Friday, September 4, 2009

Where I Draw The Line

Today I posted this as my Facebook status:

Enough with the right-wing histrionics! The fact that some conservatives have the gall to accuse Obama of trying to "indoctrinate" our children simply because he taped a bland "work hard and stay in school" message is repugnant. This is not "legitimate disagreement" with the president's policies; this is hate-driven hysteria, and it is sickening.

In light of this comment, as well as the three-part conversation from two days ago, I feel an my approach toward right-wing zealots is due, so here it is:

While I may disagree with conservatives on most issues, I have the utmost respect for all individuals who are willing to make their viewpoints intelligently and logically. One of the primary mistakes made by ideological dogmatists (left-wing as well as right-wing) is that they conclude that their point-of-view is the only one that individuals who are in full possession of a working mind, a decent soul, and all of the pertinent facts could arrive at. I have encountered this approach many times in my life, including during my three years as an undergraduate at Bard College, and have fought diligently against it whenever I could. When I find myself in conversation with a thoughtful, rational man or woman, I pay that human being the respect he or she deserves, regardless of whether she happens to be a liberal or conservative.

My problem with "Bill" (my correspondent in the ironically titled "Conversations with an Informed Citizen" series, posted below this article), the birthers, the death panelists, the Obama-is-a-secret-socialists (I don't know what to dub them), and now the people who claim that Obama is trying to brainwash our children with socialist propaganda by claiming that they should "study hard and stay in school" is that they aren't engaging in legitimate debate; they are spewing outright falsehoods, fueled by their knee-jerk loathing of liberals and, in many cases, of African-Americans.

On what basis do I make this assertion? To me, the barometer that I use to determine if a given individual deserves respect is whether his or her views are based on intellectual and moral conclusions drawn from a plausible factual foundation. When someone uses transparently flawed logic in their intellectual deductions or moral proclamations, I rightfully conclude that they are crippled - be it by flawed mental faculties or deeply ingrained biases - in a way that prevents them from making worthwhile contributions to political discourse. When a person bases his or her conclusions on so-called "facts", or on an interpretation of said "facts", that are either so tenuously substantiated or flagrantly untrue that the only conceivable reason he/she would have for believing them in the first place is that he/she possessed a pre-existing desire to do so, then I deem that individual to be so intoxicated by ideological dogmatism that it is virtually impossible for them to be useful citizens.

So why do I have nothing but abject contempt for the aforementioned groups that I have denounced. It is because:
- Unless you believe that two independent Hawaii newspapers (Honolulu Advertiser and Honolulu Star-Bulletin) were in cahoots with the Hawaii Department of Health in a four-decades long elaborate conspiracy to falsify newspaper birth notices and a United States birth certificate on the off chance that a random child named Barack Hussein Obama, Jr. might someday run for president, there isn't any intelligent basis for asserting that Obama isn't a native-born citizen.
- Unless you believe that liberal congressmen have included a section in the upcoming health care reform legislation that was written in invisible ink (so that the people who read the entire bill on countless websites are unable to find it) which allows them to secretly kill old people (who happen to be one of the Democratic Party's foremost financial contributors, which would make this a monumentally stupid political move for purely monetary reasons) and the disabled, there isn't any intelligent basis for claiming that there are death panels being created.
- Unless you believe that raising tax cuts on the wealthy to Clinton-era levels, trying to guarantee every American his/her god-given right to affordable high quality health care, providing energy companies with financial incentive to lower polluting so that we don't all die from the climatological consequences of global warming, imposing new regulations on Wall Street and big business so that the crippling economic collapse of 2007-2008 (which occurred thanks to the deregulatory policies of Ronald Reagan and the two Bushes) can never happen again (just like similar economic catastrophes didn't occur in the post-New Deal era of 1945 to 1980, when the regulations of Franklin Roosevelt were in place and stringently enforced), fighting to raise wages and protect the jobs of poor and middle-class workers by re-empowering labor unions via the Employee Free Choice Act, and attempting to stop the needless loss of life among America's greatest citizens by trying to get our troops out of the unnecessary war in Iraq... unless you believe all of that constitutes "socialism", there isn't any intelligent basis for claiming that Obama's policies are socialistic.
- Finally, unless you believe that the decades-old cliches that have been been foisted on children since time immemorial - work hard, stay in school, don't do drugs, and leave a polished apple on your teacher's desk - constitute cutting-edge extreme left-wing propaganda, then you lack any intelligent basis for claiming that Obama's back-to-school message is intended to "indoctrinate" or "brainwash" our children.

Of course, I know that the right-wing extremists who read the aforementioned comments will never be persuaded by me. No matter what evidence you marshall that invalidates the basis for their assertions, no matter how many faults you find in the coherence and soundness of their thinking, no matter how persuasively you demonstrate that their convictions are born not of impartial observation and logical extrapolation but rather of pre-existing emotionally-based ideological prejudices (to say nothing of sheer bigotry), they will always walk away believing that they're absolutely right. The willful indifference toward the vital distinction between fact and fiction makes the points-of-view held by these individuals utterly valueless to such an extent that it not only invalidates what they have to say about the specific topics being discussed, but even taints the tenability of their assertions on virtually every other political subject. What's more, the eagerness with which they allow their judgment to be corrupted by what they WANT to believe is true rather than by what actually IS true (or isn't true) deprives them of the intellectual and moral integrity one needs when engaging in potentially fruitful political discussion.

