Sunday, August 08, 2010

George W. Bush was a socialist

"When I give food to the poor, I'm called a saint. When I ask why they are poor, I'm called a communist." -Archbishop Dom Helder Camara.

I was biking home from work today when I saw a bunch of signs tacked to telephone poles, all of which read, "Obama is a socialist and hates our nation" or something similarly unhinged. It's not really breaking news that respect has pretty much evaporated in our political dialogue. It's no longer a dialogue, but a series of independent monologues, loudly and furiously screamed. E pluribus unum, no more. But what I've noticed lately is how language has become another casualty of our national rage.

Epithets have become devoid of meaning, other than being an expression of anger. "Obama is a socialist" or "Bush is a Nazi" or "The Tea Party is fascist" don't really have anything to do with accurately reflecting socialism, Nazism or fascism. The appellations now just mean that a speaker doesn't like the object of his hatred.

Take the "Bush is a Nazi" remark. Some call the Bush administration incompetent. I think that undersells their intentions. In my opinion, BushCheney administration did great harm the country, the economy and the Constitution. It had definite authoritarian and hypernationalist instincts as well as a penchant for international aggression. But the sum of this did not make them Nazis or tantamount to them.

The Nazis more than an ordinary, aggressive dictatorship; there are hundreds of those throughout history. What made the Nazis different is that they represented well-planned, large scale and quite intentional mass murder. The BushCheney administration was venal but I think it would've been more than happy to conquer Iraq and its natural resources without the deaths of 700,000 or more Iraqis. The Nazis were purists for a psychopathic ideology; the BushCheney folks were just plain greedy and willing to stop at nothing. Not good, but not the same.

The "Obama is a socialist" slur is another that purges language of any meaning. 'Socialist' has always meant something along the lines of redistributing wealth from the rich to the working class for the purposes of a creating a more equal society. You can argue whether that's good or bad, useful or harmful, but this is what the word has traditionally meant. But in our culture of meaningless language, the name-calling simply means "I don't like him."

The bank bailout takes money from the working class to subsidize rich banks and bankers. Obamacare takes money from the working class and forces them to give to rich, private insurance conglomerates. The health care, pharmaceutical and banking industries overwhelming preferred 'donating' (investing) its money to candidate Obama rather than candidate McCain, so it's little surprise that the current president is so beholden to them.

But these things take money from the working class to give to the rich for the purposes of creating a more unequal society. This is corporatism. It's not socialism. In fact, it's the complete opposite of socialism.

Yet, in the current political culture, Nazi means any enemy of civil liberties and socialist means anyone who supports the use of government for any purpose.

Using those 'contemporary' definitions, Woodrow Wilson was a Nazi and George W. Bush was a socialist.

The words don't really matter. It's the incoherent rage, the idea is that my side is uniquely virtuous and the other side inherently malicious, that's supposed to resonate. It's the intent, not the specifics, that matter.

But while I realize this makes me hopelessly anachronistic, words SHOULD matter.

No matter how much the hateful (Ann Coulters), the shrill (Rachael Maddows) or both of the above (Glenn Becks) may loathe it, their ideological opponents are and will remain Americans. America belongs to all of us, not just any one of us.

There have always been disagreements, often bitter, sometimes bloody, over policy decisions in this country's history. There have always been disagreements about what sort of America its citizens want to live in. But (in the non-bloody cases) the way these disagreements get resolved is by people talking, even arguing, but eventually listening and then trying to come to some sort of consensus.

Americans may honestly disagree over what should be done. But how can they find that consensus if they can't even agree on what basic words mean?

Or maybe crushing honest citizens in the name of ideological is more important than finding that broad but imperfect consensus. Love America by hating Americans.

Welcome to 2010!

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