Last week in this space I offered the opinion that the Tampa Republicans had gotten carried away with the “you didn’t build that” rhetoric and moved President Obama’s words from this summer well beyond his original meaning. This past week was the Democrats’ chance to respond. And as is the case, in American politics, they responded not with truth, but with wild exaggerations of their own. Harold Meyerson, a left-wing commentator writing in the left-wing American Prospect approvingly summarized the message from Charlotte thusly—“They believe in social Darwinism, we believe in citizenship.”
Could we please? Find me one Republican proposal or popular movement that wants to dismantle a government role in building the infrastructure, “gut education”, as the president shamefully charged, leave the elderly to starve or in some way deny the reality that there are social obligations that come with living in civil society.
For the record, differences in what level of spending is appropriate on a certain program, or whether a program should be administered via direct spending or a voucher are examples of differences of opinion on how to achieve a common goal. They are hardly examples of conflicting values on the very construction of civilization itself.
One of the dangerous things about politics today is that large numbers in each party really seem to have to drank the Kool-Aid that was served up in Tampa and Charlotte this last week. Politicians might know they’re dispensing exaggerations, but the crowds they manipulate really seem to have bought into the idea that Republicans want to put everyone completely on their own and Democrats want to shut down the very notion of entrepreneurship.
I’d like to see someone run a poll that put this proposition in front of the average voter—
“No one can replace the role of the individual in taking risks, starting an enterprise, putting the work in and taking on the continuing risks of expansion. No one can deny the importance of the government in providing the framework of an infrastructure, strong legal system, strong police presence and helping to build an educated workforce from which to hire.”
I ‘d set the Over/Under on public agreement with this benign proposition at about 90 percent, with no distinctions found in party affiliation.
Why then, all the emotion? Political leaders use the debate over which portion of that proposition to emphasize to create division—all the better with which to raise money, secure votes and whip up the mob. Grass-roots activists adopt an approach of never reading anything the other side says, always assuming the worst—all the better to make themselves feel superior.
None of this is to suggest the policy differences aren’t real and or that they shouldn’t be voted on—indeed, that is the whole point of an election. Furthermore, there are fundamental moral questions at stake that this debate doesn’t cover. But there’s no reason to twist an opponent’s view for the purpose of demonization. Nor is “everybody else does it” constitute a defense. The Charlatans of Charlotte failed in their opportunity to rise above the Truth-Twisting of Tampa.
an Flaherty is the author of Fulcrum, an Irish Catholic novel set in postwar Boston with a traditional Democratic mayoral campaign at its heart, and he is the editor-in-chief of TheSportsNotebook.com.