Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Besmirch & Divert

Tibor R. Machan

Ever since President Obama took office, his proposed public policies have been defended doggedly by all those who favor an increasing large scope for the federal government. Health care/insurance is just one of these policies but, of course, his way of dealing with the recession conforms to it as well. Bail them out, increase their regulation, order their CEO’s to take lower pay than they agreed they would receive, etc., etc. All these are fully consistent with a program of making government--all of the employees of which are, of course, infinitely competent and supremely moral--an all mighty force in the lives of American citizens.

This reactionary approach to the presidency--one that, if successful, will return the country to the age of George III, a former monarch with actually less power than the current federal government has over us--is very difficult to justify in general political terms. It goes directly against America’s founding principles, as they were identified in the Declaration of Independence, and it’s oppressive and economically suicidal to boot. And sure enough, the defenders of Mr. Obama, such as economist Paul Krugman, The New Republic, The New York Times, The New York Review of Books, to mention but the more visible ones among them, do not have any arguments to offer, so instead they engage in besmirching those who offer arguments against the policies they favor. Same goes for Professor Gary Wills (see it here:

A recent case in point was where an author supporting Mr. Obama insisted that despite their efforts to hide the fact, the Tea Party folks are mostly racists. This author kept repeating this charge, thus managing to divert attention from the substance of the criticism. The examples given included criticism of policies such as the welfare state which supposedly comes to nothing other than wishing ill for most African Americans. So opposition to small or limited government then amounts to racism-in-disguise.

This way of defending unwise, wrongheaded public policies can produce the result of diverting attention for the substance at issue, namely, whether the welfare state and similar measures pushed for by the president and his cheerleaders is a sound idea by which to govern a country. Never mind that! Let’s make it appear that what is going on is insidious racism. That pretty much consigns the critics to the ranks of the ultimately vicious among us with whom there is no need to argue. No one, after all, argues with Nazis! No one argues with people who regard other people morally inferior by virtue not of what they do wrong, their malpractice, but because of their color or ethnicity. Such people then can be viewed as unworthy of the respect that’s shown to someone with whom one chooses to engage in argument, whose views one decides to take seriously enough to confront intellectually. No, let’s just dismiss the critics as bigots or racists or fundamentally, incorrigibly vicious; that way we ca avoid having to answer their substantive criticism of our public policies.

Maybe this shows just how unsuccessful are all those college and university courses that most students are required to take, namely, basic reasoning, elementary logic, and the like wherein the formal and informal fallacies are discussed and it is shown just why they are fallacies and should be avoided in presenting one’s viewpoint or criticism. Besmirching one’s critics is what is called an ad hominem argument, one that demeans or attacks the person who advances a point instead of the case made in support of it. And such attacks have no bearing on the validity, soundness or related merits or demerits of a case being made.

If Mr. Obama and his accolades cannot produce anything that’s better than charges of racism and bigotry against their political or intellectual adversaries, they are in effect admitting that their viewpoint is bankrupt. No one with even a modicum of merit to his or her argument will resort to ad hominems. The arguments being advanced are supposed to carry the weight of the position and there would be no need for trying to discredit with smears those who oppose it.

Not everyone, of course, resorts to these methods of attempting to shore up the case for Mr. Obama’s public policies but enough do that the conclusion is difficult to escape that they are being a tad desperate. When a Nobel Laureate professor of economics at one of America’s most prestigious universities, Princeton, keeps attacking the character and personality of the likes of Sarah Palin in numerous forums instead of taking issue with them point by point with no reliance on badmouthing them, that suggests, strongly, that what the man has to offer against the criticisms is pretty empty of substance.
Column on Tree Hugger Hypocrisy
Tree Hugger Hypocrisy

Tibor R. Machan

I live in Silverado Canyon, about 7 miles east of Irvine Lake in Orange County, California, and it is a very pleasant place except for the fact that there is a small group of residents who want to dominate the place with their personal life style. They are bent on imposing their private preferences and policies on everyone else without, however, footing the cost of doing so.

Like most canyon communities, Silverado Canyon, an unincorporated part of Orange County located on the edge of the Cleveland National Forest, is populated by a highly diverse group of residents. Rich and poor, professional and amateur, nature lover and hermit, and so forth, there are all kinds of people who live there. And most of them confine their influence to the region they rightfully occupy and for which they paid and keep paying good money. So long as they do not dump any harmful activities or their results on their neighbors, this is just as it should be.

By all rights and common sense, if I want to start managing my neighbors’ lands, I must buy it from them. I do not get to select the TV programs they watch, the garden they wish to cultivate, the stuff they store in their garage, etc., etc. unless I obtain permission from them. That is what property rights mean--you get to decide what you do with or to your property, not others around you unless you gave them permission to butt in.

