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Leftist Strategy: We Need to Lie Better

August 9th, 2009 by Myrhaf · 9 Comments · Uncategorized

Dan Neil has written It’s time to fight dirty on the health care debate, a classic bit of leftist thinking. He begins by admitting that the other side is winning.

There are times when I want to quit being a progressive liberal, tear up my ACLU membership card and surrender my implanted mind-control chip through which I receive marching orders from Hugo Chavez. No matter the righteousness of the cause, liberal progressives cannot seem to get on top of any public policy debate, cannot seem to win any war of words — which is just weird because you have to assume there are many more English majors among liberals.

While opinions on health-care reform break sharply along partisan lines, with most Democrats in favor and most Republicans opposed, independent voters strongly oppose the health-care reform measures pending in Congress by a whopping 70 percent to 27 percent, according to a recent Pew Research poll. How could the left possibly be losing the debate on health-care reform when its opponent is the roundly loathed health insurance industry — an ongoing criminal syndicate, in my view, that demands protection money from sick people?

Could part of the problem be that the left considers insurance — an industry with a long tradition in free societies as something people buy because they value it with their rational judgment — to be a criminal syndicate?

And if Dan Neil’s statistic is right, then most Republicans and 70% of independents oppose the expansion of state power in health care. That’s a majority of voters, perhaps a huge majority over 60%. Instead of reasoning against this majority, the Democrats have chosen to demonize them, calling them “right-wing extremists,” “a mob,” “astroturf,” “racists,” and saying they carry swastikas. Regardless of whether these ad hominems are accurate (they’re not), since when is insulting a majority of voters a good tactic in a country with free elections? (That Dan Neil thinks liberals need to be advised to fight dirty is astonishing.)

Moreover, maybe the left is losing because socialized medicine is a bad idea. No one has a right to health care or anything else at the expense of other people’s rights. See the Austrians for the whole economic argument and the Objectivists for the moral and philosophic argument.

Dan Neil concludes nothing like this. Instead:

It’s because the insurance industry’s demagoguery is better and smarter than the reformists’ demagoguery. This is a gunfight to which the reform agenda has brought a dull spoon.

It has nothing to do with reason or facts. Humans are just emotionalist creatures swayed by the best dishonest advertising. As Bill Maher writes, America is a stupid country.

Neil goes on to compare TV ads, showing that Democrat ads are boring, whereas Republican ads excite viewers with scare mongering.

Neil’s conclusion is remarkable for its naked cynicism:

There’s some hope on the horizon, though, in the ad from Americans United for Change — obviously a group that wants to take away your health insurance and make you see a veterinarian for your gastritis. The ad, titled GOP Rx, debuted last week. To a kicky bass riff and the occasional cash register ring, the female narrator asks, “Why do the insurance companies and the Republicans want to kill President Obama’s health-insurance reform?”

Note the yoking of insurance companies to Republicans. Note also that it’s Obama’s health insurance reform. Evil insurance.

The ad then lights into Cigna Corp. CEO Ed Hanway, who is retiring with a $73 million golden parachute. The GOP’s prescription for the health-care crisis? “Be as rich as Ed and you’ll be happy, too.”

Of course it’s disingenuous. Executive compensation at insurance companies is at best peripheral to escalating health-care costs. For all we know, Mr. Hanway may be one of the good guys.

The important thing is that the ad hominem ad is pointed, shrewd and manipulative. And yes, it’s class warfare. But then again, this is war.

This is war, and the other side is evil, so the end justifies the means.

Do we want people who think like Dan Neil dictating medical policy? Do we want people who think it is necessary to lie and demagogue to tell doctors what they can and cannot do? Do we want these people determining which Americans should get medical treatment and which should not?

9 Comments so far ↓

  • madmax

    “This is war, and the other side is evil, so the end justifies the means.”

    This is the thing that kills me about the leftist mindset. They want to fight a war against Republicans but not any actual enemy that will really threaten them like say Sharia-loving Muslims or imperialist Chinese, etc.. The Left seems to know who will not harm them and who will. The Conservatives will cave in to the Left in some way every time. So its easy to recommend “fighting dirty” against an enemy that at the deepest levels wont fight back. Leftism is a movement of cowards, suicidal cowards.

  • TW

    Dan Neil’s ideas make me think of George Lakoff, the UC Berkeley linguist who argues that progressives are inept at “framing” arguments, and have let conservatives frame all the political arguments in their own terms. In a nutshell, he wants to get people in general to stop talking about “trial lawyers” and start calling them “public protection attorneys,” for example, a more positive “frame” for what is in reality the same referent.

    No one’s going to fall for this, however. If there’s one thing I would compliment us Americans on in general, it’s seeing through euphemism. If anything, euphemism is a red flag to many people. It’s more salient than (other forms of) bad reasoning, which can more easily be missed.

  • Billy Beck

    “euphemasia”: the murder of truth by dissociation of the language from reality.

  • Grant

    Americans see through euphamism? What!?!?!

