Precision in our name-calling

Many people think that politics is too dirty and angry and name-call-y to get involved in. But I admit it, I sort of enjoy the fight. I like seeing the pieces of people’s brains that only come out when they care – I want them to admit to me the worldview that influences their voting and I want to discuss it.

Now this isn’t an excuse to get all stabby about it, but a little disagreement never hurt anybody. However, when we discuss something of value or importance, I think it’s important to be precise in our language.

Unlike Troy. But he manages to be lovable anyway.

“I use comparisons about Hitler to win arguments on the Internet!” – Confessions of Troy Barnes

For this reason, I’m glad we have brilliant people like Thomas Sowell who are willing to step into the fray with clarity, logic and honesty, calling out all sides for their inconsistencies and illogical, imprecise leaps of hyperbole.

Just because Newt Gingrich (and Sarah Palin and countless other conservative heroes) have called Barack Obama a socialist doesn’t make them right. Just because they get applause for it doesn’t mean that those of us duking it out on Facebook shouldn’t be more cautious with our language.

Here’s what Sowell says:

“It bothers me a little when conservatives call Barack Obama a “socialist.” He certainly is an enemy of the free market, and wants politicians and bureaucrats to make the fundamental decisions about the economy. But that does not mean that he wants government ownership of the means of production, which has long been a standard definition of socialism.

What President Obama has been pushing for, and moving toward, is more insidious: government control of the economy, while leaving ownership in private hands. That way, politicians get to call the shots but, when their bright ideas lead to disaster, they can always blame those who own businesses in the private sector.

Politically, it is heads-I-win when things go right, and tails-you-lose when things go wrong. This is far preferable, from Obama’s point of view, since it gives him a variety of scapegoats for all his failed policies, without having to use President Bush as a scapegoat all the time.

Government ownership of the means of production means that politicians also own the consequences of their policies, and have to face responsibility when those consequences are disastrous — something that Barack Obama avoids like the plague.

Thus the Obama administration can arbitrarily force insurance companies to cover the children of their customers until the children are 26 years old. Obviously, this creates favorable publicity for President Obama. But if this and other government edicts cause insurance premiums to rise, then that is something that can be blamed on the “greed” of the insurance companies.”

I like this argument. It creates a reasonable, precise place from which to start a debate – to agree that perhaps Obama is a statist, or even a corporatist, or maybe a variety of fascist – but not a socialist. And socialism is not even what I want to fight about – what I oppose is the idea that government can force its way into my personal decisions, my business decisions, my medical decisions, my family decisions. That somehow an elected (or unelected, as soon as one gets a position in government one is sponged of all human error) official is more thoughtful, generous, intelligent, well-meaning and business-savvy than anyone in the private sector.

I bet most people who’s hackles would raise if I called Obama a socialist might even agree with me on my core issue. Luckily, he’s not really a socialist, so my political fights from here on out are basically won.

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About wranglerdani

I love: Kayaking, sunsets, Hudson jeans, horses, long car rides, grammatically correct e-mails, Heineken, good cigars, quad-shot lattes, engaging story-tellers, Diet Coke, sunflowers, the color green, mountain mornings and long walks.

6 thoughts on “Precision in our name-calling

  1. I like the way you put this: “I want to see the bits of people’s brains that come out when they care.” I do too. It’s not easy to care in an environment of cynicism; and that’s one thing I’m really appreciating about this particular online community. Keep at it Corner Booth! Bits of brains all over the place!
    I sort of want what you said too: freedom from government’s involvement in my personal decisions, religious, medical, family, etc. But I’m not convinced that is really possible. I’m not sure.
    Here’s a decision that I think of as personal: how I get my food. I don’t want gov’t stepping into that. I get to explore and make concrete some of my core values in that decision. It affects my health, my happiness (sour gummy candy makes me really happy), my future, and the community around me. But is it really an isolated, personal decision? That is would I really be able to choose if it weren’t for our government making a bunch of choices and enforcing them for us?
    Maybe I’m making a straw man here, but, picture our government extricating itself from all food / agricultural policy. No rules about farming practices that might make a lot of cash for 30-50 years but decimate the soil for centuries to come. No enforcement of food labeling. No judicial examination of the ethics of biological engineering. No protection of subsistence communities in other countries from huge companies coming in and buying their land and producing one crop on it.
    I don’t know. In fact, government involvement in agriculture since WWII (so I’ve read) has been pretty destructive. Our policy choices have helped create an extremely productive, and extremely unnatural food producing machine. Hectares of single crops which have to be dusted with pesticides and petroleum based fertilizers. Cows loaded with antibiotics because their immune systems can’t fight disease in the conditions they find themselves.

    • I agree it’s a tricky balance, and I’m not sure how to be sure that a removal of a regulation or impediment will actually help vs. hurt.

      However, I think we’ve arrived at a place in modern American life where, by and large, we expect government to “fix it”. To protect us without us having to use our brains, to pay for us when we buy something we shouldn’t, to keep the bumpers up on the lanes and insure that a good time is had by all.

      Unfortunately, that doesn’t really work – as seen by the long list of unintended consequences created by government bureaucracies. I think at some point we have to let go of our fear and realize that private citizens (the farmer who grows crops or cows, the woman who bakes pies, the maker of your gummy candy) don’t want to hurt people. They have no desire to kill their customers, and, while they do want to make a profit, they can’t when the government is raiding their farm or their kitchen every five minutes to keep them in line with some obscure regulation. Just in the area of food I think that we could self-regulate much better than the blunt instrument of government.

  2. I don’t understand the vast majority of the political realm because I so rarely pay attention to it. This has been a useful post in calling out those who do pay attention and do know what they’re talking about to use rhetoric which actually makes sense. Hopefully with more people talking about what they actually mean rather than slapping broad labels on everything under the sun I won’t have to wade through so much filler before I can find out what a candidate is all about. I think that would drastically improve my interest in learning about the machinations of politics.

    Also I secretly wish there was just an evil empire over us so I could have an excuse to fight back… Han Solo style.

  3. Pingback: Being Obese is Bad. Should it be Illegal? « The Corner Booth

  4. Additionally, there’s a good essay by George Orwell on the topic of language and politics. Read it here: http://gutenberg.net.au/ebooks03/0300011h.html#part42.
    He believes vague and dull language leads to careless thought. Such language is often used to hide painful facts or indefensible moral arguments.
    Here he is: “Political language-and with variations this is true of all political parties, from Conservatives to Anarchists–is designed to make lies sound truthful and murder respectable, and to give an appearance of solidity to pure wind.”
    I think he’s spot on.

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