Seeing what these terms truly convey, what freedom-loving patriot wouldn’t favor a liberal agenda for our progressive society?
A column I wrote last week had the attention-grabbing headline of “Opponents of liberal reform are definitely not my comrades.” It made ample use of politically charged buzzwords and intricate phrasings to make a point about the recently passed health care reform legislation.
My goal was to highlight how easily some people project particular meanings into certain words and concepts that aren’t necessarily there. As I explained in my column for this week (titled “Don’t believe everything you’re not reading”), people often make gross generalizations about some ideas and quickly dismiss them as politically suspect.
In doing so, they could well misrepresent the legitimate meaning of whatever they’ve read and miss the whole point. They then close themselves off to ideas that need to be debated if we are to devise practical public policies.
It irks me that many words take on meanings that don’t hold true to their original definitions. This diminishes the richness of the English language and leads us to converse solely for the purpose of expressing ideological supremacy rather than literal truth.
I realize that some words take on alternative meanings as they become part of the jargon of particular industries. There is nothing wrong with this, as long as those engaging in the dialogue have a mutual understanding of how this jargon is constructed.
But we should avoid using a purely political jargon for everyday conversation about important social issues. This tends to circumvent reasoned discussions about legislative matters that could provide benefits. While it’s tempting to see every exchange as a way to gain a political advantage, at some point we must put aside factional objectives and focus on what’s best for all of us.
In dissecting my column of last week, the headline I used really set the tone. But if we examine the literal definitions of the words I used, a different picture emerges from what many readers perceived what I was saying.
The word “liberal” means free, unrestrained, not limited. It comes from the root word liberalis, from which we get terms like liberty, liberate and libertine. However, “liberal” is commonly used to describe the collectivism associated with left-wing politics. It’s clear this differs sharply from its genuine definition.
“Comrade” means colleague, ally, compatriot. It’s often used by communists as a term of alliance with one another, but “comrade” is not necessarily a political term. I knew, though, that throwing it into the headline would have many readers scratching their heads.
The first couple of paragraphs of my column describe how local members of the U.S. House of Representatives responded to a question I asked them all, “Is health care a right?” I highlighted how each of them replied as well as how they voted on the health care reform legislation in March.
From this point on, my column kicks into high gear. It’s been intriguing to read how some people have responded to what I wrote.
If parts of my column seem overly vague, that was by design. Readers often project ideas into my writing when (from my perspective) it’s obvious that wasn’t at all what I was saying.
“Contrary to what’s being said by opponents, Congress can justify approving this plan [the health care bill]. Our nation has an established precedent of allowing welfare spending for the collective good.”
This paragraph gives a good example of my point. Many people have stated that universal health care is unconstitutional, so how could Congress possibly justify such a plan?
The fact is that the first paragraph of Article I Section 8 of the U.S. Constitution states: “The Congress shall have power to lay and collect taxes, duties, imposts and excises, to pay the debts and provide for the common defence and general welfare of the United States; but all duties, imposts and excises shall be uniform throughout the United States.”
The “provide” for the “general welfare” phrasing opens the door to a variety of spending priorities. I’m not suggesting that each item pursued under this clause is money well spent, but legislators can make an argument that it’s at least constitutional.
Few phrases get people as riled up as does “welfare spending.” It conjures images of legislators wastefully throwing untold amounts of money at items that are best left to the private sector.
But remember that “welfare” doesn’t necessarily refer to things like subsidized housing and food stamps. Webster’s New World College Dictionary (Fourth Edition) defines it this way: “the state of being or doing well; condition of health, happiness and comfort; well-being; prosperity.”
So, anything that impacts the well-being, comfort or happiness of Americans can reasonably be categorized as “welfare.” This is another incredibly broad term open to interpretation.
“Some political theorists believe the government should take resources from taxpayers, based on their ability to contribute, and use them on those who demonstrate a need. This is even exemplified in the Bible. A nation that promotes human dignity, safeguards civil rights and rejects social injustice will create productive citizens.”
The first sentence in this paragraph refers to how the framers of the Constitution (“Some political theorists”) authorized the levying and collection of taxes for various purposes. Some readers interpreted this as mirroring the Marxist phrase, “From each according to his ability, to each according to his need,” but this sentence actually describes the process of taxation, which is permitted in the Constitution.
Taxes need two things: a giver and a receiver. Taxes are levied against people or organizations that earn wages and generate income, thus they need to be taken from “taxpayers, based on their ability to contribute.”
The reason taxes are collected is because there is a stated reason for them, hence they are used “on those who demonstrate a need.” Some readers took this to mean I was advocating a “transfer of wealth,” but this isn’t the case.
Taxpayers are people who earn wages, and many of them must drive their cars to get to their jobs. But how can they drive their cars to work if there are no roads?
Here we have a need for taxpayers to drive to their jobs, and some of them may use federal highways for at least part of their daily commute. Therefore, they pay taxes to the government so it can create and maintain roads that enable them to get to their jobs and earn the money from which they pay taxes.
Here we see that those who contribute revenue in the form of taxes are the same people who demonstrate a need for these taxes. Their wealth isn’t transferred to someone else; it’s reallocated for alternate uses. In the broad sense, this can be called “welfare spending.”
