December 31, 2009
Obama's Game of False Choices
"Let me be clear," "Failure is not an option," and "I reject that false choice" appear to be three of Barack Obama's top phrases. They are the hallmarks of Obama-style rhetoric. Of the three, let's consider the Obama tactic of false choices.
From war to foreign policy to the economy, Obama is constantly setting up his "false choices" in order to soundly "reject" the false choice at hand. The gimmick works well to make Obama appear really smart, as one who thinks outside the box. In the "fallacy of false choices," Christopher Beam notes that Obama often sets up straw men and appears to create wiser third options in rejecting the false choices.
To the faithful, the false choice is obviously immature, and Obama's third choice is strikingly brilliant. Bush had been giving us false choices for eight years, but Obama rejects those false choices.
A cursory analysis of the choice to set up false choices to make one's point, however, reveals that it's sort of childish. Anyone can play the game, but only a certain personality profile would choose to do so.
Any conservative could use the false choice device. Imagine any conservative leader behind the microphone playing Obama's game:
Let me be clear: There are those who say we must overhaul health care now (desiring to act in a hasty and partisan manner). And there are those who say we must allow the status quo to continue indefinitely. I reject this false choice...
[Now imagine the speaker striking a pose with his head cocked upward as he pauses.]
A conservative could set up the "false choice," pretending to be smarter than everyone else. Or he could just come out and say what he really believes about health care reform.
For example: Tearing down the arbitrary barriers to purchasing health insurance across state lines would bring down costs overnight. And placing a harness on the medical malpractice trial lawyers (the Democrats' loyal voting block) would also bring down costs immediately. "Let me be clear," a conservative politician could say. "That is called tort reform. Of course, those in bed with the trial lawyers don't want to talk about real reform."
Here's how an eight-year-old might use the Obama gimmick on his parents:
There has long been a tension between those who say parents need to have their kids in bed by eight o'clock and those who say allowing children to stay up all night playing around is perfectly fine. Let me be clear: I reject that false choice. I will not accept the status quo. No, not now, not this time. There is hope. And change is coming. Failure is not an option.
That probably wouldn't work out too well for the kid. And we shouldn't allow Obama's nonsense to work, either.
Sometimes Obama will use an actual false choice (as with the first example) and other times, like the eight-year-old example, the "false choice" he uses is not a false choice at all. It's simply a tool for the fundamental transforming of the current tradition.
On deficits, jobs, and government spending, Obama says that
[t]here are those who claim we have to choose between paying down our deficits on the one hand, and investing in job creation and economic growth on the other. This is a false choice.
With his chin raised to the heavens, he rejects that false choice. In this instance, Obama believes he can spend trillions and pay down our deficits simultaneously. Only Obama the Great can make that kind of illusion believable.
What Obama really rejects is a reality-based economic philosophy which holds that prosperity-producing jobs are created not by government investing. Incidentally, "investing" is code for spreading around billions of taxpayer dollars. If Obama would actually keep his promises to cut government spending and to lower the tax burden on small business, he could pay down the deficits while allowing jobs to flourish.
Writing in the Chicago Tribune earlier this year, Obama presented this choice:
But I also know that we need not choose between a chaotic and unforgiving capitalism and an oppressive government-run economy. That is a false choice that will not serve our people or any people.
Mark Steyn notes that inasmuch as Obama is not offering a chaotic and unforgiving capitalism, only one option remains. Never mind that Obama views capitalism through the lens of Jeremiah Wright. The point is that in this instance, Obama's rhetorical device really presents no choice at all. Obama's oppressive government-run economy is "pretty much the only game in town."
At this point many are nostalgic for the old days of (chaotic) free-market cycles and wonderful (unforgiving) freedoms to both succeed and fail.
Obama can't come out and say that he's a Marxist-oriented, big-government statist who is recklessly driving our country and traditions into the ground. But he can say he rejects that false choice and that failure is not an option. It's becoming increasingly clear that the perception of his personal failure is the real non-option; the bankruptcy of the United States apparently is optional.
Of course, Obama rejects that false choice.