I Love Freedom, I’m a Patriot and I Support Our Troops!

And God bless the United States of America!

Okay, I will back off from the hyperbole for a minute.  No, I am not trying to sound condescending (did it work, though?).  I just want to take a minute to comment on the way we use language and how the words that we choose to use reveal a lot about us and our “agendas”.

Barack Obama used the words “hope” and “change” and the phrase “Yes We Can” more times than I care to remember during the 2008 presidential campaign.

One of President Obama's 2008 campaign slogans.

Not to be outdone, McCain and Palin used the nationalistic tagline “Country First” and utilized patriotic sayings, symbols and video clips so often that the next step would have been draping the American flag over themselves every time they spoke.  After watching the 2008 Republican National Convention, I am surprised I didn’t throw up red, white and blue all over the living room floor.

Okay, I shouldn’t have brought that up.  Now I can’t get the image of Palin and Rudy Giuliani chanting, “Drill, baby, drill!” out of my head.  That kind of language-use gave me nightmares for weeks.  After the BP-Deepwater Horizon oil catastrophe, I had a strong desire to find Giuliani, drive him down to the Louisiana coast and use him as a makeshift oil-siphoning machine.  After all, the rescue workers needed as many tools as possible for the cleanup effort.

Now back to Obama.  I didn’t vote for the man and I definitely did not vote for McCain.  While Obama is inarguably a great speaker, I figured out what a lot of disillusioned Democrats are figuring out now.  All style with little substance.  I am still waiting to see the results of all this change that Obama promised.  I think FDR would be appalled by the current rhetoric versus reality that dominates our current political landscape.  At least he used his executive position to create a variety of programs that meant more jobs.  From what major economists have said, this country needs more stimulus, not less.  Obama’s opponents are now turning the word “stimulus” into a dirty word and it seems as if the president is caving in to these hypocritical, neocon critics.

Now on to Jim DeMint, the South Carolina Senator who is so convinced that he will win reelection that he is busy bankrolling the tea party movement nationwide.  DeMint has all ready contributed $3.1 million to ten tea party candidates in ten different states.  This tea party phenomenon, spearheaded by pundits Glenn Beck and Sarah Palin, is the most worrisome sign that language is currently being used not only to promote fear and intolerance, but to spread misinformation to millions on a daily basis.  There are a couple of things that Senator Jim DeMint has said in the past year that I take great offense to.  This is part of a speech at the 2009 Defending the American Dream summit (a pro-conservative meeting):

When they try to convince us that government works, we know that government’s the problem. We know that government can’t run our auto companies, our healthcare system, our education system.  We know what works.  And to borrow something from Dick Armey, we need to say it more and more, it’s freedom that works in America.  The principles of freedom that you’ve heard about all day are proven, there’s no question. There should be no debate.  We should not be in Washington debating whether or not central control and command is the way to go or is individual freedom and free enterprise the way to go, we know what works. And being a conservative for me is just preserving what works.

There are several issues with DeMint’s roughly 50 seconds of verbal diarrhea.  First there’s, “When they try to convince us that government works”.  Who is “they” and who is “us”?  Politicians use vague and undefined pronouns all of the time to convince “us” that “we” are a part of “them”.

Then DeMint goes on to say “that government’s the problem.”  You, sir, were a member of the U.S. House of Representatives from 1999 to 2005 and have been a U.S. Senator since 2005.  By your very own words, you are a problem and need to resign immediately.

What is more troublesome about DeMint’s rhetoric is that he claims, “it’s freedom that works in America…there should be no debate.  We should not be in Washington debating whether or not central control and command is the way to go…”

So, according to Senator DeMint: (1.) Government = no solution; (2.) Freedom works!; (3.) No need for debate.

I will try to translate this for the casual reader.  (1.) If the government gets involved, regardless of why the government is doing it, DeMint will promptly label it socialism and un-American; (2.) Freedom means letting the private sector (aka big business) operate in an unregulated environment without having to pay those pesky taxes or be forced to pay a “minimum wage”; (3.) DeMint thinks we should not debate this because we absolutely know that letting businesses and banks and “private individuals” do whatever they want is the best possible policy.  No need for government interference!  No need for debate!  After all, debate means hearing all of the possible solutions from every vantage point in order to make the most informed decision.  Who needs debate when DeMint knows he is right?!?

DeMint’s vague use of the word “freedom” and complete amnesia-like attitude towards our government’s historical role in expanding liberties and rights for citizens is symptomatic of a larger problem in our society: confusing pure free-market capitalism with democracy.

There is no such thing as a “pure” capitalist or “pure” socialist nation.  Every nation-state in the world has a mixed economic system.  In the United States, government controls our military, our police force, our schools, our postal service, our highways, our national parks and our tax policies.  According to people like DeMint, this equates to “socialism”, which means “less freedom.”  Some countries, like Canada, Great Britain and France, even have socialist healthcare systems!  Can you imagine going into a hospital or doctor’s office and not having to pay a dime for your healthcare?

