Monday, February 20, 2012

Note to E.J. Dionne: buy a dictionary, dude

In a Presidents' Day screed that is embarrassingly simplistic, Washington Post columnist E. J. Dionne attempts to chide conservatives for their hypocrisy, apparently having no understanding of what the word actually means. After a gratuitous shot at the family values crowd, he sets the stage thusly:
But the hypocrisy that matters far more is the gap between ideology and practice that has reached a crisis point in American conservatism.
Sounds pretty intense, no? Marx would call this a failure of praxis, but I digress. Dionne gives some specific examples of the hypocrisy he espies. First, there's the career politician hypocrisy:
Begin by asking yourself why so many conservative politicians say they're anti-government but spend long careers in office drawing paychecks from the taxpayers.
Hey, I'm with him on the idea that politicians--in general--stay in office for far too long. But politics has been a career for a long, long time. That aside, look at the multiple fallacies inherent in just this one statement. First, Dionne gives no specific examples, he just talks about "conservative politicians," as if they were all the same. Then, he mistakenly claims that these unnamed politicians--"so many" of them--say they're anti-government. But who says that, really? Anti-government is what people like E. J. Dionne call others, it's a pejorative for the most part, not a label of self-description. Finally, he implies that these unnamed politicians who don't all think the same things and who aren't actually anti-government are hypocrites just by being politicians. Clearly, logic is not Mr. Dionne's friend.

More to the point, even if his fallacies are ignored and his statement is taken at face value, he hasn't identified any hypocrisy. Conservatives aren't anarchists. Arguing for a limited government is not the same thing as arguing for no government.

Dionne's next big "gotcha" moment of hypocrisy involves government funding of various projects and the willingness of conservatives to pursue shares of the moolah:
Why do they bash government largesse while seeking as much of it as they can get for their constituents and friendly interest groups?
Once again, Dionne is light on actual examples, of both particular politicians and specific examples of the largesse he is referring to. But I'll help him out with the latter: after the Stimulus Bill was rammed down the nation's throat, there were a number of articles from the addle-minded in the media criticizing some Republicans for opposing the bill, but then willingly accepting some of the monies in it for their own districts and/or States. Hello? Is this the children's hour? The money was going to be spent, regardless. There's standing on principle and there's practical reality. Do anti-war Democrats in office refuse monies for their districts that are related to defense spending?

And if Mr. Dionne wants to see some real hypocrisy involving officials pushing an agenda on everyone but themselves and their big-money supporters, he might try looking at the former Speaker and many other Democrats, who pushed for minimum wage hikes everywhere, except for American Samoa.

Next, Mr. Dionne finds hypocrisy in calls to cut back on entitlements:
Why do they criticize "entitlements" and "big government" while promising today's senior citizens -- an important part of the conservative base -- never, ever to cut their Medicare or Social Security?
And I guess in this one, we really see how badly Mr. Dionne needs that dictionary, because I can't even fathom where he sees hypocrisy in this bit. Telling someone you intend to keep a promise that was made--in the case of seniors who retired based on promised returns for their lifetime contributions to Social Security--is not hypocrisy. Suggesting that such a promise may no longer be possible for future generations, as things currently stand, is also not hypocrisy. And one can do both and still not be a hypocrite.

Given that a common bit of election-time fear-mongering on the part of Democrats, when it comes to seniors, is that "the Republicans want to cut your Social Security/Medicare," this statement is particularly weak and particularly transparent. Could Mr. Dionne be any more of a political hack? I think not.

There's more silliness in the article, but it fits the same mold, by and large. And to think, this is from a writer whose columns are often held up as examples of thoughtful, effective analysis. Pity.

Cheers, all.

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