The Nation's Pulse

No Retreat, Baby, No Surrender

When it comes to defending Obamacare, the name-calling left assumes only it can be Boss. 

By 10.2.09

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When it comes to opinions about President Obama and his agenda, there are people with whom it is impossible to reason. Conservative commentators keep making antivenin for the poisonous speculation about motivation that masquerades as analysis in militantly progressive circles, but publishing outlets like The American Spectator, American Thinker, and Pajamas Media seldom gain traction with activists who ignore history and logic to claim that the Republican Party embraces racism.

There are more reputable and charitable readings of current events, including Noemie Emery's theory that Barack Obama and a large swath of the voting public misread each other. Even some Democrats now hope that Mr. Obama starts acting less like an actor at an audition and more like a president. Yet (true to the maxim that there is no such thing as "fighting dirty," because there is only fighting), the left ignores its genteel representatives to complain about Sarah Palin or the so-called hate speech allegedly "spewed" by conservative radio hosts.

That verb matters, because it is not just an evocative choice that taps into widespread revulsion for sudden illness. Like the word "racist," "spews" must be considered as the distillation of an ad hominem argument: few other words so easily associate their targets with evil, thanks to scenes imprinted on many of us by The Exorcist. To use the verb "spews" the way some progressives do is to imply that Limbaugh, Beck, Savage, Ingraham, Coulter, and other conservative talkers need an exorcist as much as actress Linda Blair did, and for what? Mostly for apostasy from the Church of Obama.

Those who retail the unsavory metaphor never stop to wonder whether spewing actual arguments might be more constructive than indulging the acidic scorn that drips from con artists who are busy redefining any opposition to Obama as hate speech. Sonja Schmidt of Pajamas TV knows all about that stealthy assault on the First Amendment. Former Republican Congressman J.C. Watts has tried to make the same point. David Kahane went both of them one better to explain why fears of a hostile environment allegedly created by vocal conservatives are likewise misplaced.

To hear some progressives talk, good ideas of any kind are repugnant to the Republican Party. People who think that way have confused arguments over means with arguments over ends, but the rest of us do not have to take such ignorance on the chin, and it is not racist to parry sloppy thought when that thought is used as a cudgel, even sometimes by friends who should know better.

Conservative pundit Jennifer Rubin has had enough. It makes no sense to rebuke "Democrat softies" for losing parliamentary gambits to "mean Republicans," she notes, but that is a common excuse for "declining to examine whether the Democrats' shortcomings stem from their ideological extremism."

P.J. O'Rourke also rejects labeling by the left. O'Rourke understands the moral hazard of nurturing hatred, and has therefore decided (he says only partly in jest) to outsource whatever hate he can muster to expert haters in "al Qaeda, Russia, and Cuba."

While name-calling from the left is nothing new, it's most recent cause is the felt need to defend President Obama's signature initiative, health care reform, by any means necessary. Unfortunately for progressive pundits, it is distressingly hard to tar everyone opposed to a so-called "public option" as racist, and the president himself subcontracted the heavy lifting on health reform plans to other Democrats. The number of presidential statements on health care that needs fact-checking is daunting. Nevertheless, as Nobel Prize-winning economist Robert Fogel explained in an essay excerpted by blogger Don Surber, President Obama is trying to turn health care on its head.

While looking at factors that influence life expectancy, Fogel pointed out that "the emphasis in America is on saving lives, not money," whereas "in every socialist country, the opposite is true." In various Congressional plans, keeping your doctor might require the involvement of a review board, an insurance exchange, and a rugby scrum of intermediaries looking simultaneously for cost savings and social justice.

Given the gauntlet that must be run and the controlling instincts of the Democratic caucus (at least one of whom recently caricatured the preferred Republican response to getting sick as "die quickly"), some of us sympathize with a deceased rocker's desire to "hide in my music" and "forget the day." Unfortunately, President Obama has been telling even the people of Honduras how to interpret their own constitution, so it's not much of a stretch to wonder whether micromanagement is inevitable.

A word in defense of Sarah Palin would also be appropriate, given how much she continues to scare the left. President Obama mocked her opposition to "death panels." Other progressives seem to think of her as a dangerous lightweight, because they have no problem skating blithely past the cognitive dissonance in that characterization. Yet it is worth remembering, as a contributor to American Thinker does, that while Palin campaigned for the vice presidency, "her church was torched, her body ogled and threatened, her children debased." That this happened to an indisputably competent and experienced adult ought to give the rest of us pause. As the buzz over her forthcoming memoir proves yet again, Sarah Palin can take care of herself. But not everyone has similar resources to draw on before consulting with a doctor over potentially costly "end of life issues."

If Palin was right to characterize review panels the way she did, what then? Shall we face the well-meaning bureaucrats serenely, consoling ourselves with thoughts of all those "sweet sounds coming down on the night shift"? Serenity is a good thing. But there would be more of it if the American left recognized legitimacy in questions about why Democrats administer lumps to Big Pharma but not to Big Law and why Congress exempts itself from plans foisted on its constituents. To ask about that is not racist or obstructionist; it is responsible. And as a progressive icon put it from behind a piano keyboard, "we all must do the best we can to hang onto that gospel plow."

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About the Author

Patrick O'Hannigan is a writer in North Carolina.