Read Stephen's bio and previous columns
March 31, 2009
The Right vs. the Straw
Whether you're coming from the right or left, there are legitimate
things to criticize about Barack Obama's performance in office thus far.
There's the major expansion of government, the rising deficits and the
lack of sufficient vetting of various nominees. There's the passage of
an economy recovery package that may very well fail to achieve any of
its objectives, either because it's too big or too small. And there's
what I see as the disgraceful decision to not repeal the "Don't Ask,
Don't Tell" policy.
Like them or not, all of these things have something in common: They
actually have happened. My beef with Obama's critics isn't that they're
going after him for things that he's done. My argument is that many of
Obama's critics have seized on things that the president has not
proposed and almost certainly never will.
On right-wing talk radio, cable news, and blogs in particular, an
unhealthy percentage of the anti-Obama rhetoric has been aimed at pure
straw men – positions that the president has never taken and likely
never will take.
No, the president's plan to move the top marginal tax rate upward by a
couple of percentage points is not a move to socialism or communism. No,
there's not going to be a government takeover of health care, to the
point where America's health system is identical to that of Canada or
France. No, there's not going to be a global currency, nor does the
president have any intention of taking away your guns. And no, the
Fairness Doctrine isn't coming back, either.
Let's take these one by one: Yes, "socialist" has replaced "liberal" as
the right's favored anti-left epithet, and once you start using the
words "liberal" and "socialist," the words start to lose all meaning. As
Alan Wolfe recently pointed out in the New Republic, liberalism
and socialism are two distinct political traditions that have little to
do with one another. And if you ask anyone who's an avowed socialist
whether Obama is one himself, they'll most likely laugh at you before
denouncing the president as a corporate sellout.
The liberal idea of "the government taking away our freedom" is, say,
the Patriot Act, or torture of detainees. The conservative idea of "the
government taking away our freedom" is . . . universal health care. The
president has certainly made health care a priority, but he has not, at
any point, proposed a full government takeover of the health sector, nor
has he proposed a single-payer system or anything resembling a Canadian
or European system. Once again, read the president's left-wing critics,
led by Paul Krugman, who since early in the campaign have called Obama's
plans woefully inadequate.
We've already dealt with the Fairness Doctrine. Following months of
right-wing fear mongering, the president announced last month that the
doctrine would not return. The same is true of guns. The Democrats
learned from the Clinton years that gun crackdowns of any kind are a
political loser, and Obama has never as much as hinted at such a thing
But the latest goofy notion, egged on by Glenn Back and the perpetually
entertaining Minnesota Congresswoman Michele Bachmann, is that there's
about to be an international global currency to replace the dollar. Yes,
a Chinese official has suggested there be a new "reserve currency," but
this proposal is 1) not something that would take America off the dollar
or replace the dollars in people's bank accounts; 2) is still only a
proposal that's far, far from implementation; and 3) is not supported by
the Obama Administration or anyone else currently in power in the U.S.
Sure, opponents of the president can answer any of these facts simply by
declaring "Obama's a liar!" But much like all of those "Obama secretly
hates Israel" theories of the campaign, it's best to judge politicians
by the views they claim to espouse, in real life, as opposed to those
they may someday adopt in the future.
Until then, cut out the straw man arguments, and judge the president on
what he's actually done and actually believes.
North Star Writers Group. May not be republished without permission.
Click here to talk to our writers and
editors about this column and others in our discussion forum.
To e-mail feedback
about this column,
click here. If you enjoy this writer's
work, please contact your local newspapers editors and ask them to carry
This is Column #
Request permission to publish here.