• Twitter
  • Facebook
News-Sentinel.com Your Town. Your Voice.
Opening Arguments

A radical idea

The Journal Gazette this morning ran a long op-ed piece by Norman Ornstein of the American Enterprise Institute think tank to the effect that attacks by Newt Gingrich and other "Republican presidential wannabes" on Barack Obama as "a secular, socialist machine" and "the most radical president in American history" are nonsense:

Looking at the range of Obama domestic and foreign policies and his agency and diplomatic appointments, my conclusion is clear: This president is a mainstream, pragmatic moderate, operating in the center of American politics; center-left, perhaps, but not left of center.

Whew. And that's from a so-called conservative.  Lord knows I've engaged in some name-calling from time to time, but the problem with using a label -- whether it's "socialist" or "Christian right" or even "conservative" or "pragmatic moderate" -- is that you get into an unproductive argument with people whose definitions of the label differ.  Gingrich et al. are merely trying to be provocative, which I presume Ornstein is also. Such rhetoric is good for painting the broad strkes, not so much for debating the finer points.

I look at Obama and see some things I like (when I believe him), such as a commitment to space exploration and nuclear energy. But I add everything up, and I see somebody who very much believes in a big, active government. I don't have to label that to be against it. (Of course, Ornstein worked with the Bush administration, so his definition of "big government" and mine might differ.)

The chief rhetorical tool in Ornstein's piece seems to be "Obama can't be radical, because a lot of his ideas were once expressed by Republicans," which is easily answered:

I find this wanting.  It might help score some rhetorical points on the claim that Obama's plan isn't "radical" but it goes nowhere in making the case that Republicans should have supported ObamaCare. I'm sure our friends at Heritage have a more wonky answer as to why they are not the intellectual authors of ObamaCare. But let's stipulate that ObamaCare is fully faithful to an old idea of Heritage's. So...what?

Tax withholding was partially invented by Milton Friedman. He ended up regretting what happened to his idea. Should conservatives embrace withholding as a good idea forever? Richard Nixon imposed wage  controls. Does that mean Republicans have no standing to complain when/if Obama introduces wage controls (as he basically has for the bailed out banks). Or, if you really want to get whacky, FDR rounded up American citizens of Japanese descent during wartime. Does that mean today's Democrats have no good reason to oppose rounding up Arab or Muslim Americans? Of course not. 


Lewis Allen
Fri, 04/16/2010 - 7:13pm

I agree with your comment about the trouble with labels, but it's too bad it's that way. If we could agree on some basic definitions, then maybe terms like 'socialist', 'fascist', and (most overwrought of all) 'Nazi' wouldn't be thrown about so freely, and we could have some real argument.

Mon, 04/19/2010 - 10:16pm

"Nazi" is historic and definable, so it shall remain in the English language . If only we could actually get rid of the American Nazi Party, we would have less reminders of the holocaust-givers.

Tue, 04/20/2010 - 9:15am

There is a problem with the broad-sweeping use of labels. But then, isn't this how politics has "always" functioned?