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Big Issues, Smaller Words

Less than a week after the passage of a landmark health care bill into law, the pundits appear to be sure of one thing: this will be used heavily by republicans in the November elections.  The most interesting thing about this prognostication isn’t how universal it is, but how very likely it is completely wrong.

The first thing that we have to assume for health care to be a Republican issue in November is that it will be relatively unpopular.  Polls are already showing that, as it sinks in, people are beginning to see the various bits and pieces that will work very well for them.  Socialism?  That’s just a word, but lowering someone’s bills or making it possible for them to actually have health insurance is a bit more real.

If nothing else, the Democrats have gotten something done and shown real leadership – which is generally popular in a world that appears to be out of control.  If anyone uses this health care bill as an issue in November, it’s more likely to be the Democrats than their sparring partners.

Beyond the specifics of what happened is the issue of tactics used by the crumbling wreck that was once the might Republican Spin Machine™.  They have taken to chucking issues around like a toddler throwing a tantrum.  The idea that one issue might stick around for a full 8 months is completely ridiculous – we are far more likely to have seen about 16 issues come and go in that time frame.

This brings me to the very latest conservative assault – the attack on the words “progressive” and “social justice”.  I call them an attack on words because, at heart, that is what we have – a semantic argument that is a sure loser for the right no matter how it goes down.  With a little help from an organized left we might even make this into a big win.  It happens this way.

Fist of all, what has been proposed is that churches and other groups that promote “social justice” are somehow the enemy of conservatism and, by proxy, America, apple pie, motherhood, and all that other stuff.  This is an enormous loser for one important reason – the Catholic Church.  The pro-life /anti-choice movement had to work for years to bridge the gaps between Protestants and Catholics in order to present a united front.  Telling the Catholic side that their emphasis on social justice goes against everything important is to invite the divide to split wide open once again.  It’s very, very stupid.

There’s more to it, however.  What does “social justice” actually mean?  It may look like an easy target because, in many ways, it’s another example of people using a fancy-sounding term when there is a simple one that makes as much sense.  However, all the left has to do as a counter is go back to the term we should never have left behind in the first place – Fairness.  Is the right now against Fairness?  Are they finally willing to admit that working to improve Fairness goes against everything they stand for?

Granted, this is just the first of many issues I expect to come between us and the November elections. What is important here is that in the desperation to find a winner and the complete lack of organization and skill, the conservatives are as likely to destroy themselves as strike any good blows to the left – and could easily land a few blows on themselves if the left gets anything resembling its act together.

Will the health care bill be a big issue for Republicans in November?  The way they are going there might not even be a Republican party by November.  But perhaps the next issue, or the one after that, won’t be quite as stupid at heart as the one they are plugging right after the health care bill.  We’ll just have to see.

16 thoughts on “Big Issues, Smaller Words

  1. Great piece, Erik. I would love to know at what point “American” meant “selfish and greedy.” Because that seems to be where the Republicans are coming from, with their anti-social-justice agenda. What is even sadder is all the poor people they have recruited to their side–don’t they realize the agenda works against them?

    I’m also rather horrified at the vitriol they unleash over AN ATTEMPT TO HELP PEOPLE GET HEALTHCARE. Since when was this such a terrible thing?? Wasn’t it something that Reagan also wanted to do? And Bush I?

    Here’s the thing, though. I don’t believe it’s that issue that they’re really hollering about at all. What they are doing is essentially having a tantrum because they lost last November–so now they are going to be completely uncooperative and do everything they can to make Obama “fail”–even though it means that, in so doing, AMERICA will “fail.” THAT’S patriotism???

  2. I totally agree that we need to use words that make more sense to people in the first place in all our political rhetoric. But do you really think that we can make that happen? It seems that a lot of suits need to prove how smart they are, and ‘fairness’ isn’t exactly a college word.

  3. Molly: You hit the nail on the head – there are a ton of places where the hard line being taken just crumbles. They can’t just push what they’ve been pushing so far because it really won’t make a lot of sense in the long run.

    Dale: Another very excellent point. I realize I often use big words I shouldn’t, but I do know better. Hit me over the head when I do and maybe I’ll get out of the habit. Then we can help the rest of the left get out of it, too.

    Fairness, folks. We stand for Fairness. It’s hard territory to claim but if the mythical “other side” is willing to vacate it … hey …

  4. I totally agree that the more people understand what was passed the more they will like it. I do hope that Dems take a lesson from this and realize that getting things done is the most important thing right now, too.

  5. I think most five year old kids know what fairness is. Eventually it seems it is beaten out of them some way and people just shut up. But where do you draw the boundaries politically and internationally?

  6. Dan: I think you’re right on. “Fairness” is something we know when we see it, until we’re trained to think of more complicated stuff. I don’t think it’s much of a stretch to say that when it’s not clear what “fair” is that we have something to talk over – to a 5 year old, “use our words”. 🙂 Beyond scoring a few cheap political points on rhetoric, what I’d like more than anything is to get a good conversation going, after all!

  7. Doug Grow has a great story on Minnpost exactly about fairness and it also points back to the 1930’s.

  8. “Social justice” is a bad term to them in the same way that they tried to make “community organizer” a bad term. It was pathetic then, and it can be pathetic again.

  9. Dan: The more we all talk about “fairness” in plain English, the better we’ll do. I’m sure of it!

    Paul: Excellent point! Going after big words and big terms is a sure loser – and if Dems didn’t prove that I don’t know what to say to people. I had forgotten how “community organizer” as an insult went down – good call!

  10. Fairness.

    Let us not forget Fairness in TAX policy … The pretax incomes of the wealthy have soared since the late 1970s, while their tax rates have fallen more than rates for the middle class and poor. Why do We tax “working” income at one level but give a “passive investment” income (capital gains) a lower rate? Why do We allow step-up cost basis on inherited assets and still have a Zero Estate Tax (at least this year it is zero) ?

    Let us not forget Fairness in Educational Opportunities … and Healthcare … and JobZ Opportunities … If you were born and reside in The Cities your life is different than a rural citizen … yet the property tax base is set by the metro areas.

    We must remember that it is WE that can impact Fairness by the individuals We empower through the ballot box.

  11. This reminds me of an idea brought up by another commenter here – the history of the Minnesota Miracle. We don’t have to take more than a passing glance at the Tax Incidence Studies over the last few decades to see the terrible erosion in fairness here in Minnesota. Getting a handle on some of the terribly unfair things that have been allowed to happen is a start, but only a start, in crafting the next generation of the Minnesota Miracle. I wasn’t here for the first go ’round, so I’m looking for guidance on how that went down. But we can see in the current situation just how far we’ve strayed.

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