    America would still be in the economic and political situation of it’s gilded age if it weren’t for euphamism.

  • Andrew Dalton

    Grant –

    America has slipped to where it is today due to the inconsistency in its founding principles — a mixture of individualism and altruism, with altruism steadily winning out.

    The reality is not that the majority of Americans want laissez-faire, and that they’ve somehow been tricked into accepting the welfare/regulatory state instead. The reality is that most Americans want big government in some form. It’s a cultural problem that has to be reversed before we can hope to see an improvement in politics.

  • Grant


    I disagree. I think that the source of America’s slide from laissez-faire into almost full-blown socialism is more epistemological then it is ethical. If you look at the ethical frameworks of the dominant Prostestant sects in the 19th century they are about as individualist and laissez-faire as any religion can get. Yes, of course, there are still elements of altruism, but they are the minority in quantity, even though they are still part of the core of the teachings. The average person doesn’t walk away from them explicitly believing in altruism and completely rejecting selfishness.

    The epistemological approach of these religions, however – for both the irrational AND rational ideas – was, and still is, entirely faith-based. In this country, there has never been a clear idea about what reason and objectivity actually are.

    It’s interesting to note that the only significant philosophical school that America ever gave birth to was Pragmatism. Clearly an epistemological more than an ethical outlook. Pragmatism, of course, affects one’s ability to think clearly about interpersonal ethics – but more importantly, it affects one’s ability to think clearly at all. It distorts and perverts what it means to be reasonable. It’s the faith-based epistemology of religious America dressed up in scientific-sounding verbiage.

    How does this play into the use of euphamism in political discourse? Well, people from all corners of American culture seem to have a deep-seated pride in their ability to sell anything to anyone. They regard it as innovative. Does that come from a belief in the idea that man is not an end in himself – or rather from a belief that words as not tools of cognition, but means of manipulation? I believe it’s the latter.

    If Americans, since their earliest days, have been raised in the idea that reality is whatever any (historically, God’s) consciousness says it is, but they are also told that theirs is the most important consciousness in the world, then if you mix the two together, you get a bunch of pragmatists willing to say and do anything so long as they reap short-term rewards. That is, you get political movements willing to disguise clearly Marxist ideas – ideas which non-Pragmatist Europeans as least have the decency to identify as Marxist – as capitalist ideas. Things like The Corporation for Public Broadcasting is a perfect example. Or the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation.

    How, in any way, are these institutions corporations? They are, except in name. They sound like capitalist, free-market institutions, and so the ethically-capitalist, yet epistemologically-pragmatist American public puts up with them.

    They might even envy the guys who came up with those name. “Good marketing trick”, they think.

  • Andrew Dalton

    I definitely agree that epistemology is important in politics. But I think that “euphemism” is a weak hook on which to hang the epistemological argument. It’s better to point to the role of Pragmatism directly, which hobbles people’s thinking in ways that go beyond language.

    Giving weight to the power of euphemisms sounds too much like linguistic determinism a la George Lakoff.

  • Bill Brown

    Mike Lester had a great cartoon about this yesterday.

  • Grant

    Well, I’m not familiar with Lakoff, but I do think that there is a certain “determinism” in linguistics. I would use the phrase “epistemological causality”, however.

    What I mean by that is just what you said: that Pragmatism hobbles people’s thinking in ways that go beyond language. I think that when that happens, it’s not a matter of if, but when people will lose confidence in their ability to live their owns lives and start turning to each other for support. That is, turning to the government.

    So in a loose sense I agree with you, morality is paramount. People don’t put up with the President, on television, in front of the entire country, making the absurd statement that his health insurance bill won’t affect the plans of people who like the plan they already have because they sincerely believe him. Rather, they don’t know what to believe anymore. When they hear something like that, they give it a quick once-over, realize how patently wrong that prediction is, but then quickly extinguish that flicker of certainty because, well, who are they to know?

    They immediately tell themselves that The President’s certainty must just be a different kind of certainty than their own. A more powerful certainty to boot, because, afterall, look where he’s gone in life and look where they still are. Then, afraid to face how simple the issue really is, and what kind of man they’ve let into power, they hide behind the weak euphamism that they’re opposed to the bill because the people voting on it haven’t read all of it. That these men in Washington aren’t vicious, evil liars, but just irresponsible. Isn’t that like saying “we’ll put up with a socialist institution so long as you give it a capitalist-sounding name”?

    I guess you could call that a form of altruism. Epistemological altruism, if you will. A willingness to give up one’s certainty for the sake of social acceptance. But isn’t there already a term for that? Faith? Isn’t faith in the power of other people just like faith in the power of God?

    That’s why I think that epistemology is the real culprit. The wide-spread, cultural epistemology of Pramatism. I think that most people are willing to put up with they way the government is behaving because they’re afraid to admit to themselves that were they in charge, regardless of how altruistic or individualistic their moral convictions happen to be, their psycho-epistemology would draw them into behaving exactly the same.