I was really struck this summer, when listening to Bill Clinton’s speech on behalf of Hillary at the DNC, with a parallel to Plato’s Apology about Socrates’ trial in 399 BC. After listing his wife’s many accomplishments, Bill says the following:
CLINTON: Now, how does this square? How did this square with the things that you heard at the Republican convention? What’s the difference in what I told you and what they said? How do you square it? You can’t. One is real, the other is made up.You just have to decide. You just have to decide which is which, my fellow Americans.The real one had done more positive change-making before she was 30 than many public officials do in a lifetime in office.(APPLAUSE)The real one, if you saw her friend Betsy Ebeling vote for Illinois today…(APPLAUSE)…has friends from childhood through Arkansas, where she has not lived in more than 20 years, who have gone all across America at their own expense to fight for the person they know.(APPLAUSE)The real one has earned the loyalty, the respect and the fervent support of people who have worked with her in every stage of her life, including leaders around the world who know her to be able, straightforward and completely trustworthy.The real one calls you when you’re sick, when your kid’s in trouble or when there’s a death in the family.The real one repeatedly drew praise from prominent Republicans when she was a senator and secretary of state.(APPLAUSE)So what’s up with it? Well, if you win elections on the theory that government is always bad and will mess up a two-car parade…(LAUGHTER)…a real change-maker represents a real threat.(APPLAUSE)So your only option is to create a cartoon, a cartoon alternative, then run against the cartoon. Cartoons are two- dimensional, they’re easy to absorb. Life in the real world is complicated and real change is hard. And a lot of people even think it’s boring.(APPLAUSE)Good for you, because earlier today you nominated the real one.
What reminded me of Plato’s Apology here was the passage below, where Socrates speaks about the “trial by media” to which he had already been subjected (he speaks particularly of the “Socrates” who is the subject of Aristophanes’ comedy, The Clouds).
For I have had many accusers who accused me of old, and their false charges have continued during many years; and I am more afraid of them than of Anytus and his associates, who are dangerous, too, in their own way. But far more dangerous are these, who began when you were children, and took possession of your minds with their falsehoods, telling of one Socrates, a wise man, who speculated about the heaven above, and searched into the earth beneath, and made the worse appear the better cause. These are the accusers whom I dread; for they are the circulators of this rumor, and their hearers are too apt to fancy that speculators of this sort do not believe in the gods. And they are many, and their charges against me are of ancient date, and they made them in days when you were impressible – in childhood, or perhaps in youth – and the cause when heard went by default, for there was none to answer. And, hardest of all, their names I do not know and cannot tell; unless in the chance of a comic poet. But the main body of these slanderers who from envy and malice have wrought upon you – and there are some of them who are convinced themselves, and impart their convictions to others – all these, I say, are most difficult to deal with; for I cannot have them up here, and examine them, and therefore I must simply fight with shadows in my own defence, and examine when there is no one who answers.