Saturday, September 18, 2010

Dissent and Liberty

It is fun to read bumper stickers. My travels take me to many locales across America, and I am intrigued by the language of these ubiquitous message boards.

From the Left - usually plastered on old Volvos or new hybrids - I read phrases such as, "Dissent is the purest form of freedom" and "subvert the dominant paradigm" and even the oxymoronic, "pro-child, pro-choice."

From the Right, there are numerous digs at our current President: "NObama" and "Impeach Now." There are also the standard 2nd Amendment symbols and even the humorous, "Buyer's Remorse?"

In addition to standard political fare, there are environmental, religious and social messages that festoon our autos. From Christian to Darwinian fishes, from "love your [Earth] Mother to "Jesus loves me and my tattoos" we enjoy getting attention with a snappy line.

All of these observations compel me to stop and thing deeply about our public language and the people that are shaping the current debates. America has a long history of acrimonious public debate and it would be categorically wrong to say that our current exchanges are worse than ever. What is different is the meaning of words and how perceptions can be shaped so quickly by a few visuals or a sentence or two.

Words like "dissent" and "freedom" and "liberty" are used by all parties to express their "rage at the machine" or frustration with "the elites" or fatigue concerning "business as usual." What is interesting about 2010 is that these terms are being used by people who heretofore have been quietly part of the American tapestry, patiently working, voting and hoping for a better future. I am speaking about most of the participants in the grassroots Tea Party movements. Much to the horror of the Established Left, these folks are claiming the right to speak their minds, actually hold elected officials accountable and even be a bit noisy (and properly nosey) in the process.

From the 1960s to the present, the Left has has claimed exclusive rights to certain words and phrases. "Freedom" means sexual experimentation, document theft (OK if it is from the Pentagon, but we will ban you from reading Obama's school records), flag-burning, anti-military protests, environmental sabotage and other expressions against "the machine." Ironically, the Left have failed to see that they are "the machine"in so many facets of public life! Consider
  • The stranglehold the Left has over the academic discourse at most universities and their utter disdain for dissenting opinions from well-educated women and men. When guests are verbally and violently forced off platforms at "free" places like Berkeley, there is something wrong. When a defender of Israel is caricatured as a "Nazi", we have reached the height of deconstructionist hubris and mental torpor.
  • The media monopoly of the networks and newspapers that this elite have enjoyed for years. With the advent of the Internet and Talk Radio, this "machine" is threatened and has to resort to shopworn rages against capitalism and unregulated communication. They will defend the late George Carlin's foul language, but they want to "balance" public debate. Sorry friends, but the First Amendment includes liberty for conservatives to speak.
  • The ownership of terms connected to "social justice." Oh my, this term has been the Left's hammer against the rapacity of capitalism, the evils of American imperialism and the need to levy higher taxes on the productive so that the dependent will keep voting for the candidates of "the people." For a half-century, the Left has claimed moral superiority because they want to forcibly redistribute wealth, alter the nature of how Americans read the Constitution and redefine what is "fair." They want "smart-growth" - a euphemism for social planning and control. They want "green" policies - good, but who regulates the regulators?
  • One final set of terms: "Global Climate Disruptions." Here we see another fabrication of manipulative language to keep Americans in a state of fear and coerce more tax dollars for pet causes. With the current science is turmoil over global "warming" the academic and financial elites whose livelihoods depend on propaganda have to find other ways to advance globalism. Ironically, no one on the Left criticizes Al Gore's personal fortune or lifestyle. No one exposes George Soros' amoral destruction of currencies. As long as certain rich folks own a hybrid and give to the right causes, all is forgiven. But woe to the CEO with a smokestack!
Tea Party participants are calling for
  • "Dissent" - this means confronting the awful administrative and budget processes of all elites in power, Democrat or Republican.
  • "Liberty" - this means less government intrusion into all aspects of public and private life.
  • "Accountability" - our elected officials are responsible for how they mange public funds and whether certain projects are needed.
  • "Borders" - this is not a call to vigilantism or xenophobia, just legal immigration and the end to violence.

Having defended the agitators from the Tea Party Movement, let me hasten to add that merely reacting to current policies and trying to reify some kind of nostalgia past will not do in the 21st century. The Right must demonstrate, in real deliverables and dollars:

  • How the "magic of the free market" is going to help the unemployed whose jobs are overseas because of multinationals looking at the bottom line.
  • How"'family values" will unleash compassion on the single mother who must cope with child rearing, work and the stigma of being abandoned.
  • How "pro-life" translates into policies that protect the unborn and prosecute the truly guilty, while holding parents accountable for their freely-chosen actions.
  • How "strong national defense" can also mean less wasted money for defense contractors, pay-offs for politicians and a leaner, more efficient military.
  • How "more local control" must translate into infrastructure rebuilding a private-public partnerships.
  • "How "equal opportunity" means a fair shake for those still affected by centuries of discrimination and structural rejections.

I commend the right of all Americans to dissent, to make their ideas known and to rigorously debate issues. I condemn, however, the gratuitous attacks of both sides - not one wins when we use terms like "tea bagging" of "femi-nazi." It may get attention and a chuckle, but it is a destructive diversion from real debate.

For my friends on the Left and the Right - you must want for others the liberties and opportunities you crave for yourself. The Left must make the case that "smart-growth" is not Big Brother creating an Orwellian system rules by an academic elite. The Right must demonstrate that free markets require ethical oversight and that personal responsibility but be balanced by community compassion.

Both sides of our political divide need to balance a budget and within this context argue passionately for particular priorities. When a millionaire "green" builder calls for an additional dollar-per-gallon gas tax so we can develop more public transit, he is taxing the working poor and still underfunding real research. Answers for long-term problems are almost always a "both-and" approach. For energy, let's judiciously drill domestically AND fund alternatives. Let's consider nuclear energy AND solar power. Simply yelling at each other and taxing current habits will not propel us forward!

Word matter and in an era where Truth is up for grabs, we need to be clear what we mean by any words we use. Integrity demands no less, and the future of our nation rests on creating a narrative that aligns with reality and maximizes the potential of each person.

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