April 8, 2011
The Democrats' Shameful RhetoricBy Jeffrey Folks
There are many ways to refute an argument. The proper way to do so is with ideas, with rational argument, and with facts. If you are considering a reduction of the federal budget by $61 billion, don't resort to scare tactics. Check out what happened the last time budgets were cut toward the end of a recession -- for example, during the early years of the Reagan administration. In that case, budgetary restraint preceded two decades of unprecedented economic expansion.
It's also reasonable to make deductions from fundamental principles. Conservatives who believe in the right of self-defense have truth on their side. Instinctively, every human being knows that one has the right to self-defense when attacked. From that truth one can deduce that one has a right as well to the means of self-defense.
For the left in recent years, none of these legitimate forms of argument have been an option. This is because the left is fundamentally lacking in ideas. The "truths" that the left relies on are intellectually specious. These fraudulent ideas include the notion that all human beings have a right to an equal share of society's wealth; that government exists to control the lives of its citizens and to redistribute wealth; and that these principles are universal and so must involve the redistribution of wealth from rich nations to poor ones.
None of these truths are self-evident to anyone except ideologues on the left. Most human beings immediately recognize that egalitarianism and centralized state control are bad ideas. For this reason, it is impossible for Marxists to engage in rational argument based on ideas: they resort instead to crude forms of abuse.
When Bill Clinton turned to the audience in his 1992 town-hall debate with George H. W. Bush and mockingly said, "He just doesn't get it," that was not a form of rational debate. It was mockery. Exactly what was meant by Clinton's statement is unclear. What, exactly, was it that Bush did not get? Clinton either could not or would not say. But the sneering derision of his remark gained him points, at least with the Democratic base. They too were convinced that George Bush, Sr. did not get it.
Mockery has always been a staple of playground disputation. If you can't beat your opponent with ideas, mock him. That particular technique has been a staple of leftist rhetoric as well for the last 20 years. It was popular not just with Bill and Hillary Clinton but with the young staffers who accompanied them to the White House, and it's just as popular today.
The latest wrinkle in this disgraceful history of rhetorical abuse is Obama's practice of labeling his opponents "children." Directing his remarks especially to Speaker Boehner, the President implored Congress to "act like grown-ups."
"We don't have time for games," said the President, even as he rejected the GOP proposals out of hand. This from the man who has increased the national debt by $4.5 trillion.
Pretending that he is the adult in the matter and that Congress is a kindergarten full of screaming brats (but that only the Republicans are at fault) may seem like a good tactic to those directing Obama's reelection effort. But it does nothing to lead the discussion in a useful direction. Like all forms of derision, it is a way to avoid discussion altogether. It is the President's way of saying he has no intention of advancing any kind of ideas on the budget. As Obama made clear in his 2012 budget proposal, his idea is to raise the national debt to $41 trillion by 2030, thus putting us in the same position as Greece, Ireland, and Portugal, but with no one to bail us out.
Obama may think that calling the opposition "children" is a good way to remain above the fray, but this irresponsible ploy doesn't do the country any good. It's the same thing as calling the tea party "extremists," as Sen. Chuck Schumer did last week (or suggesting they were fascists as Nancy Pelosi was doing a year ago). Likewise, labeling your opponent the "Party of No" says nothing about your own party and its agenda.
Again, that is because Democrats don't want to talk about their agenda. How can you come out and say, "We want to create a socialist welfare state in America" or "We want to raise taxes to the point that the economy stagnates and American businesses are driven overseas"? How about, "We want to turn the country over to union bosses who will run every company into bankruptcy the way they did GM and Chrysler"? Those aren't exactly ideas to campaign on. That's why all the Democrats have left is mockery.
The rhetoric of derision is already filling the airwaves in response to Paul Ryan's thoughtful "Path to Prosperity" budget proposal. Repeating the comments of USAID administrator Rajiv Shah, Sen. Barbara Mikulski of Maryland denounced the Ryan budget proposal as a killer of children and an assault on the elderly to boot. That argument is a version of the playground staple, "I'm not stupid, you are." ("I don't starve kids and kick the elderly out of their homes, you do!")
Most conservatives don't resort to this sort of rhetoric for the reason that they have not had to. Conservative thinking proceeds from a clear and undeniable truth: the truth that all human beings have a right "to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness."
Because conservative thought never departs from this fundamental truth, it is never lacking in strong ideas. The idea that citizens have a right to live as they wish, and speak as they wish, without the interference of government is a truth that cannot be refuted. The notion that those who labor should be allowed to keep their income and spend it as they wish is a compelling idea. The idea that if we are to live in peace, we must be willing to defend ourselves against our enemies in undeniable.
Armed with these ideas, conservatives will win in every free and open debate. The left will continue to mock and deride every reform that conservatives propose, but they will only convince those who have a vested interest in seeing socialism prevail. As for conservatives, it is enough to know that "life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness" is on our side. That phrase beats mockery and derision every time.
Jeffrey Folks is the author of many books and article on American culture.