A liberal by any other name

Happily, fiercely emboldened by an unpopular Republican president, liberals have been trying to cover up past political sins by renaming themselves “progressives” even as they resume their bad, old ways with more loud-voiced arrogance than ever.

Those ways include program proposals filled more with good intentions than good sense if they are in fact something other than outright hoaxes, along with debate tactics that merrily skip over any discussion of an issue’s merits. There’s something else, you see, that better fits their analytical inadequacies: ad hominem attack.

Enter Paul Krugman, a New York Times columnist whose defense of an indefensible expansion of a federal health insurance program is to say conservatives opposing it just don’t care about poor, suffering people. His is one of the most intellectually debased, worn, torn and downright fraudulent arguments ever perpetrated by leftists — they have been at this one a long time.

They contend caring is what counts, as opposed to whether something might actually work, whether it will be cost-effective, durable, unlikely to have unsought, perhaps disastrous consequences and preferable to other approaches.

Conservatives do care. A study a while back showed that, as a matter of statistically verifiable fact, conservatives give significantly more time and money to charity than liberals even when relatively needy themselves. What many balk at is the sort of thing Krugman was advocating, a program enlargement that brings not just the poor but the well-off into the fold, and that marches us down the road to medical rationing, waiting interminably for treatment and inevitable budgetary crisis.

Alternatives exist, but no, don’t mention those; just tell us that people opposed to a vote-seeking legislative menace are meanies and then throw in some flapdoodle about how President Bush misuses the language only when trying to make us believe he is himself compassionate. Stir such stuff up enough and maybe some readers will think you are thinking, Krugman. You are not. You are emoting. It’s pathetic.

What’s also pathetic is the way a “progressive” outfit called Media Matters recently tried to paint Bill O’Reilly as a racist nincompoop and Rush Limbaugh as a basher of U.S. troops who happen to believe the Iraq war a mistake. Both these guys drive the left nuts because of their extraordinary popularity, O’Reilly as the host of a Fox TV talk show with ratings easily topping the competition and Limbaugh as a radio phenomenon whose alert, humorous style has garnered him 13 million listeners a week.

Even many supporters will likely concede that neither man is God’s gift to profundity or beyond challenge in what they say, some of it as questionable as you might suppose, given the torrent of words that regularly issues from their mouths. But in its Internet effusions, Media Matters does not content itself with reasonable disputation. A favorite ploy is to insist its conservative target got the facts wrong when no such thing is remotely provable. In these two recent instances, it goes further.

O’Reilly was portrayed as being astonished that black people can be as mannerly as any other group when the full context of his remarks makes it seem he was in fact challenging a stereotype of profane behavior with an example others might find astonishing. Limbaugh was portrayed as generalizing about anti-war soldiers because it took him a couple of minutes in a typically loose radio conversation to refer to a particular person who invented false credentials and atrocity stories.

The worst of today’s reinvigorated liberalism isn’t just such irresponsible trashing of anyone and everyone who views issues differently, but an increasingly unabashed fervor for the kinds of policies that could yet sink Europe if such reformers as President Nicolas Sarkozy in France and Chancellor Angela Merkel in Germany are not successful. Come hither welfare state, Hillary Clinton, John Edwards and Barack Obama are saying, as congressional Democrats chime in with their own socialist enthusiasms. Leftist publications prod them on, while often engaging in Bush-thumping of a kind that make even Krugman and Media Matters seem tame.

The ultimate test for our future will be, in part, whether Republicans can show they have something better to offer — there is reason in past behavior for doubt — and whether the American voter really does care, not simply in the sense of emotional concern for others, but in the sense of wanting to adhere to a rational course that will actually take us where we want to go.

(Jay Ambrose, formerly Washington director of editorial policy for Scripps Howard newspapers and the editor of dailies in El Paso, Texas, and Denver, is a columnist living in Colorado. He can be reached at SpeaktoJay(at)aol.com.)