Whateverisms, Whoeverists, And The Strawman

Do you ever get the feeling that we have gone right off the deep end? Our conversations in this country, if we are to believe the nonsense on ANY cable channel, have devolved into shouting matches where the winner is who can call their opponent the crummiest name. Political opponents are radical practitioners of “Whateverism” and their supporters are “Whoeverists”; it makes no difference what “side” you are on. The notion that bloggers and a 24 hour news cycle would reveal the name callers for their cynicism and lack of substance has been revealed as fallacy, largely because those two forces have become accomplished practitioners of the labeling that drives the machine.

The (finally) concluding health care debate provides a textbook worth of examples of this phenomenon, beginning with the idea of the strawman. The concept of the strawman in a debate is to create a false enemy that can be systematically pulled apart, without the mess of having to argue your real enemy. “They don’t love their children the way we do…” is a classic strawman. It has proven to be a common tactic in war, where getting humans motivated to kill before they are shot it is tricky business. In politics, it is a tactic used often when one party or group believes that it can’t win arguing the facts.

In 2009, the Republican leadership had a choice; legislate on the level as the minority party while trying to slowly rebuild for the next Presidential election, or go all in and try to blow up President Obama’s platform in an attempt to weaken him enough to take seats away from the Democrats in the midterms. They chose the latter plan, and the health care reform battle looked like the perfect vehicle on which to move. The problem for the GOP was that the broad parameters of the President’s plan, and the fundamentals of the most prominent House and Senate Democratic plans, were all based onĀ Republican concepts from the mid-90’s.

Market-based reforms to the insurance industry are tough to argue against when the polls in the Spring of ’09 show the public clearly demanding work be done. The Republican plan then; construct an argument they could win. Now folks, I am not attacking the idea as purely cynical; Republicans who believed then and now that Government interventions are risky whatever the stakes have a responsibility to act. My problem is the aftermath of a debate where substance has given way to sensationalism. We now regularly see and hear folks who are angry enough to contemplate armed rebellion; friends, we have had a Civil War already…it sucked!

Think about the substance of the GOP argument over the last 9 months; ‘health care reform is a $2 trillion government takeover of 1/6 of the U.S. economy….just like the takeover of the banks and automakers, and a prelude to the takeover of guns….Obama/Pelosi/Reid-Care will result in the death of thousands if not millions of seniors and special needs children because of rationing…Granny won’t get care, but illegal Mexicans will…Granny won’t get care, but abortions will be handed out like suckers at the Doctor’s office…and they will raise your taxes….totalitarianism, communism, marxist takeover…taxation without representation.’

All of these arguments are of course important to look at, the problem being that most of them have no grounding in reality and the balance are questionable. In the summer, the CBO estimated the first bill out of a House committee to cost $1.8 trillion over ten years and add to the deficit. The GOP has labeled health care reform as a “$2 trillion takeover” ever since. Of course, they didn’t mind the CBO’s methods then, as it is only when the number is not favorable that they think it suspect (as they do now with the final bill that costs $938 billion and cuts the deficit).

The addition of a clause expanding funding for counseling on resuscitation orders and powers of attorney, originally included in the 2004 (Republican) Medicare bill, was the source of Sarah Palin’s ridiculous Facebook rant on Death Panels. That any nurse or doctor working in critical care situations will tell you how bad the situation is, and how necessary education and counseling are, seems to be irrelevant to those who want to argue. This element of straw was extended by the plan to cut funding from Medicare over time…the GOP has tried to do this for years, and Clinton did it successfully as a part of the 1993 deficit-reduction package. Now, when seniors are critical to their strategy, Republicans want to jump to their defense. The AARP saw through the smokescreen, but most of its membership remain convinced that Democrats want to put them out to pasture. It makes you wonder; do people believe that Democrats die at 50, or don’t have older relatives?

The most toxic element of this argument though has been the notion that this exercise is part of a grand plan of communist takeover. Somehow, the “mainstream media” is in league with Democrats in a devious plan to turn the U.S. into a communist country run by the dictator, King Barry Hussein the first. Folks, you literally could not make this stuff up. Democrats can’t plan well enough to have a group picnic without spitting in each other’s food, and now they are an insidious conspiracy? The three major networks, their offspring, and the New York Times are all insanely capitalized, publicly traded firms overrun with overpaid executives and on-air talent. We are supposed to believe that they, and their boards, are working towards a communist utopia where there is one news agency and everybody makes the same cash?

We live in a democracy where the majority passes legislation. John Boehner represents 750,000 folks and is very popular, but 30%-40% of his constituents think he is an idiot and want a different person representing them. That’s the deal kids; more people in his district like him enough to vote for him every two years. For that reason, he remains the Minority Leader of the House. This is no different in Barney Frank’s district, or Eric Cantor’s, or Nancy Pelosi’s. Democracy means we all have a vote, and we can all speak our mind; it does not mean we all get what we want. Despite this, the bulk of the arguments being covered on cable revolve around incensed folks protesting a “totalitarian government takeover”.

Once upon a time, a Republican president took an action without the consent of Congress that cost his party 28 seats in the House and put his Presidency at risk. The action was criticized by many within his party for not going far enough over the long term and having to little impact in the near term. The actions of our current president and Congress are not equal to those of Abraham Lincoln and the Emancipation Proclamation, but the message is clear.

Americans expect to be represented by fearless people who will do what they feel is right; and the labels and artificial enemies of now will fade away in our posterity.

The Rational Middle is ready for your slings and arrows…