Thursday, June 16, 2011

Ethical Rhetoric

The Tower of Babel by Pieter Bruegel the Elder (1563).
“Government takeover” has been a defining phrase for the right over the past few years.   But it is just the kind of sloppy rhetorical sloganeering that drags political discourse into the mud.

The truth is that “takeover” can mean any number of things. It can mean anything from a literal annexing of private businesses by the government, to a slight increase in the government’s presence in the healthcare market – the effect of which being to put the government in the position of driving some degree of health costs in the entire market. The former is entirely untrue, while the latter is mostly true. And basically the same can be said about government “takeover” of the banking or auto industries.

The problem is that when most people think of “takeover”, they think of the former. This is helpful rhetoric because while there is a kernel of truth to it, the claim can be backed away from as “hyperbole, while retaining all the demagogic punch and avoiding the impression that one is outright lying.

I suppose being a mealy mouth weasel doesn’t bother some people, but I’m not comfortable with it. Nor am I comfortable going one step further and offering for my defense the claim that “well, they do it to”. I suspect this is an Achilles heel of the left – not being as comfortable playing dirty.

However, in the end I imagine it is mostly about a conscious awareness of what we are doing. To the extent that the right is more comfortable playing games with language and emotions, I don’t think it is really a conscious choice to behave unethically. I think they simply aren’t as reflective intellectually in general.

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