Thursday, July 23, 2009

Throwing Terms Around

Last night, the President talked about health care reform. This is something I believe strongly in, but that's another post for another day.

I didn't actually see the press conference, as I was busy doing homework at the time. However, I had Facebook open (yeah, I know) as I worked, and I started seeing some comments come in regarding a friend's status update.

Now, I have no problem with people opposing the President's policies, or not even liking the man. That's normal; you can't win them all. However, I was shocked when I read some of the things people were saying. I refuse to use names, as I believe that is disrespectful. But here are the things I took issue with. The statements written in quotations are exactly as they were written, except where I felt clarification was needed.

"[The President]'s a lot like Hitler" because Hitler "slowly manipulated everyone into liking him and slowly took over germany and became dictator.."

"People already think that [Obama] is the Messiah and that how Germany saw Hitler.."

The biggest problem I have here is that the President of the United States is being compared to Adolf Hitler, one of the most despicable and almost universally reviled men in the history of the world. I think anyone should have a problem with that comparison, whether the President is Barack Obama, George W. Bush, or anyone that has a name that isn't Adolf Hitler.
Another person pointed out the following:

"[H]itler took power by usurping control over the following industries: banking/lending, military, health care, etc. obama may not be comitting genocide, but a lot of history is repeating itself."

I'm going to go out on a limb here and say that because President Obama is a charismatic individual and an excellent orator, the Hitler comparisons are also being levied against him.

But let's look at those points: First would be the banking/lending charge. The collapse in the banking industry happened before Barack Obama was elected President. Keep in mind when it happened; Senator McCain "suspended" his campaign in order to help with the crisis.

The initial bailout was signed into law by President George W. Bush on October 3, 2008; this was a month before Obama became President-elect, and three-and-a-half months until the he could sign anything into law himself.

Using that logic, the Hitler charge could be issued against President Bush; does that make it true? Of course not! President Bush is no closer to being like Hitler than President Obama is.

Secondly, the charge is that Obama, like Hitler, took power by usurping control of the military. Nowhere prior to the election on November 4, 2008 to January 20, 2009, did Obama in any way utilize the military. It wasn't until his inauguration that he had any authority over the military. It was through his inauguration that he thereby took control of the armed forces of the United States, and he did so the exact same way George W. Bush, William Jefferson Clinton, George H.W. Bush, Ronald Reagan, and every other President did. To compare Obama to Hitler in doing so is to compare all of the other 43 Presidents to him in the same way.

Lastly, there is the charge that Obama trying to take over health care is similar to what Hitler did. At the time of writing, I don't know where to find out if Hitler did take over Germany's health care system. Therefore, this part is speculation, but I think the same principle applies. Consider that Obama is rather trying to provide a health care system similar to Canada, England, or Australia. Weren't these countries allies of the United States during World War II? And they are allies still today. Still, does that make Canadian Tommy Douglas the same as Hitler? Does that equate every other industrialized nation that has universal health care with Nazi Germany? Clearly, as it is with the Obama-Hitler comparison, it does not.

Further are the charges that Obama is a socialist. This is a somewhat humorous charge among the Hitler comparisons, as Hitler and the Nazi Party were anti-communist. That aside, it brings us to the first order of contention here. Anymore, people are using "socialism/socialist" synonymously with "communism/communist." While socialism and communism are similar, there are also striking differences.

Webster defines socialism as:

1: any of various economic and political theories advocating collective or governmental ownership and administration of the means of production and distribution of goods2 a: a system of society or group living in which there is no private property b: a system or condition of society in which the means of production are owned and controlled by the state3: a stage of society in Marxist theory transitional between capitalism and communism and distinguished by unequal distribution of goods and pay according to work done

Whereas communism is described as:

1 a: a theory advocating elimination of private property b: a system in which goods are owned in common and are available to all as needed2capitalized a: a doctrine based on revolutionary Marxian socialism and Marxism-Leninism that was the official ideology of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics b: a totalitarian system of government in which a single authoritarian party controls state-owned means of production c: a final stage of society in Marxist theory in which the state has withered away and economic goods are distributed equitably d: communist systems collectively

True, the government bailed out many corporations, but unless I'm mistaken, I believe the condition was that once those companies were back on their feet, the government-owned shares would be sold. That's vastly different in comparison to socialism or communism, wherein the means of production are owned by all or the government.

In the case of health care, I believe the plan isn't that the government owns the health care system; rather, the government health care system provides coverage to those that are not currently covered, and thereby the government's system actually competes with existing health care providers. That sounds an awful lot like capitalism.

Obama is not a dictator, and no one party permanently controls the government. Although Obama has declared he wants to "even the playing field", so to speak, it is not in the way described under definition 2b of communism listed above. Obama doesn't want to do away with private property. The vast majority of the means of production are owned by entities other than the government, and there has been no indication that Obama or the Democratically-led Congress has any intentions to change that.

A lot of his rhetoric has been about helping small businesses succeed. To me, that sounds like a capitalistic venture.

The problem is that people throw these words around without knowing what they mean. Or worse, we allow people to change the meanings of these words into shallow distortions of their original and true meanings. In the same way, the terms "liberal" and "conservative" have been warped into caricatures of their true political definitions, and are used to demonize those that adhere to a particular ideology. Similarly "socialism" has been warped to be synonymous with "communism", and in particular with Communism as defined in definition 2a, and essentially 2b; the principles of socialism appear to be quite different from Communism.

It would be my hope that we would take into consideration the terms that we haphazardly throw around, and the comparisons that I believe do more damage to ourselves than they do those we are trying to attack. In doing so, we can open an actual dialog that can produce productive debate that might change our minds on the issues, regardless of where we may currently stand.

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