Saturday, February 6, 2010

Those Stubborn, Stubborn Facts

The only thing more annoying than stupidity are stupid people who act as if (and are treated like) they're smart. Take Judson Phillips, the Tennessee lawyer who organized the Tea Party movement's national convention.

The word 'socialist' is a word you don't want to be labeled with in the American political system. It's got a lot of negative connotations, but it also has a very specific political meaning. It refers to a specific political ideology. I think it is very clear that that is the political ideology of Barack Obama.

Phillips clearly fancies himself to be a man whose thoughts are of the highest quality, as indicated by the opening comment, in which he proudly states a blatant truism - that being called a socialist is a bad thing in this country - as if it was a unique personal insight into our national life (as opposed to a reality with which every politically-active American has been confronted since the days of Joe McCarthy). From there he explains that socialism is, in fact, a "specific political ideology" - once again stating a commonly-known fact as if it were a fascinating nugget to be imparted upon the uninformed masses (although since he is speaking to Tea Party protesters, his expectation may not be entirely in error) - before finally asserting, with the unassailable authority he has now established thanks to his demonstrated expertise on such complicated subjets, that socialism "is the political ideology of Barack Obama". No doubt his band of lemmings - er, I mean, followers - cheered upon hearing and/or reading those statements.

Of course, Judson Phillips' fifteen minutes of Warholian glory are tarnished by a tiny snag: Barack Obama is not a socialist.

It is demonstrative of what's wrong with our political dialogue that, at this point, many people will start to inquire as to the political vantage point from which I made the above statement. Do I say this as a supporter of President Obama who wishes to shield him from a disparaging label, or do I say it as a critic of President Obama, who feels that he should be more socialistic in his policies?

Believe it or not, the answer is neither. The reason I claim that Barack Obama is not a socialist is because the inverse statement - that Barack Obama IS a socialist - does not correspond to the facts. As a great American conservative once observed, "Facts are stubborn things; and whatever may be our wishes, our inclinations, or the dictates of our passion, they cannot alter the state of facts and evidence."

A socialist, as defined by Merriam-Webster's Dictionary, is someone who believes in socialism, which is in turn "any of various economic and political theories advocating collective or governmental ownership and administration of the means of production and distribution of goods" OR "a: a system of society or group living in which there is no private property, b : a system or condition of society in which the means of production are owned and controlled by the state" OR "a stage of society in Marxist theory transitional between capitalism and communism and distinguished by unequal distribution of goods and pay according to work done". It is NOT simply a set of policies that raise taxes on the rich, or try to guarantee affordable health care to all Americans, or use the government's economic power to try to create jobs, or attempt to regulate banks and large businesses and major financial powerhouses in order to avoid economic catastrophe.

So why do the Tea Partiers, along with thousands of other right-wing Americans, claim that Obama is socialist? It is because, as Phillips rightly pointed out, socialism is a disparaging term. Obama's political enemies clearly WANT it to turn out that the president's policies are socialistic (even as they adamantly claim otherwise), since this would both validate their pre-existing hatred of the man and facilitate the process of removing him from power. The problem is that the facts - those stubborn, stubborn facts - simply do not support such an assertion.

As is often the case with those whose desires conflict with facts, the believers in the "Obama = Socialist" dogma are confronted with a choice - abandon their inaccurate opinion, or become willfully stupid in order to continue holding it. I need not identify the path that men like Judson Phillips have clearly chosen.

By the way, the great American conservative mentioned above was John Adams.

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