So I recently discovered clips from Lawrence O’Donnell’s show on MSNBC. I used to listen to clips from Olbermann (mainly for a laugh) but hadn’t been able to keep up with his replacement as the herald of liberalism on the most liberal news outlet due to work. But then I was able to catch this, this week. And I don’t know if I should laugh or cry. But clearly O’Donnell is not a force for good in this world.
Please watch the clip before continuing.
This man who wants to say that America doesn’t know what socialism means, clearly doesn’t seem to know what socialism means (actually I think he does know what it means and he is just using very old tricks of rhetoric to strengthen his weak case but lets’ assume for the moment he’s stupid and not completely evil).
Now he claims that the definition of socialism is “Socialism doesn’t mean that we’re against making a profit; it just means that government takes over certain things like hospitals, the prisons and the military and schools that shouldn’t be run for profit[.]” First off O’Donnell lies (or is too stupid to understand) when he says that O’Reilly agrees with this definition of socialism—in fact if you listen to the context, O’Reilly, who is actually in his economic politics left of center, is agreeing with the sentiment that government should run those things, not with the definition of socialism.
An accurate definition of socialism is this one from dictionary.com
n. 1. A theory or system of social organization that advocates the vesting of the ownership and control of the means of production and distribution, of capital, land, etc., in the community as a whole.
Socialism thus has two parts. Part one is the control of industry by the government, as suggested by Bill Maher’s quote. Part two is the distribution of wealth by the government which Maher forget, and O’Donnell quite dishonestly wants you to forget. So actually what Maher’s definition of government taking over certain businesses isn’t socialism it’s what’s called a mixed economy (or as I call it Socialism-Lite). Under Socialism-Lite you take certain aspects of socialism, the running of the post office, schools and hospitals, heavy taxes on certain industries, and regulation which is designed to push the economy to certain goals predetermined by the government, but you also keep some of capitalism (profit, freedom of choice in some sectors, competition). Where socialism ends, Socialism-Lite begins and ends and capitalism begins is not a hard and fast rule. No system of capitalism, even laissez-faire capitalism, can operate without some minor intrusions into the economic system (at least not it if involves more than a handful of people and you want it to last for more than a few years) and even under pure socialist countries like the former Soviet states or Germany under the National Socialists (yes that is what NAZI means) there were still concepts such as private property (if not the de jure sense then at least the de facto sense, and both systems had black markets which are always capitalistic). So there are no pure models to point to. However I would say that right now, under Obama we are in the Socialist-Lite category and have been inching toward socialist more and more for the last couple of decades.
But back to O’Donnell. Keep in mind his whole argument is that socialism is good
“So letting government take over certain thing like hospitals, prisons the military and schools erodes freedom […].” He this as a basic idea that government should run these things and then uses the military as the example of what the government should be doing, implying that the rest follow the same premise. Everyone sane person believes the government should control the military, because that’s why you have a government, that’s why the Founding Fathers were quite clear to create military powers in the Constitution (and why they also included a lot of restrictions on the military)–lots of people who are not socialists believe that the military is a proper function of the government. All but anarchists believe that the military should be run by the government—even the most staunch libertarians state the government is created to provide a military, a police force and a court system, and the basic laws to run those things. But it does not mean that because government should be running the military it should be running those other things. In fact it shouldn’t. Private hospitals offer better care, faster care, and cheaper care than public ones (and Obamacare is causing doctors to leave, to close, and fewer services available). FedEx and UPS are far better than the Post Office. As we have seen California is just doing a bang up job with its government run prisons. And as someone who has worked in education my whole life I can without a moment’s hesitation that as dumb as some of the things I have seen done in charter schools, and I’ve seen some truly idiotic choices made, they are still light-years ahead of the public sector. Hell the dumbest and most unethical person I’ve ever met in charter schools was also a board member for a public school so I’m not sure we can blame all of his idiocy on the private sector. Public education has made people uneducated and dumb, definitely erodes freedom. Public run prisons are just dumping criminals back on the street because they can’t house them…definitely eroding my freedom if one of those people who should have been locked up now attacks me. Public run health care, as we all know, is certainly going to limit my choices, thus it destroys my freedom to choose.
But back to his odd argument about the military, O’Donnell states, “[O’Reilly] thinks the government does a better job at defending the country […] than the private sector could ever do.” This is an interesting statement because it’s not true. We use the military to defend against places that don’t have a capitalist private sector. If those places did have private sectors we wouldn’t be at war with them. I’m a big believer in the idea called Democratic Peace Theory, which states that once every country becomes a democratic-republic (and I will add has a healthy level of capitalistic defense of property and choice) then you won’t have wars because classically liberal democratic republics (which are the only places you have efficient private sectors) do not (and history bears this out) declare war against each other. So actually the private sector is a much better defense against war than the government. It’s just that while we have tyranny we have the necessary evil, as any capitalist will tell you, of the need for a standing military.
Then there is his claim that if government wasn’t in the medical business we would have fewer hospitals and more expensive hospitals. Either he’s lying or he’s an idiot because that is just not true. The more government control, the more Medicaid and Medicare get involved, the more health care costs and the fewer people get into the medical field. If you withdrew government from the equation by half of what it is doing now you would see many, many more private practices, more of the smaller operations and more competition. I’m not saying withdraw the government completely (at least not yet) because society has become too dependent on the idea of city run hospitals and you need to let society begin to develop more private institutions on its own, as the private sector will always fill any need that people have, but government is not the answer to medical problems, it is the problem.
But why does this little rant really bother me.
Because it is the words of a very clever demagogue.
So, what this man does is he ignores the many and terrible evils of socialistic wealth distribution because he knows that is harder to defend. Most people understand that they earned their money and that other people do not have a right to it. But what O’Donnell does is he tries to convince you that you agree with part of his argument, that the government should be in charge of the military (1) and then extends that to other fields (2). He argues that if you agree with 1 you are a socialist. And if you agree with 2 you are a socialist. But this argument is beyond a non-sequitor. You aren’t a socialist if you believe the government should control the military, you’re sane and possibly a capitalist. So point 1 is wrong. And point two is based on the idea that if government controls one thing it should control another, and if you’re not listening for every little logical fallacy a lot of people might fall for that. So it doesn’t matter point 2 is wrong on its face because it’s based on false point one, it’s an old rhetoric trick to get you to agree with point 2. So twice now he’s convinced some of his audience that they’re socialists (when really even if you agree with government run hospitals, schools, and prisons you’re only a mixed-economist). But now he’s got some people believing that socialism isn’t all that bad, after all it supports the things they do. As a good demagogue he has now planted the seed to justify any true socialist policy because that middle ground of America which seems to always be very fickle and very lax in their thinking will think “well, if that’s socialist and socialist was all those things I supported before then I guess I’ll support this.”
It’s a clever trick. It’s an old one too and I salute O’Donnell for being such a skilled rhetorician at using half-truths, distortions, and cleverly hidden logical fallacies.
But sadly we are not all socialists.
We’re not all capitalists either, sadly. But we are not all socialists. And hatred of socialism is quite justified.
I have a lot more to say on this, but even for me this blog is getting long, so let me just say I expect to see future columns on Lawrence O’Donnell. Unlike Olbermann and Krugman this man has a silver tongue that can hide a truly villainous lie between two half truth effectively and I will be pointing out those lies whenever I can.