Hypocrisy, false labels, can create slogans, but no poems;
propaganda, but not life: there are no roots, there are no realities to nurture creative work
Pablo Antonio Cuadra (1912-2002)
Nicaraguan poet, essayist and critic
The Left hijacked the label “Liberal.” Yet they favor an empowered government and diminished rights for individuals. Is it liberal to hamper free speech on the nation’s campuses, for fear that alternative speech may offer preferred venues, or lest conservative speech may offend sensitive ears? Are liberals progressive, when they put the wishes of union bosses ahead of workers who would rather not pay dues that fund policies and politicians with which and with whom they disagree? Is it liberal to protect entrenched, unionized businesses against “disruptive” technologies such as Uber, in London and New York City?
Labels can be misleading. Democrats are better than Republicans in framing arguments with grandiloquent words and phrases. They create slogans and acronyms that can be contrary to the policies they represent. Those on the Right are less nuanced – less imaginative. The word “conservative,” for example, conjures images of old white men in club chairs, drinking brandy and soda. Yet, most Republicans live in “Red” states, less affluent than states that house Democrats. They do not look backward to privilege, wealth and biases against race, gender, creed and sexual orientation. Their wants are simple. They cherish the dignity of a good-paying job. They want the opportunity a good education provides. They want to conserve a culture that encourage faithfulness, thrift, hard work, respectfulness, responsibility and accountability. They believe in JFKs assertion: “Ask not what your country can do for you, but what can you do for your country.”
Today, liberals want to protect people against speech they deem harmful. When I was a child and teased at school, I would come home in tears. My mother would repeat an adage whose roots go back to an 1862 publication of the African Methodist Episcopal Church: “Sticks and stones will break my bones, but words will never hurt me.” Such stoicism is no longer deemed appropriate. Words can be hurtful, Leftists claim, so “safe places” must be available. Limits on speech are, thus, permitted.
Consider “net neutrality.” How could any free-market pundit be against a label that suggests openness and unfettered access? But net neutrality is a directive issued by the Obama Administration that turns the internet into a regulated utility. It was marketed as a defense against big internet service providers (ISPs), cable and telecom companies. Proponents of Net Neutrality claim they have too much power – to speed up or slow down internet access. Liberals want them regulated, like public utilities. What proponents do not say is that ISPs, like Comcast and AT&T, owe their bigness to regulation. Better service and lower prices do not come from the beneficence of government, but from competition. As well, net neutrality says nothing about far bigger internet players, like Amazon, Facebook and Google, who monopolize content. With billions of subscribers, our values today are more influenced by Jeff Bezos and Mark Zuckerberg than all the churches, synagogues and mosques in the country.
Think of “sanctuary cities.” They were once havens to shelter the innocent, but have become asylums to protect criminal aliens. Sanctuary cities claim to be humanitarian, yet they destabilize civil society by ignoring the rule of law; for example, federal detention orders from ICE (Immigration and Custom Enforcement). We saw this in 2015 when Mexican-illegal Juan Francisco Lopez-Sanchez, who had been deported five times for seven felony convictions and who found in San Francisco a sanctuary, shot and killed Kate Steinle. Last fall, in Twin Falls, Idaho a city that declared itself as “welcoming”, three young Muslim migrants raped and then urinated in the mouth of a five-year-old girl. Wendy Olson, an Obama-appointed U.S, Attorney, threatened to prosecute any who spoke out about the crime in ways she considered “false” or “inflammatory.” Yet, words could not have exceeded the brutality of what those thugs did. Prosecutors are supposed to enforce laws, not create them. There was nothing “humanitarian” or “welcoming” about either incident. Civil society depends on obeisance to laws. In a democracy, no one, no town, no city, stands above the law.
The Left has used their mastery of labels and slogans to become gatekeepers of our culture – the arts, media, education, science and bureaucracies within government. With insurance rates rising and deductibles increasing, are health insurance and good health care “affordable,” as in the Affordable Care Act? In our universities, the Left avoids dissent by keeping out those with contrary opinions.
But, with an arrogance that comes with dominance, the Left has become blind to societal changes – that millions of Americans have been left behind – seduced by their own words of moral certitude. Donald Trump, to their surprise, won the 2016 election, and, in his disregard for normal civility, became a threat to the edifice they have erected. He doesn’t bow to their elitist gods. Their “castle in the sky,” which houses self-claimed omniscient bureaucrats, risks oblivion. If collapses, the labels that deceived leaders as well as their audience will have played a role.
Where do we go from here? We need unifying leaders. Like the media, the extremes of both parties have increased, while their centers have shrunk. Centrists who stay recognize and appreciate the balance between the three arms of government – that the executive does not legislate or judge; that the legislature does not judge or execute, and that the judiciary does not legislate or execute. They recognize that the founders bequeathed such a government, because they understood the fallibility of men and women. Republicans, better than Democrats, understand that our government was designed to be slow and inefficient – that speed and efficiency were reserved for the private sector, not for a lumbering, monopolistic government.
At bottom, politics is about power. Except for antipodes on the political spectrum, it is not ends that separate Democrats from Republicans, but the means of achieving the three goals to which free people aspire – freedom, peace and prosperity. That is not to suggest there is no difference between the parties: Democrats believe government is a force for good, and that a powerful executive is critical to a well-functioning society. They believe that equitable treatment includes outcomes that are fair. In arguing that government is the best arbiter between conflicting forces, they put less faith than do Republicans in the market place of ideas. Republicans are skeptical of big government. They believe in the will of the individual – that she (he) is society’s most critical component. They believe we should be accountable and responsible for our actions, that success and failure are natural results. They emphasize equality of opportunity, and they understand outcomes will vary, depending on ability, aspiration and effort.
Power and money come with political office, so campaigns can be vicious. Total government spending, including federal, state and local, amounts to about one third of GDP, or more than six trillion dollars. That buys a lot of influence. Labels are a means of achieving power. But, they can be misleading. Not all poisons bear a Skull and Crossbones. Not all elixirs are non-toxic. Voters need to understand policy differences between candidates. As Sy Syms’ ad read, “An educated consumer is our best customer,” so an educated electorate is democracy’s best defense against political extremists. When it comes to political labels, caveat emptor are words to the wise.
This article was first published on Tought of the Day.