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Speaking safely on political issues: A guide for the confused

By George F. Smith
web posted January 7, 2002

I offer the following guide for those Americans who may be asked to speak on political issues but are confused about what to say. Since issues can be annoyingly fickle -- hot one day, dead the next -- I've tried to keep the commentary confined to the principles that underlie them.

The most glaring fact common to all political issues is the monopoly on coercive power we've assigned to the government. We have a Constitution limiting that power, but it's been found guilty of impeding progress and has been imprisoned in a glass case. Now mostly unrestrained by that document, the government regards the private sector as one vast bank account it can draw on without limit and as a herd it will sacrifice any which way it can.

This change is no accident. People accepting certain tenets of Judeo-Christian ethics, in otherworldly form or secular, fashioned the government to rule our lives like God on earth or Big Brother. Which people? Political candidates frothing altruistic bromides and the voters who empowered them. The government has thus become a super-entity liberated from morality. It can do just about anything and get away with it -- even rewarded for it -- while we can do almost nothing that is not a crime. Americans once lived private lives of productive pursuit and entrusted the government with national defense and courts of law. Now almost everyone plays follow the money by lobbying plunder-rich demagogues to protect their interests.

Thus, as you approach any political issue, think power -- the coercive power of the government. Think it -- but don't say it.

Let's apply this advice to the idea of rights. It would be helpful to know what "rights" means, but in political discourse defining your terms will offend your audience. Thanks to government schooling, people believe anyone can define anything any way they want. If you hit them with definitions, your audience will think you're being disingenuous.

Instead of defining what you're talking about, say this: I believe in rights but I also believe rights impose responsibilities.

At this point, pause and wait for a smattering of applause. Many Americans are sick of talk about rights -- rights, rights, rights, that's all they hear. They associate rights with selfishness, which they connect with evil. You're going to tell them something about responsibilities, and they like that. So tell them rights are conditional. People don't get them unless they finish their supper, so to speak. (Being folksy will help your case.)

The word "impose" cues government to make its grand entrance. We don't have to wait for people to choose to be responsible -- Big Brother will make the choice for them. It's part of the morality-is-commandments-from-a-higher-power concept -- the higher power personified by our elected elite, in this case. Give your listeners a few examples to illustrate your meaning.

First example -- your right to life. Yes, it's a right you have -- provided you get off your backside and earn it. It's your reward for serving others -- "others" here referring to your country. How you serve will be determined by feckless bureaucrats. Traditionally, it means your country can draft you into the army for the purpose of killing or intimidating its enemies. Of course, not everyone is fit for draftee duty, which is why it's called selective service. Those who can't make the cut militarily will be put to work in some other altruistic fashion, most likely on the home front, but possibly in another country.

Incidentally, you should get in the habit of saying "our country" instead of "our government." It sounds patriotic and puts opposing views dangerously close to treason. Never use "country" to refer to private individuals.

Here's another example -- your right to keep the money you earn. No problem -- but with it comes the duty to help the underprivileged. You, being lucky enough to have a job, have hogged more than your fair share if you're living above the poverty line. Therefore, it is your country's responsibility to seize what rightfully belongs to others and give it back to them, after skimming a dollar or two off the top for overhead.

Discuss other rights in similar fashion -- tell your audience you have rights only if you pay your country back for giving them to you. Rights come with a bill, and the collector is always Uncle Sam. This explains why we grant unlimited power to the government.

A corollary of conditional rights is unconditional entitlements. As the country collects on your responsibilities, it has to do something with the loot. Since serving others is the accepted moral ideal, establishing entitlements completes the circuit of wealth transfer in a manner consistent with altruist standards.

Here's where you can give your listeners some ammunition to use against mouthy civil libertarians. Tell your audience entitlements is what our founders really had in mind when they wrote about inalienable rights. Since, as we've seen, rights aren¹t inalienable, entitlements is what they were groping for in their thinking. Entitlements are akin to charity -- the main difference being the little matter of coercion. Certainly our founders were charitable men, so they must have been talking about entitlements for deserving people -- those who belong to any group with significant voting power. Entitlements are simply expressions of common decency, a label certain to inhibit criticism.

Wrap up your talk with assertions about how wonderful it is to live in a democracy. It's unlikely anyone will remind you we live in a republic, but if they do, tell them modern republics are repressive and Americans prefer to follow the will of the people. It was the American will that established a republic, and the current one that has put it to rest, under the banner of social justice -- another term you'll want to avoid defining.

George Smith is full-time freelance writer with a special interest in liberty issues and screenwriting. His articles have appeared on Ether Zone, and in the Gwinnett Daily Post, Writer's Yearbook, Creative Loafing, and Goal Magazine. He has a web site for screenwriters and other writers at http://personal.atl.bellsouth.net/atl/g/f/gfs543/

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