Archive for the ‘rhetoric’ Category

The GOP’s love affair with gay folks; or, why libertarians fail

February 13, 2011 1 comment

While CPAC splintered over whether homosexuals and/or Dick Cheney should have a place to speak, “conservative gay group” GOProud hosted a fun party with pseudojournalist Andrew Breitbart and inebriated singer Sophie B. Hawkins. A really happy dude from Reason, the ostensibly libertarian but now GOP-leaning magazine, was there with a microphone to talk with Breitbart, Hawkins, former GOP honcho Michael Steele (sadly, not the Michael Steele from the Bangles) and a few others:

The message: “See! We’re just as cool and tolerant as liberals! People just have negative stereotypes of us!”

Some of the interviewees were sincere and obviously pleased that it’s easier to be gay and Republican these days. To go from being technically outlawed by ancient sodomy laws to being accepted by at least part of both major political parties is indeed remarkable.

But before libertarian-minded conservatives go overboard with the self-congratulation, they might want to ask a few questions:

1. Does this grand party of tolerance extend to Muslims? Looking your direction, Mr. Breitbart.

2. If gay workers face workplace discrimination, can the government step in and help, or would that be left for the free market to decide?

3. If everyone is so wrongly painting political groups with a broad brush, can someone explain why Sophie B. Hawkins and the interviewer are griping about some unnamed people who would want to take the guns out of the home of her neighbor, who is presumably law-abiding and sane? Are we not allowed, even under this great tent of tolerance, to discuss gun laws that might prevent a repeat of Virginia Tech or Tucson without yanking every lawfully registered gun out of everyone’s hands?

4. Do the Democrats get any credit for decades of unpopular arguments that helped the folks in the bar walk around and proclaim themselves to be gay without fear of recrimination?

5. Did the person trumpeting gay rights as the greatest civil rights crusade of our time ever walk in anyone else’s shoes?

And the last one really gets to the problem. What we’re seeing here is a gangplank mentality. Hey, the GOP let us in, at least at this nice social gathering in a Northeastern white-collar town, so we’re all good after years of being victimized. The fact that so many people in this room make their living by slandering scientists, independent economists and Europe … well, that’s not a problem.

What grates most in this video is the parade of people playing the victim card — not for being gay, but for being “conservative,” as if that’s the same thing. We’ve learned over the passing decades that homosexuality is simply reality for some people, same as having brown skin or big hands. Being “conservative,” parental and societal influences aside, is mostly a choice. At the very least, one’s political beliefs could be — should be — easily swayed by reason.

The people in this video are tone-deaf to the realities that (A) other people of many persuasions face discrimination and (B) being accepted at a GOProud party doesn’t mean everything is fine and dandy in the party to which they’ve pledged allegiance. They think they’re being oppressed by vague forces of anti-conservative prejudice while they party with a guy who’ll stop at nothing to smear “liberals” who fought for the freedoms they’re currently enjoying.

But to cite a more modern take on the “gangplank mentality,” these guys are in the “IGMFY” school. I got mine … you can guess the rest.

And this is why libertarians, even when they’re taking laudable stands for social liberty, fail to win over us utilitarians.


A brief response on accusations of socialism

January 26, 2011 1 comment

Last night, Rep. Paul Broun (Ga.) tweeted the following: “Mr. President, you don’t believe in the Constitution. You believe in socialism.”

The responses have been amusing. But I think Mandy Patinkin put it best in this scene:

Quick reminder: Name-calling, particularly inaccurate name-calling, is not a utilitarian value.

What’s our responsibility in confronting evil and ignorance?

January 12, 2011 Leave a comment

Jon Stewart has responded brilliantly to the Tucson shooting and its aftermath, warning us against finding an easy scapegoat but hoping we will stop treating political adversaries as enemies. If you’re not among the 500K plus who have seen the clip from the official site or the couple million more who have seen it elsewhere, take a look:

The Daily Show With Jon Stewart Mon – Thurs 11p / 10c
Arizona Shootings Reaction
Daily Show Full Episodes Political Humor & Satire Blog The Daily Show on Facebook

The follow-up question: How can we react to clear ignorance and knee-jerk hostility with something other than hostility of our own?

It’s a question common to theology and philosophy. Jesus tells us to speak up, yet he tells us to remove the beam from our own eye before telling someone else about the speck in his.

