In the closing scene of Nineteen Eighty-Four, Winston Smith, the apostate apparatchik, finally re-embraces the system that has destroyed him as a human being and is about to put a bullet into his brain.

He gazed up at the enormous face. Forty years it had taken him to learn what kind of smile was hidden beneath the dark moustache. O cruel, needless misunderstanding! O stubborn, self-willed exile from the loving breast! Two gin-scented tears trickled down the sides of his nose. But it was all right, everything was all right, the struggle was finished. He had won the victory over himself. He loved Big Brother.

That scene echoes the earlier enhanced interrogation torture scenes, in which the torturer O’Brien tells Smith that it’s not enough for him to embrace the Party’s viewpoint verbally: he needs to feel it in his very gut.

Like Arthur Koestler’s Darkness at Noon, Orwell’s novel is partly a reflection on the Moscow Trials, where Old Bolsheviks confessed to completely implausible crimes. Koestler and Orwell understood that the mark of totalitarianism is the desire to achieve not merely acquiescence but soul-surrender from those with differing views.

Tim Pawlenty, having noticed (back when he had to win elections in Minnesota) that global warming was real, embraced one of the two market-oriented approaches to dealing with it. He chose cap-and-trade; the alternative is taxation. Now that he has to win Tea Party-dominated Republican primaries, he needs to back off. But it’s not enough for him to say that global warming is real but that raising energy prices would be economically destructive. He has to say that global warming is not real, and apologize for ever having believed the truth.

I have no particular reason to think that Tim Pawlenty was ever a self-respecting human being, but this sort of formal self-degradation is enough to make you sick to your stomach.

As Winston Smith writes in his diary during his brief moment of intellectual self-respect, “Freedom is the right to say that two plus two equals four.” The whole wingnut enterprise is devoted to saying that two plus two is whatever Rupert Murdoch and the RNC say it is, and that whoever says otherwise is a socialist and probably a terrorist sympathizer.
In the words of an earlier victim of an older tyranny, Eppur, si muove. Isn’t it sad how few of our politicians can truly make Olaf’s boast?

Note: Naturally, “objective” political journalism asks only whether his crawling will be enough to satisfy his audience, not whether his new position fits with reality. The comparison to John Edwards on the Iraq War is utterly inapposite; subsequent events had demonstrated the the Iraq War was a mistake, while all the new data just shows that global warming is not only real but is happening more rapidly than previously feared.

[Cross-posted at Same Facts]

Mark Kleiman

Mark Kleiman is a professor of public policy at the New York University Marron Institute.