Anyone who is nice to you deserves reciprocation; this is a moral axiom that I have at times forgotten when my better instincts have been overwhelmed by indignation. That said, while nice zealots deserve to be treated nicely, zealots of any stripe - from the die-hard militant leftists at Bard who harassed innocent denizens of a small New York hamlet after Bush's re-election to the right-wing extremists who are now injecting a disturbing rhetorical violence into our national debate - should never receive anything remotely resembling respect, no matter how nice and polite they happen to be. When people like Rush Limbaugh, Glenn Beck, Michelle Malkin, Monica Crowley, Sean Hannity, and State Senator Steve Russell surrender their better selves to these base impulses - when they, as President Eisenhower so eloquently put it, voluntarily relinquish their "freedom from the necessity of informing themselves" - then treating them with respect is tantamount to endorsing their degradation of the intelligent public discourse which is democracy's lifeblood.


Jimmy Lathrop said...

It isn't difficult to find fault with conspiracy theorists or entertainers masking as journalists. But the last time I checked the Constitution of the United States, there was no reference to universal health care. I do not think there is any reference in the Qu'uran, the Torah or in Scripture that health care is a God-given right. I did notice from your voluminous post that you haven't addressed the mainstream arguments against the current bills in the House and Senate - that the costs are underestimated, that our national debt is a historic high compared to Gross Domestic Product, and that the government has mismanaged every Federal entitlement program - Social Security, Medicaid, Medicare - why should we give them another chance to throw our children's money away without having a reasoned debate? For every Fox clown, there is a Tim Pawlenty asking hard questions, to which there is no progressive answer except a vague appeal to humanity. But societies are not built on vague appeals, they are built as social compacts between the people and the elected officials, that the elected officals will act in the interest of the people and not of the special interests or focus groups which fund the elected officials.

Matthew Laszlo said...

1) While you off-handedly dismiss my observations about "conspiracy theorists" and "entertainers masquerading as journalists" by pointing out that it "isn't hard to find fault" with them (and you're certainly right about that), the problem is that the conservative movement has elevated these individuals to positions of great prominence and influence within their movement. If they want the left to stop pointing to these figures as being signs of what's wrong with the American right-wing, then they would be well advised to disown them; until then, their movement remains guilty by association.

2)Saying that there isn't any reference in documents that were written centuries (and in some cases millenia) ago to "universal health care" is disingenuous, since you and I both know that the very notion of what medical care was and how it was dispensed even a century ago is vastly different from what we have today. Arguing that the lack of reference to a "right to universal health care" in, say, the Bible, would be like saying that Christianity wouldn't disapprove of nuking innocent countries because the Bible never explicitly condemns atomic weapons. That said, all of the sources that you mentioned DO place a high premium on human life, and insist on the responsibility for all members of society - rich as well as poor, privileged as well as disadvantaged - to value and respect the lives of all other people. I think to take that universal principle and extrapolate from that a right to affordable, high quality health care in the 21st Century world isn't much of a stretch.

3) I'd be very interested to hear your source for saying that the costs are underestimated, especially since I'm not sure how you there can be any cost estimation of a bill whose particulars haven't even been drawn up yet.

4) The national debt is at a historic high compared to the Gross National Product, and a substantial percentage of that debt comes from accumulated expenses due to the rising cost of health care. What we would have to pay to solve that problem now would be more than offset by what we save by lower health care costs in the future.

5) Social Security, Medicaid, and Medicare have been mismanaged? I'm sure the millions of Americans who benefit from those programs (many of whom could not live without them) would be surprised to hear that.

6) Obama has actually been surprisingly specific in laying out many aspects of his health care reform package (creating regulations to prevent insurance companies from discrimination against those with pre-existing conditions, prohibiting those companies from dropping patients after they are diagnosed with an illness, widening access to preventative treatments such as mammograms and colonoscopies, et cetera), and those which he has not discussed in detail have been left that way so that Republicans and Democrats in Congress can try to work together in hammering out the details (because some people who talk about bi-partisanship actually mean it).

7) Which special interest or focus groups have been "funding" elected officials in order to get this legislation passed? You certainly aren't stupid enough to be referring to groups like the AFL-CIO and AARP, since only a complete monster would think that the welfare of senior citizens and American laborers should be glibly dismissed as "special interest". On the other hand, I can think of quite a few sinister special interest groups that have a vested interest in quashing health care reform legislation - like insurance companies and pharmaceutical companies. Hell, Wendell Potter, the former CEO for Cigna, has openly admitted that this is the sole motivation behind their opposition. That must come as a great surprise to you, since I imagine you thought that insurance and pharmaceutical companies have always had your best interest at heart.