28 October 2008

Jonah Goldberg had a piece in the LA Times today in which he (surprise!) attacked Obama's progressive/liberal socialist agenda. I (surprise!) have a few responses to him:

1) He wrote that "Obama prefers the word 'progressive' to 'liberal' because it makes it sound like he's shedding old liberal ideas." Maybe, but I imagine the reason is less sinister (notice the Obama-as-misleading meme that's running through Goldberg's statement there). One of the main reasons progressives/liberals run from the term is that people like Goldberg, Limbaugh, O'Reilly, etc. distort the positions it represents. Why do they do it? Well, for one thing, they're getting paid to. But the other reason is that they do so in order to create straw men.
It's tempting to tout something as "socialist" when you know the word has such baggage from the Cold War era. If you can peg Obama, or any Democratic plan as "socialist," you can link them to Soviet-style communism. There simply is no better way to poison the well in America than to associate it with Hitler and Stalin and Castro; the Red Scare may be history, but it's still a strong part of our collective memory, and raising that specter will torpedo ideas before they even get started. At least in this country. What Goldberg doesn't talk about are Social Democrats (of which Stalin and Hitler were heirs) in Western Europe. They seem to be doing quite well, thank you very much, and there aren't any fascist dictators that I have heard of in Denmark or the UK.

2) Later, Goldberg observes: "In 1944, FDR proposed updating the Bill of Rights with a new 'economic bill of rights' that would define freedom not as liberty from government intrusion but as the possession of goodies provided by government. 'Necessitous men are not free men,' FDR proclaimed. It's a statement Obama surely agrees with; his advisor, Cass Sunstein, wrote a book saying FDR's 'second bill of rights' should become the defining principle of American politics." OK...I'll admit that I didn't get what Goldberg was driving at initially. I mean, one doesn't often hear presidential hopefuls compared to FDR as a negative thing. Hell, McCain's doing his level best to compare Obama to the protectionist Hoover instead of FDR. It just seems slightly off. Name another four-term president who whipped all Republican comers (Herbert Hoover, Alf Landon, Wendell Wilkie, and Thomas Dewey). Trick question. You can't because no one has (or ever will) spend four terms in the White House. FDR was that good. I can understand Goldberg and other hard-core conservatives being uncomfortable with the progressive concepts of Wilson, Roosevelt, and Obama since they probably don't fully understand them--or at the very least studied them with a mind already made up. But in some ways, Goldberg and his ilk have only themselves to blame. If they hadn't blindly thrown their support behind Bush, maybe the Republican brand wouldn't have been as radioactive as it is today. If they hadn't bent over for Bush and Cheney because they were Republicans and in power, McCain would probably have won this election and Goldberg wouldn't be losing sleep at night worrying about Obama socializing health care (which he isn't claiming he'd do anyway...read the white papers on the Obama website). So I say to Goldberg and the rest of the conservatives: "take your damn medicine like a grown up." You are all complicit in screwing the pooch (indeed, as Eminem said, we are all complicit to a lesser extent for letting it happen at all)...Since Bush is more responsible for Obama's rise to power than any other single person (except maybe Obama...maybe), maybe Goldberg should be looking at Bush; there's always something that pushes the pendulum too far one way. Bush is that thing. He is the Hoover of our time, and though it remains to be seen if Obama will be our FDR, we'd be lucky if that were so--whether or not Goldberg et al has "no desire to go back to that future."

3) As David Gergen (who could run the intellectual equivalent of laps around Goldberg) said, Ronald Reagan and Teddy Roosevelt both advocated much of the same (re)distribution of wealth that has been attributed to Obama.

A quotation from Teddy Roosevelt's December 7, 1907 speech to Congress (emphasis mine):
The inheritance tax, however, is both a far better method of taxation, and far more important for the purpose of having the fortunes of the country bear in proportion to their increase in size a corresponding increase and burden of taxation. The Government has the absolute right to decide as to the terms upon which a man shall receive a bequest or devise from another, and this point in the devolution of property is especially appropriate for the imposition of a tax. Laws imposing such taxes have repeatedly been placed upon the National statute books and as repeatedly declared constitutional by the courts; and these laws contained the progressive principle, that is, after a certain amount is reached the bequest or gift, in life or death, is increasingly burdened and the rate of taxation is increased in proportion to the remoteness of blood of the man receiving the bequest.
That's enough to make McCain cringe...a progressive estate tax from one of the men that McCain touts as the bulwark of his party. What has the world come to?

I respect Goldberg and Krauthammer and their ilk, but the defenses of McCain and attacks on Obama are getting more and more intellectually tenuous by the day.

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