To call the hysterically exaggerated, paranoid rantings of some talk radio personalities and conservative bloggers “whining,” as David Frum does in a series of now 4 articles on conservative despair, is being generous. These overwrought ninnies are the flip side of lefty loons who spouted about Bush turning the US into a Nazi state.
I wrote dozens (perhaps hundreds) of posts about this culture of hysteria on the left during the Bush years with many on the right wholeheartedly agreeing with me. I posed the question more than once, “If I really believed the country was descending into a fascist dictatorship, don’t you think that most of us on the right would be the first on the front lines to combat this evil?” Perhaps it’s time to turn that question around and ask if our freedoms really are being lost, what are you doing sitting at home writing spittle flecked rants about the dangers of dictatorship rather than taking your rifle and going out to battle this scourge?
So once again, I take my rationalist pen in hand and attempt to inject some reason into critiques of the Obama administration and debunk the hysterics who speak of the Republic as if it were in the past tense - or headed there full speed ahead.
Positing the notion that we are marching toward a socialist dictatorship or are losing our freedoms under Obama is just not supported by the facts. And Frum wrote in his second “Whine” post exactly what I have been writing and thinking since Obama took office:
The extremity of conservative pessimism attacks the foundational rules of the American political game. Since 1865, the United States has enjoyed amazing political stability. Americans have achieved this stability via tried and tested rules of the road, including the unquestioning acceptance of election results, an acknowledgement of the basic good faith of the other political party, and an absolute acceptance that people of all points of view are committed to the shared constitutional system.
If I lived in a country in imminent danger of a Bolshevik or Fascist seizure of power, I’d be a cowardly fool if I failed to use every means to prevent it, including violence if need be. If it were true that our political opponents wanted to impose tyranny on the United States – if (as Rush Limbaugh said the other day) a vote for the other party was a vote for “totalitarianism, dungeons, and torture,” then what patriot could possibly abide a political defeat?
Happily, none of those things are true. As wrong and harmful as the Obama administration’s plans are, the administration is playing by the rules of the game. To agitate people into thinking otherwise is to corrode the foundations of the American constitutional regime.
It is also to act and look like sore losers. If America has been sliding gently but irresistibly into soft despotism, where were all the valiant defenders of liberty before November of 2008? Soft despotism begins to look less like a profound sociological trend, more like undulations of the sine curve: It’s despotism when we lose, freedom when we win. We should have more confidence in the people and the country than this. We should also have more charity to our political opponents – who after all are contending with hideous problems bequeathed to them by … by … well suddenly we Republicans cannot seem to remember who preceded Barack Obama in office.
Frum is picking on Mark Levin whose book Liberty and Tyranny has sold 900,000 copies. Levin had a few choice words in reply but frankly, the Great One should know better. Frum’s point about conservatives being relatively sanguine when Bush passed the prescription drug bill, as well as No Child Left Behind is spot on. Sure, there was some grumbling and name calling, but Levin and other pop conservatives never spoke in apocalyptic tones about the massive intrusion of the government into the education of our children nor did many righties see the expansion of Medicare as the forerunner to today’s attempt to take over the health insurance industry.
This is what I’ve been trying to get across to those few conservatives who read this blog and are open to argument. Barack Obama is not a communist, or a socialist, or a fascist, or an anarchist. He is a child of the New Left, and most if not all of his agenda reflects ideas and programs that have been floating around liberal salons, think tanks, and symposiums for nearly 40 years, if not longer.
These ideas weren’t socialist then and they aren’t socialist now. Taking over the auto industry to save the jobs of his union supporters is stupid economics, not a slippery slope to communism. Buying preferred stock in big banks is government strong arming, not the end of capitalism in America. Spending and taxing us until we are a second rate economic power is bad governance, not the prelude to an attempt by Obama to destroy the country in order to set up a dictatorship.
I refuse to accept the liberal critique that this kind of opposition to Obama is largely race-based. That’s absurd on its face. Surely there is a small minority who harbor hate for Obama’s skin color, but this kind of paranoia and hysteria about Obama’s agenda is being fed by the need of many to be part of a great drama where our heroes on the right must save the Republic from its enemies. In short, the Levins, Limbaughs, and the rest of the pop conservative brigade who are standing up and screaming “Fire” in a crowded theater because some idiot lit a cigarette, are turning their listeners into a bunch of 11 year old drama queens.
It’s not enough that our political opponents have ideas that are wrong headed, illogical, resistant to reason, and profligate with the people’s money. These ideas must be evil, insidious, and transcendentally malignant - all the better so that the self-appointed watchdogs of democracy can ride to the rescue and save us from the Evil Lord.
It is, at bottom, an adolescent critique of the Obama administration because, as Frum points out, it substitutes emotion for reason, hyperbole for measured responses, and wildly accusatory rhetoric for a pragmatic approach to combating bad ideas.
Politics is not an exercise in self-expression. It’s an exercise in persuasion. The targets of that persuasion are not the already persuaded but the as yet unpersuaded. It is their concerns that need to be understand, their questions answered, their values appealed to. Harry and Louise did not denounce Clintoncare as fascism. They explained how it would harm the people it purported to help, and they made their case in calm commonsense terms and tone.
In today’s debate, conservatives could show that a public option will invite private employers to end their coverage and dump their employees into the government plan. Americans are practical people, and they’ll respond to practical sense. Because Americans start with a bias in favor of free enterprise, they’ll respond especially well to sensible conservative arguments. But if we elevate everything to an immediate 11 on the Spinal Tap sound amplifier, we’ll lose, and not just elections, but the deepest values we are trying to defend via elections.
In this year 2009, it often seems that liberals offer policies and conservatives offer emotions. True, the liberals offer bad policies and conservatives offer understandable or anyway pardonable emotions. Rick Santelli expressed something real and true in his famous CNBC outburst.
I think Frum is a little harsh with Levin, whose book - what I’ve read of it - is much more than a dark, emotional screed against Obama. There is an elegant defense of the free market as well as a passionate portrayal of conservatism as the antidote to Obama’s government overreach. But Levin can’t leave it at that and be successful. Talk radio is all about eliciting an emotional response from the listener, and urging conservatives to counter Obama with reason and pragmatism rather than gut busting anger and hyperbolic fear mongering cannot be done and still remain atop the talk radio ziggurat.
If I seem a little harsh with some of my fellow conservatives who see Gorgons and dragons behind every tree in Washington it is because the perception is gaining ground - fed by a media eager to falsely portray all conservatives as unbalanced weirdos - that we can’t be trusted to run the country because we are too angry, too emotional to govern dispassionately. I know that a majority of conservatives are not into the kind of over the top nuttiness exhibited by many on the right. This moronic cacophony is especially prevelant on the web where these memes are endlessly recycled and regurgitated in a kind of perverse feed back loop. It has become a contest to see which blogger or commenter can outdo the last one in spouting a riot of nonsense about Obama’s dark plans to cancel elections, round up opponents, even turn the country over to the Muslims.
Obama Derangement Syndrome is well established now. It is up to those conservatives who are more interested in returning to power than in despairing over how the United States has become a socialist country, to rationally critique the abominable policies of this administration, and regain the high ground in the debate.
Otherwise, we will continue to wander in a dark, depressing wilderness - one of our own making.