Obamacare: Starting to Get Through My Thick Skull

Too often I find that people who challenge “Obamacare” are trapped into defending the somewhat lousy, and much, much too costly system we have now, where government regulation effected the inflation of costs through the insurance companies.

The nauseating thing is that Obama and his spokesmen are explaining until they are blue in the face that it is NOT a “government takeover” and NOT a nationalization of health care, and anyone who considers it such is a right wing extremist or conspiracy theorist.

BUT, when you challenge Obamacare to any run of the mill citizen who is in love with the plan, they respond by pummeling you with reasons for why the nationalization of health care makes sense… (no wonder us “extremists” think Obamacare = piecemeal nationalization of health care).

So, let’s take a run at this again — Obamacare is not a government take-over of health care and will not result in a nationalization of healthcare, but us narrow-minded backwoods imbeciles who don’t understand why Obamacare is going to be so great need only look at the sheer wonder of other nationalized health care systems to see how great Obamacare is going to be? I think I’m starting to get it…

Admittedly, the reality is that too many of those who oppose the plan are opposing it because it is spearheaded by Obama. But all the same, many of those who blindly cheer it on, until their voices are hoarse and the rest of us are bleeding from the ears, are supporting it with similarly simple-minded logic (because Obama has presented it). This happens all too often, with many areas of policy – a troop escalation by Bush is anathema to those who turn a blind eye if ordered by Obama, and a war run by Bush is gloriously handled in the eyes of some, but even if troop levels are increased by Obama, he’s failing us miserably on national security in those same eyes. Then again (back to health care), there’s a massive, muddled middle, many of whom are somewhat apathetic, and many others who either oppose or support the plan for much more well thought out reasons. Sadly, those thoughtful ones, wanting to discuss practical solutions are obscured in the background, drowned out in the din of polarized voices…

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Meaningless, Meaningless, Everything is Meaningless

Conservative, Liberal, and other now Useless Monikers

I used to call myself a conservative, and I suppose I still do. But, it is getting harder and harder to do so. Now, in hearing that statement, some “conservatives” may suspect that I am veering from conservatism. I assert that nothing could be further from the truth. Then again, maybe their suspicion is correct, as it is all in the definitions. You see, words mean things, and political labels are only as valuable (or should be only as valuable) as the actual meanings behind them.

Over time, the terms conservative and liberal have evolved, and while this notion of labels changing is nothing new, it is important to acknowledge such change and to recognize its meaning to assess where we stand as individuals. All too often, many of us blindly follow and identify with a group due to a familiar label, without considering if the values and positions of the group truly represent us. We could have a field day with this same concept in regards to the two major political parties, and how so many of us cling stubbornly to either Republican or Democrat regardless of how many times they let us down, doing the opposite of what they say or what we believe in. Yet I would posit that the way we cling to the conservative and liberal monikers is equally concerning and in many ways far more insidious.

The term conservative has two connotations directly related to the literal definition of the word: a) fiscal conservatism — spending as much or less than one takes in, and b) social conservatism — adhering to “traditional” positions and values. To fully expound the history of the label takes us from the writings of Edmund Burke through those of Russell Kirk and others. There are such label variations as liberal conservatism, conservative liberalism, classical liberalism (believe it or not, equated with modern conservatism), libertarian conservatism, paleoconservatism, and neo-conservatism (among others). But this writer’s purpose is not to get into that level of detail regarding the history of these labels, but rather to urge the reader to think about what these labels mean and whether as they change one should flippantly throw them around or apply them to an opponent or an opponent’s position without first considering said meaning.

All that being said, I would like to suggest that the definition of conservatism in the United States became small-government conservatism in delayed response to Goldwater conservatism, culminating with the groundswell of bi-partisan support for Ronald Reagan in 1979. American conservatism prior to this represented a union to some extent of classical liberalism and social conservatism. I believe the Reagan Revolution represented a divergence from social conservatism insofar as it represented a new-found emphasis on limited-government. In other words, while individuals may believe in adherence to traditional values, the way this manifests itself in terms of the role of government would be and should be very limited. In more recent years, however, true focus on limited government has been difficult to detect among the vast majority of “conservative” leaders. In my observations, far too many leaders who identify themselves as “conservative” fully manifest the breadth and depth of their conservatism when they pay lip service to things like “lower taxes” or traditional values. Beyond the rhetoric, their actions fall woefully short of the mark.

