Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Partisan Laziness Disguised as Politics

You may not always agree with me, dear reader, but at least you know I'll admit when I'm wrong.

After the initial dust-up in conservative circles over President Barak Obama's off-hand remark about "you didn't build that," I kinda came to his defense, assuming he meant that yes, it does take a village.

Conservatives might not like that phrase - or its sentiment - because Hillary Clinton used it for the title of a book she wrote.  But it is a Biblical concept, and even a capitalistic one.

Nobody, particularly in a market-driven economy, acts in a vacuum.  The businesses which have been launched in our country and create remarkable products and employ thousands of Americans may be owned and managed by a select group of people.  These enterprises may have been the brainchild of one person, or a small group of people.  But from the Wright brothers, whose airplane idea benefited from all of the failed ideas which preceded it, to Steve Jobs, who created products nobody knew they wanted but wouldn't have been able to purchase if they hadn't already acquired some measure of wealth, every one of us operates in some grand, interconnected fashion that is a hallmark of free-market capitalism.

Rather than grouse about it, we should celebrate that fact, especially as conservatives, because "it takes a village" demonstrates how both personal responsibility and brilliant initiative can be rewarded.  In a socialistic and communistic system, initiative is mostly the result of punitive force by the state, and personal responsibility is considered irrelevant.

Maybe Americans Like Squabbling Instead of Productivity

But no, in the wacky world that is American politics, conservatives love twisting what liberals say, and vice versa.  A torrent of condemnation from the far right has fallen upon the President's poorly-crafted "you didn't build that" because it's more politically expedient to take what he said as a belittling of all-American individualism and competency.

At first, I didn't think that's what the President meant to say at all.

But I was wrong.

As the controversy over his "you didn't build that" comments continued unabated last week, Obama decided to clarify what he meant last Friday.  In an interview with a Florida television station, he claimed, "what I said was together we build roads and we build bridges."

In other words, Obama was saying that the government builds the infrastructure necessary for interstate commerce to succeed.

But was that really the overall thrust of his comments?  He talked about teachers and the Internet, too, assuming that the minimal amounts of federal funding education and communication technology receive represent part of the civil infrastructure too, I suppose.

Some conservatives have suggested that Obama, even with his "clarification," is implying a more ominous vision of the role government should play in our lives.  They say that "roads and bridges" points to the liberal notion that government should be involved in every part of daily life, managing and perhaps even manipulating how we learn, work, play, and serve.  Uncle Sam becomes more like Big Brother, ostensibly protecting us, but in reality, stripping us of our individuality and freedom.

Which, of course, is a version of utopia many left-wing liberals would love to see for the United States.  Maybe Obama is one of those people.  But it's hard to tell, since his "roads and bridges" is about as bad a clarification as his original "you didn't build that" was sloppy.  Maybe Obama is strategically trying to be crafty and coy, since he knows there are probably many moderate Democrats for whom utopia looks nothing like the far left's.

Is This the Best Use of Our Political Energies?

For Republicans, he simply can't win, since his being a Democrat already taints him in their eyes.  For pure, red-blooded American right-wingers, simply being a Democrat is tantamount to treason.  And frankly, Obama doesn't have a good track record of speaking extemporaneously.  It's part of his political naivete, I suspect, even after three grueling years in the White House, and proof, yes, of his overall ineptitude as a leader.  The various ways he's failed to communicate have plagued his administration in embarrassing ways, much like the foibles recurrent throughout his predecessor's tenure in the White House.  The thing is, each president has played to the desperate angst of his core constituency, who've forgiven their respective leaders more out of partisan cheerleading than factual honesty.

Ahh, yes,  that pesky partisanship.

Obama's weakly-stated correlation between government funding and the Internet set off a scramble among right-wingers to prove that the industry rapidly re-shaping our American economy owes no thanks to Washington bureaucrats and politicians.  The Wall Street Journal's Gordon Crovitz sarcastically stitched together some ad-hoc factoids from the vast history of the Internet's development to try and prove Obama got that part wrong.

Who invented the Internet?  We all know it wasn't Al Gore, but then again, no solitary individual invented the Internet.  Even reading Crovitz's piece, anybody with logic can realize the Internet has resulted from decades of research, investment, trial and error, and ingenuity on the part of individual scientists and teams of college professors.  Private industry, private and public universities, and government agencies participated along the way.  The Internet isn't even an all-American invention; scientists from Britain, Sweden, Holland, and Australia also contributed to its development.  Don't believe me?  Just Google it.  Or check out the many links readers of Crovitz's article have supplied to refute his flimsy assertions.

This is important because just as the President grasps at truth while stumbling through poorly-worded sound bites, his political foes are refuting reality with inaccurate vitriol.  It's almost as if nobody really cares where the solid bedrock of reality lies, as long as they can obfuscate the opposition's claims to have found it.  Meanwhile, dirt is flying as we excavate ourselves into a deeper political hole that may not even need to be dug.

Meanwhile, violence against Christians continues unabated in countries like Egypt and Nigeria.  What is the United States doing about this, except ostensibly supporting the broad assumption that democracy, even if it sweeps popular Muslim Brotherhood candidates into power, will work everything out?  In a sense, Obama's administration is content to play a bickering game over wording and semantics here at home, because spending time and effort arguing political philosophies is a lot easier than making tough decisions about civil rights around the world.

To the extent that conservatives - many of whom profess a religious affiliation - allow themselves to get caught up in these partisan skirmishes which deflect attention from more pressing concerns, we need to shake ourselves free from the shackles of Limbaughsian hyperbole and switch the dialog.  And to the extent that some of these Limbaughsian escapades have some kernel of merit that impacts how we deal with broader extenuating circumstances, then we need to argue our positions on the basis of logic and truth, and resist unproductive dalliances with hollow rhetoric.

Just because arguing about "roads and bridges" and "you didn't build that" is a lot easier, that doesn't make them worthy of our political discourse.

You want to see hard work and the American work ethic in action?  Let's quit talking and start focusing on the problems we're facing.
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