January 20, 2010
The Left's Rhetoric of Accusation
In a book called Alien Powers, Kenneth Minogue described the way in which Marxist ideologues defended the violence and oppression resulting from their own politics. If the Marxist is accused of stifling jobs by undermining the free market, he will accuse private corporations of excessive bonuses at the expense of hiring. If he is accused of attempting to take over health care, he will accuse opponents of refusing to allow the "competition" of a government plan. Accused of trying to rig future elections through manipulation of voter registration and census results (in ways that might permit illegal aliens to be represented in congressional districts or even to vote), he will accuse the opposition of denying citizens their right to vote. "What better form could a rebuttal take than entangling the accuser in his own accusation?" Minogue concluded (New York, 1985, p. 216).
The rhetoric of reverse accusation has a long history, going back to the writing and speeches of Karl Marx himself. Ever since Marx discovered the effectiveness of accusing capitalists of "oppression" -- those same capitalists who had raised the GDP of 19th-century Britain sixfold and who went on to increase that of 20th-century America tenfold -- the left has employed the "et tu quoque" (and you too!) defense in an almost reflexive manner. Bill Clinton did so when he opposed welfare reform legislation coming out of the Republican Congress on the basis that forcing the poor off welfare would render them permanently poor (isn't this what is meant by "generational welfare"?). Nancy Pelosi has done so by accusing Republicans of not wishing to "invest" (that is, spend) enough on future generations, even as her policies impoverish future generations. As for Barack Obama, he has employed the tu quoque defense on practically every occasion when he is questioned about anything.
A recent example is the president's response to the Christmas Day airliner-bombing attempt. After mulling over his response for four days, Obama came up with the idea that the security fiasco was a "systemic failure." It was necessary to attribute the fiasco to some cause, and the obvious cause was the failure of his own soft anti-terrorism stance as reflected in the Department of Homeland Security and the State Department. Obama will not admit that his own appointments, his own policies, and his own curtailment of interrogation methods are to blame for what happened on Flight 253. So the best way to deflect criticism is to vigorously attack a failed "system" that, he would insist, he inherited from George Bush.
A version of the same defense was at work in Obama's justification for charging Umar Abdulmutallab in a civilian court. It is obvious to nearly everyone that the hasty decision to do so was a mistake, so the president must now defend the decision by turning the accusation on his accusers. The obvious solution is to insist that charging the bomber in a civilian court will extract more information, not less, by leading him to cooperate in return for a plea bargain arrangement. The problem with this approach (aside from the vicious idea that we should ever bargain with terrorists) is, of course, that what is needed is timely information. Enhanced interrogation techniques might have extracted the defendant's contacts in Yemen, the identity of those who fitted him with explosive underwear, and the chain of radical contacts leading from London to Yemen to Nigeria. Our president was apparently unconcerned with these minor details. He was too busy shaping a rhetorical defense.
Likewise, Obama's response to those who criticize the cost of health care reform is to accuse his critics of spending too much. The estimated cost of the health care bill supported by the president has been revised almost daily, but in the latest revision, it is said actually to save $100 billion over ten years. Is there anyone, even among Democrats in Congress, who believes this estimate?
The tu quoque defense has been quite useful as well in deflecting blame for lingering unemployment. Initially, a string of horrible jobs reports was met with the predictable accusation that the president had inherited George Bush's recession. Realizing that this excuse was no longer working, Obama then shifted to "jobs created or saved." But the problem with a "saved" job is that no one can really be sure if it was saved by government spending or just continued on its own. The tu quoque accusation that "more jobs would have been lost had it not been for my administration" is unconvincing in the first place because it cannot be proved, and in the second place because no one who is unemployed really cares about "saved" jobs: They want real and permanent jobs in the private sector, not jobs either saved or created by government.
Another approach, of course, is just to say nothing. It is significant that President Obama has not held a news conference since July 22, 2009, on which occasion his performance was far from convincing as he commented on the arrest of Henry Louis Gates. The president seems to have concluded that the best way to answer for his mistakes is simply to avoid questioning and instruct his surrogates to issue whimsical reports detached from all reality. Four million jobs were lost in 2009 as the administration reiterated its mantra of "jobs created or saved." A total of 84,000 additional jobs were lost in December as the president's economists spoke of an improving jobs market. The October jobs report had to be revised downward by 16,000. The Labor Department's figures still do not reflect the millions of unemployed workers who simply gave up and are not counted.
The last president who was so detached from reality was Jimmy Carter, though his delusions were largely confined to defending himself against attack rabbits and thinking that outfitting the nation in bulky sweaters could solve the energy crisis. Obama's delusions are of a different and larger order. The president believes that if we only imagine a world free of terrorists, then there will be no terrorists to attack us. He announces that 30 million Americans can be insured at no expense at all -- merely the imposition of taxes on every aspect of the health care industry and the reduction of Medicare by $400 billion. He imagines that government can create jobs even as corporations are threatened daily by his anti-business policies.
Having exhausted the tu quoque and the stonewall defenses, what's next? Probably something out of Caracas, the headquarters of similarly hard-pressed and unpopular Marxists.
Dr. Jeffrey Folks taught for thirty years in universities in Europe, America, and Japan. He has published ten books and numerous articles on American culture and politics.