Consider the following:

Person “A” believes that the role of government should be limited, per the explicit instruction of the Constitution, placing emphasis on the individual and personal responsibility, individual rights, with individuals responsible for providing for their own needs, and the idea that “the government that governs best, governs least.”

Person “B” believes that the idea of lowering taxes sounds pretty good, but we cannot or should not reduce our spending thus making tax reductions untenable, believes that individual liberties expressed in the Constitution should consistently take a backseat to the government’s need to provide for the safety and security of the people, and believes that a large and powerful central government, whose responsibility it is to keep individuals safe, must also provide for the citizenry in many and varied ways.

How then could one call both of these persons “conservative” and have the label truly maintain any meaning whatsoever? Let’s face it, we’ve identified hypothetical persons adhering to positions that are practically diametrically opposed to one another, and yet these days both persons may very well (rather, they do) call themselves conservatives. If anyone doubts the description of person “A” above as a fair description of a conservative, I highly suggest searching online for the speech by Ronald Reagan titled, “A Time for Choosing” (you will not be disappointed).

It was Ronald Reagan who said, “I believe the very heart and soul of conservatism is libertarianism.” Why did he say this? Because libertarianism is ultimately about limiting government to benefit the individual – limiting the power and authority of government (which indisputably was the goal of our Founding Fathers) empowers and enriches individuals, families, and communities. So did he refer to libertarianism because of gay rights, or abortion, or some other hot-button issue? Surely not. He asserted that libertarianism is at the core of conservatism because his view of conservatism focused on the importance of limited government and all the corresponding benefits. Ultimately, if we are to use this label, we must decide whether it is referring to small-government conservatism and use it accordingly (or consistently in some other way), or modify its usage to the point where the prefix contains all the meaning and the “conservative” portion is completely devoid of meaning (neo-conservative, paleoconservative, libertarian-conservative, etc.).

Likewise, I believe the term “liberal” has become increasingly less meaningful. Let us employ the same method to illustrate this:

Person “A” believes that the Bill of Rights are critical, and the liberties of the individual must be defended at all cost. To paraphrase a discussion along these lines that I heard from a popular radio personality a couple of years back, he might call you a racist for what you said, but would fight to the death for your right to say it. This person understands the importance of the right to bear arms and why our Founding Fathers felt this was critical, among the other rights expounded and enumerated in the Bill of Rights. The promotion of and protection of individual rights is at the core of this person’s political beliefs.

Person “B” believes that government must protect people from each other, even if that means limiting individual freedoms for the sake of the ‘greater good’, or for the sake of making our nation more secure or safe. He/she believes that censoring “hateful” speech to protect the thoughts or feelings of one group of individuals is more important than protecting a right of freedom of speech, and that the dangers of guns far outweigh any perceived fundamental (natural) right or Constitutional right to bear arms – the greater good outweighs the rights of individuals.

Believe it or not, both of these persons may identify themselves as “liberals,” and I personally know individuals with these fundamentally opposing beliefs who each self-identify as a “liberal.” Again, what then does liberal actually mean?

These days I find myself identifying more and more with Person A in both camps, regardless of the liberal or conservative label they apply to themselves. In fact, I know a good number of folks who would call themselves “very conservative” who would agree wholeheartedly with the Person “A” description of a liberal, and yet at the same time those who would call themselves a “bleeding heart liberal” who espouse the very same political philosophy.

I fear that for far too many people the label they apply to themselves ends up indicating for them not what they are or believe, but rather, what they are not. Many identifying themselves as conservative simply attempt to convey, “I am not a liberal,” and likewise many liberals, “I am not Rush Limbaugh (cough…”a conservative”).” This, to me, is sad. Why we want to lump ourselves together in a great big group of people, many of whom adhere to a political belief system diametrically opposed to our own, just to avoid being lumped together with different, more scary group of people with whom we do not agree, is beyond me. I believe it is also indicative of how conditioned we, as a populace, are to a pendulum-swing polarization in our politics. Two-thirds of the country ultimately do not much care where we go as long as it is not in the direction that we perceive the opposing ideology wants to take us. “Anywhere but there” becomes our mantra, and in maintaining such focus on what we are not rather than what we are, we as a people become duped by one big government “conservative” followed by a big government “liberal”, and so on and so forth. So long as all we hear are these useless monikers of conservative and liberal, rather than truly assessing the fundamental ideology, we have no hope of stemming this tide — this revolving door of big government usurpation of the rights and freedoms we hold dear.

