The (Lost) Art of Democratic Argument – A Day Trip (3)

by A. Jay Adler on August 13, 2010
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from Eric Scheie at Classical Values, on the subject of “odious debt” from which a citizenry might be granted relief:

The Cato Institute has another piece on odious debt:

Most debts created by Saddam Hussein in the name of the Iraqi people would qualify as “odious” according to the international Doctrine of Odious Debts. This legal doctrine holds that debts not used in the public interest are not legally enforceable.Far be it from me to compare people like Chris Dodd, Barney Frank, Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid to Saddam Hussein. They didn’t build huge palaces or massacre their political enemies. But how can reckless policies which are certain to bankrupt a country ever be considered to be in the public interest? Saddam Hussein would say that his were, and I think all tyrants would make the same claim. As to consent, once again, all the Saddams would argue that of course the people consented. Just ask Mahmoud Ahmadinejad; I am sure he will say that the people love him and he is acting in their interest.

But tyranny is tyranny. It doesn’t have to reach the bloodthirsty levels of a Saddam Hussein. Tyranny is arbitrary power, especially illegal and unconstitutional power.

Which raises the question of the day: Are we now living under tyranny?

I sometimes get myself worked up into emotional states, and when I do I try to avoid writing about the topic that upset me, because I find I am more capable of being logical, analytical, and rational when I am calm. And it is really easy to get all worked up and scream that these people who want to invade our privacy, steal our money, and run every last aspect of our lives are tyrants.

But the other day I was calm, collected, unemotional, relaxed, you know, completely sober in every sense of the word, and I concluded that, yes, it is beyond question that the United States government has become tyrannical.

On sober reflection, I still agree with my sober and reflective thought.

Let’s start with Scheie’s gracious concession that Chris Dodd, Barney Frank, Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid might be distinguished from Saddam Hussein on the basis that they “didn’t build huge palaces or massacre their political enemies.” Good that he was able to find some moral space between the parties. I think the same space may be found between Hussein and G.W. Bush. Yet there has to be for Scheie some basis of comparison, so he finds it in fiscal policies that are “certain to bankrupt a country,” and in this the parties are all alike. But, of course, the current policies are not certain to bankrupt the country (if I were required to bet money on the prospect – I’d rather not – I would bet they won’t), but because that certainty is required for the foolish moral equivalency Scheie draws, he asserts it anyway. He then claims, out of some faculty other than a critical one, that Saddam Hussein, like the Democrats, thought his fiscal policies for the good of his country – another equivalency. There is good reason, actually, to think that Hussein did not think about the good of his country, not in any way, by any definition of the words “good” and “country,” that the rest of us would understand, but even if he did conceptualize in those terms, Scheie would here be making the kind of relativistic argument that a believer in “classical values” would otherwise reject. He has just offered the fiscal equivalent of “one man’s terrorist is another man’s freedom fighter.”

Just because Hussein might have made the same claims as Democrats – and Republicans – doesn’t mean that the claims are true or equivalent, anymore than wrapping oneself in a banner of national liberation and freedom fighting means, on the basis of the claim alone, that one doesn’t meet a definition of terrorist. Individual cases need to be judged against established criteria.

Let’s continue with the observation that Scheie takes no note in his agonizing over the debt of the policies of George W. Bush and the amount of debt his administration racked up, or the trillions – a quadrupling – accumulated during the presidency of Ronald Reagan. Wherever we are right now, we didn’t get here by the guidance of Barack Obama alone, but this kind of slanting is necessary when you want odiously to compare people to a tyrant like Saddam Hussein, as many people Scheie would reject compared Bush and Hussein. Playwright Tony Kushner said he thought both of them evil. I’ll bet that really burned Scheie. Now look what he is up to.

Scheie says we’re “living under a tyranny.”

Here is is Dictionary.com:

tyr·an·ny
/ˈtɪrəni/ Show Spelled[tir-uh-nee] Show IPA
–noun, plural -nies.
1. arbitrary or unrestrained exercise of power; despotic abuse of authority.

2. the government or rule of a tyrant or absolute ruler.

3. a state ruled by a tyrant or absolute ruler.

4. oppressive or unjustly severe government on the part of any ruler.

5. undue severity or harshness.

6. a tyrannical act or proceeding.

Some of these words are subjective. Your “oppressed”?  Hey, I feel oppressed, too. I use you, but you abuse me. And just and unjust we could argue all day. There are times many of us, when young, feel our parents to be tyrants. But “unrestrained,” “absolute rule” is the starting point for tyranny, from which the severity and harshness and all the rest may objectively follow. You can dislike the policies of your government a whole, whole lot – it can even, actually, be misguided – but that doesn’t make it a tyranny. That’s why Scheie is waiting so eagerly for November. The meanings of words do matter, and one might think a believer in “classical values,” like good, honest democratic debate, might well believe that, too.

Judging by this nonsense, apparently not.

(H/T Shrinkwrapped)

AJA

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