It was two-bit demagoguery when a powerful office-holder said Americans should seek out their neighbors and, if the neighbors were on the wrong side of issues, "argue with them, get in their face." It was two-bit demagoguery when he repeatedly accused those who disagree with him of instigating a "climate of fear." It was two-bit demagoguery back when he adopted a political methodology that required its practitioners to "rub raw the sores of discontent." And it was extreme demagoguery when this man, from a position of ultimate power, said his opponents should not "do a lot of talking" but "just get out of the way so we can clean up the mess."
Because conservatives do not want to associate themselves with demagoguery even if it emanates from a big White House, conservatives should not adopt those tactics. Just because the demagogue and his allies want to shut down our voices doesn't mean we should shout down theirs. And just because loud dissent is hardly "un-American" doesn't mean that it isn't rude. We have every right to be appalled and angered by the leftist power grab that is known as Obamacare, and every right to be appalled and angered that its oft-ignorant sponsors would rather insult us and send goons to shut us up than listen to our questions and concerns. But that doesn't give us moral leave to keep them from talking or making their own arguments heard above the din.
Just because they are bullies doesn't mean we should bully them back.
To be sure, the ethical high ground, by far, is on the side of the self-motivated protesters against Obamacare rather than on the side of the union thugs who would stifle them. The protesters occupy the high ground, too, against the congressional "leaders" for whom the thugs do bidding -- the same leaders who insult the public with all sorts of vile epithets and the same leaders who, if they had their way, would upend one-sixth of the American economy in a heated rush without even letting the American public read the bill.
But that still doesn't excuse rudeness.
Conservatives should applaud the passion of the protesters. Conservatives should applaud when the protesters vocally refuse to accept nonsense and lies from the House and Senate members who are their hosts -- nonsense such as Arlen Specter's assertion that bills must be read and digested so fast that senators can't read them, or lies like the repeated fallacy that the "public option" is anything but a Trojan Horse for an entirely government-run system. Conservatives should applaud when protesters insist that the congressmen actually listen to them and let them make their points.
But we should not applaud when protesters won't even let the congressmen speak. Just as it was terribly wrong for that Georgia Congressman, David Scott, to try to shut up a doctor with legitimate questions, so too is it wrong if an audience member asks a question but the crowd doesn't let the congressman answer it. We do not need to stoop to their level in order to prove how low they have sunk.
The anger is justifiable. The constant shouting is not.
Here's the deal: We are making our points. We are vastly outnumbering the nationalizers even when they try to stack the halls with their hired hands. We are clearly out-arguing them on substance. We are far better rooted in principle, and we are rightly far more passionate about those principles which the nationalizers would trample. And we have lots of people asking highly intelligent questions and making highly cogent points -- questions and points the lefty congressmen cannot intelligently answer, cannot explain away without falsehoods or meaningless clichés, cannot look or sound even half-decent in responding to. So what we should do is let them have the chance to look and sound as ignorant and wrong-headed as they are -- and then we should follow up by noting just how weak their answers were.
A few boos or heckles here and there, as they sling around their clichés, can help highlight just how absurd their responses are. But anything more than a few boos just plays into the false theme pushed by the White House and Speaker that protesters are nothing but a mob of wackos. The emotions expressed at the town meetings are honest ones, and well-founded, but that doesn't mean every emotion must be expressed in such a way as to be unruly.
We are winning, and we will keep winning if we just slightly restrain those emotions and funnel them in positive directions.
The injunction against rudeness is essential both on its own inherent merits and on the grounds of enlightened self-interest as well. Politics remains a battle of impressions as well as of facts, and we must make a good impression for the broader public watching on TV.
Barack Obama and Nancy Pelosi want to push a bill that taxes and mandates us to death, and that could encourage us to choose death rather than ask for lifesaving care. Their plans would lead to rationing, and to bureaucrats denying us care or making us wait for months for surgery; they would replace a doctor's decision with a pencil pusher's; they would force pro-life people to pay for other people's abortions, and force medical personnel to help provide abortions against their own judgment and moral qualms. And they would do all this against the will of the public, not for better care but for more power for themselves -- themselves, the statist politicians who consolidate their power by creating a client class of government workers dependent on the state for their board and keep.
This political fight is important. It's crucial. And it is a fight against the degradation of our entire system of free enterprise and of properly limited government. To win it, we must be passionate, but we also must be smart. And we also must maintain our own standards, in order to remind those on the sidelines that our side is the side not just of truth but of light.
Two-bit demagogues use their state power to stifle their opponents. We won't let them compel our silence. And we will win.
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