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A Patriot Is Neither Red Nor Blue

True patriotism precedes political change, even insurrection. Blind patriotism precedes tyrrany.

“”Beware the leader who bangs the drums of war in order to whip the citizenry into a patriotic fervor, for patriotism is indeed a double-edged sword. It both emboldens the blood, just as it narrows the mind. And when the drums of war reached a fever pitch and the blood boils with hate and the mind has ‘closed’, the leader will have no need in seizing the rights of the citizenry. Rather, the citizenry, infused with fear and blinded by patriotism, will offer up all their rights unto the leader and gladly so.” – Julius Caesar

We are smack-dab in the middle of an election year, and if you have not yet heard the word patriotism being tossed around, you will. In my thinking, when such terms are thrown back and forth, setting the tone for our political discourse, it is important for us to understand what these things really mean. If we sit back and think about the word, patriotism, most likely it immediately conjures up images of an American flag — maybe even one fluttering in the wind, perhaps fireworks, or an American soldier. But is patriotism defined by these images? Certainly not. They are merely images that we associate with the term because they have been burned into our mind over the years. What then does patriotism really mean?

To understand what patriotism means I believe we first have to appreciate the difference between patriotism and blind patriotism.

“Patriotism means unqualified and unwavering love for the nation, which implies not uncritical eagerness to serve, not support for unjust claims, but frank assessment of its vices and sins, and penitence for them.” – Alexander Solzhenitsyn

I think a good parallel in establishing this distinction is in a parent’s love for a child. A parent may love a child unconditionally, but out of love still disciplines a child when they stray. The act of discipline is itself a manifestation of their love. Whereas a parent that showers their child with affection and blindly rationalizes the wrong actions of their child is not truly showing love. While this is not a perfect parallel, in the same way, a true patriot loves his or her country, but questions our government when it is wrong, and seeks to restore the direction of our country when it strays from what makes us great. A blind patriot insists that we must remain unwavering in our devotion to country, defending even her wrong actions. In much the same way as in the parallel, this is not a healthy devotion. Blind patriotism is dysfunctional, almost like a battered wife syndrome where a woman is devoted to a husband irrespective of his unloving actions towards her.

I can imagine some people wondering at this point what I am trying to say — is this guy a Republican or a Democrat? Patriotism has nothing to do with Republicans or Democrats and definitely nothing to do with Barack Obama or John McCain. In this upcoming election there will be many true patriots who vote for one or the other of those major party candidates, and likewise there will be many who have fallen victim to blind patriotism who will do the same. Is patriotism then just completely in the eye of the beholder — it is whatever we want it to be? Not exactly — certainly an overt betrayal of one’s country, an openly treasonous act, which is probably the opposite of patriotism, wouldn’t qualify. Also, in my opinion, blind patriotism does not qualify as patriotism. But neither does any one political party or point of view have a strangehold on love of country. As a proponent of small-government, and pro-constitutional positions, I believe that the positions and viewpoints of many big-government liberals and big-government conservatives are at the least misguided, and at the most immoral, but this does not lead me to believe that the lot of the opposition love their country less than I do.

I will sum this up with presenting some thoughts of those who have already said it better than I can, but also with the admonition to never let someone tell you that you lack patriotism for questioning your government or the course of your country, regardless of whether the red states or the blue states prevail…

“To announce that there must be no criticism of the President, or that we are to stand by the President, right or wrong, is not only unpatriotic and servile, but is morally treasonable to the American public.” – Teddy Roosevelt

“Dissent is the Highest Form of Patriotism.” – Thomas Jefferson

“Patriotism is supporting your country all the time, and your government when it deserves it.” – Mark Twain

“The citizen who sees his society’s democratic clothes being worn out and does not cry it out, is not a patriot, but a traitor.” – Mark Twain

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