Name-Calling Is No Substitute for Debate
It is a sad day for America when nonsense emerges as one of the linchpins of a political movement.
I refer, of course, to the sign-wielding proclaimers of infamy, who always appear at the front of the tea party rallies, and who rarely if ever are called to account by the media or the more responsible and prominent members and supporters of the movement.
Now rather dated, the subject comes to mind by reports of the “standards” recently adopted by the Texas School Board. The object of those standards is to ensure that textbooks used by the Texas school system reflect an understanding of certain aspects of our nation’s history more in keeping with a majority of the board’s view of that history.
Readers may recall our ridicule of the Soviet Union’s efforts to rewrite history in a manner compatible with Marxist ideology and more glorifying of communist accomplishments. Some notion as to the quality of the Texas board’s work will be found in what was reported to be the view of its chairman that the earth was formed only 6,000 years ago, a belief put forward toward modification of the science standards dealing with the subject of evolution.
The point to be made is that misinformation is a socially destructive force.
We acknowledge the necessity of an “informed” electorate for the maintenance of a democratic society while, at the same time, both of our major political parties are assiduously attempting to misinform the public to the extent required for a polling advantage. Accepting the prevalence of the practice does not make it right, and we are countenancing it at our peril.
We spend billions of dollars on programs aimed at combating the failures in our educational system — the “dumbing down” of a generation of students — but cannot muster outrage at plainly inaccurate political blather that fosters dumbing down.
The most egregious current example is the epithets of “socialist,” “communist,” “fascist” and “Muslim” being thrown at President Obama.
In a literate society, words have accepted meanings, and their misuse is of more than semantical importance. There are legitimate and, for many, very persuasive arguments as to the efficacy and consequences of the Obama administration’s policies and programs. To substitute for those arguments pejoratives for which there is no substantial basis serves only to make the uninformed in our citizenry arousingly misinformed.
Putting aside the definitional impossibility of one being at once both a communist and a fascist, the notion that there is also a tyranny afoot with its boot on the throat of the Constitution is beyond silly. Before supporting for immediate advantage the use of unwarranted epithets to justify “taking back our Constitution,” the more responsible of Obama’s critics should consider longer-run societal consequences.
To urge a literal reading of many constitutional provisions is to ignore 200 years of political, economic, and social history. For example, the power granted the Congress “to regulate Commerce with foreign Nations, and among the several States” has been an issue brought by disputants before the Supreme Court in thousands of cases. Each involved interpretations such as what constitutes “regulation,” what constitutes “commerce,” or what constitutes “interstate” as opposed to “intrastate” commerce.
In each of the cases that has come before it, the court has had to reach a decision by the exercise of judgment, not by rote — and while the wisdom of its judgments remains grist for legal scholars, they are nonetheless the heart of what this nation treasures as being one guided by “the rule of law.”
So, in short, those who want to “take back our Constitution” should be advised of the proper forum for any claim they can make that is plausible. Name-calling in the town square may be effective in giving vent to frustration but should not be condoned implicitly as expression of a reality.
It is worth repeating — words have consequences.
Currently, we are faced with assuaging the anti-Americanism rampant among Pakistanis that is fueled by an unrelenting and false propaganda effort.
That effort succeeds because belief in a lie is directly proportional to the frequency with which the lie is propounded. We Americans should not assume that, uniquely, we are immune to the long-run consequences of a wide and persistent dissemination of misinformation.
An observation by Thomas Jefferson nicely underscores the risk we run: “No nation is permitted to live in ignorance without impunity.”
J. Thomas Tidd is a retired attorney living in Pinehurst.
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