A Few Thoughts on Dissent

There are two broad categories of liberals.  There are radical liberals, who think of themselves as more radical than liberal; and there are mainstream liberals, who think of themselves as more mainstream than liberal.  They are the same in that they both overestimate the degree to which their qualifier accurately characterizes their position.  One of the things, however, which differentiate one group from the other is the degree to which they welcome dissent.  Radicals love it.  Conflict is their reason for being.  Mainstream liberals have a harder time with dissent.  This is mostly because they have a hard time understanding how anyone with a brain might disagree them.

Health care is the perfect illustration to how this split works.  The radicals are the ones out demonstrating.  They are holding the signs that say things like, “We Demand a Single Payer Plan Now.”  They are the ones facing off against their conservative counterparts, who are holding sings that say things like, “Get the Government Out of Health Care.”  The mainstream liberals,  on the other hand, do not seem to know what to make of all the protestations coming from the right; after all, ‘we can all agree that our health care system is broken.  And national health systems works so well in Denmark and Sweden.’

As a thought experiment imagine a country in which the mainstream liberal point of view came to dominate in much the same way the Communist Party dominates in China.  This is not a state characterized by brutal oppression of the opposition, but rather a polite refusal to listen to most of what the opposition has to say. Now imagine that a sate run newspaper in our imaginary country ran a story about dissent on some government initiative.  Would that story be at all different from this story about conservative health care protests?

Look at this excerpt:

But most of those who spoke Tuesday seemed unlikely to vote in the Democratic primary. Many seemed concerned about issues that are either not in the health care legislation or are peripheral to the debate in Washington — abortion, euthanasia, coverage of immigrants, privacy.

“It says plainly right there they want to limit the type of care elderly can get,” said Laurel Tobias, an office manager from Lebanon, referring to a bill in the House. “They are talking about killing people.”

Notice how this puts the onus on a private citizen to say something relevant to what happens in Washington rather than asking why what happens in Washington isn’t relevant to what concerns this woman.  It may be perfectly reasonable to dismiss someone as “peripheral to the debate” when they are accusing the government of “talking about killing people”.  It is also perfectly reasonable for someone to question whether a government plan will have unintended consequences.  And anyway, how do we know that the current health care bill doesn’t deal with any of these issues?  Has anyone actually read the entire bill?

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