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Exposing the argumentative tactics of the conservative right

Mon, Jun 11th, 2012
Posted in All Commentary

By Herb Panko

Chatfield, MN

The views of the Conservative Right are consistently well-represented in this newspaper---mainly by the three regular columnists John Goutcher, Stan Gudmundson, and Andrew Kingsley. Opposition voices are long overdue.

Before we deconstruct some of their most common themes, the reader should be aware of the most frequent tactics commonly used by the Right in promulgating their ideology: employing gross exaggeration and deception, “cherry picking” a phrase or sentence from an article or book that seems to support their viewpoint and ignoring the rest of the body of work that does not support their view, stating half-truths, using none, poor, or dubious supporting evidence, and frequently stating outright falsehoods.

First, let’s take Mr. Goutcher’s argument that we were founded as a Christian nation. That is contrary to most of our founders’ beliefs and declarations. They were indeed mostly Deists, agnostics, and atheists. Simply taking an oath on the Bible or calling on God for support as was common at the time has more to do with generic use of the deity and political protocol than professing allegiance to an anthropomorphic, omniscient personal deity.

I wonder how many of those early oaths were taken with a hand on the Jeffersonian Bible. Jefferson did not believe Jesus was God or divine. He actually excerpted all passages in his Bible that referenced that belief---hardly a Christian act. In fact, nowhere does the Constitution say: “This is a Christian nation” or anything even close to that. In fact, the words “Jesus Christ, Christianity, Bible, Creator, Divine, and God” are never mentioned in the Constitution---not even once. The reason for that is intentional and very clear. The founders wanted to be sure that no religion, even Christianity, could make the claim of being the official, national religion. Therefore, it is inconceivable that the founders would have wanted the U.S. to be considered a Christian nation.

Incidentally, since most of the founders were either Deists or leaned toward Deism, any use of the word “God,” “Creator” etc. was most likely a reference to the Deistic God, not the Christian God.

There is more proof that the early founders did not want this country to be considered a Christian nation. The 1796 Treaty with Tripoli states that the United States was “not in any sense founded on the Christian religion.” This treaty was written under the presidency of George Washington and signed under the presidency of John Adams.

Next, let’s consider Mr. Gudmundson’s reference to the March 28, 2012, Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (the IPCC). Mr. Gudmundson “cherry picks” one statement from the report that seems to support what he apparently wants to believe---that global warming is only a weakly supported hypothesis or at most a pure hoax. The statement that he conveniently excerpts from the report reads, “long-term trends in normalized (property) losses have not been attributed to natural or anthropogenic climate change.” What Mr. Gudmundson conveniently does not tell you is that the basic thrust of the IPCC is that global warming/climate change is real and that we must prepare for it. In support of the opposing view, one could have “cherry picked” in the same article the statement, “human-caused climate change influences climatic-related disaster risk.” But, of course, this is always a deceptive tactic regardless of which side of the fence one is on. What’s important is the main thrust of the article which is that the IPCC is in agreement with the overwhelming consensus that we are indeed experiencing global warming. Anyone who disagrees with that is in denial or suffering from some type of scientific illiteracy.

Another favorite ideological punching bag of the Right is “Big Government.” Mr. Kingsley falls in lock-step with the backward and flawed thinking of those who treat the federal government as our enemy. In his latest column Mr. Kingsley uses such phrases as “massive, corrupt government,” and “the solution will not be found in government.”

Both statements are half-truths at best. Such phrases showing “big government” as the enemy roll off the tongue easily as if such beliefs are self-evident and need no explanation. Those who make those claims have no idea of how to arrive at a “small governmentor” or whether it is even advisable. We live in a nation of 300+ million people, most of whom have a right to be served by the government in some capacity whether it be Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, agricultural and small business subsidies, federal student loans, transportation, communication, and education subsidies, and a myriad of other types of aid. The truth is that both politically and ethically it is nearly impossible to do much “cutting” to make a significant difference in the economy. “Big Government” in itself is not bad but it has to be funded. The problem is the Conservative Right takes the position that appeals to those who have a selfish and unpatriotic mindset--- that taxes should not be increased for any reason. And by the way, getting rid of waste and corruption in government is a laudable goal, but it is unrealistic; and even if we could do so, it would not solve our current economic woes.

In summary, the reader needs to be aware that most Right Wing ideology is not based on sound judgment or realistic government policy but on deceptions, exaggerations, half-truths, and alarmist rhetoric.

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