Thursday, September 20, 2018

Deny! Deny! Deny! So What?

There’s a pattern used by the opponents of liberty. It is to deny some behavior, or belief, that is clearly contrary to civilization. Deny repeatedly. And then, suddenly to admit the accusations were right all along, but to admit without shame, with smugness even, and a “so what?”

The timing of the denial is important, because it’s hard to maintain shock and outrage. So the repetition allows time to dilute impact. And then, when there has been enough dilution—then comes the “so what?” The admission, with the cynical barb that, anyone outraged by this is reactionary, prudish, “on the wrong side of history.”

I've written about rhetorical strategy before, covering a few examples. Today we'll do a little review and then add a new one.

First example. Back in the 1990s, Bill Clinton spent half a year claiming, “I did not have sex with that woman, Ms. Lewinsky.” And then, of course, he finally admitted to it, but added the "so what?” It was just his private life, nothing to do with his role as president.

But that wasn’t actually true. Having sex with a presidential intern, in the Oval Office, is abuse of power, an appalling evil in itself, but also opened the president up to blackmail or coercion. With the "so what?" he admitted to the abuse, but still refused to take responsibility by claiming it didn't matter.

One more disturbing thing is, people who started out agreeing that having sex with an intern was egregious departed six months later, mainly along party lines, giving that president a pass for his bad behavior—as well as his months of lying about it.

Second example. Pro-abortion activists denied, denied, denied that an unborn baby was a human life. Then, as technology makes the facts of life ever more clear—and literally gives us a clearer view of the growing baby—those science deniers start saying “so what?” Several years ago, a Salon writer said it was just too hard to go up against the “it’s a life” argument. So why not embrace that fact and just add “so what?” Sure, it’s a human life; but that doesn’t mean it’s worth protecting, because not all human life deserves protection.

Really? Innocent life doesn’t deserve protecting? Why? Because that life might be inconvenient?

Third Example. Socialism. All through the Cold War, and the first couple of decades following that standoff, we were able to agree that communism, and its synonym socialism, was evil. Socialism is incompatible with our constitutional republic.

So proponents of socialism, knowing that, would try to push their government control schemes without using that name. It would be a “social safety net,” or “progress,” or government providing for “positive rights,” such as housing, minimum income, redistributed income from higher earners, healthcare in the form of enforced purchase of insurance, regulating to control certain industries, and more. 

Now—meaning the last few years—socialists are giving up the denial and starting the “so what?” They’re saying, “Yes, we’re socialists, and we’re proud of it.”

Examples include Bernie Sanders and his followers in the last presidential election. Then more recently Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, the socialist who won the Democratic primary in June of this year, defeating a more establishment Democrat, for the 14th Congressional District of New York. She has been a darling of the media since, and a target of conservatives, who look at what she says and can hardly believe anyone would go along with her, since she makes no sense.

This past week, CNN’s Jake Tapper asked her about a way to pay for the $40 trillion cost (an estimate provided by “left-leaning studies friendly to her cause.” She had no answer. She had previously suggested an increased tax on the wealthy and corporations that, assuming no change in behavior on the part of those earners, would bring in $2 trillion. What about the other $35 trillion?
Jake Tapper asks Ocasio-Cortez about a plan
to pay the $40 trillion cost of her planned programs
screen shot from here

She has no answer. Dig down enough, she believes you just tax the undeserving rich more. That of course won’t cover $40 trillion additional expenditures.

But she’s very Rah! Rah! about socialism, and is perfectly willing to call it by its name—leaving off, of course, the final result of granting government the power to take what it wishes from its people, up to and including their lives. 

Another “so what?” on socialism came from philosopher and erstwhile comedian/actor Jim Carrey. On HBO’s “Real Time with Bill Maher," Carrey said, “We have to say yes to socialism—to the word and everything. We have to stop apologizing.” 

Jim Carrey embraces socialism with Bill Maher
screen shot from here

Carrey was called out for it by a Venezuelan journalist, Laureano Márquez. Márquez was respectful, but better informed. He explained that many people believe socialism means “the antithesis of selfishness, synonym of concern for others…support for the weakest and their needs, of seeking health and education for all.” But in Venezuela, which just a relatively short time ago, was rich in resources, and one of the most advanced countries in the Spanish speaking world, “What we find is just that our regime is not—for God’s sake—the antithesis of selfishness.” Rather, he explained. “In Venezuela, dear Jim, from what I have just told you, there is no equitable distribution of wealth; wealth is concentrated, as rarely before in our history, in very few hands.” 

In socialism, someone decides—someone other than the person earning the money—how and where money will be spent, on what it will be spent, who gets to do what. Someone decides. And that person or group of persons has all the power over people’s lives. Those few elite deciders don’t go hungry when poverty strikes the general population. Those elites aren’t inconvenienced when the people can’t even get hold of toilet paper. Those people are the ones confiscating small amounts of food at the border that people were going to try to sell in exchange for needed medicine. Those are the ones enforcing a minimum wage that no one is receiving, because no business can afford to pay it.
But Venezuelan president Maduro dines on steak, during a visit to Istanbul. People were outraged, of course. But maybe that’s fine with him.

In a New York Times op-ed, Amherst College Professor Javier Corrales writes, "An extremist government like Maduro's prefers economic devastation to recovery because the misery destroys civil society and, with it, all possibility of resisting [the regime's] tyranny." 

At this “so what?” moment surrounding socialism, our society can go either way: shrugging our shoulders and deciding it was never all that evil in the first place, or standing up to it, because we know based on principle, and based on overwhelming evidence, that socialism is just another iteration of statist tyranny, which inevitably leads to loss of freedom and loss of life, and toward abject poverty and savagery.

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