In one of my church-going phases, I heard a sermon in which the priest started to talk about “witnessing.” I nearly rolled my eyes, associating “witnessing” with a gaggle of naive high school kids singing, “If you’re saved and you know it, clap your hands!” and thinking they’re going to win subway riders over to evangelical Christianity. But she changed my perception in a hurry. The sermon took place near Martin Luther King’s birthday, and she described MLK’s life as one of witnessing. That, I could accept. He chose to confront injustice with nonviolence. He succeeded so wildly that all manner of political ideologues look up to him. Irony aside, that’s rather impressive.

We’re confronted daily by willful ignorance. Some people have rationalized it as a means to an end, thinking it’s OK to use a few half-truths and distortions to stir up the masses for their great cause. Some can’t or won’t think outside of what they find comfortable.

Coincidentally, I’ve been collecting a few examples of reckless distortions in the hopes of eventually finding the time to post here. Pardon the link dump, and skip ahead if you like:

– The government may force you to eat your vegetables!

– As Republicans continue to dig in their heels against scientific consensus on evolution (see Delaware) and climate change (see everywhere), fewer and fewer scientists are identifying themselves as Republican. It’s one thing to go against academic trends in areas in which reasonable people can disagree; it’s another to go through an extraordinary divorce between a political party and the realm of objective research.

– Republican-leaning states continue to benefit from government largesse while denouncing it.

– In the wake of the shootings, Facebook was deluged with posts suggesting that Sarah Palin’s “RELOAD” Tweet had been posted immediately after the incident. In fact, it was posted in March.

– Do you rent your apartment or house? Sorry, you shouldn’t vote.

– Bumper stickers decrying “socialism” (sorry, not even close), suggesting we ban the burqa to “avenge 9/11” or imploring us to “Honk If I Paid Your Mortgage!”

Perhaps we lack the capacity to discuss things from a rational point of view. A buzzworthy topic in December was a study suggesting our political views may be “hard-wired into our brain.” “Liberals” may have more of a chemical that makes them more receptive to new ideas. “Conservatives” may have larger amygdalas, rendering them more anxious and fearful by nature. We may have ways to confront this hard-wiring, but I’d imagine those with the “new idea” chemical would be more likely to try it than those being led around by their amygdalas.¬†Rush (not the radio guy but the band unfairly held up as Rand Paul spokespeople in Facebook ads) summed this up nicely:¬†“Ignorance and prejudice and fear walk hand in hand.” (Witch Hunt)

Another Rush quote is more optimistic: “Folks are basically decent, conventional wisdom would say. But we read about the exceptions in the papers every day.” (Second Nature)

In his brilliant speech on Tucson, Jon Stewart asked us to look into the lives of the “basically decent” people killed or wounded in the shooting. It’s easy to forget that, beneath the shouting that preoccupies several million people, we have a society that functions through basic decency. Some may call it “a thousand points of light,” some may call it an “invisible hand,” some may call it “anticapitalist.” None of those fit perfectly, but if it makes an ideologue feel better about things, so be it.

And Americans have demonstrated that they’re not going to follow a rigid ideologue off the cliff of ignorance. Willfully ignorant candidates in Nevada and Delaware likely cost the GOP the Senate. Polls show American voters, particularly educated voters, have resolved not to elect Sarah Palin in 2012.

But the decent folks who aren’t screaming at each other aren’t being heard. The people who watch cable punditry and listen to shoutfest radio may be a distinct minority of the population, but they’re getting the attention. Congress is representing the noisiest people, not the will of the people as a whole.

Given that, the natural reaction is to fight fire with fire. That would explain the skeptical reactions across the political spectrum to Stewart’s “Rally to Restore Sanity” and similar calls for calm after Tucson. MSNBC, having searched in vain for an identity after shedding the friendly techster-news niche in which it started, is now content to have left-wing pundits who say they’re fighting back against the right but not quite using the same fear-mongering tools. Salon mocked Michael Bloomberg’s call for an “ideology-free” opinion section.

Two problems with this approach. First, the left simply doesn’t do vitriol with the same enthusiasm and intensity as the right, mostly because the left is motivated by compassion and openness. That’s why Air America was doomed from the start.

Second, this is not a battle of left vs. right. This is intellectualism vs. ignorance. Progress vs. prejudice.

And the good news is that it can be an asymmetrical battleground. This blog said before Election Day that utilitarianism can be dented by popular vote but not defeated by it. GOP politicians aren’t winning over scientists who persist in looking at facts rather than rhetoric. Compassion exists almost everywhere. As another preacher once told me in the wake of the devastating tsunami a few years ago, if you’re wondering where God could be when such a tragedy happens, you’ll find God in the response from the rest of the world.

