The American political landscape is strewn with a history of candidates who, when unable to develop a positive strategy for why they should be elected, have reverted to the tactics of the old political playbooks. They attempt to “label” the opponent as untrustworthy and even dangerous to our society by using fear, guilt by association, ignorance, hypocrisy and distortion of reality.
Sometimes politicians will use this ploy in a silly and frivolous way. An example of such a tactic was used by a guy running for Congress in Alabama when his campaign ran a series of impactful political ads accusing his opponent of, “being a proven and practicing Homo-sapien.” George Smathers reportedly used this tactic in a Florida senate primary when he attacked his opponent, Claude Pepper, in a campaign mailing brochure that asked, “Are you aware that the candidate is known all over Washington as a shameless extrovert? Not only that, but this man is reliably reported to have practiced nepotism with his sister-in-law and he has a sister who was once a wicked thespian in New York. He matriculated with co-eds at the University, and it is an established fact that before his marriage he habitually practiced celibacy.”
Using fancy words to create the implication that your opponent is sinister is one thing. But it is quite another to use emotionally-charged rhetoric to purposefully defame your opponent with ideas and sentiments that carry an excess of negative emotional baggage. And we’re seeing a lot of that sort of argumentum ad hominem in this presidential election by candidates who are so desperate they see no other alternative than to attack the man, not his arguments, in an effort to win.
Its use is not only a fallacy in logic it is a fallacy of fact. Here’s why.
There was a time in America, not too long ago, when the worst mantle you could stigmatize your opponent with was to label him a “fellow-traveler.” For a time, “liberal” or “card-carrying member of the ACLU” worked well, too. Such sobriquets are examples of Godwin’s Law whereby the label you place upon another is so inflammatory that valid comparisons (or discussions, for that matter) cannot be made.
An Oldie but Goody?
One of the worst of these terms has now been dug out of the dust-bin for this presidential campaign. The label in this case is to identify the opponent as being a “socialist” and by inference, a nefarious one at that. Back in 1964 Barry Goldwater (also of Arizona and a hero of John McCain) led the Republican attacks on John F. Kenney by suggesting that if Americans elected Kennedy they would be electing a socialist. John McCain has now dipped into this prejudicial “black hole” of the past to accuse Barack Obama of being of the same ilk. After all, who in their right mind would support a candidate who espouses a Marxist philosophy of state-ownership of production and distribution of goods and wealth?
Clearly John McCain and his running mate (who, by the way, likes to label herself and John McCain as “mavericks,” because that seems positive, but when asked, ducked the label of “feminist,” because she thought it had a negative connotation) believe it is to their advantage to tag Obama with the label of “socialist.” Clearly few of us who are “real” Americans would ever admit to being socialist, let alone “paling around with known socialists.” The inference is, of course, that if someone is a socialist then clearly they are something foreign and not one of us.
Really? What is socialism? Would we ever consider doing anything in America that had “tinges of socialism” associated with it?
Well, one of the basic pillars of socialism is the transfer of wealth from those who have wealth to those who don’t have wealth. Surely real Americans would never put up with such an approach – or would they? You bet your sweet bippy they would and here are just a few examples:
• A progressive income tax system (whereby the more you earn the more you pay) has been in existence in the US for almost a century. The impact is to transfer wealth, and we avoid when possible taxes which are “regressive,” those which impose a greater burden (relative to resources) on the poor than on the rich.
• The estates of wealthy individuals are taxed at death at rates up to 45 percent. The impact is to transfer wealth—from the “haves” to some of the “have-nots.
• Social Security is a transfer of wealth from those working to those retired.
• Medicare is a transfer of wealth from the healthy to the aged who are ill.
• Medicaid is a transfer of wealth from those who can afford to pay for healthcare to those who can’t.
• The food-stamp program is a transfer of wealth from those who can afford to buy food to those who can’t.
• A “tax-rebate” has been the law of the land for over 30 years. It is a system that transfers wealth by having those earning above a certain level pay taxes, a portion of which are re-distributed to those below a certain level of income.
• The ability to tax-deduct the interest charge on a home mortgage is a transfer of wealth. In this case from those who can’t afford a home to those who can.
• Even your lowly auto license plate soaks owners of more expensive cars and transfers that wealth to owners of cheaper vehicles who pay less for their tags.
Of note, of course, is that all of the candidates in the Presidential election (Ron Paul excluded) have voted for or are in support of these “socialist” actions. Moreover, their support of these governmental activities has not, ipso facto, turned the good ‘ol US of A into a Socialist Marxist state.
But, there is more. Here are some new examples of socialistic transfer of wealth.
Would you call it tinges of socialism to have a specific surtax on the profits of private companies for the sole purpose of re-distributing those profits to individuals? Since the Governor of Alaska fought for such a law, she does not see this as socialism.
Would you call it tinges of socialism to take $300 billion from those faithfully paying their mortgages in order to pay off the mortgages (and make the banks whole) of those who have failed to pay their mortgages? Since Senator McCain has proposed such a plan, he does not see this as socialism.
Would you call it socialism for the government to take an ownership interest in a couple of private mortgage companies, a large insurance company and the largest banks in America? Senator McCain supports this action, but declares Obama a socialist for doing the same.
So what is Barack Obama to do to refute this socialist name calling? Well, I suggest he use the retort we all used as children. When John McCain calls Obama a “socialist” all he has to say is, “I know you are but what am I?”