Tuesday, February 23, 2010

On Rhetoric And The Balanced Budget Amendment

Yesterday, I was listening to Sean Hannity, which is not something I often do lately. In fact, I really haven't listened to him since the election of Obama. Indeed, I haven't listened to much conservative radio since the election. It's just too unhinged for me.

Obama is not a Marxist. We are not on the cusp of some socialist revolution. The closest we can to true socialism was under FDR, and I think that's the historical high tide. Now, that doesn't mean I don't have serious reservations about some of his policies. What happened with the auto companies is particularly galling. As the Lexington put it, Obama "brazenly favoured unions" in those bailouts. But favoring unions, while something a socialist might do, isn't necessarily socialist. Finally on this point, I just won't assert worse motives to Obama. If he says he wants to fix health care, I'm going to assume he has the best intentions at heart. It's not because he wants the ever more power over the citizenry of this country. This doesn't mean the path to hell isn't littered with best intentions. Just that I'm going to assume them on the part of the Administration.

Anyway, with this in mind, I find the fevered rhetoric on talk radio extremely cynical and a bit unhinged. I realize they are entertainers who are trying to get ratings, not responsible political leaders, but it's pretty odd.

Conor Friedersdorf has a post today about the impeding tyrrany rhetoric of the Right. I think he makes a damn good point here:
I find it preposterous that anyone believes the United States is on the cusp of impending tyranny itself, or that President Obama is uniquely bad on this metric, or methodically preparing to seize dictatorial power, or that his actions as president are somehow so radical as to be irreversible. Indeed I couldn’t believe that my more animated GOP correspondents believed these things to be true either, even when they seemed to state as much. So I followed up with some of them, pressing them about what exactly they believed, and did additional reporting among other conservative citizens as well, hoping to understand the gap separating the rhetoric they use from whatever their actual beliefs turn out to be.


On further questioning, you’ll find one guy means he’s upset that the president might seek a tax hike, while another is literally worried that he’s building secret prisons to house American patriots. The former invocation of tyranny is by far more common, and it doesn’t strike the people who use it as imprecise because they marinate in a political culture of hyper-adversarial cable news, Barnes and Noble bestsellers with hyperbolic titles, and talk radio hosts who cast the political battles between American conservatives and liberals as an epic battle between liberty and tyranny. As the volume of political rhetoric gets turned up, folks eventually lose perspective, and having listened to their very loud stereo for hours, it doesn’t occur to them that on talking to folks outside the room they seem to be shouting. Pin these folks down on their actual beliefs, concerns or objections, however, and often as not they are basically reasonable people whose opinions are no more or less grounded in fact than anyone else.

I think that pretty much describes the situation. Tax increases have become tyranny. Listen, I'm as staunch an opponent of taxes as a person can get; however, when any tax increase is considered tyranny you sound, frankly, fucking wacked.

Obama's a Democrat. Of course he wants to raise taxes. In a Democrat's mind, when drawing these things up on paper or on the campaign trail, it will always be on the rich, but when fiscal reality hits the infinite policy wants of all politicians, but especially Democrat politicians, necessitate that the middle class will face higher taxes if the politician in question is anything near responsible. That's pretty much what voting for a Democrat means. The language of impending tyranny, while therapeutic, is seriously off-putting. The country voted for this guy.

On a completely different topic, Newt Gingrich was on Hannity's show during the time I was listening. He argued that the Republicans should push for a Balanced Budget Amendment. Frankly, I think that idea is asinine. Ideally, the government should balance the budget over the business cycle, not in any single year. I'll be the first to admit that the tendency is to argue that deficits are needed during times of trouble and when the good times come, and the government should be repaying debt or socking away money under the mattress, the question always becomes "how should we spend the surplus?" But the idea that we ought to constitutionally constrain the government such that the ideal policy is unobtainable seems fucking stupid.


Withywindle said...

I think I've discussed this before - with you? 1) It's the republican tradition, dating at least back to early modern England, with reference to Machiavelli & Tacitus. Liberty is fragile; the court is corrupt, and filled with would-be dictators eager to snuff out liberty, because they are Power-Hungrey, Dissolute, & evil. America rebelled with such language in its head; the North and South went to war with such language. This is ancient in America. 2) This is what I call "productive paranoia" -- translating long-term, inadvertent consequences into immediate conspiracies. It's nutters in and of itself, but it tends to put off long-term threats to liberty. (I had a minor soft spot for anti-Bush rhetoric therefore.) Burke in "Conciliation with the Colonies" speaks highly of the American suspicion--lawyerly, he calls it--of any conceivable threat to liberty. 3) The cause of liberty, in America and the world, depends on talk-radio paranoids. The reasonable men will drift along to slavery.

FLG said...

So, crazy like a fox, collectively even if not individually, in your view?

George Pal said...

“It's not because he wants the ever more power over the citizenry of this country”


"The language of impending tyranny, while therapeutic, is seriously off-putting.”

Reducing the consternation brought on by Obamaism to “he wants more power” is a bit, what, disingenuous? Well, disingenuous for those who’ve had their Kool-Aid, na├»ve for those who haven’t. Friedersdorf suggesting Obama has no notions of ascending, jack booted, some velvet throne is building a... not a straw man but a - what’s the image I’m looking for... a dust bunny, that’s it – dust bunny. In words Obama only sometimes uses but in actions that are his modus operandi Obama can be fairly judged as having pretty much signed off on the Liberal/Left/Socialist/Statist pantology.

And the language of impending tyranny may be more than therapeutic. It seems to have rolled off the tongues and out of the mouths of the Founding Fathers like dragon’s breath - and good for us it did.

Withywindle said...

FLG: Yup.

FLG said...

George and even WW:

The question for me is whether the irate rhetoric serves its purpose? If somebody, like me, who is disposed favorably toward the conservative narrative thinks talk of impending tyranny is hyperbolic at best and downright unhinged at worst and consequently wants to distance themselves from it, then is the best policy strategy?

George Pal said...


Of course it (irate rhetoric) serves its purpose; it rallies the ranks to demonize the opponent. If you were disposed favorably to the liberal side you would inevitably come across reams of hyperbole, and some it from perhaps the greatest hyperbolists of our time, Frank Rich. Hyperbole as a means of argument sans facts is the strategy.

Face it, being for something is too difficult to articulate for conservatives and not having anything they’ve ever thought up actually work is too difficult to explain for the liberals.

Get used to it sonny, this isn’t Marquis of Queensberry pugilism, it’s a nuclear knife fight.

Withywindle said...

FLG: As GP said, it rallies people. And turns off others. Historically? - sometimes its a net benefit, sometimes not. The question is, are you more turned off by talk-radio hyperbole or, you know, the lefties trying to destroy the economy in their own stupid way. If the latter turns you off more, then the hyperbole probably counts as a net benefit.

And maybe some secret tape will surface that show that there is some Socialist Conspiracy. And then you'll be convinced it isn't hyperbole.

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