Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Getting back in tune

From my mouth to Dorothy Rabinowitz' ears? Not likely, but she also notices that there is something tone deaf about the Obama administration's reaction to criticism of its health plan. Barack Obama was supposed to be not simply bipartisan, but postpartisan, He was supposed to move us past the failed labels of the past. He was to bring us into a new age of civil discourse, national unity and post-ideological solutions.

I always thought that was silly and it didn't take long for the President to prove it. He is a highy ideological politician on the left - further to the left than anyone who has occupied the White House in a long time. That's not an evil thing. It may not, depending on your point of view, even be a bad thing. zRonald Reagan weas a highly ideological politician to the right of anyone who had occupied the White House at the time - and since. I think he did a wonderful job.

But, to paraphrase Dennis Green, Barack Obama is who conservatives thought he was.
In some ways, the bloom coming off the rose is a good thing. Obama is simply another warrior in the ideological battlefields. We can dispense with all the prattle about moving beyond politics and transformational figure. Evan Thomas can start to seek God where he is more likely to find Her. Chris Matthews can stop tingling down his leg. We can just argue about what is or isn't a good idea.

We can start with some clarity about these Town Hall meetings. There are really three criticisms that have been made of citizen participation in these meetings. The first is that it is organized. It is not, in a particularly silly turn of phrase, "grassroots" but "Astroturf." This is metastatic nonsense. All successful grassroots movements are organized. All are organized by people with a "special," i.e., particularly intense, interst in the issue at hand. Did conservative organizations move citizens to the meetings? I hope so.

The second is these people say things that the administration thinks are wrong. This is also known as debate. Mass public participation will, of course, result in more or less frequent misstatements of fact and poor argument. One of the great grassroots movements of the left - opposition to the war in Vietnam - featured repeated claims of things that were not true, e.g., "Ho is a democrat," "the VC and PAVN won the Tet Offensive," "a victory for the North would not have impact beyond Vietnam and would not result in a bloodbath, etc." Just as people misrepresented Bush era legislation like the Patriot Act and Military Commissions Act, they will occasionally say things about Obama's health care proposal that are unfair or inaccurate. They will occasionally say, for example, that the bill requires certain things that are better described as a likely outcome of other things that it does require.

But just as none of this meant that the Vietnam War, Patriot Act of Military Commissions Act were good things, there are many criticisms of Obama Care that are spot on. That's why the thing is slipping away from him. In any event, if you don't like what the other side is saying, respond. Don't shake your head and express distress on what we have come to. Try not to respond by setting up a website for people to report on "fishy" things they have heard from their neighbors. We don't think that you are going to round up dissenters, but it sounds imperious and vaguely threatening.

The third criticism is that we should be civil and respectful. Yes we should. I have no doubt that some of these meetings have degenerated into shout fests, although I am not persuaded that they are as bad as the pro-Obama media has made them out to be or that they are like a mob from the village ready to lynch Dr. Frankenstein for creating this abomination. People get excited and, as my wife reminds me, everyone's blood isn't as cold as mine during debate.

But a certain level of civility is good. Some of us have arrived rather late to that conclusion, but tardy enlightenment is welcome.

So let's agree. You shouldn't shout down speakers at meetings, no matter how strongly you feel. You should try to keep ideological differences in perspective. You should refrain from calling arguments that they don't like and people that they disagree with "lies" and "liars." You should strive to understand what others are saying and fairly respond to the substance of their argument.

You won't always succeed, but you'll get better. You know who you are.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Barack Obama has done more to stifle free speech in the last four weeks than W. did in the last four years of his presidency.