Thursday, July 31, 2008

Obama’s “Argument from Intimidation”

“There is a certain type of argument which, in fact, is not an argument, but a means of forestalling debate and extorting an opponent’s agreement with one’s undiscussed notions. It is a method of bypassing logic by means of psychological pressure . . . [It] consists of threatening to impeach an opponent’s character by means of his argument, thus impeaching the argument without debate… It should be classified as a logical fallacy and may be designated as ‘The Argument from Intimidation.’ ”-Ayn Rand

In my critique of Senator Barack Obama’s March 18, 2008, “more perfect union” speech, I said that his handling of the Reverend Jeremiah Wright controversy was about more than Wright’s comments. He was throwing down a gauntlet…essentially declaring that any principled, intellectual ideas that don’t conform to his collectivist-statist agenda would not be tolerated. On May 10, 2008, I wrote:

“When Obama calls on us to “come together”, it is not to voluntary cooperation and association among individuals with common interests that he is referring. It is the independent thinker that he is aiming to subdue. Consider his response to the Reverend Wright controversy. “Reverend Wright's comments were not only wrong but divisive, divisive at a time when we need unity.” If “divisiveness” is a criterion for condemning what any person says, then any “controversial” idea…i.e., one that threatens the “unity” of the accepted group (i.e., state) wisdom…can be disqualified. The outrageous comments of a Reverend Wright, and the passionate defense of individual rights against the collective offered by the Founding Fathers can both be called “divisive, divisive at a time when we need unity.” His “unity” message is simply a means of discrediting and silencing principled intellectual opposition to his designs.” (emphasis added)

Terry Eastland, on the Weekly Standard blog, reports the following:

“McCain's decision to support the Arizona civil rights initiative, on the ballot on Election Day this fall, means that a critical campaign issue is now in play. The initiative, patterned after ones in California, Washington, and Michigan, requires that the state of Arizona neither advantage nor disadvantage its citizens on the basis of race, ethnicity, and sex in allocating limited educational, employment, and contracting opportunities. In those three areas, where state governments have most commonly used race, ethnicity, and sex to favor certain citizens over others--under the name of affirmative action--the initiative proposes nothing less than colorblind law.”

Colorblind law…the principle that all people, as individuals, are equal before the law…is rooted in the principle of inalienable individual rights. This goes straight to the heart of what America stands for. So what was the Obama response? Writes Mr. Eastland:

“Having come out for the Arizona initiative, McCain can't allow himself to be so intimidated by Democratic attacks (note Obama has already accused McCain of taking a position that’s “divisive”) that he fails to argue in its behalf--that he quits on it. Which is, of course, exactly what Obama and his aides would like to see McCain do.” (emphasis added)

As I wrote on May 10, the true significance of Obama’s speech was missed by most of the GOP and conservative opposition:

“But what really counts, in my view, are the abstract principles…the essence…hidden in plain sight throughout this speech.”

The essence of what Obama stands for, as I argued in my three-part critique, is profound hostility toward individual rights. He is the most anti-American major presidential candidate, philosophically speaking, in my lifetime and perhaps in this country’s history. The central principle in the Arizona civil rights initiative is inalienable individual rights. The central principle that Obama must not just oppose but refuse to allow to even enter into the 2008 campaign debate is inalienable individual rights. That is because the central principle that can blow up Obama’s entire collectivist agenda is inalienable individual rights.

Clearly, Mr. Eastland is worried that McCain is not up to the task of overcoming Obama’s Argument from Intimidation…the accusation of divisiveness. But it is crucially important that he does. With this election shaping up as a watershed for America’s future, Obama can not be allowed to frame the entire campaign on his collectivist premise. His strategy for smothering principled debate, openly announced by him on March 18, must be exposed and shut down. What this country desperately needs is exactly the kind of knock-down, ideological-philosophical, divisive campaign battle that Obama fears…one that challenges his socialist-statist agenda with a powerful moral platform of capitalism and individual rights. The Arizona civil rights initiative is tailor-made for the firing of the opening shots.

McCain has said that this campaign will be about big ideas. Now is his chance to make good on that promise. Is he up to the task? We’ll see, but I’m not holding my breath. Alas, his record and stance on other key issues (McCain-Feingold, national service, his support for the $300+ billion mortgage bailout bill, which President Bush recently signed) do not bode well for the current campaign, for the GOP, or for individual rights.

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