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March 31, 2009

The Right vs. the Straw Obama

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 either.

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.


2009 North Star Writers Group. May not be republished without permission.


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