Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Obama ≠ Castro

American Politics are often frustrating. I find one of the most frustrating things about our politics is that people seeking elective office are compelled to simplify the complexities of their positions in ways that are clear and concise so as to translate as effectively as possible across print, broadcast, and blog media with the goal, of course, of reaching as large an audience as possible (at least 50.1% of those who bother to vote). This isn't the only possible political dynamic, but it's the one that we're faced with.

There are many ways that politicians simplify their message into "talking points," elements of a political platform, "sound bites," etc. To do so doesn't by definition mean that truth is compromised, but it does mean that the full complexity of a given topic is sacrificed to some degree. The potential benefits of simplification are balanced by potential shortcomings. Minimizing complexity can do disservice to a given topic by obscuring power dynamics, leaving out multiple causes, ignoring the role of human agency, perpetuating one logical fallacy or another, etc.

One of the many reasons why I don't have any respect for Sarah Palin (and why I pity her supporters) is that she consistently takes the "low road" as she's simplifying complex realities for her personal, financial, and political purposes. A recent example is how she characterized Fidel Castro's speech regarding the recent passage of health care reform legislation in the U.S.

Castro said that he considered this reform "to have been an important battle and a success of his (Obama's) government," and followed this with a critique: "It is really incredible that 234 years after the Declaration of Independence ... the government of that country has approved medical attention for the majority of its citizens, something that Cuba was able to do half a century ago."*

As covered by NPR, Palin stated "Something's not quite right when Fidel Castro comes out and says he likes Obamacare, but we don't like Obamacare" (original video here).

First, Palin here is implying a negative association here that undoubtedly warms the cockles of those in the audience but that nevertheless shows a willing disregarded for a number of complexities--such as:

** The fact that a more fair and inclusive health care system isn't socialism;

** Even if it was broadly "socialistic" to some degree, there is a range of socialistic flavorings that have shown themselves to be perfectly compatible with functioning democracies (ever heard of Europe, or Social Security, or Medicare, Palin?);

** Overly simplistic representations of complex political philosophies aside, isn't it at least a conversation worth having that a more equitable health care system can help deliver "life, liberty, and pursuit of happiness?";

** All else aside, Palin's smarmy and ignorant attempt to smear President Obama is a clear example of the fallacy of guilt by association: Even if one were to take it as a given that Fidel Castro is an evil bogey-man with no redeeming qualities**, it does not logically proceed from this premise that a sentence of adulation from him in and of itself sullies Obama.

Palin is a reprehensible, bombastic, and frightening anti-intellectual, and the fact that so many people find anything worthy of emulation in her words and actions speaks poorly of our country. Her current media success isn't surprising--this is the same country, after all, that produced George Wallace, Joe McCarthy, Bill O'Reilly, Anne Coulter, etc. -- but it does make me sad, nonetheless.

In closing, if anyone can find an example of Palin delivering in good faith an intellectually robust argument that recognizes complexity and respects other perspectives while yet adhering to conservative tenets, I will consider revising my negative view of her. (I won't be holding my breath, though.)

* I must say that I agree wholeheartedly with this brief clip of Castro's sentiments. Comprehensive health care seems to me a no-brainer, providing as it does for the life, liberty, and pursuit of happiness of our fellow citizens.

** Much more can and has been written about this -- I leave that for another time.


1 comment:

  1. Interesting experience re Palin:

    The day before Palin's recent rally speech for the Tea Party in Harry Reid's town, I was listening to Hannity's radio show (I like to know what "they" are up to). It was a day of many one-liners. Turned on the TV the next day to hear those SAME one-liners being shouted out by Palin. Hmmm.