Sunday, August 23, 2009

The Paranoid Style of Opposition

I hesitate to write this column because I believe in the utility of righteous anger. Much that the administration has proposed in its short time in office is worthy of angry opposition. But for reasons that were first explored by historian Richard Hofstadter, being in the opposition tends to bring out the paranoid and the paranoia in those in the minority. (See the wiki article The Paranoid Style in American Politics.) Further, the paranoid bring an energy to the opposition that calmer folks just don't have. For example, when we think of opposition to the Iraq war, we think of Cindy Sheehan, Code Pink and other leftist whackos, forgetting that stalwart conservatives Patrick Buchanan and the late Bob Novak were also opposed to the war. I also want to make clear that this style is neither right nor left, you see Truthers from both sides of the political spectrum.

In the current debate over health care, I have tried not to stray over the line, if there is one, that separates genuine fear from paranoia, and I find it very difficult. "Death Panels" are probably not literally on the docket, and certainly not specifically in the bills being put forward. However, the collective practical effect of the proposed health care policies will be the same; as I have previously discussed. So, is it extremist to make that claim or to use that language? It certainly draws attention to a set of issues, but it also leaves one open to ad hominem attacks that hurt one's credibility. I had hoped to use my blog to set an example for civil discourse, but find myself sometimes using extreme language to make my point, because it is important that people get it!

But I have to say that some folks on our side are crossing the line. Obama as Hitler? I don't think so. Carrying firearms to a town hall meeting with the Prez? Ain't gonna happen (and I'm glad, too). Did we elect the anti-Christ? He's not near smooth enough, without the TOTUS. Is Barack Obama a natural born citizen? You bet. My point is that the egregious nature of his health care proposals should be fuel enough to energize our side without giving in to paranoid impulses. "People will die" as a result of Obamacare is probably a fair statement, saying that there will be "death panels" probably is not.

As to whether the President is a closet socialist? That remains to be seen. Am I being paranoid? I invite, your comment.


  1. B-Daddy. Concur. Link forthcoming.

  2. "End of life" or "death" panels, just a matter of semantics.

  3. But semantics are important. I seek to persuade not just rally our side, so I want to be careful with my language.

  4. *shudder* I hate the phrase, "just semantics"-- when the entire thing is based on words for communication, that's a bit like saving it's "only treatment" when someone is choosing between sugar pills and medication!

    In this case, you're right that it's only a matter of semantics-- but, just like "fetus" vs "unborn child," the impact is so very different....

  5. Granted the impact is different. But it's why Palin used "Death Panel". It is what she sees it, and she calls it how she feels. Not incorrect, but pejoritive.

  6. Of course, "end of life counseling" is highly misleading when the thing was written by the Hemlock Society. (Or whatever their new name is, I forget-- something about compassion)