Partisanship and Empty Rhetoric
It seems in recent week that an ever-increasing focus has fallen on Rush Limbaugh and his radio show. Not only have the usual suspects worked themselves into a frenzy over him, but we’ve even had President Obama command Congressional Republicans to ignore him. And the White House has yet to let up on speaking against him. White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs has even taken a few stabs at Limbaugh. Even more amazingly, Republican Chairman Michael Steele has voiced disapproval of Limbaugh’s talks.
Now, I don’t personally care much for Limbaugh–he bloviates worse than O’Reilly–and if he’s the de facto speaker for the Republican party, then conservatives are in a world of trouble. But I think there’s something interesting to look at in something Gibbs has said:
“You know, I’d like to think, and I think most people would like to think, that we can put aside our differences and get things done for the American people. We’ll say, in watching a few cable clips of Mr. Limbaugh’s speech, his notion of presidential failures seemed to be quite popular in the [CPAC] room in which he spoke,” he said.
This, of course, refers to the comments Limbaugh made about hoping that President Obama fails. And on that note, I feel Limbaugh actually had a decent response in his talk at the CPAC:
This notion that I want the President to fail, folks, this shows you a sign of the problem we’ve got. That’s nothing more than common sense and to not be able to say it, why in the world do I want what we just described, rampant government growth indebtedness, wealth that’s not even being created yet that is being spent, what is in this? What possibly is in this that anybody of us wants to succeed?
And this gets to the heart of my thinking here. We want America to succeed. I would hope that covers the board for anyone who reads here, even those who hate what America has done and has become. I know we want America to succeed–because we all have an idea of what that success is. For me, that idea of success is a whole-hearted embrace of Catholic teaching; a return to industry, responsibility, and compassionate care for its citizens; and a renewal of true freedom. This idea also includes a thousand or more sub-details that I won’t bore you with here. But to speak to the idea that we have different notions of success, let me throw this out. I want Iran to succeed. That doesn’t mean I want them to acquire nuclear weapons and wipe Israel off the face of the earth, because in my mind, that is failure. Success for Iran is, in my mind, much like the success I described for the United States.
However, we don’t all speak that language. If we restrict our discourse to particular events, such as Iran’s threats to annihilate Israel, I pray to God that Iran fails. Similarly, I understand quite well what Limbaugh is talking about. In terms of President Obama’s plans to revamp our economy, which I view as dangerous and destructive, I pray that he fails. I pray that he either fails to enact his agenda, or that if his agenda is enacted, that it fails so spectacularly that no one can doubt why he failed. Because then we can pick up the pieces and try something that has a better shot at success. But even this prayer for failure is contingent on my own knowledge. If I am utterly wrong about how economics work, in what the source of the current problem is, and how President Obama’s plan will affect everything, then my prayer is void, based on faulty understanding. What I cannot do, though, is pray for the success of something I feel is a grave wrong.
But this leads us to a dilemma. We don’t have much in the way of infallible teachings on how to proceed economically. We have goals that we are to strive for, and there are particular attitudes and philosophies that can be scrapped as morally evil. But in general, we have to sort these things out ourselves. So if I am wrong, what am I to do?
Certainly the last thing I want to do is what Gibbs wants:
You know, I’d like to think … that we can put aside our differences and get things done for the American people.
No. No and no. Putting aside our differences is the last thing we should do. That is reneging on consciences, and once we’ve done that, we can allow anything to slide. We need discussions. We need arguments. We need knock-down-drag-out fights to the bitter end. Views need to be heard. Ideas need to be voiced. The more we put aside differences, the more we are willing to allow suggestions pass unchallenged, and mediocre plans that could have been refined into brilliant ones remain mediocre. Worse, bad plans slip through, and then we’re stuck in a blame game.
If I’m wrong about something, I have no problem with people telling me so. I’m not going to cave, however, because undoubtedly I have good reasons for being wrong, and those reasons need to be addressed. I need convincing. I need evidence and arguments. Because, even if I’m wrong, I’ll probably have some right ideas that would have otherwise been scrapped if I simply conceded.
On the other hand, I don’t need empty rhetoric. I don’t need slogans shouted in my face, because they are devoid of any intellectual content. I don’t need little snarky comments about my hypothesized upbringing, my friends, or my dog. Sure, bring them up, but there had better be a relevant reason for doing so, and it had better be made clear. If we’re debating the merits of a philosophical ideas, if you choose to bring into conversation my former drug use and trafficking in prostitution, then those had better directly affect the philosophical idea itself. Sure, those are reasonable things to bring up if we’re discussing my trustworthiness, my honesty, my integrity, but that’s a different topic.
So. Partisanship, wielded properly, is a necessary thing. Keeping the debates alive and lively is why we even bother having a two-party system. Of course, if partisanship degrades into ploys that seek political points over sound governing, that’s a different matter. But no, I don’t think we’ll benefit by setting our differences aside. And I do want President Obama to fail. And to succeed. You know what I mean.