The Big(ger) Lie

He wanted to be the hero.

That is, I believe, the most logical explanation for Brian Williams’ deviation from the truth over the last twelve years. How else to comprehend it? Certainly, Williams’ own excuse — that after years of recounting a story about a shot-up Chinook helicopter, he “conflated” the accounts he had heard that day in Iraq with his own, far-less-eventful experience — doesn’t pass the smell test. While it is not unthinkable that an individual, particularly one unaccustomed to the unique terrors of life in a war zone, could misremember events initially perceived under duress, the fact that Williams placed himself on the correct helicopter for years during subsequent retellings, before eventually putting himself in the path of oncoming RPG-fire, thoroughly discredits his on-air apology. Far more likely is this scenario: a man, a celebrity, generally respected for his talents as a news anchor and well-regarded for a sense of humor uncommon amongst members of his field, decided he wanted more. Perhaps, he wanted more fame; more celebrity; more accolades. Perhaps he was responding to the childlike impulse within us all, the one that never quite stops dreaming of snaring robbers like Spider-Man, or leaping into the chopper like Arnold as the bad guy blows up behind you. Or maybe, it was a darker amalgamation of the two. Maybe Brian Williams was not content with his own station in life, not fully happy with his role as the megawatt smile and perfectly-coiffed head of hair adept at reading a Tel-A-Prompter. Maybe he felt dwarfed, inadequate, when surrounded by the true heroes he encountered — the helicopter pilot skillfully landing under incoming assault, the soldiers who surrounded and protected him while he slept in the desert of Iraq, or the police officer who supposedly saved his life in a stairwell during Hurricane Katrina — and desired to place himself amongst them, so as to elevate his own sense of self. Whatever the reason, whatever impulse drove his decision to distort the truth, what you have is a man who presented himself as heroic, who offered himself up, however passively, as courageous and brave, and yet has not lived the life of action needed to earn those adjectives. In many ways, then, Brian Williams is emblematic of the modern liberal.

We are now six years into the serial scolding lecture that is the Obama presidency, and if the White House’s current occupant has made one thing clear, it’s that he knows better than the rest of us. His fellow progressives know better than us retrograde conservatives as well. And not only do they know better — they don’t object to science, you see — but they’re better people. They’re the ones with compassion, the ones who care about the poor and the downtrodden, the ones who champion human rights the world over. Gay rights, women’s rights, minority rights: the modern liberal feels compassion for his fellow global citizens, whether they reside in a poor neighborhood in Missouri or a poor village in Nigeria. And by the virtue of his empathy and his words of support, he is heroic, “fighting” for equality, “defending” the weak.

And yet, he’s not; because as Brian Williams has learned over the past week, words bereft of action do not the hero make. True heroism is the difference between, “Someone needs to do something about the guys who hit us on 9/11” and “I enlisted today.” It’s the difference between reporting from a war zone and ducking for cover when the guns start firing, and living in a war zone and moving towards the enemy firing those guns. And it is most definitely the difference between “condemning” or “not condoning” brutality the world over and actually taking serious action to stop it. Our president is certainly not the only world leader to speak loudly and carry no stick — the West is sorely lacking anyone remotely approaching a modern day TR or Churchill — but as the commander-in-chief of the world’s most powerful military, and the head of its lone superpower, his failure to lead is glaring.

Glaring, but not surprising. Barack Obama’s presidency has simply revealed once more the fatal weakness of modern liberalism: it has no answer for true evil. Life is a laboratory experiment, where all of the components have been rigged in favor of the scientists. Anything that might alter the final result is simply ignored. Evil is excused or not named. The “bad guys” become those who will not fight back, or will only do so weakly. And the world’s problems become those that can be ameliorated with incessant negotiations, or higher taxes and more spending. So it is with radical Islam. Per the Obama administration, radical Islam is not Islamic. Those who participate in terrorist acts are simply “extremists” without ideology; if there is no ideology, and the actions of America’s enemies are random, then there is nothing to confront. The enemy becomes the easiest targets: Republicans or American citizens who will conform to Marquess of Queensbury rules, and can thus be safely steamrolled as “Islamophobes.” The main threat to national security becomes climate change, which requires no courage but lots of government control. The liberal can then proclaim himself the hero while having done nothing at all.

The progressive can proclaim himself the champion of human rights while human rights are ignored the world over. Look around the globe today and you will see a world in flames, where tyrants and terrorists have consigned millions of innocents to lives of fear, devoid of hope. Over the last year, ISIS has beheaded journalists on camera, forced women and children into slavery, and thrown gay men off of rooftops. Last week, they presented the world with slickly-shot footage of a man being burned alive, crumbling to the ground in agony as his flesh melted away in his final moments. Boko Haram notoriously kidnapped 200 girls from a village in Nigeria, and reportedly massacred 2,000 Christians last month. The Taliban executed over 100 children in a school last year. Libya and Yemen have been overrun by jihadists, Iran represses its citizens as it moves inexorably towards a nuclear weapon and Bashar Assad retains power in Syria.

Women, gays, blacks, Muslims, young liberals. These are all groups that Obama and his supporters claim to defend, claim to champion. All of them have suffered greatly under his stewardship. How has he responded? How has the left as a whole responded? With minimal airstrikes that have accomplished little against ISIS. With a Twitter campaign against Boko Haram. By pulling out of Afghanistan. And by making every effort to placate a murderous regime in Tehran in hopes of reaching some — any — kind of an accord.

Watch the video of Moaz al-Kasasbah being burned alive and you will see something beyond sheer brutality: it is a challenge to the West. It is ISIS claiming that it can do what it wants without fear of recrimination. All throughout the world, similar challenges are being issued by men and women who are willing to die, happily, for their beliefs. To face, and ultimately defeat, such evil requires courage and true heroism. It means calling it out by name, defining what is moral and just and taking action against those who would violate those terms. What we have instead is a president who refuses to identify an evil ideology; a president who takes the type of military action he believes will appease his voting base, rather than the type that is necessary; a president who speaks of red lines, but then demurs when they are crossed; and a president who condemns an ally in Israel, but looks the other way while Iran and its proxies in Hezbollah and in Damascus commit atrocities. President Obama likes to portray himself as the hero of the oppressed, but his actions have not backed up his rhetoric. The nation is right to be upset with Brian Williams and his phony valor. It should be outraged by similar behavior from the supposed leader of the free world.