The portion of this paragraph that mentions the Bible (yes, also intentionally ambiguous) refers to Genesis 41, the story of how Joseph was put in charge of everything in Egypt. The pharaoh commanded that everyone in Egypt give 20 percent of what they produced during the seven years of prosperity so they’ll have food to eat during the seven years of famine, and Joseph oversaw the entire operation.
Tradition holds that God actually pulled the strings so Joseph would be in a position to assist the pharaoh through this crisis. Contrary to what I’ve previously heard from some readers, the Bible definitely includes a story of God orchestrating a government mandated “taxation” on “wealth” to help those in need.
And given that the famine would fall hardest on the poor (like Joseph’s immediate family, as demonstrated when his brothers came to Egypt seeking food), it was vital that the government use its authority in this way to save lives. (Another interesting biblical teaching on respecting government authority can be found in Romans 13:1-6; check it out!)
Promoting human dignity, safeguarding civil rights and rejecting social injustice are all valid goals worthy of a constitutional republic such as we have in the United States. However, some readers will come across those phrases and dismiss them as being too “socialist.” But in the literal sense, this is exactly what our nation was founded upon — like it or not.
“And, frankly, it doesn’t hurt that many legal decisions rest in the hands of a select group of elites. This makes passing something like a health care bill possible.”
I knew this phrasing would arouse the suspicions of many readers, and they didn’t let me down. But, of course, I’m referring to how a representative democracy is made up.
What else would you call members of the U.S. Senate but a “select group of elites”? And, in fact, electing legislators to make decisions on our behalf is precisely how public policies become law. I’m not saying that all of them (or most of them, for that matter) are good, but it’s the process we have.
“But opponents to such radical rule-making want to reduce the size of government until nothing is left. Can a self-sustaining culture really be achieved with no centralized authority? Wow, talk about turning every state red.”
The “radical rule-making” refers to our system of governance (certainly, a nonmonarchial representative democracy was the most radical form of political rule when it was initiated by our founders), and who is opposed to representative democracies? Fascists, and many of them have placed good portions of the world under “red” tyranny (see Jonah Goldberg’s book “Liberal Fascism: The Secret History of the American Left, from Mussolini to the Politics of Meaning” — although I should point out that based on their literal definitions, “liberal” and “fascism” are contradictory terms).
Yes, folks, the “reds” I’m talking about are communists. They have historically been the biggest opponents to our style of governance. And it’s the very goal of socialism to create a stateless, classless world (“no centralized authority,” i.e., reducing “the size of government until nothing is left”) through which pure communism will become reality.
“If the government must protect our freedom of expression and defend us from foreign threats, why shouldn’t it subsidize our medical needs? There’s a case to be made that we have a right to health care, but many people stubbornly refuse to acknowledge it.”
My point here is that the government has already taken on the role of our protector when it comes to threats to our civil liberties and to our security. Is it a stretch, then, to believe the government should also help preserve our health and, hence, our lives when necessary?
My question about why shouldn’t the government do this is a call for a response in rebuttal. I’m sure there are good arguments why this isn’t an appropriate function of the government, so I’d like to hear some. That’s all.
There is, however, a plausible case to be made that this is proper and that health care is a right, based on the reasoning I’ve used in explaining my train of thought in this column. And then beginning in the next paragraph, I start my argument that many people are predisposed to quickly dismiss such notions without giving them due consideration based on how they (perhaps wrongly) interpret these ideas.
“They won’t abandon their preconceived biases about how a progressive agenda will bring about a revolutionary spirit of solidarity, perhaps sparking a novel global structure. Seeing only what they want to see, they’ll miss the forest for the trees.”
“Progressive” means to advance forward, as opposed to going backward by being “regressive.” It’s hard to argue against moving a society forward. Who wants to live in the past?
The bit about a “revolutionary spirit of solidarity, perhaps sparking a novel global structure” set off a few alarms for some readers, and understandably so. But think about this in light of the argument I’ve been making all along.
As I’ve stated, a self-governing society was revolutionary when our founders created our nation — they engaged in a revolution to ensure its survival. And Americans have long sought to unite with other people around the world who cherish liberty.
The “novel global structure” statement was another way of saying “new world order,” and it was meant in the manner intended by former President George H.W. Bush when he spoke of spreading freedom and democracy in other countries. His son, former President George W. Bush, initiated wars in Afghanistan and Iraq to just this — actions vigorously defended to this day by many Americans.
My statement that people will “miss the forest for the trees” was a reference to how many are misinformed about legitimate arguments in favor is health care reform as well as a prediction that some readers will completely miss the point of my column. And based on some of the comments people have left, this has certainly been the case.
You see? My column is as patriotically American as baseball, Mom and apple pie. Neither Commandant Thomas Jefferson nor Czar Benjamin Franklin could have written a more stirring piece of propaganda, if I say so myself (here are a few more words for you to look up before jumping to any conclusions).
So, raise the flag proudly and pass the borscht!
To see how I respond to some of the feedback readers left about my column, take a look at my other blog post on this issue, titled “Column input shows where readers — and I — sometimes take wrong turn.” Enjoy.