Dissent Is SO Yesterday!

David Harsanyi asks whether dissent is still patriotic in the Age of Obama. The answer, I suspect, is no. Instead, watch for any opposition to President Obama, whether measured or not, to be labeled as “divisiveness” and cast aside. As Harsanyi puts it:

Some of you must still believe that politicians are meant to serve rather than be worshiped. And there must be someone out there who considers partisanship a healthy, organic reflection of our differences rather than something to be surrendered in the name of so- called unity — which is, after all, untenable, subjective and utterly counterproductive.

President Obama’s call to unity was standard boilerplate stuff. After all, one of the mottos of this nation is E pluribus unum—”out of many, one.” But at the same time, there’s a difference between coming together as a nation and being forced to all read from the same playbook. The strength of America is in our ability to have legitimate disagreements about politics and policy while still acknowledging our common values. That is a balance, and I fear that Obama will fail to understand the difference. These passages from his Inaugural Address does not bode well:

On this day, we gather because we have chosen hope over fear, unity of purpose over conflict and discord.

Have we? I despise the idea that one party of another has a monopoly on either hope or fear, and it’s a transparently dumb argument to make. Those of us who voted for McCain voted out of hope as well, hope for a better future in which government did not trample upon the right of the people to pursue their own happiness. Does President Obama really believe his own bull about him being a living symbol of hope? If not, are these words just more empty rhetoric, sugary words devoid of substance? Then why make them?

I suspect the answer is that Obama is a believer in his own hype, and that scares me deeply.

On this day, we come to proclaim an end to the petty grievances and false promises, the recriminations and worn out dogmas, that for far too long have strangled our politics.

Like hell we have.

Every politician plays hardball. Partisanship is inevitable in a free society, and that’s a feature, not a bug. In order for this statement to make sense, Obama must believe 1) that he is somehow above politics, which is transparently ludicrous for any politician to say; and 2) that our politics would be better if we jettisoned the “worn out dogmas” that he doesn’t like.

As a good Burkean, this makes me gag. Our politics is meaningless without the beliefs that President Obama wants to denigrate as being “worn out.” Our politics needs vital disagreement on key issues. Democracy is never about conformity, else it becomes little more than the rule of the mob. But when you’re at the head of the mob, I suppose, mob rule doesn’t sound all that bad.

We remain a young nation, but in the words of Scripture, the time has come to set aside childish things. The time has come to reaffirm our enduring spirit; to choose our better history; to carry forward that precious gift, that noble idea, passed on from generation to generation: the God-given promise that all are equal, all are free, and all deserve a chance to pursue their full measure of happiness.

Note what Obama is doing here. He’s first calling partisanship “childish” rather than a necessary part of vital democratic debate. He’s then wrapping himself in the mantle of the American character. It’s the classic way that a politician tries to diminish his or her opponents without appearing to do so. First you delegitimize the “other” then you wrap yourself in the values you wish to be seen as embodying. It’s a classic rhetorical trick, and Obama plays it to the hilt.

If that weren’t enough, this passage further demonstrates Obama’s feelings towards dissent:

What the cynics fail to understand is that the ground has shifted beneath them – that the stale political arguments that have consumed us for so long no longer apply. The question we ask today is not whether our government is too big or too small, but whether it works – whether it helps families find jobs at a decent wage, care they can afford, a retirement that is dignified.

Hear that, all of us “cynics”? We’re too stupid to realize that now that Obama is on the scene, the question about the role of the State in our lives is no longer relevant. Now the question is not whether the government should interfere in our lives, but just how much it will take to achieve the desired ends of the left-wing nanny state. Our “stale arguments” aren’t even worth discussing, now is the Era of Government, and we are but mere roadbumps on the way.

Sadly, those words betray a worldview that would delegitimize debate. Whenever a politician speaks of “transcending politics” or whatever mumbo-jumbo they use, what they ultimately mean is that they would like their side to always prevail. Politics isn’t a flaw in our system, it is our system. The moment we start arguing that legitimate debate over issues is “childish” or decide to chuck out the “worn out dogmas” of the opposition party, we abandon the principle of democracy in for tyranny.

Not once in the speech does President Obama countenance any opposition to his worldview. Not once in his speech does Obama even admit to the legitimacy of those who see things through another lens. Rather it was entirely about how now that Obama is in charge it’s time to “remake” America, whether those cynical believers in the value of a limited government of enumerated powers like it or not.

It is one thing for America to be one nation united by common bonds of history and culture. It is another for someone to declare that their election is a triumph of hope over fear. The worst thing that could happen is that they actually start to believe that.

I will keep my “worn out” dogma and be “childish” then. We should, and must, act as a loyal opposition, never sacrificing the national interest solely to make a political point, but that does not imply rolling over for Obama’s “remade” America. In the words of another President, “aggressive fighting for the right is the noblest sport the world affords.” Just because President Obama says that the days of partisan disagreement is over will not make it so, nor should it.