Failure Is Always an Option – Thank Goodness!
posted at 9:35 pm on February 3, 2010 by Dafydd ab Hugh
I was going to write about the curious fact that it’s not only mathematically possible but now even somewhat plausible that Republicans could take over the Senate in November; but everybody and his monkey’s paw is already going on about that. So I’m shifting gears: Instead, I’ll argue against Michael Medved and every other conservative who repeats the stupid mantra that “Of course we hope President Obama is successful!”
That way, my only competition is Rush Limbaugh, whose explanation is kind of shallow, to tell the truth.
When some caller presses Medved on what the heck he means, he has a pat, memorized answer. Alas, it’s a complete non-sequitur. Medved invariably explains that he doesn’t mean he hopes Barack H. Obama succeeds in passing card check, implementing energy cripple and tax, closing Gitmo, ending the war against the Iran/al-Qaeda Axis, nationalizing more banks and other corporations, raising taxes, spending us into oblivion, and for dessert, foisting ObamaCare on the charred remains. Rather, Medved insists that by “I hope the president is successful,” he means he hopes that Obama succeeds in leading America to prosperity, security, and liberty.
This explanation is nothing but Mueslix on stilts: nutty, flakey, and wobbly all at the same time.
Medved is engaging in what I call “Argument by Tendentious Redefinition.” With that rhetorical trick, proponent takes an ordinary, simple English-language word (such as “success”) and secretly redefines it to a meaning whose only purpose is to win the argument — while still relying upon people imagining that he still means the generally accepted definition. In this case, the word “success” (meaning, achieving a goal one has set) is transmogrified to mean, achieving the goal diametrically opposite what one has enunciated, but which happens to be more congenial to the “well-wisher.”
When Michael Medved or any of a score of conservative pundits says he hopes Obama succeeds, it’s really code for saying he hopes Obama converts to conservatism. While that may be a laudible wish, it’s definitely not covered by the word “success.”
By the definition commonly accepted throughout the English-speaking world, what Medved, et al, really should say is that they hope B.O. fails miserably in his attempt to implement Obamunism, to remake America in the image of Sweden, Venezuela, or Cuba. That at least would be clear; one can disagree with the sentiment (though it’s self-evident to any thinking person), but one cannot be confused.
I certainly haven’t investigated this, but it seems to me that most of the Republicans and self-labeled conservatives who say they hope the president is successful — meaning they hope he turns his coat — grew up as liberals and only came to conservatism later in life. Medved certainly fits this profile, as he was a left-liberal activist and protester back in the late 60s; he flip flopped (he would say “wised up”) during the Ronald Reagan era, making him a “neoconservative” by the most classical definition.
By contrast, Rush Limbaugh has never been a liberal, so far as I know; and he brazenly hopes Obama fails. But why does one’s political life-journey make such a difference in rhetoic? Let’s look a little deeper…
The prime directive of the Left is that “Everything is political.” For example, Karl Marx taught that the core of history is a class struggle between what Saul Alinsky would later dub the Haves and the Have Nots; and that this class struggle was ultimately political in nature. Contemporary liberals chant, “the personal is political,” which is functionally equivalent to my phrasing above.
This axiom on the Left means that every question is answered by politics, that reality itself is naught but a convenient consensus of political accomodation. If the Indiana state legislature votes that π, the ratio of a circle’s circumference to its diameter, is equal to 3.0, then that becomes the new consensus reality — regardless of the fact that it’s wrong, in a literal sense. (The constant ratio π is actually an irrational number that begins 3.141592653589793… and goes on like that forever in more or less random fashion.)
To put it bluntly, liberalism teaches that Reality is infinitely malleable: If the political power changes hands, reality itself shifts correspondingly. “Truth” to a leftist or liberal means that which advances the Vision; while a “lie” is whatever contradicts or damages the Vision. (See Thomas Sowell’s the Vision of the Anointed.)
It’s an easy step from there to the Argument by Tendentious Redefinition: If reality can be changed by political action, then words themselves (which are part of reality) can be changed by strident repetition… and this in turn alters the concept at which the word points.
Here’s a really good real-world example. A liberal wants to continually grow the scope and reach of government; but that can be expensive, as we see with the Obamacle’s budget proposal.
So the people, the voters, demand that the liberal-run government cut spending. “All right,” say the liberals, “we bow to the will of the people.” And they do proceed to cut… they cut the rate of growth of spending. They had planned to raise spending by 10%, but they raise it by only 8% instead — and announce a 2% “spending cut.”
The tendentious redefinition here is that spending cut, which used to mean a reduction in actual spending, now means a reduction in the increase of spending, or a reduction in projected spending. To the extent liberals can keep the redefinition secret, they can pose as deficit hawks and get themselves reelected.
Liberals and leftists are steeped in such tendentious redefinitions by their peer groups; they may already have used that rule of inference long ago, even as children, which might be what drove them to liberalism in the first place; but in any event, such thinking is reinforced and rewarded within lefty circles.
But even when they depart the Left for warmer climes, they often take such thought processes with them as excess baggage. This led me to my own definition of a neoconservative: a person who thinks like a liberal but usually arrives at conservative conclusions. People like Medved, David Horowitz, and Sen. Norm Coleman (to pull a few at random), who used to be on the left, still use the same thought mechanisms that they used back then… but now in service to a different master. And their reflexes are still knee-jerk leftist; they often must argue themselves out of a reflexive reliance on liberal tropes and back towards a more conservative position. (A lot of libertarians came to that philosophy from the left, and they too carry a lot of lefty thought-baggage.)
One particular piece of lefty thought-luggage retained by Medved and his Obama well-wishing pals is an overwhelming feeling of guilt at hoping someone, especially a black someone, fails. Even when they honestly do hope the man does not achieve his goals, they’re afraid to say such a thing out loud. So they frequently fall back on yet another lefty valise or steamer trunk, and tendentiously redefine the word “success” as noted above.
But I have never in my entire life been a liberal; I was never trained to think of a black man or some other minority as a representative of some group, or that his failure was due to the white man “holding him down for 300 years,” as many blacktivists insist. Consequently, I feel no guilt whatsoever wishing abject failure upon Barack H. Obama: Success as Obama defines it is anathema to me, so why on Earth would I wish for it?
In fact, one of our most important rights is the right to fail: By failing, we learn, we grow, we mature… or at least we can. And I would never be so cruel as to take away anybody’s right to fail by, e.g., supporting a government Bureau of Bad Breaks, which tries to make good (at taxpayer expense) any setback or adverse result of poor judgment — like not buying health insurance and then getting sick or injured. That’s a liberal idea, and I despise it as unAmerican and infantalizing.
I will defend with my life Barack Obama’s fundamental right to fail. But I just wish he would get busy and exercise it… soon!
Cross-posted on Big Lizards…