If you wanted red meat, you’re getting it today. The current comments are made not out of anger but out of disgust. Senator Rand Paul (R-KY) has demonstrated powerfully, and in unexpected ways, how little of a difference there is between a raving idiot and a racist. A wealthy doctor recently honored with a seat in the United States Senate, Paul recently argued that to change Federal laws to make health care an entitlement to all Americans would make him a slave:
“With regard to the idea of whether you have a right to health care, you have realize what that implies. It’s not an abstraction. I’m a physician. That means you have a right to come to my house and conscript me. It means you believe in slavery.”
To see a video clip in which Senator Paul rambles on obtusely about police in an imagined authoritarian state kicking his door in and dragging him off, click here.
Senator Paul shares his skepticism of President Obama’s Health Care Reform with about half of our fellow-Americans. The Liberal Ironist has also long insisted to fellow-Liberals that Conservatives aren’t evil, nor are they stupid. I’ll even go further and say “Fair play to the Tea Party for giving the Republican Party a sense of purpose again, allowing them to become a serious participant in a national conversation (however acrimonious).”
I don’t condemn Rand Paul (or those morally-confused enough to hail his recent comments on health care as courageous) for opposing President Obama’s Federalization of health care or even for believing that a professional has a right to dispose of his or her services on their own terms. But in claiming grievance, Paul apparently thinks of himself as equally-aggrieved with the millions who have been enslaved throughout history–those separated from their family and all of their friends for the rest of their lives, moved to strange places hundreds of miles away never to return, who have been whipped or raped at times utterly without provocation, who had no right to choose their own career (let-alone pursue an education), and who could be killed by their owner on a whim. Anyone whose family history includes enslavement has a much more-legitimate grievance with Senator Paul than he does with President Obama and Congressional Democrats. Regular readers know it isn’t my temper to throw this term around, so they’ll understand how serious I am: Rand Paul’s likening his supposed plight as a doctor–or that of some Tea Partiers of being required to pay taxes–to slavery is indicative of either narcissism or a deep-seated racism. These comments are truly shameful and deserve to be held up to ridicule.
What business is it of mine? This is about giving the truly-aggrieved their due, and I’ll again meet Republicans halfway and say “I’m not talking about you paying them a dime.” When a pretentious ideologue like Rand Paul likens his personal frustration with the political status quo to the silent agony of mutilated and massacred millions, rather than capture the gravity of the situation he demonstrates that he doesn’t grasp serious things. This is not a question of political theory; it is a matter of perception.
If these comments inspire anger, this anger could be a source of virtue if properly-expressed. Aristotle says in the Nichomachean Ethics (Book II, Chapter 8, Section 9) that “…(I)t is no easy task to be good. For in everything it is no easy task to find the middle, e.g. to find the middle of a circle is not for every one but for him who knows; so, too, any one can get angry–that is easy–or give or spend money; but to do this to the right person, to the right extent, at the right time, with the right motive, and in the right way, *that* is not for every one, nor is it easy; wherefore goodness is both rare and laudable and noble.”
Aristotle speaks of anger towards others and charity in the same space: With both, everything depends on context and individual judgment. I consider Aristotle among the most-admirable philosophers because, for all the theorizing power of his mind, he still believed that one ultimately had to rely not on philosophical correctness but on groups of friends to help steer each other towards the light. In general it isn’t my place to invoke such a purpose, but this is not a case of a bad historical analogy (and those are common) but of moral solipsism. To have a political philosophy is not a bad thing in itself, but to draw a likeness between one’s subjective ideological indignation and the dehumanizing brutality of slavery or the supposedly duty-bound butchery of Nazism (see also: Newt Gingrich) represents either callousness or ignorance towards those atrocities. (Ignorance or callousness: I see no difference.) Neither the fact that you have to pay taxes (as does everyone else everywhere outside of the ungoverned spaces in Africa) nor even the dread Health Care Reform can compare to the worst crimes in history. You Republicans and Libertarians (and a fair congratulations to the latter on remaking the former in your image) could do yourselves proud and return to an older instinct of using philosophers rather than tasteless analogies as rhetorical aids: You are fully at liberty to keep the Cato Handbook for Policymakers, the writings of Thomas Jefferson and of Thomas Paine, F.A. Hayek‘s The Constitution of Liberty, Ayn Rand, and yes, even my adored Nietzsche in your rhetorical arsenals. But one cannot liken these laws to slavery or the Holocaust without revealing how unimportant one considers those historical facts.