Rule One for successful conversation is agreement on the meaning of terms. This is why some of the greatest comedy routines (like “Who’s on First”) are built on misunderstandings.
Often, in political conversation, labels and their assumptions overshadow ideas. Labels can prejudice the hearer against (or for) an idea.
Someone I work with called herself liberal. As I got to know her, I noticed a disconnect between her politics and values. Her views on crime, accountability, and the role of government were strongly conservative. Only after discussing the party platforms could she correctly identify her affiliations. Her values have not changed, only her party.
Could there be others like her? Could her misunderstanding of party platforms be shared by many? Most likely.
Now, besides Rule One, another fact worth remembering is “the people framing a debate usually win it.” Politically, this has tilted public opinion in favor of the Left. Here’s how:
Conservatives are seldom called “conservatives” by critics, especially in the media. When possible they are called “Neo-cons, Fascists, Regressive”, etc. Meanwhile, the Left are called “Liberals” or “Progressives”. Not only do these terms lack the pejorative stigma reserved for the Right, they carry a positive tone. “Progress” suggests movement toward a goal. Liberal suggests “generous” or “magnanimous”. In political gamesmanship, perception is reality. It’s like brand marketing — exactly like brand marketing.
Try this word association exercise. Ready? “Puritan”. Did you imagine angry, authoritarian, buckled-shoe kill-joys? Most likely. Historical inaccuracies are irrelevant; emotionally-charged baggage is key. Emotion is more powerful a persuader than facts. Do not underestimate the significance of this principle.
As a modern example, the Tea Party movement. They believe government overreach will ultimately bankrupt the nation, and curtail freedoms. So, naturally, they call for minimal government. Still, critics call them racists, bigots, violent, small-minded, and a vulgar sexual term (ridiculing the Tea Party name) that is beneath me to print. The lack of any evidence to support these allegations is moot. The slur is enough to brand them. (Equivalent to, “Do you still beat your wife?”)
What about the Liberal brand? Is it accurate to call them “Liberals”? Are they truly an omni-benevolent group?
The facts are not on their side.
The Left claims to champion Democracy, the will of the people. Really? Which side of the aisle overturns elections in the courts? Al Franken and Al “hanging-chad” Gore spring to mind. Remember Gore? Paraphrasing his reasoning, “They wanted to vote for me, but were too dumb to figure out how.”
Flash forward to this election. Proper ID was required to even attend the DNC 2012, and yet that same party opposes ID requirements for voting. Curiously, the controversial voice-vote in the DNC itself (God and Jerusalem) seemed rigged. And, while Eric Holder’s DOJ is refusing to prosecute voter-intimidation in the US, there is renewed support here in Canada for Quebec’s Separatist Movement. The (hard-Left) separatists are a group more interested in coercing public opinion than responding to it. The will of the people must prevail! (But only if they vote correctly.)
Next, liberties. The Right restricts and the Left defends them — correct? Not so fast. Again, we have experience to help us evaluate claims.
Within my lifetime, the “religious right” had a supposedly theocratic agenda and so were “unfit” for public office. Public opinion shifted to support secular candidates. (Even though the only real theocratic group I know of are pro-Sharia Muslims. Last time I checked the Left was still cool with them.)
So now we have governments filled with secular decision-makers. Have our freedoms improved? Well sure! Now we’ve got plenty of — well — nope, sorry. Just red tape.
Increasingly, bureaucrats micromanage our lives. We do not spray our lawns with safe chemicals anymore. (Ask asthma sufferers how they feel about that.) We pay extra on fuel tax now. (Driving up the price of retail goods, including food and clothing. Ask pensioners about that.) But the extra revenue hasn’t seemed to improve roads or transit.
We pay extra “fees” (Courts ruled it a tax — sound familiar?) for provincial health care in Canada, but now have longer wait times, with fewer and fewer procedures officially covered, and chronic doctor shortages. Go to the States and pay cash to avoid the months-long wait? Only until American doctor shortages eliminate that option for people “helped” by Canadian socialized medicine.
School boards now emulate the Soviet model (Thanks, Dewey!) by overruling parental objections to controversial content, and ignoring legal obligations to the contrary. That Board said “exemptions will not be condoned.” They’re “co-parents,” that’s why!
We have a government convinced it knows — better than we do — what’s best for us; and is determined to act against our wishes to enforce it.
It seems the very people that promise freedom use taxes to extend the reach of government, so they can punish or reward specific behavior. This has the effect of re-engineering society against the citizen’s will, and at his own expense. See a resemblance to China’s old “bill for the bullet” policy? Yeah, me too.
There is nothing — nothing! — liberal or magnanimous about bullying and coercion. “Liberal” is a misleading name for a group that’s increasingly militant. Want a word to accurately describe people using the brute force of law to socially engineer people against their will?
Let’s coin a new word for that. Maybe “impuritan”.
Image: Cover of the 2002 Mises.org edition of Liberalism by Ludwig von Mises; courtesy of Ludwig von Mises Institute