Oh, by the way, these countries democratically decided to give all citizens free healthcare.  In their democratic wisdom, they felt that healthcare for all is a human right, not a feature of “capitalistic freedom.”  In 2000, the United States healthcare system was ranked 37th in the world by the World Health Organization.  In comparison, France’s universal healthcare program was rated as the best in the world.  According to DeMint’s definition of socialism, France is extremely socialist and must not value freedom – despite being a democratic nation and having a better healthcare system than ours.

Now I know that DeMint is obviously not the only person who misuses language for political gain; there are countless examples of people who abuse their status, power or ability to access media exposure to promote their agendas.  Glenn Beck, Sarah Palin and Rush Limbaugh are a few examples of people who, like DeMint, use rhetoric to misinform the public on a regular basis.  Maybe the reason our educational system is falling behind so rapidly is because people like Beck do well-informed teachers a huge disservice by spouting off historical inaccuracies and perpetuating the suicidal attitude of “I’m right so why even debate?”

It is nice to see economists like Paul Krugman actually using historical examples and evidence to influence policy makers, and Dean Baker blaming economists for not seeing the crisis and setting low expectations as a result.  To quote Krugman:

It’s hard to overstate how destructive the economic ideas offered earlier this week by John Boehner, the House minority leader, would be if put into practice. Basically, he proposes two things: large tax cuts for the wealthy that would increase the budget deficit while doing little to support the economy, and sharp spending cuts that would depress the economy while doing little to improve budget prospects. Fewer jobs and bigger deficits — the perfect combination.

Dean Baker recently complained about how politicians who claim to care about our deficit ignored the 2010 Social Security and Medicare Trustees report,  which showed that healthcare reform would cut costs and, “that workers’ purchasing power in 2040 will be 47.8 percent greater than it is now” because of it.

Baker goes on to say, “So, let’s be really really clear. The deficit hawks don’t give a damn about the living standards of our children and our grandchildren. They just want to take away our (and their) Social Security and Medicare. This is a class war where the wealthy want to take away anything and everything they can from the people who are not rich.”

If you look closely at the tea party rhetoric, particularly DeMint’s unsubstantiated claims that unfettered free-market capitalism is the best approach, no debate, end-of-story – you begin seeing a larger agenda at work.  This agenda includes cutting basic government services like Social Security, Medicare, the Department of Education and corporate taxes that fund public works – all policies that would lower taxes for everyone but would actually only benefit the wealthiest Americans while placing the burden on middle-class and poor Americans, who will inevitably have to fend for themselves in this proposed, economic-Darwinism scenario that DeMint and conservative politicians aptly call “freedom”.

In summation, using language to change the meaning of words or using vague, abstract concepts like Obama’s use of “change” and the Tea Party’s use of “freedom” does nothing positive for the national debate we should be having now.  What is patriotic, for those who actually read history and know about the figures who sparked positive change for Americans, is to continuously question the leaders and challenge their policies that have failed to create the change that middle-class America so desperately needs.  What is patriotic is demanding the government do more for its citizens, not less.  This is what  citizens in other democracies do, regardless of whether or not certain people label them as being “socialists”.

Instead of debating what is best for most Americans, we are left scratching our heads and trying to figure out what politicians are talking about or why groups like the tea party have no real policy ideas – other than to do away with “big government”.   Trumpeting on and on about “saving freedom” and “taking back America” and “I support our troops” means nothing at all – what crazy person would ever say, “I don’t support our troops”?  Politicians commit such language abuse to convince Americans that supporting U.S. troops is inseparable from supporting U.S. foreign policy.  A patriotic American can support U.S. troops without supporting our government’s policies.  Popular dissent is a bedrock of democratic principles much as blind conformity is the desire of any totalitarian ruler.

The function of all this political rhetoric is to distract citizens from talking about the real issues, such as income inequality, joblessness, and corporate corruption, which allows the talking heads (Beck, Palin, Limbaugh, etc…) to enrich themselves by stoking racist fear and creating paranoia among the populace.  Anytime a fake controversy comes up, like the Mosque/Islamic community center squabble (obviously a violation of the First amendment), ask yourself who benefits from the exploitation of fear and religious differences.  The pundits responsible for stoking these fears are drawing mostly from the tea party demographic base – that is to say, the white, conservative, protestant males over the age of 45 who make over $50k a year.  Citizens who are frightened and insecure can be easily manipulated, especially if they do not have historical knowledge to fall back on.

Do average Americans benefit from this? Absolutely not.  The people who exploit this fear and bigotry, the Rush Limbaughs and Glenn Becks, etc…, are making millions of dollars by spreading this anti-intellectual and intolerant hatred!

It’s a class war all right, and the people with the loudest bullhorns who are saying the ugliest things are the ones making out like bandits.

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