By all means, we should speak up. Sometimes utilitarians will need to confront ignorance directly — often, sadly, at the school board level. But we win those arguments because the facts are on our side. Not because we yell louder.

Martin Luther King, like six people who were unlucky enough to be present at the Safeway in Tucson, died at the hands of a madman. The Freedom Riders were beaten, sometimes with the implicit support of local law enforcement. And yet they won. May we be just as patient and brave.


Give me liberty or give me Democrats!

November 4, 2010 Leave a comment

No, the headline doesn’t make any sense, but neither does the topic.

On Election Day, I saw a Tea Party bumper sticker that said “Liberty lost is lost forever.” That puzzled me on so many levels. This blog’s namesake philosopher wrote the book on liberty. Literally — Mill wrote the book On Liberty. And it’s hard to picture him hanging out with the Tea Party.

First of all, history is full of instances of liberty being regained (some debatable, some not):

– France 1944-45, Nazis repelled

– England 1646: Cromwell overthrows the King

– England 1660: Monarchy restored, ending Cromwell family experiment

– Germany 1989: Fall of the Berlin Wall and the beginning of the end of the Iron Curtain, proof that liberty isn’t always restored with bloodshed.

– USA 1933: Prohibition repealed

That’s not a comprehensive list, of course, but it gives some idea of the diverse means and ends in which liberty is restored.

But of course, this begs the larger question: What “liberty” is so imperiled today? Health insurers’ freedom from regulation? Hard to see Patrick Henry taking his inspiration from that.

Yes, government spending has gone up over the past 10 years, thanks to two wars and various stimulus/bailout packages. And yet we’ve had tax cuts as part of the stimulus.

All that spending can make us worry about the deficit. But if you’re worried about “deficit,” say “deficit.” Otherwise, what you’re doing is the equivalent of complaining to your landlord about the heat when you really mean the water. And in most cases, the heat is not lost forever.

Categories: rhetoric Tags: , ,

Primary voters vs. reason and reality

September 15, 2010 Leave a comment

As a utilitarian blog, we’re all about happiness. Last night’s election results certainly made a lot of people happy. The Palin crowd was happy to get a few more primary wins, and partisan Democrats were happy that some of those general elections are now more likely to go blue in November.

But frankly, we’re not all that happy. We’re with WaPo columnist Ruth Marcus, who sees a scary side to these results.

In some respects, none of this is new. The American two-party system demands that candidates perform a slalom — out to the fringe in the primary, back to the center for the general election.

With yesterday’s results, though, we’re seeing the continuing trend of dumping out qualified politicians who offer anything other than knee-jerk opposition to … well, pretty much everything.

And the scariest part is that this group gleefully reinvents reality and preys on fear, as Esquire’s blog points out:

Maybe these folks are “happy” in the sense that they have a lot of camaraderie as they fight the imaginary demons of socialism. But it’s hard to imagine that their tactics would fit with the utilitarian ideal of greatest happiness for as many as possible. They seem quite intent on making those with whom they disagree as miserable as possible, going far beyond the political world to trash cherished institutions:

1. Intellectualism. Denying climate change and evolution are en vogue.

2. Tolerance. See how the argument over the Islamic center a couple of blocks from the World Trade Center site — erroneously called the “Ground Zero mosque” — evolves into lunacy.

3. Compassion. It’s one thing to argue that the government should back off and let Adam Smith’s “invisible hand” (though this concept has been overstated by mythmakers) bring us back to recovery. It’s another thing entirely to forget why Obama (and Bush) felt the need to ramp up government spending. They were trying to help. But in the eyes of D’Souza and company, their *goal* is to destroy America.

This is, quite simply, blind hate as a means to a political end. And that should make none of us happy.

The good news is that it’s easy to overstate the haters’ numbers. The truth is that not many people watch cable news. Not many voted in these primaries. And movements like the Tea Party include considerable numbers of reasonable people who would gladly shed their cohorts’ rhetoric if they could. We all know people who say they think Obama has overspent while distancing themselves from Glenn Beck.

But the hateful rhetoric has to be opposed somehow. And that’s something we’re going to explore in future posts.

Addendum: Some hateful conspiracy theories, of course, don’t fit today’s right-wing agenda. One that springs to mind is the concept that AIDS is some sort of government program against black people. These theories don’t draw as much press but must also be confronted from time to time.

Categories: politics, rhetoric