuasive, not as someone delighting in rococo archaic language that translators often place in his, and others, mouths).

    What book of Lee's does it appear in? Wiki doesn't list it as a separate pub.