But the people who are intent on forcing their ideas on everyone else in Silverado Canyon do not have any respect for human rights. One may wonder whether they also believe that women have no rights over their own bodies, or newspapers over the content of their editorials, or authors over the plots of their novels. It makes sense that if they think they are authorized to determine the use of my property in Silverad Canyon, they would also believe they are authorized to determine the use of whatever else is mine, including my body, my novel, my column, etc. I have to assume, then, that they pose a serious hazard to our freedom on all fronts since they believe others’ freedom to make use of their land is open to them to violate just because they feel like it.

Yes, sometimes one’s neighbors engage in undesirable activities on their property but unless this intrudes on others, violates other people’s rights, they must use friendly persuasion to dissuade them, not coercive force. At one time a neighbor of mine across the street from my home in Santa Barbara kept filling up his front yard with a lot of junk auto parts and I finally had enough, so I wrote to him, a friendly but pretty firm letter imploring him to clean up the mess. But I also acknowledged that the front yard belongs to him, not to me, so I need to ask his cooperation and not simply impose my will on him--maybe sneak over in the middle of the night and clear it of the mess on my own. I did not have this authority, not by any reasonable morality and certainly not by any just law. So I asked, implored, urged, and did not demand! And I did actually manage to convince my neighbor and the front yard got cleaned up in no time. And I expressed my sincere appreciation and we remained cordial neighbors for years thereafter.

Alas, the group in Silverado Canyon, members of which refer to themselves as Tree Huggers, does not possess the kind of civility that my Santa Barbara neighbor and I did. Instead of going through the proper process of buying up the land they wish to control or persuading their neighbors to fall in line with their plans, they just make use of all kinds of legal technicalities and pressures that circumvent the rights of their neighbors so as to get their way.

That is the method of an unruly mob, not of citizens of a free society. That is how barbarians behave, not people who have an awareness of the rights of their fellow human beings. And since they refuse to move away from the lands they wish to preserve, keep rural, they are rank hypocrites to boot.
Entitlement Foibles

Tibor R. Machan

Gloating as they are too often wont to do, modern welfare state liberals are eager to point out that when it comes to proposing cuts in government spending, many who advocate it will not be specific. Even more telling, the liberals hold, is the fact that few if any will proclaim Social Security and Medicare a target of such cuts.

Perhaps this makes sense even when one sincerely wants the government to reduce it scope of involvement in society--to become, in short, truly limited as the American Founders wanted it to be and as, in any case, it ought to be. Let’s see.

Social security is often believed to be an insurance program, albeit one that is forced on people, yet still, the money taken for it is regarded by most who paid into it as theirs, so getting it out is naturally seen as simply having one’s funds returned in old age. Perhaps the idea of cutting social security is viewed with suspicion, as a way to rob people of what belongs to them and not as a reduction of government spending at all. Moreover, very likely few people have a clue just how the program could be removed from the government, how it might be privatized, especially after the “liberals”--it always sticks in my throat to call them that--have been working overtime demonizing privatization (even when it would only involve a relatively small percentage of the amount now taken from those who must pay into the system).

Medicare, too, has become something of a fixture and while there are pretty clear cut ways in which the free market could handle the insurance it amounts to, one can easily appreciate that few people have looked closely and hard at just how that might be done. Once people get used to being on the dole, especially for something the demagogues insist is their due by now, the very notion that they might get rid of it will strike most of them as implausible. Just float the idea of privatizing public education, or even public libraries, not to mention public parks and forests and airports! Most folks are unfamiliar with the work that has been done to show that all of this is quite feasible.

I remember when as a teen I was living in Germany where television and radio, not to mention trains and planes and virtually all other means of transport, were government run. To even suggest that this is not only economically silly but also an unjust sharing of benefits and burdens among people with very different needs and desire was met with incredulity. Surely this is to be expected of people whose ancestors were the mere subjects of various rulers, ones who rarely considered them to be self-responsible, who treated them as invalids or infants in most matters of concern.

In short, the governmental habit is difficult to shake--just like any narcotic--once one becomes acclimated to the benefits. The burdens are often hidden, or sold as part of being a citizen (or some similar ruse). And in comparison to how most people throughout the globe used to be treated by their rulers (!), the welfare state is a relatively mild oppressor. So when dismantling it is widely promoted to be cruel and nasty, the fact that doing so would be quite unusual, too, can make advocating such dismantling rather onerous, politically hazardous.

Ayn Rand once wrote a column, if I recall right, titled “It’s Earlier Than You Think,” suggesting that even Americans, with their unique and exceptional political tradition stressing individual rights, aren’t quite ready to accept the responsibility of living in a bona fide free country. They are still suffering from the illusions associated with ancient regimes and with modern statism, given how many reputable people--at colleges and universities and in the media across the land--clamor for these. (Just consider that nearly all of our educational institutions live off government!)

So it is a cheap shot to point out that critics of the bloated state do not always know quite what to say when asked for what in particular they would remove from its jurisdiction. Virtually everything, I think, can be done by people throughout the rest of society and government should only handle what the Founders said, “to secure our rights.” But this is still a revolutionary notion, not comfortable on the lips of politicians and the people considering supporting them